Do Not Climb
Maybe if there had been a sign—
But of course there hadn’t. Anders might as well have expected a placard reminding visitors to keep their propriety with them at all times.
Somewhere down the halls of his memory, a public address system crackled over the lurch of a roller coaster. “Hands and feet inside,” buzzed the voice, leaving an unspoken “or else” to ripen in children’s imaginations. He’d never had the slightest trouble picturing his limbs as stubs of ground beef, pale snags of bone jutting out where the machinery had gnawed. The consequences of rule-breaking had always preyed on his most colourful anxieties.
There was no warning announcement here, though, and no sign. When he’d paused by the honeycombed windows of the atrium, no security guards had stepped forward to intimidate him into decorum. The building felt deserted, in fact. The rest of his work crew were smoking out by the docks, and the usual echoes of phone conversation and clacking heels had been replaced for the moment by a wide open hush.
Anders could not have said why he started to climb. The gesture startled him even as he gripped the sills and braced his shoes against the glass. It was something a child would do—a rash and defiant child at that, the kind who might thrust his leg out of the roller coaster car just to see what would happen. Still, he climbed.
He went two panes beyond his initial wave of acrophobia and then stopped. Below him, the floor must have been tunnelling in and out of itself like a kaleidoscope, but he didn’t look down. His hands were slick enough as it was. Whatever impulse had driven him to clamber halfway up a six-story building now shifted toward the horizon, and he mashed his nose against the window glass to look.
Being up so high unmoored him at once. He treaded sky over the spires of docked sailboats and the cluster of coworkers sharing smoke. What if they were to look up and see him splayed in the window frame? What if he were to bounce, just for effect? What if he decided to whoop, to do the hokey-pokey, to swipe the cold glass with his tongue? A salty wind from the harbour thrummed the building’s façade, and he felt his bones listing in response. He could have bobbed forever above the swells, out past the changeling hills and to the perimeter of the world.
In a room off the atrium, a cough rang out. He caught himself just in time.
The climb down would have been a guilty flight, nothing more, if not for the strum in his veins. He carried down the choreography of clouds and the restless grace of water and the headiness of height. The roller coaster of his memory swept itself into a sea wind that left him breathless, almost giddy.
Anders wished there had been a sign. How he would have thrilled to ignore it.