He pointed a finger, crooked from a life of construction work, at a distant building. The sidewalk before it was swollen and cracked like the black eye he’d once told me he got from a broken beer bottle at the Cotton-eyed Joe. Every visit I made, my grandfather told me the story.
“The buildin’ has a slight tilt now, not that anyone’ll notice.” He spat on the pavement through a gap in his teeth, rubbing it in with his shoe in a single mindless motion. “I don’t guess I know how long it’s been so don’t bother askin’ me,” he cackled. “There was a kid who used to clean those windows way up there. It was real routine for ‘em I imagine. He sure as heck’d move fast. Anyhow, there was a windy day in the city and I’d just sat down to get a bite to eat right over there at the sandwich shop.” He ran his hand from the top of the building down to the ground with a painter’s care and described to me some long cables that hung from the platform where the window washer stood.
“I was sittin’ there eating my… well, it must’ve been a meatball sub. Those things had good all through em’. They’d just about make your tongue slap your brains out.” He took a moment to lick a corner of his smile, but then fluttered his eyes ashamed at his digression.
“Anyhow, I saw those cables blowin’ in the wind underneath the platform. They’d gotten so low, a whole loop of it was sittin down by the curb. There was a real sharp young man sitin’ in the booth next to mine. I figured he’d show his concern.” My grandfather gestured with his head signaling for the young man to come over just as he had done on that day. “I said, “Hey, take a look at that cable sittin’ on the street like that. Say if somethin’ were to get a hold of that rope in all this wind…””
He said the boy was polite but paid it little thought and I wasn’t too sure anyone but my grandfather would be keen enough to notice, much less find it at all intriguing. “I betcha not two minutes later, a car came down the road and that blessed loop wrapped right around its mirror. I said, “Oh mercy!” The young man and I burst out the shop and ran towards the scene. That window washer’s platform had tilted and he was holdin’ on tight way up in the sky.”
“Did the car ever stop?” I’d made a routine of asking the question.
“He stopped within fifteen feet of takin’ that loop. He didn’t know anything had happened until someone on the sidewalk got his attention. There really weren’t too many people on the street that day, all at work I guess. When the driver hopped out’a the car, I hollered, “You gotta get that cable wrapped around that telephone pole and then loosen up on it slowly!” He was terrified from what I could see so he took no time to second guess my orders.”
“Why did he need the telephone pole if he was just going to loosen it all?”
“If he didn’t use the pole, the force of the platform would’ve overpowered him, slamming it back into place and risking shakin’ the window washer off the side. It all had to be done slowly. The car driver wrapped the cable two times around the pole and gradually gave it slack.
As he loosened the cable’s tension, the platform moved back into place and the weight of it made the flesh come right off his palms and the cable chip the paint off the pole, but it looks like they’ve repaired it since, not that anyone’ll notice. In fact, it looks like they might’ve replaced it entirely. When all was done, the window washer stood up and shortened the cord below ‘em to get away from the street and went back to scrubbing the windows.”
When my grandfather’s lips returned to their unmoving, limp appearance, he took me into the sandwich shop where he sat that day. He told me it would be the perfect place to eat lunch.
As we made our way to the counter, we looked around and were met with the interior of a shoe store.
“Is there anything I can help you find?” A man approached us from the register. “No, thank you, we’re just looking,” I replied.
The man seemed all too accustomed to the unprofitable phrase and he walked away dissatisfied.
My grandfather turned to look at the building across the street. Its glass was dirty, only subtly capable of reflections. And just below his line of vision was an aged memorial plaque I knew was engraved into the sidewalk. He too was somewhere resisting.
Sam Baker is an author of poetry, fiction, and essays from Louisville, Kentucky. He currently works for the Kenyon Review as an associate and as a teaching assistant for the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. Baker’s reads have been published or are forthcoming in The Pinch Literary Journal, Polaris, The Blue Marble Review, and elsewhere. His work has also been recognized by The Missouri Review, Guesthouse Lit, Penn Review, Apparition Lit, Wrongdoing Magazine, Silk Road Poetry, Smartish Pace, Ruminate Magazine, Columbia University, Kenyon College, University of Massachusetts, Washington University in St. Louis, Sewanee: University of the South, Ohio Northern University, University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, Variant Literature, The Alliance For Young Artists and Writers, and The Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts.