Sunday, May 04, 2014


"Look at that idiot," Rob said to Peter. He was referring to their mutual friend, Steven, who was presently climbing the scaffolding of a building across the bar from which they had just been thrown out. Peter lit a cigarette and watched as Steven continued his drunken ascent. Flakes of snow were falling and melting on the wet ground.

"If he falls," he said, "what's our culpability?"

Rob laughed through his nose. He sounded like a brachycephalic bulldog.

Steven, almost at the building's second floor, turned to look at the pair. He had a wild look in his eyes, always had a wild look in his eyes, but this look was pleading. "This would be easier if that damned gorilla would stop throwing barrels at me," he shouted.

"Fuck this, I'm taking a cab home," Rob said. He looked at Peter and said, "Game over." Then he spit on the ground.

Peter touched Rob's arm. "We can't just leave him like this, man," he said. "He's going to fall or get arrested. We need to help him down "

"I'm done being an arbiter of stupidity," Rob said . "First I get tossed out of Casey's because you handle your liquor like an epileptic holds a stick of dynamite, and now this fucking guy is trying to be fucking Spider-Man. Fuck you both." He walked away.

Peter crossed the street. Steven looked higher from this perspective. He was at the third floor at least, maybe the fourth or fifth.

"Hey old man, another time, okay?" Peter said. "Climb down and let's get some fish tacos. It's too fucking cold for this shit."

Steven didn't answer. He looked motionless. With the streetlights out, you wouldn't even know he was there if you didn't know he was.

Then, a word: "Help."

Peter took out his phone and called 911. He felt embarrassed explaining the situation to the operator. "My friend is drunk and he started to climb a building under construction and now he's stuck up there and he can't get down."

A firetruck was on its way, he was told. The dispatcher wanted Peter to stay on the phone, but Peter's hand was too cold, he told her, and he hung up.

"Stay there, pal," he shouted up to Steven. "You're okay. People are coming."

"What people?" Steven whimpered. "People I know?"


The snow had again turned to rain, and all about water droplets descended in fat plops on the ground. The sky, once black, assumed a more acceptable -- yet still sinister -- grey pallor. Dawn had broken, but just barely.

Like a tableau vivant, Peter stood in place on terra firma while Steven lurched above. Occasionally they talked about trivial matters to pass the time: Is Peter Capaldi going to be a good Doctor Who? Is Ride the Lightning better than Kill 'Em All?

The operatic scene was interrupted by the sound of boot heels on wet pavement.

"Is that fucking guy still up there?" Rob asked.

"It would appear so," Peter said. "You're back," he said, more an observation, less a question as to why.

"Still here, Rob, you motherfucker," Steven shouted down.

"Good!" Rob yelled back.

And that's when everything came down.


The scaffolding started to lean. Steven, who had always been dextrous of limbs, managed to take purchase higher as the construction level below him cascaded to the earth. Rob was hit in the forehead with a metal pipe, and Peter leaped onto him to as he dropped like an idiomatic sack of potatoes. Detritus continued to rain upon Peter's back for several more seconds.

Then the sirens. Ambulances, firetrucks, police cruisers, news vans.

"I'm okay," Peter told someone, a reporter or a cop. Blood was streaming from his forehead into his eye, and he couldn't see. Elsewhere, he heard shouts that someone was dead. Was it Rob? Who else could it be?


Rob didn't die, but it might have been better if he he had. The pipe that struck his head rendered him a vegetable. Sometimes I go over to see him, but it's never a good experience. His wife, Alexa, still blames me for what happened. I don't disagree with her because I blame myself, too.

And then there's Steven, who was neither rescued nor found. Steven, that great crater of mischief. That entity who defies the law of gravity.

Sometimes I dream that I am him, and that he is me.

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