Very short. A bit of an experiment. The result of Angst Overwhelm, which hit me hard last night. RL angst; angst in the long story I'm working on; lovely, wonderful angst in XF fics (much more lovely and angsty than the actual ep that inspired them, and if anyone here wants to know what to read, email me. I've got recs.); Buffy angst and Angel angst--all hail Joss Whedon, but *geez*, man, who kicked your puppy?; more RL angst...
Where was I?
Oh, yeah. Anyway, I had to write something that wasn't angst or my head was going to explode. So I wrote this.
Thanks to inkling, First Reader extraordinaire, who knows about what's real.
Not rated. No spoilers. Read at your own risk.
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by peregrin anna
The winding river, the circling gulls, the sparkling towers, the soundless traffic and tiny people...Chicago is beautiful from high above. Unless, that is, your ankle is soaked because you stepped in your bucket of window cleaner and your stomach is rumbling because you forgot to bring a sandwich with you. Then it's all just noise and clutter. You're about to duck back into the building in search of a vending machine when your foot slips off the scaffolding and you fall. It happens so quickly that you don't even think; you just grab the first thing that brushes your hand.
Your arm is jerked almost out of its socket, but you stop falling. You suck in a breath and open your eyes and find that you're at the end of your rope--literally.
What a stupid expression, you think as you try to catch your breath. You grasp the lifeline with your other hand and wonder how long you'll be able to hold on.
People say they're at the end of their rope all the time, but no one else can know what it's like: hanging suspended over Michigan Avenue, the frayed hemp cutting into your hands, the sweat on your palms stinging the cuts, your feet scrabbling to make contact with something other than nothing. How could anyone--one of those double-breasted stock brokers that you can see through the damn glass, for example, but who can't seem to see you no matter how hard you struggle--how could any of them use that metaphor to describe what they feel after an oh-so harried day posing at computer screens and drinking too many lattes?
No. No, no, this is not the time to start Yuppie bashing. Not their fault you're a window washer. You wanted to see Chicago from the bird's-eye level, you wanted 'life experiences' in the 'real world' so you could write honest, gritty stuff, like Steinbeck, like Hemingway, like Raymond-freaking-Chandler. Well, at least now you're gonna get to meet them and cop all their writing secrets and boy, will you have an experience to write about. Fat lot of good it's gonna do you.
You had no idea what real is, until now. Real is the ache in your shoulders. Real is the pavement twenty stories below.
You make one more attempt to get someone's attention, swinging your legs toward the glass, but your rope is tangled on the scaffolding, which is just too wide--you can't make contact with the glass. That meeting must be some kind of wonderful--two of them are already hiding yawns behind their hands as they nod at the presenter. Sorry fellas. Guess you're stuck sucking up to the boss for the next couple hours. They aren't worth the time it takes to hate them, you decide, and your hands slip a little more.
You, do, however, spare a moment of hostility for the minions of hell who programmed "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" into Walgreen's Muzak system. It's been stuck inside your head since you went to buy Tylenol this morning, and now the last voices you will ever hear belong to Tony Orlando and Dawn. Okay, so you haven't lived a perfect life, but no one, absolutely no one, deserves that fate. And yet, even now, you find yourself humming along.
"I'm coming home, I've done my time..."
You just had no idea how short that time was going to be. Your hands slip again. This is it, you think, and you wonder why your life isn't flashing before your eyes.
Maybe it's because you never had a life.
Then again, maybe it's because you're not going to die.
A window on the floor above the brokerage slides open and a long, blue-jeaned leg emerges. "Hang on!" a hiking boot says.
Okay, not the hiking boot. Not the plaid shirt, either, but the guy wearing them. You think that maybe Sister Mary Perpetua Alonzo was right, and there are guardian angels, because this guy is gingerly making his way out onto the scaffolding, reaching for the rope to pull you up, and he's doing it, somehow. He gets a hand under your arm and you think maybe you're home free--and then you think maybe you're already dead, because the last time you saw anyone wearing the complete L. L. Bean collection in Chicago was 1991, and that was at the Boat, Sport, and Travel show.
"You okay?" His voice is vaguely southern, and his face is as white as a sheet. When you nod, he steps back and presses his palms against the building. "I hate heights," he mutters.
You don't answer. You're staring down at your hands, still sore and sweaty and, in a couple of places, bloody from the rope. "Hey, thanks," you finally say, and you look up to say more, because now you finally know what real is--it's a shaking hand under your arm that lifts you up when you're at the end of your rope and damn, that's gonna be a great ending line for your story--but he's gone. You can hear the elevator door at the far end of the hall ding and slide open and closed, and so you know he was real, but you'll never get a chance to offer your equally real thanks.
Oh, well. If he'd wanted them, he would have stuck around. You step in through the window. You find your coat where you left it, on the top storage shelf in the broom closet, and dig out the notebook and pen you always carry with you. You turn a bucket over and perch on it, and all the sound goes away, even that stupid song, as you focus on recording your brush with reality.
You decide it would have been a lot more profound if you'd been thinking about the futility of modern life when you fell.
You smile and begin to write.
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