A COLD AND PERFECT NOTHING
Our legs dangled over the edge of the Marriott rooftop as the ball dropped and fireworks burnt the sky. The Mississippi gleamed in the distance. The Crescent City Bridge lit up across it. She’d swiped two bottles from the private party downstairs, one champagne and one scotch. She worked the front desk, which is how we accessed the roof. Canal streetcars were dots beneath us. The people pixels. Overhead was starry sky and space dust brushstrokes. We were planet killers.
Are you in love with this city, too, or is it just me? I asked.
Everyone’s in love with this city, but also, it’s just you, she said.
I lit a smoke.
I should jump, I said. It really is pointless. Continuing on is for cowards.
She was looking at her phone.
Jumping is for cowards, she finally said. No, cowards won’t do, she continued. I don’t know what the word is for giving up the only thing you were ever given that mattered and not seeing it through to an end you can’t control. That’s who jumping is for.
I dropped the smoke and watched it fall.
They once said pennies tossed from skyscrapers could kill but a show proved that wrong. I imagined the smoke landing on someone’s shoulder, the crown of a hat, a jacket’s hood. What then? Though it would more likely land on the sidewalk, maybe stubbed out by a passerby crossing the street toward the Sheraton, which is where I worked, bartending the lobby.
The Sheraton, where a few hours earlier, as the crowds bloomed, and the sun waned, I stepped out the front door and noticed dozens gazing up at the Marriott. At a room a few floors from the roof, where behind a floor to ceiling window, a naked woman wearing a mask leaned against the glass, her breasts bouncing, as a naked man thrust behind her, both clearly aware they could be seen from the street below.
I counted the floors up from the street, and down from the roof and the windows over from the sides then I texted her at the front desk, explained what was happening, and she figured out the room and the woman’s name: Tonya.
I searched Tonya on my phone. She was from Rhode Island. Her Facebook was barely active. She had 236 Twitter followers but rarely tweeted. 326 Instagram followers. 35 years old. 30 minutes earlier she’d posted a photo of the view from the Marriott window. It received 6 likes. There was no evidence of who the man was.
Did you send her a message? Comment? She asked.
No, I said.
Why did you want her name then?
The faintest hint of sunlight bloomed timid on the horizon.
I don’t know, I said.
But that was a lie. I did know.
I wanted to be the barely perceptible digital ping that lives latent in the back of Tonya’s mind for years, until some unknown day in the future, maybe even seconds before her death, when her thoughts return to that moment and she wonders, but can’t be sure, if someone else knew it was her.
I’m calling it, she said, taking a final sip from the Scotch and handing me the bottle. You coming?
No, I think I’ll stay up here a while longer.
Hey, she said, and waited for me to meet her gaze. Don’t jump.
Oh, please, I said. I’m not jumping until I’ve completely ruined whatever small connection I have with you.
I texted her the next morning and asked if she could find out when Tonya was checking out.
Of course, she responded. But why?
Can you get me in the room before it’s cleaned?
What is wrong with you?
I watched the message bubbles ripple on the screen.
Three days later I arrived at the Marriott just after eleven o’clock.
I could get fired for this, she said, as the freight elevator climbed to Tonya’s floor.
Would that be so terrible?
She used a keycard to access the room.
The space was clean, barely any trash. The bed was stripped. Unnecessary in a hotel, but no doubt done for the sake of some modesty regarding what was left on the fabric that could not be removed.
She stood by the door nervously tapping the keycard.
You know what, she said. I better get back. Don’t linger too long.
I walked over to the window and peered out at the view I’d seen on Tonya’s Instagram. In the daylight there was the slightest reflection in the window. I looked closer and there they were, Tonya’s handprints on the glass. I stepped back and gazed at my faint reflection in the window. A fuzzy void. Then I stepped to the glass, placed my hands on Tonya’s handprints and left them there waiting to discover if there was anything that I meet feel. When I felt what I expected I would feel, I turned and left the room. A cold and perfect nothing.
IN THE SOFT CALM OF THE EVENING
The sunset was electric over the valley Denver rested in. Jet trails sliced the deep blue sky like fingernails from the other side. The air was brisk, and wind gusts sent leaves swirling down from branches. Each afternoon I took Odie, my floppy eared Bloodhound mix, for a walk to the City Dog Park. He walked nose to ground, only glancing up when his keen hearing picked up indecipherable sounds in the distance. I looked forward to the walks and never missed them, no matter what I might have planned or what might come up at work. At home Odie laid at my feet. Boundless puppy energy found him at strange times, though he was nearly two. He’d started sleeping on the floor with his head hidden under the bed at night. Fall had arrived and it was just after five, right when everyone got off work. If you went often enough, you started to see the same people at the City Dog Park. There was Jim, owner of Lou the Weimaraner who chased tennis balls and never tired. There was JJ the German Shephard, who was owned by a young German couple, a tall blonde guy, and a girl with blue hair. There was Rufus, the French Bulldog who jumped to bite Odie’s ears, sending Odie hiding under a bench despite his being ten times Rufus’s size. There were many others, but always new people, too. A perfect microcosm of the gentrifying neighborhood. On that day I was struck by a young woman with a chocolate Lab. She was at least six feet tall with black hair. She wore an oversized Broncos hoodie, short jean shorts, Doc Martens, and a winter hat. She reminded me of a young Katie Holmes playing Joey Potter on Dawson’s Creek. I wandered over to say hello but didn’t get the chance. Odie started trying to hump a Golden Retriever, which was his custom, and when I went to stop him, I saw the guy two hundred yards away, moving like a black hole. White, male, early 20s. Black vest, gas mask, AR-15. A mother and two small children at the playground were closest to him. He raised the gun and fired. The shots didn’t register until they fell, then I knew he was targeting the dog park. I jumped the fence and forgot about Odie. I jumped back in, grabbed Odie, and tossed him over the fence, finding strength I was unaware I had. I heard the pops and realized I was being fired on. I made it over, falling to the grass and rolling and said come on to Odie and we scrambled behind a car parked on the street. I dialed 911. A handful of us watched behind cover of cars while the gunman shot a couple having a picnic and a half dozen people and dogs inside the fence. Many others splintered off in all directions. Odie whelped, and I didn’t blame him. The sandy floor of the dog park was littered with the bodies of dogs and people. Other dogs ran zigzags, leaping or galloping in packs, kicking up a dust cloud, confused as to whether it was a game or a threat. Dog owners, unable to escape, played dead or balled in the fetal position whimpering. The clouds overhead wisped in a circular swirl against the waning dusk light, and I stood there for a moment, transfixed, watching the planet’s slow spin. The moon rose like a lit-up Christmas ornament behind the treetops. A Terrier mix got hold of the gunman’s boot. A Retriever, his opposite pant leg. It was heroic enough to distract him as the police skidded to a stop at every intersection. The gunman’s rifle jammed or was out of ammo as he kicked at the dogs. Panicked, he reached for his last gasp pistol. Seeing this, I sprinted out screaming and waving my arms. Odie galloped by my side. Fuck you! The distraction further confused him, and the police were shooting, and he’d been hit in the leg and arm, though stayed upright because of the vest. He struggled to lift the pistol to his head, managed to shoot, but only at air. We locked eyes as the police moved in and I laughed. Manically, I laughed. Then I gathered myself and convinced Odie to come back to me. At first, he thought I was trying to play, but eventually he came, and I connected his leash to his collar. I walked slowly around the fence. The gunman, still alive, squirmed on the ground. A S.W.A.T. guy, shaking with anger, hopped the fence, walked over, and shot him twice in the head with a pistol he removed from his belt. The blood squirted out faster than I expected, like a plug pulled for an oil change. Several cops grabbed the S.W.A.T. guy and dragged him away. I kept walking. The scene was so chaotic, no one seemed to care. Past the library I walked, past the Latin guys playing handball, past the Salvation Army, past the liquor store on the corner where I’d missed a different shooting by a matter of minutes months earlier, past the guy in the pocket park by the church who always threw the ball to his old dog, to my house, where I locked the door and the chain and turned on the light and the television to whatever came on for the sound. In the kitchen I poured a stiff drink and gave Odie a treat and went out back to smoke on the patio. It was dark and there were no clouds left. Odie ran back and forth in the yard, violently shaking a piece of rope. The neighborhood felt like it was squeezing in on itself. Helicopters. Sirens. Screams. The dull murmur of neighbors talking, realizing the latest tragedy that would soon hit the news happened so close to them.