No One Paid Me for the Rush Anymore But I Needed It Anyway — A New Story by Kashana Cauley
FICTION: BUILDING JUMPER, BY KASHANA CAULEY
Fifty-one minutes until my next jump. One sideways cut through air. Two stories’ worth of roof tiles against my back. Seven horizontal feet to the staircase. Thirty-five stairs to the street. Only after I did it would I be able to sleep again. After I retired no one paid me for the rush anymore but I needed it anyway.
Since my boss didn’t believe in dress codes I wore my last movie outfit. Black tights, leotard, jacket. A rubber band to keep my afro in place. I touched the parachute in my backpack and the sneakers I’d flee in if someone objected to my vacation through Manhattan’s coveted private outdoor space. In twenty minutes I’d leave the subway. In three minutes I’d arrive outside. The last minute of the workday stretched long enough for me to picture the jump fifteen times.
My officemates and I stormed the elevator and flooded the lobby, protecting the half-inch between our bodies before the hordes on the sidewalk forced us to touch. I used all my pointy parts to finish the fight to the subway: elbows, knees, nose. The turnstile represented a second and a half of peace: no one usually touched me there. Seven stops later the downtown train spit out globs of people whose armpit sweat disgusted me for my entire walk up the stairs. When I reached air I was almost free.
Fifty steps to the next street. Thirty more to the alley. I hoisted myself up on a pair of dents in the bottom row of bricks and dug my fingernails into mortar. A pristine kitchen lay behind the second windowsill. Folded dishtowels. Lined-up wine bottles. Dishes drying symmetrically in their rack. So much alien order to ditch one half-step at a time. My left foot hit a too-shallow brick dent. Fear, the world’s cruelest tide, pounded my ears alongside a lick of the high. I dug my right foot into brick and clutched the windowsill above my head. My left foot threatened to fall so I forced my chest and feet atop the windowsill in a series of acts that took me to the edge of effort.
A man glared at me from his kitchen. His window knock drove me to the end of the sill. I clutched brick until my fingers burned and inched up past his shouts. When I reached the roof I couldn’t hear him anymore.
Union Square shone from the roof’s lip. Lamps lit every third window in the apartment towers around the park, turning them into a wall of inside-out dice. I saw myself getting lucky: hitting the perfect wave of solitude when I entered the air. The brick building next door winked at me. I uttered the jumper’s prayer, a wordless wish that I’d land right. The hand on my back was larger than mine.
The man from below grabbed my left arm as if he were going to hurl too-drunk me out of a club. I forgot that I wasn’t standing in the best place to yank it back. Instead of hitting the air sideways I went vertical. All sound disappeared.
The roof tiles stung my back. I hit the stretch of blank air that separated me from the staircase head down. The man’s laughter went up my veins. The rush was still there, fighting the sad surge of electricity that took over my spine and losing.
My shoulder bounced off the staircase. I couldn’t find my parachute. The rush should have died then but it stood up and yelled in my ear. So did the fear. I fell with an apology to the man on my lips and my best landings in my head. The bottom of Manhattan’s empty concrete pool rose to greet me. My lungs filled with love.
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Kashana Cauley is a native Wisconsinite who lives in New York City. The Atlantic, Esquire, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Tin House have published her essays, fiction and humor. She won the 2012 Esquire/Aspen Writers’ Foundation Short Short Fiction contest. She recently completed a novel.