by: Phebe Jewell
Mac lives for the moment when he pushes off from a skyscraper, that split second between stories when he can’t tell if he is falling or flying. “A window washer? How do you do it?” people ask with admiration and horror. “Someone’s got to,” Mac shrugs. Working above city streets gives him room to breathe. From the 22nd story, horns and sirens ebb to a faint murmur. Starting each morning atop a tower, Mac imagines the land and water before people. The harbor and mountains behind him, he checks his harness and rope before descending into the canyon of the city.
A desk job would kill him, like it took his old man. What a way to go. Selling insurance for forty years, only to die alone in his office, found by a janitor. Dad believed in picking up after yourself. “Don’t leave your socks and shoes on the floor,” he’d bark each time he stumbled over Mac’s soccer cleats. Even now, Mac hears his father’s baritone, reprimanding him for a dirty plate left on the counter, muddy boots shucked off by the door.
Pressing his squeegee against glass, Mac contemplates a room of cubicles. If those poor suckers have to work inside, at least they get a glimpse of Puget Sound. What was Dad looking at when his heart gave out? Employment verifications?
Mac kicks away from the building’s facade, bucket bumping against his hip. Anchoring his body against the glass, he surveys this story’s office. No cubicles or imposing executive desk. Instead of fluorescent lights, the room is lit by rice paper lamps set on low tables. A man in a dark suit sits on a sofa across from a woman in a tunic and loose trousers. Head cradled in his
hands, the man sobs. Hands pressed on her knees, the woman leans toward the man, eyes intent on his face.
Mac should look away, but a crusty stain in the middle of the window needs attention. Scrubbing the glass with his long-handled brush, he works the grime of dead insects, months of city dirt. The stain won’t come out, and Mac presses harder against the glass, smearing the window. Lifting his head, the man looks out the therapist’s window, points open-mouthed at Mac dangling outside the office. Mac freezes, brush in hand. The woman strides to the window, eyes meeting Mac’s as she draws the shade. Lowering his gaze to the soft bristles of his brush, he pushes off, sure he’s left something behind.
Phebe Jewell’s work appears in various journals, including Monkeybicycle, Spelk, New Flash Fiction Review, Bending Genres, and Milk Candy Review. Her story “¿Cómo Está Tu Madre?” was chosen for wigleaf‘s 2021 Top 50 for (very) short fiction. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for incarcerated women, trans-identified and gender non-conforming people in Washington State. Read her at https://phebejewellwrites.com.