Up Here, Down There
Just being on Earth was enough for me. I remember seeing the sunrise one day when I was home in the country. The cool fall winds came in swirls as the leaves rustled in a twisted dance. Our wind chimes whistled with the tree trunks. A cold glass of apple juice came onto my lap. My father smiled and pointed towards the sky, his words lost in my memory. I held my head high, the clouds parting. I thought I was being swallowed up by the sun. It eroded every part of my face, blinding me the more I stared. When I squinted to ease the pain, it became like a flickering flame.
It was the last day of summer when I realized how little I had done. Coming into the city never fazed me. I thought I should have been a good citizen, tour a little and see what made the apartments so grey. I never did like the steps of the streets. Everyone was brushing past me, trying to find something I couldn’t quite understand. They were frantic, their eyes peering into a world I had no business in. Even if I had come into the city, they knew I didn’t belong. Why would I? I couldn’t stand in. Eventually I stopped trying. Except I knew that my parents wouldn’t be so forgiving if their thousand dollar expenditure turned into soot.
The streets were devoid of the usual roaring cars and stampeding feet. My steps lingered in the air. I couldn’t stop noticing them. The burning air wrapped around my arms and legs, wanting to send me to Earth. Taking off any more layers would have been dangerous. Though perhaps it would have made a great story.
The buildings that overlaid every corner were like sentries over the horizon. Large red signs and painted women splattered on every window. Even the street lights and telephone poles lost semblance of their purpose. I nodded to the closed pizza store beside the four way. I stopped to peer under its sign board. Mounds of gum was still stuck there. As I walked up to the edge of the sidewalk I heard the sound of a bell. The rotation of its wheels on the pavement muddled with my footsteps. That sound soothed me. A second more and I would have been sent flying.
“Ah damn it. You’re not hurt are you?” He said, his bike briskly on the hem of my shirt. His voice flew off the air. I laughed when I saw his dead eyes and half strewn hair.
“Really? I thought I was going to get yelled at by another old dude,” he said with a sigh.
“Sorry I couldn’t live up to your expectations,” I answered as he put his bike on stand. He walked towards me and looked over at the stoplights ahead. Not a single car came by. He stretched his hands up into the air, and then began reaching down for his toes.
“You doing some morning exercise too?” He asked as he got up to thrust his back. I turned away. His bike had chipped. The blue paint began to meld into a steel. He had a sticker of an exhaust pipe on the seat tube. I wondered why no one ever told him the price tag was still on the seat post. My father would have died hearing that.
“Who do you think I am Joel?” I asked as I shrugged. I didn’t know why I was friends with Joel. I bet he couldn’t tell me why either. We just happened to like the same pizza store that ran the four way. I really did wish that someone would point out the price tag on his bike.
“I think you’re the type of guy who would almost get run over by a bike in the morning, Eli.” He brought his face to the glass window of the store. Its darkness pervaded him. He shrugged. I couldn’t help but join him.
“You think they carry their store home?” He asked as he side eyed me. The chairs and tables were set up in rows. The counter was guarded by glass, and the broken clock was still beside the menu.
“Like they bake pies for dinner,” Joel added, his eyes glued to a fly buzzing about. I never did peg the store to be anything but dingy. When I first ordered, it took thirty minutes. Something to do with the oven breaking down. Tasted like cardboard but the cashier gave me a bag of chips for free. They were stale. The water was warm. But I loved the place. Joel shrugged once and went over to take the stand off his bike.
“I better get going. The morning’s young but I’ve got a game to catch.” I almost forgot Joel put fifty on the game at lunch. He was too scared to put a tab on the night show. Said the anxiety would kill him. As he began to roll his bike, I stopped him. He was right. The day was young. Those words reminded me of the sunset I saw back home. I had yet to see one here. He looked at me with raised eyes.
“Mind doing me a quick favor?” He sighed. He had been here ever since he was born. I figured he would know a good spot or two for when I needed to be up there and not down here. He nodded to me.
“You know any good spots around here where you can see the sunrise?” I asked. He snickered. He rolled his bike down onto the streets. The stoplight flashing red. I followed.
“The sunrise?” He looked up towards the buildings that watched over us. His eyes loomed into that rising sky. As we finished crossing, he chuckled.
“The last thing I thought you’d ask me is seeing a sunrise. Actually, that was never on my mind.” He stretched his hand towards the sky, letting out a small groan.
“Come on, let’s go.” He began walking his bike, allowing me to meet his stride. The clouds seemed to mimic our steps as we moved away from the grey of the city. The buildings lowered as the sidewalk began growing vegetation. Wild flowers simmered with the wind. I felt my entire body lighten. I began to construct a narrative for my father. He would have believed anything his sweet little boy told him. Perhaps I had a girlfriend here. Perhaps I stopped my best friend from overdosing drugs. Or perhaps I was just barely getting by, scraping the ends of the street for some semblance of my life. He’d even like that. He never did bring me out to see sunrises after that day. I never got to ask why.
“It’s been so many years since I last saw a sun rise. You’d almost think you couldn’t. But you’d be surprised,” Joel said as he stopped his bike and kicked his stand down. We were standing in front of a construction site. Piles of steel garters, wood, and bags of cement were strewn about near the fence. I couldn’t quite tell what the construction was but before I had time to think, Joel started, “You see that crane there? That’s where we’re headed.” I looked towards the tower crane that stood overlooking the site. Its body ran for the sky, its arm out stretching the length of a two homes. Its steel wanted to glisten.
“There must be some law against sneaking into a construction site,” I said as I followed him up the fence.
“As long as we don’t get caught,” he answered as he plopped onto the dirt. Our feet bellowed a small sand storm.
“Why isn’t anyone here?” I asked as we strode towards the crane.
“That’s a good question. This has always been here ever since I could remember. They’ve never made progress. It’s not even on the news. People just don’t care about it. But it sits here watching,” his words fell into my ears like the soft spluttering of rain. I could hear my home’s chimes as his hands meshed into the steel of the crane. He kicked a line in the dirt before ascending the ladder.
“You know what this was supposed to be?” I asked.
“Who knows. I’ve tried asking. No bites.” The quiet sift of the air brought me back to my home. I forgot I was in the city as we climbed.
“You into sunrises?” He asked as we reached the top. He shifted into a crawl as he went up the lane of the arm. We weren’t high enough to touch the clouds, but as I stretched my arms towards the sky, I wondered if I could. My childhood was ecstatic.
“Not really. I saw one when I was a kid. But that was out in the country.”
“I see. It’d make a good memory seeing one in the city. Not many people can contest that they’ve ever seen the sun,” he said with a chuckle. He sat at the edge of the arm, his legs dangling in a pendulum. I crawled towards him, the steel sending shocks to my skin. I took a whiff of the material. It was rusting. The buildings that surrounded us barely made my eye line.
“Being up here is totally different than being jacked up on a blunt. You can’t really say you’ve been in the clouds until you’re this high. Literally,” he laughed. I couldn’t help but join him.
“Do you have anything like this back home?” Joel asked as he brought his hand towards the steel of the arm, allowing his fingers to trace its dust. Before I answered him, I took a whiff of the air. It was warm no matter where I was.
“There’s an old train station. Rundown place with vines. Cold as hell if you go in. No matter what season it is. There’s an abandoned tunnel in there. I think they wanted to connect the country and city with it,” I answered with a chuckle. My father loved going down there and exploring the tunnels that were never used. Broken glass and ruble lined the floor. The tracks were brown, touching them would have gave us as any number of strange disease.
“Sounds like a hell of a place. If I ever visit the country you should bring me there.”
“Except its nothing like seeing a sunrise. Country sunrises are so–Well, I haven’t seen a city one.” He laughed.
“But I’m sure that no matter where you are, being up here will always feel better than being down there.” He closed his eyes as he brought his hands out. His feet stopped, they hung like necks. The warm winds made me itch for a cold glass. I closed my eyes, and waited. The crane creaked in the ensuing gust. My entire body tightened as my skin wanted to melt itself. As I opened my eyes, I half expected my father’s hand on my head.
“And here it is.” He pointed towards a spot between two buildings where the sky began to bleed yellow. It was as if the world was slowly burning away. It blinded me, and as I squinted to ease the pain, it became like a flickering flame. Somewhere in that painted sky was the distant ocean of my home. But that all faded as the crane churned in our weight. My body shook as I looked down at the dirt. It would be splattered with red if I sneezed. I turned back towards the sunrise. The sky was alive, it made me want to stand, and so I did. Joel didn’t peep a word as he turned to see me with my arms out, fluttering in the wind. I imagined the entirety of that sky swallowing me whole. At least now I had a story to tell.