The Ledge

by: Michael Shields

Day 8 of our 12 days of holiday stories offers a touch of black comedy from far atop one of NYC’s most recognized landmarks…..

A cold breeze whips across the front facade of the light brick building and across the wind-burnt face of the man standing upon the ledge of its 61st floor. The man, who shifts his weight from foot to foot nervously, is shielding his eyes from the glare off of the terraced stainless-steel arches above. He wears a well-tailored black pinstripe three-piece suit as his brown full-length trench coat remains unfastened and flapping in the wind. He turns as he hears the sound of a window opening.  A man begins to emerge from the open cavity of the window.

“Oh, excuse me. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone else was out here.”

A man in his mid-fifties, also wearing a dark suit, begins to retreat from the windowsill in the manner one does when they catch someone in a bathroom stall, startled and embarrassed.

“Oh no. Please, no worries,” the man on the ledge insists. “There is plenty of room out here. Seriously. I expected this. It actually happens often. Please, feel free to join me.”

“Yeah, I guess so. All right then. If you don’t mind the company.”

The newcomer slowly pulls himself out of the window and onto the ledge. He steadies himself and the two men stand side to side, flirting with eternity, mere inches separating them from certain death.

“I do not mind at all. I actually welcome the company. This really is the perfect ledge, the ideal width to move around some while contemplating, and the perfect height too. And this time of year….c’mon, I thought we would have a whole crew up here by now. I’m Kevin by the way” he says, extending his hand enthusiastically in greeting.

“I’m David. A pleasure to meet you,” David sheepishly says as he takes a brief limp hold of Kevin’s hand and releases just as quickly, avoiding eye contact all together.

“A pleasure to meet you David. A fine day up here, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah, fine. Sure.”

“You know, I scoped out ledges for months before I finally chose this one. After comparing all the options it was clear that nothing comes close. In this city anyways. Chrysler Building, East River, just cannot beat it!”

“You seem rather happy. What is it you’re up here for anyways?”

“Attention!”

“Really?”

“No, well, some attention never hurts of course. But I first came up here to think about taking the ole leap of faith. That one last final plunge, you know? And from time to time I still think I may just go through with it. But most days I just come up here for the view. I can’t get enough of it. And then I fell in love with this old beaut!” Kevin says while patting the concrete structure lovingly. “And you, what are you up here for? Tough day at the office?”

“I’m here….I’m here to kill myself.”

“Kill yourself, kill yourself?? Really? Wow.”

“I know, right.”

“Well that’s mighty white of you. I just can’t seem to go through with it,” Kevin goes on, ignoring the seriousness of David’s claim. “But I get it. It’s a cold unforgiving world out there. A true shit-show really. They don’t tell you how rough it’s gonna be coming up, and then one day it just hits you right in the face. Smack!!!…you’re fucked, no matter what!”

“Yeah, I just can’t go on any longer. I…..”

“I truly cannot get enough of this view!!” Kevin brazenly infringes. “I never thought the U.N. was a sight to behold until I got up here, but look at it. Just look at it! All boxy and beautiful. And look at how the Citi-building just sticks out like a sore thumb just over there, not a building its size anywhere around. And look at Queens and Brooklyn…..goes on for days and days, like the open sea. You forget how big those boroughs are until you get up here. You forget how big everything is.”

Kevin pauses to soak it all in.

“And if you lean forward a little, and look to the right–whoa, careful now–you can see almost all of downtown. Remarkable. Just remarkable. Especially this time of year.”

David stands silent after humoring Kevin’s brief tour of the city as seen from the East side of the building’s 61st floor.

“And these eagles over here,” Kevin continues as he gracefully, and fearlessly, moves across the ledge to the corner of the building.

“Whoa, easy…what are you doing?!?” David asks startled by Kevin’s movements.

“It’s fine. I’m fine, don’t worry. I am very comfortable up here as you can see. These eagle gargoyles on each corner of the building are made of a corrosion-resistant material called Nirosta, which is simply an alloy of chrome-nickel steel. They are, get this, replicas of 1929 Chrysler hood ornaments!”

“You sure do know a lot about this building.”

“That I do. And I should. I come here often enough.” Kevin takes in a breath of the wintery fresh air and then turns to David, sympathetically. “So I have to ask, and you of course don’t have to answer…..but why?”

“Well,” David commences with a conciliatory tone. “It’s all, it’s all just too much. I really can’t take it anymore. I just can’t be out here (gesturing unto the city) with these people…these FUCKING people. The world is a sick, evil place, something I am reminded about daily…on TV, in the newspapers. I just can’t bear to be a part of it any longer. And, the narcissism!  Everyone in their own little bubble. Everybody is talking–but no one is really saying anything. And worse, no one is truly listening to each other. If they would only just listen to each other. Well maybe they are listening but they sure as hell aren’t truly hearing. If they were, things wouldn’t be like they are. Things…….”

Kevin, losing patience for David’s recounting of the State of the Union, interrupts him with zest.

“Did you know that this building was the tallest building in the world at one point? Only for eleven months…but still. It was the Empire State Building that surpassed it. In ‘31.”

“This is all very interesting,” David said without looking up. He held both his arms clutched to his body bracing himself against the crosswinds, angered to the point of complete surrender. Fully defeated.

“Fascinating actually! You see there was intense competition at that point in New York City to build the world’s tallest building. With that being the case the Chrysler Building was built at an average of four floors per WEEK!!! I can’t even get my head around that. And what’s more is that not ONE worker died during its construction. Un-believable!”

David takes a step away from Kevin. He begins to hyperventilate and his face appears pale and sweaty.

“You okay? You want me to go inside and get you some water or something?”

“It all….just kind of hit me,” David says as he begins to weep, his body quivering. He extends his arm to find something to hold onto, finally gripping a small section of the windowsill. “I think I am just going to get this over with. It’s time.”

“You sure?”

“I am. I’m sure.”

“All right then. I guess that is what you came up here to do after all. Don’t let me stand in your way. Wow, you’re really the see-things-through type huh? I respect that. I really do. Well, I must say it has been a pleasure.”

“It has?”

“Indeed. As much as I love it up here, I love it much more with some company. But I understand a man has to do what a man has to do. I won’t keep you. In fact, I am sure you need some space. Good luck.”

“Good LUCK?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I don’t really know what to say here. Almost went with ‘Go get em’.”

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I hope you have a great holiday season.”

“Ummm, yeah. You, uh, too……”

David takes a final breath of the crisp winter air, closes his eyes slowly, and leaps into the unknown. Kevin follows his descent for a few moments and then returns to an upright position. He checks his watch and looks around, seemingly unaffected. He appears impatient, as if waiting for something. His stern anxious face is awoken by a creaking noise then the flapping of drapes in the wind. An arm reaches through the nearby window and then a tentative head peeks out…..

“Oh, excuse me. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone else was out here.”

“Oh no. Please, no worries.” The man on the ledge insists. “There is plenty of room out here.”

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