“Maawwwmm!!,” the little girl whined, yanking on her mother’s hand and planting her feet, still staring upwards. Lillian, her mother, simply ignored her, dragging her along while talking into the phone pressed to her ear.
“Mom!” the girl screeched, yanking her mother’s arm as hard as she could. “Stop!”
Annoyed, Lillian looked down at her daughter, her red lips scowling in disapproval. “Hey Henry?” she said, still talking on her phone. She glared down at her daughter who now had her arms crossed firmly across her chest. “Can I call you back? Sadie is being a pain in the ass.” She hung up her phone and placed it into her overly large, black purse.
“Okay, what Sadie? What could possibly be so important that you couldn’t wait until I was off of the phone?” she asked with exasperation.
Sadie simply pointed into the sky and said, “Look!”
Lillian peered upwards at the apartment building that towered over them. People continued to shuffle past them on the sidewalk, as Sadie and her mother stared.
“Oh my god,” Lillian gasped when she saw why her daughter had thrown such a fit. She squinted to get a better look, shading her eyes from the sun.
Six stories up, a man stood on his windowsill, balancing on its small ledge.
“What is he doing?” Sadie asked, her blue eyes big and round with awe. “What if he falls?”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t.” Sadie’s mother pulled her phone out of her purse again and quickly punched in a number. She grabbed Sadie’s hand and pulled her off to the side so other people could pass by.
“Hi, yes, I’m Lillian Crane and there is a man balancing on his windowsill… yes, we are on 4th St., just past Hervey’s Soup Place… Okay, okay, thank you.” She hung up the phone and looked down at Sadie. She looked so sweet and innocent, with her blonde curls sticking up and falling out of her ponytail that she had been so proud of that morning.
“Did you call 911?” Sadie asked, standing on her tip toes and squinting at the sky.
“Yes honey, they will be here soon.”
“Holy shit! Dude, come see this!” Peter hollered across the room with his cigarette still in hand. He was staring out of the apartment window and across the street.
His friend Dan wandered across the room, still carrying the TV remote in his hand. He looked out the window, pushing his overgrown bangs out of his eyes. When he finally found what Peter was so worked up about, his hazel eyes grew big and wide.
“Oh my god. Is he going to jump?” Dan asked, staring at the man standing on the ledge of his window. He had to be six or seven stories up; if he jumped he would die on impact.
“Fuck, I don’t know. Do you think we should call someone?” Peter asked, taking a drag and slowly letting the toxic fog blow out of his nostrils.
“Looks like someone already did,” Dan said as police sirens began to blare and familiar blue and red lights made their way through the packed streets. Several people on the sidewalk were stopped now, staring upwards and pointing at the man.
“Ten bucks he jumps,” Peter said with a smirk, his obnoxious orange lip piercing dancing up and down.
“On 3rd street, a man stands 6 stories balancing on top of his windowsill. Authorities have assessed the situation and have concluded that the man is attempting suicide. One officer, when attempting to talk to the man, said that he only threatened to jump if he didn’t leave the room. The next course of action has not been decided…” the Channel 20 News anchor reported from the TV as Richard Hargrove shoveled his microwave dinner into his mouth.
Richard sat on the edge of his recliner, his large feet stuffed into his size 13 slippers and his belly peeking out beneath his white t-shirt. Above his chair hung a cross and a faded picture of Jesus.
The TV camera zoomed in on the man who stood on the ledge.
“God bless him,” he mumbled to himself, shaking his head. It never ceased to amaze him the sins that infested the streets of New York. It was disgusting. The devil is everywhere, Richard thought to himself as he scooped up another pile of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
“Mom, what are they doing?” Sadie asked for what seemed like the twentieth time. Lillian sighed and didn’t answer, staring up at the man. Sadie is too young for this, she thought to herself. Several times she had decided to leave, but her feet hadn’t moved since she dialed 911.
Officers were gathered on the street now, talking amongst themselves. It annoyed Lillian that no one had taken action and it had been over an hour since Sadie first saw the man.
“Mom, I’m hungry,” Sadie whined, yanking on her sleeve.
Lillian looked down at Sadie who was staring up at her with eyes that looked too much like her father’s. Sadie had always looked more like her father.
“I know sweetie,” Lillian said, stroking Sadie’s hair. “You’ve been really patient. Just a few more minutes, I promise.”
Lillian stared up again, and silently prayed that the man wouldn’t jump. She felt responsible somehow, like if he jumped it would be her fault.
“Jesus, what an uncreative way to commit suicide! If you’re gonna off yourself, why not make it fucking awesome, you know what I’m sayin’?” Peter remarked, snuffing out his cigarette on the wooden tabletop. Dan took a deep breath in through his nose in annoyance and pressed his lips together to keep from exploding. Peter had been nonstop making pointless comments since they had made their bet.
Peter turned everything into some sort of joke. Dan didn’t know why he even hung out with him anymore. The only thing he could think about while he talked was his damn lip ring that hung off his lip like a neon orange mole.
“I mean, if it was me, I would make sure the whole fucking world knew about it,” Peter continued, staring out the window.
Dan resisted the urge to punch Peter’s teeth in and said nothing. Instead, he turned his attention to the window. Well, at least I will make ten dollars, Dan thought to himself.
The man had been standing there for at least an hour now. Dan couldn’t understand why they hadn’t set up a net or something to catch the guy if he jumped.
“He would have jumped already if he was gonna do it,” Dan commented, watching a couple police officers enter the apartment building.
Come on, you coward. Let go.
Tears streamed down Charlie’s face as he stared at the ground below him.
His muscles ached from holding the sill so tightly. His knees were shaking and his feet had gone numb. When the first officer spoke to him he had never been so scared. He had screamed at the man and he sounded like a maniac.
Just do it. Jump.
No matter how many times Charlie thought it, he could never follow through. Something in him wouldn’t let go.
The people that gathered below were yelling things that Charlie couldn’t decipher. They all looked so small from up here, the police cars reminded him of the toys he used to play with when he was younger.
His hands were starting to grow sweaty.
Do it Charlie.
He would make the pain go away… make it disappear. It hadn’t left him when blood seeped from the slices on his arms; it hadn’t left when he passed out for three days after taking too many of his pills…
Sobs shook his body as he let out involuntary gasps. The wind sent goose bumps up his arms and shivers up his spine. His heart pounded in his ears and drowned out the incessant honking below him.
“Charlie?” a soft voice sliced through his panicked mind, and he whipped his head around in shock.
A woman stood in the doorway of Charlie’s apartment, her dark hair loose around her face. Fear was etched into on her features, her large brown eyes pleading.
“Charlie, what are you doing?” she asked quietly. Charlie stared back at her and looked back out of the window. He shifted his gaze back down to the concrete that waited for him below. What was she doing here?
“Charlie?” she asked again, taking a step closer.
“What are you doing here Ana?” Charlie asked angrily, refusing to turn and look at her again. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore her. She wasn’t supposed to be here.
“Charlie, if you love me, you won’t do this,” Ana pleaded, her voice shaking. His mind went back to that first day he had met Ana, the day that started his spiral into chaos.
Charlie had loved Ana from the moment he had met her. He would never forget when he first saw her sitting in the coffee shop downtown, reading one of her romance novels. He was dripping wet from the rain that splashed across the city streets like watercolors. She had been so consumed by her book she hadn’t noticed Charlie staring and didn’t even look up when he had approached with his embarrassingly wet and squeaky shoes.
She was beautiful, but in an unconventional kind of way. She wore no makeup, and her face was covered in freckles. Her small fingernails were painted a light shade of pink.
Charlie coughed, trying to be casual. She didn’t look up, still stuck deep inside another world. He coughed again, this time much too loud, and startled, she looked up. She immediately leaned back in her chair, clearly surprised by his close proximity.
“Um…uh..” Charlie mumbled, embarrassed by her amused expression. She raised her eyebrows.
“Do you want to tell me why you are standing so close to me?” she asked with a smirk.
“I.. uh.. I um, was wondering what you are reading?” Charlie asked and immediately kicked himself for the stupid question.
“Charlie?” Ana’s voice sucked him back into reality.
He was still staring at the concrete and mass of people below. He had calmed down some during his nostalgia, his tears had stopped, and his breathing had steadied. She was right about one thing: He did love Ana. More then she would ever understand.
“Charlie?” Ana asked again, and Charlie sensed she had been saying his name for some time. “Please don’t do this.”
“The man, who was viewed at about 2pm this afternoon standing on the ledge of a window six stories up in the Alabaster Apartment building, has just been identified as Charlie Zain by Ana Afflicton, a former girlfriend,” a woman reported, standing below the apartment building. The camera zoomed in on the man while showing a portrait of Charlie smiling on the other half of the screen.
Richard nearly choked on his food with the mention of Charlie’s name. Charlie Zain? It couldn’t be. He stood up quickly, almost knocking over his TV tray with his large belly and stood directly in front of the television screen.
The portrait showed a young man with brown, thick hair and grey eyes. His crooked smile and thick-framed glasses confirmed the name, and Richard felt his stomach turn.
Richard pulled the rosary out of his pocket and began to pray, his large lips whispering out jumbled prayers as he signed the cross.
“Charlie, you have to listen to me. Please. Don’t do this. There are people here who love you,” Ana begged.
“Looks like they finally released some useful shit on this crazy bastard. Channel 20 news says the guy’s name is Charlie Zain,” Peter said, sitting on the chair next to the window as he read off of his iPhone.
Dan froze, staring at Peter. It can’t be.
“What’s his name?” Dan asked. He felt his heart beating faster. When Peter didn’t respond right away and continued to tap the screen of his phone, Dan snapped.
“Peter!” he slammed his hand down on the table, causing Peter to jump. “What’s his goddamn name?!”
“Whoa man, chill out! Charlie Zain, I said! Jesus Christ, man! What bug crawled up your ass?”
Dan was already out of his chair and making his way toward the door. “Dude, where you goin’?” Peter asked, starting to follow.
Dan spun around and glared at Peter. “Don’t. Fucking. Follow. Me,” he growled and walked out while slamming the door.
“Excuse me, sir?” Lillian touched one of the cops gently on the shoulder, towing Sadie behind her. “Do they know who the man is?”
Lillian couldn’t take it any longer. The whole time he stood like that the more anxious she felt. And yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave.
The burly cop turned around, his beady eyes boring into her. “His name is Charlie Zain, ma’am.”
Lillian felt her mouth drop open and stomach turn. “Who?” she asked again, hoping she had misheard him.
“Charlie Zain is his name, ma’am.”
“Oh my god,” she gasped, looking up at the man in the window, who seemed to be looking down at them.
“Charlie,” Ana cried. She was standing next to the window now, slightly behind him. Her head was even with where his hands gripped the edges. “Charlie, please come down. We can help you. I can help you. Please,” Ana begged, the words seeming to just tumble out of her mouth.
Charlie let go of one hand and Ana reached out and grabbed it, while hysterically saying “No!” over and over again.
Many cops had come into the room with Ana, trying to talk to Charlie, but nothing had worked. Each time they tried to approach he would lean forward as if to jump or release one of his hands.
Charlie, moving his hands around the window frame, slowly turned around and looked down at Ana. His back was now facing the empty air, and his front faced his apartment.
“Oh, thank God Charlie!” Ana said, grabbing his t-shirt. Charlie noticed that her nails were painted light pink.
Dan swore under his breath as he ran as fast as he could down the stairs and through the doors of Peter’s apartment building. He shoved past several people, and accidently knocked a little boy over. His worn tennis shoes smacked the pavement as he dodged cars and people, struggling to get across the street.
“Move! Move!” Dan yelled with frustration. Cars blared their horns as they slammed on their brakes, nearly hitting Dan.
All he could think about as he ran was when he and Charlie playing on the swing in their backyard. It was the day Charlie had fallen and broke his wrist; Dan swooped in and carried him into the house. Dan was always protective of Charlie, and he still remembered the day he was born, how small he was. He remembered his mother telling him that it was his responsibility to stand up for Charlie, to protect him, that he was a big brother now. He had promised that he would.
“Lord, please protect Charlie, keep him safe in your grace and loving arms. I worship you, oh Lord…He is a lamb gone astray from my flock, and he was my responsibility. I have sinned, Lord. Please forgive these sins and save my grandson,” Richard prayed, on his knees now, looking up at his cross above the plush recliner.
This was the hardest Richard had ever prayed.
Charlie had reached out to him several years ago, after his father died. He wanted to know about his father, what he was like when he was younger, and he wanted to know about heaven. But Richard, heartbroken and bitter about his only son dying, only pushed Charlie away. He had assumed Charlie’s brother would help him through it, like he always had. He was too self-absorbed to see the pain Charlie was going through. Now it was too late.
“Ma’am? Are you alright?” The officer asked with concern, when he saw Lillian’s face pale.
Lillian didn’t answer and only looked up at the window. Charlie had his back to the street now, his red t-shirt blowing in the wind. Sadie was tugging on her arm again, completely oblivious to her mother’s reaction.
Lillian looked at the officer, his face becoming a blur. What had she done? Tears spilled onto her cheeks. The crowd was bigger now, people were whispering to each other and pointing. She looked around at the huge group of people.
“I heard he was depressed,” one female voice whispered.
“Clearly, he needs help,” said another man.
“He just wants attention.”
The voices and whispers consumed Lillian. It couldn’t be him.
“Ma’am? Do you know him?” the officer asked awkwardly as Lillian openly cried.
“Momma, what’s wrong?” Sadie was staring at her mother with concern. Her mother never cried.
Lillian looked down at Sadie and forced a smile, touching her soft cheek. She looked back up at the officer and took a deep breath, trying to get a hold of herself.
“Yes, I know him.”
“May I ask the relationship, ma’am?” the officer asked again. Lillian’s mascara was smeared beneath her eyes and her blonde hair had fallen flat in the wind. Her wrinkles that she spent so much time trying to hide and the bags beneath her eyes were starting to show. Lillian had never looked so human, so broken. Again she looked at the awe-struck crowd, with their cameras and videotaping. She wanted to smack the devices out of their hands.
She looked at the officer, whose beady eyes had softened after seeing her tears. “I used to be his boss, “ she finally said, looking at Sadie, so sweet and innocent. “I fired him the other day for being late. Again. He was a good kid, but he had screwed up too many times, so I let him go. If I had known…” Lillian trailed off and looked up. It was dusk now; he was becoming harder to see.
Suddenly, somebody let out a scream.
For an instant, there was nothing. He was happy. He was free. He felt himself fall and all the pain left his body. He heard Ana scream faintly.
He was flying.
Dan had shoved through the crowd and jumped the police tape that surrounded the doors to the apartment building. That was when he had heard the high-pitched scream.
He tore through the front doors, and a police officer who was standing by the desk yelled “Hey!” but Dan was already down the hallway and up a flight of stairs, his heart pounding. He could save him. He had to save him.
Dan clutched the railings, taking steps two or three at a time. Finally a big number six appeared at one of the platforms and he shoved through the door. He sped down the hallway; he could hear some officers running behind him now.
When he found the room with the number 621 posted outside of it, he shoved the door open, to see Ana collapsed on the floor sobbing with an officer looking out the window.
“Where is he?!” Dan yelled, breathing heavy. He stormed over to Ana and gripped both her arms in an iron grasp. “Where. Is. He?!” he said slowly, pronouncing every syllable. He shook Ana harshly when she didn’t respond.
“WHERE IS HE?!”
The officer tore Dan off of Ana and pulled his arms behind his back while he struggled and fought.
“Where is he?! God damnit, somebody answer me! Where is he?!”
Screams sounded through the TV speakers and Richard stopped his prayers to see a dark silhouette of a body falling out of a window.
“Charlie Zain was just seen falling out of his sixth story apartment window…” the news reporter said, pointing out the obvious.
Richard stared at the TV screen. He thought of his other grandson, Dan. Guilt sat heavily in the pit of Richard’s stomach as he watched the replays of Charlie’s fall, each time the cameras cut the scene before he hit the ground.
Feeling sick, Richard finally bent down and turned off the TV and walked over to his phone that sat next to his recliner. “Lord, please forgive my sins,” he said out loud. “Please help me find the courage to speak the right words.”
For a long time, he stood there, fear and doubt freezing him.
Finally, he picked up the phone and punched in the number with his meaty fingers. His skin looked old and pale in the lamplight, and his living room was silent except for the beeping of the buttons he dialed. He held the phone up to his ear; sweat beading on his forehead and hands.
Dan’s recorded voice sounded through the phone. “Hi, this is Dan, I guess. Uh, leave message…” a loud beep rang in Richard’s ear.
Richard pulled the phone away from his ear and hovered his thumb over the END button. But then he took a breath and held the phone back up to his ear, clearing his throat.
“Hi Dan, uh, this is grandpa…”
Lillian still had Sadie’s face pressed into her jacket as she stared at the crumpled body at the bottom of the building. The crowd was frantic, still snapping pictures and yelling out questions to the officers. Tears continued to slide down her cheeks.
She remembered that morning she had fired Charlie.
He had run into her office, his hair was a mess and his tie was on crooked. He was 30 minutes late. Again.
“Where were you, Charlie?” Lillian had asked, leaning back in her desk chair and folding her arms across her chest. She raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow. She couldn’t wait to hear his excuse this time.
“I’m so sorry, I meant to be here but my alarm never went off and then some jerk decided to—“
“Charlie,” she cut him off. “You are consistently late. You look like a mess. You always have some excuse or crazy story,” she paused, seeing a flush creeping up his neck. He stood tensely, his mouth sealed shut. She had given him so many chances, and knew that this habit wasn’t ending any time soon.
“You’re fired, Charlie.”
Charlie adjusted his glasses, straightened his tie, and nodded silently before turning and leaving the room.
“Mom?” Sadie asked, tugging on her sleeve, pulling Lillian from her thoughts. She squatted down next to her daughter and looked her in the eyes. The crowd was finally starting to thin and Lillian saw officers politely asking people to leave the scene, to go home. They were making their way towards them.
“Yes, Sadie?” Lillian answered, looking her daughter in the eyes. She had forced Sadie’s face into her coat before she could see Charlie hit the ground. She was too small to see past the clump of bodies to see his mangled corpse that lay in the same spot on the sidewalk.
“Can we go home?” she asked sweetly. Lillian wiped her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Yes honey, we can go home.”
Dan sat on the floor of Charlie’s apartment, alone, his sobs shaking his body. He couldn’t be gone. It was his fault. He was supposed to protect him. He was supposed to be a good big brother.
Ana had left after Dan’s episode and was escorted by an officer. Finally, Dan was released once his anger faded and tears consumed him. He had looked out of the window, to see his brother’s body broken on the sidewalk below, lying in a puddle of blood. He had felt something inside of him shatter into pieces. What little he had inside was now lying in bits, like the dust left after glass shatters into billions of crystals.
Charlie was gone. His brother was gone.
Never had he felt this much pain. Never had he realized how little he had felt until his brother had decided to end his life forever.
The image of his brother’s mangled body on the sidewalk seemed to be permanently plastered behind his eyelids, refusing to leave his memory.
A few days later…
Sadie wore a little black dress, her tiny curls accompanied by a small, black bow. Her matching shoes clacked on the sidewalk, her cheeks plump and pink in the spring air. Lillian held Sadie’s hand as they walked down the path, following the parade of cloaked mourners. The sun was shining and the birds sang sweetly, oblivious to the life lost and the guilt that consumed her.
Lillian, whose tears were hidden beneath her sunglasses, felt stiff and sick. Her knees felt weak and shaky. She could see the casket being carried farther down the path, its shiny wood cover reflecting the light that cascaded down through the trees that lined the path.
Richard’s suit stuck to his large body in the hot sun. As he walked amongst mostly strangers, all veiled in black, he couldn’t help but wonder what God’s plan was. There was so much sorrow.
In his pocket, Richard played with his rosary; its beads slid between his sweaty fingers.
Richard followed the line to the burial site where they all gathered. He spotted Dan, standing separate from the crowd, his face pale and stiff.
Dan had never called back. Richard wondered if Dan recognized him after so long, if he had heard his message.
The pastor began his sermon about heaven, God, and angels. Dan couldn’t help but wonder how in the hell God would let someone jump out of a sixth story window.
The service shouldn’t be about how fucking awesome God is. It should be about Charlie.
Dan, no longer listening to the pastor’s words, recognized his grandfather, standing broodingly among Dan’s other distant relatives he hadn’t talked to or seen in years.
He had left Dan a message, asking him to call. Telling him more shit about God’s plan and how he was praying for Dan. Dan deleted the message in disgust.
Richard had pushed him and Charlie out of his life after their Dad died, leaving them to work through their grief alone. Charlie loved and admired Richard, and he had pushed him out.
Dan’s grandfather had only left like everyone else in his and Charlie’s life. And now, suddenly, he was back; here to comfort and bring God’s so called “comfort”. It was complete bullshit.
Lillian was relieved when the service ended. Every time Lillian locked eyes with people in the crowd, she felt like they could see into her soul and could see the awful thing she had done. Like they knew it was all her fault.
“Mom?” Sadie asked, squirming in her seat. “Is Charlie in heaven?”
Lillian looked Sadie, her big blue eyes filled with worry. Lillian pulled Sadie into her lap, curling her arms around her and kissing her hair. She wanted to never let go of her, to hold onto her and capture her innocence, to keep it hidden from the world forever.
Lillian pondered the question while she held Sadie in her lap.
“I—“ Lillian started, about to say, “I don’t know.” That would be the truth: Lillian had no idea if Charlie was in heaven, if he was an angel, or if he was reincarnated into a bird, free to explore the world from above.
But in that moment, holding her daughter, Lillian decided to answer instead by saying, “Yes, Sadie, Charlie is in heaven.”
Richard had started to walk away, planning on going back home and watching the news. But after a few steps he stopped, and he knew he had to turn around. He had to try. He silently asked God for strength and turned back, seeing Dan still in the same spot, staring at the hole in the ground.
Richard hadn’t been this nervous in years. His stomach was in knots as he lumbered towards Dan, hoping he could muster the right words. As he approached, he was struck by how much Dan looked like his father with his dark hair and firm mouth.
Dan looked up as he approached, and Richard could see him stiffen beneath his suit. This wouldn’t be easy.
Please Lord, grant me the right words.
“Dan,” Richard said in greeting. “How are you?”
Right away, Richard knew this was the wrong question. The answer was obvious. Dan didn’t respond, only turned to walk away.
Richard reached out and touched his shoulder. Dan stopped, and Richard sensed that he needed to say the right thing or he would lose Dan forever.
“I’m sorry, Dan,” Richard paused. “I’m so sorry. For everything.”
Dan was taken back. When his grandfather placed his heavy hand on his shoulder, he had been ready to whip around and punch his face in.
Dan knew Richard had meant it. He was like his father had been, stubborn and always right, always the guy you looked up to. “Sorrys” weren’t easy to come by.
Slowly Dan turned around, feeling drained. He didn’t have the energy to say anything, and just stood there, waiting for Richard to do something.
“I…” Richard started, looking uncomfortable. Dan couldn’t help but smirk at seeing his big, overly confident, orthodox grandfather looking so nervous.
“Dan, I do not expect you to forgive me. But you deserve to know that I am sorry. I wish I could make up the years we lost. I—“
“Stop,” Dan cut him off, holding up his hand. His apology was only making Dan feel exhausted. He wanted to chew Richard out, to tell him God didn’t exist, that everything was bullshit. But he was too tired, and he knew Charlie would want him to forgive Richard, as hard as that may be. “I ‘m not the one you should apologize to. It was Charlie. He really looked up to you.”
“I—“ Richard stopped again, taking a deep breath. “I know. “
They stood in silence for a while. Dan stared at the flowers, their white and red petals starting to wilt. There was a bird that landed next to the flowers, pecking the ground and hopping along the grass.
“Look,” Dan said with a tired sigh, as he continued watching the bird,“before you get all preachy, how about we go get a beer? I could really use it.”
Richard looked relieved and he smiled.
“A beer sounds great."
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