On the Verge of

by E.M. Killaley

 

The edge of the bed was sharp and cold. That was not what beds were meant to feel like. My phone kept ringing, muffled by my dressing robe. I felt into the pocket and brought it to my face. But the pale blue of my bedroom wall was not behind it, only indigo sky, fading to periwinkle.

I touched the metal surface beneath me, bright yellow freckled with patches of rust where the paint had come away. I answered the phone.

‘Sweetie? Wake up, it’s Mom.’

‘Mom?’

‘It’s okay. Look up.’

There was a man hanging suspended from climbing gear, which was fastened to a slanted metal beam.

‘He’s there to help you. We can’t—‘ I could hear fear choking her voice. ‘We can’t stay on the phone. But we’re on our way, honey. We’ll be there when you get down.’

I moved toward the verge of the metal, where yellow collided with blue, and saw over a hundred foot drop. It was a construction area.

‘Miss?’ the man called.

‘Are you ready?’ Mom asked.

‘I think so.’ It couldn’t have been my own numb lips who had said so.

‘You’ll be just fine.’ There was a pause. ‘We love you so much. You’ll be fine.’ Then silence as my phone went back to its home screen.

‘Miss?’ the man said again.

I put my phone back in my pocket and raised myself to a sitting position. He lowered himself onto the roof of the crane, and loosened a harness that was attached to his own.

‘You’ll need to stand up,’ he said. A gust of wind blew my hair across my face, and I pushed it away. He held out a hand to me. Cold pin pricks raced up and down my legs. ‘You can do it.’

He heaved me to my feet, but my right leg would not take my weight, and I slipped. My foot was hanging over the chasm, one slipper plummeting to earth. An upward draft gasped between my toes. The man’s hand gripped my arm and guided me back to him, then he threaded the harness between my legs and around my waist. He tugged a few straps tighter, and I stood against him, chest to chest.

‘Okay?’ he asked.

But I couldn’t answer.

‘Okay,’ he said, but it was a command rather than a question. His breath smelled like cigarettes and mints.

And he pulled me over the brink.

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