A Girl (Five Angles)

I. From the street below

An ant. A dot scaling the skyscraper with the dexterity of a spider. What can that girl possibly be gripping? That building looks completely featureless, as if a god reached down and smoothed out all the wrinkles of the ocean. Occasionally, a stiff wind will seem to blow the girl off course, like a sailboat drifting on the open sea, but somehow she manages to keep going. Keep climbing.

II. From the 18th floor of the skyscraper

First a hand, then half an arm, then eventually a whole body splayed across the glass, touching at three points, then four, then three again. Hand foot hand. Step adjust step. Like climbing a jungle gym, only vertical and slick, the windows just washed by men in a cage; that’s what it’s called: a cage. Capitalism is full of words like that: both metaphorical and utilitarian. (You think I haven’t wanted to climb the walls of this corporate establishment? You think I haven’t longed to bathe in the liquid sun rippling up the glass as I drive to work on a cold November morning? I envy her as much as I fear her.) She can see me. She can see us all.

III. From the dome of the skyscraper across the street

In this job, you learn not to comment on what you witness. A grayscale birthday party for the HR lady turning sixty on Sunday, a CEO firing an employee, a jumper on a ledge. You train yourself not to see it. Put on your ear muffs. Dip your squeegee in a bucket. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Clears off all the bird shit and the blood. I just hope that girl washes her hands when she’s done.

IV. From the roof, looking down

Everyone thinks they’ll be excited to meet someone with superpowers, someone like Spider-Man or Captain Marvel, with fancy costumes and power just radiating off them. No one thinks they’re the kind of person who’d say, “That shouldn’t be possible. That shouldn’t exist,” but I look down at this girl, at the way she thins her fingers down to fit in the seams between metal and glass, and part of me wonders: why? What’s she trying to prove?

V. From her reflection in the glass

You can see the entire city from here. Not just the highway and the car parks but the treetops, the high schools, the steeples and the fences and that ice cream shop where you can play pinball until your fingers burn and drag queens stop by on their way to the gig. This was my training regimen. Skipping school, riding my dirt bike, stretching my arm to reach the highest branch. Puberty was so strange and unbearable. I couldn’t let the kids at school know. I needed time to figure out who I was. What I could do. Could I climb mountains? Could I scale skyscrapers? As it turns out, yes. I’m not sure what comes next. All I know is: never look down and never look back.