The man jumps first. Arms out like a bird. He lands square foot, triumphant on the little ledge beneath his hotel window.
In the office tower next door, Shannon spits out her turkey chili. The lights are off on her floor. If he jumps from the ledge, she will be the only witness. She raises her hand—he’s looking right at her. She can see him so clearly that she forgets her tinted window is one of many, another one-way mirror in a city full of them.
There’s movement in the hotel room behind him. Shannon cups her face and presses her nose against the glass. A woman comes to the open window. Young—no, impressionable. She has to stand on the room’s sofa to hike her leg over the bottom half of the window frame. When she’s over, straddling the metal bar awkwardly in her sequined skirt, he doesn’t catch her. She lands on her knees, the ledge just big enough for the both of them.
Mariah, formerly in Office 917, would know exactly how to assess actual danger from playful risk, but she went full remote. Before, she and Shannon had traveled to conferences together, had looked out of many, many windows: over glittering cityscapes and suburban parking lots and airport conference centers where planes shook the tired windows. None of them with windows that actually opened. No way for a person to actually escape through any means except the automatic locking doors.
Shannon spears her spoon into the chili and heads into the galley of empty cubes. It’s Friday—most of the hybrids picked the meaty middle of the week. Sometimes she sees another full in-office on the sixth floor or the eighth, but not today. Shannon takes the stairs to the breakroom on seven, with the good coffee and a window with a lower view. In it, the refrigerator rattles on and the frozen meals rattle inside it, left back in March the year before still waiting for Mindy or Jacob or Anthony to come claim them.
From here she can see the man is wearing enormous boots that edge over the lip of the building. She can see the woman shaking but is it fear or freeze. The ledge is an alcove, the concrete trim crumbling and ragged. She imagines the ledge rolling these two on an ocean of rebar and plaster, their bodies tossed onto the asphalt below.
This vision reminds her of the story—how could she have forgotten the story? Bruce, formerly in 802, full remote, a champion jalapeño grower, a man sent in with cinnamon bread to share, a laugh that still haunts the eaves of the breakroom, had organized the hotel ghost tour as a team building exercise. The October before, each of them with flashlights—Tom, 903, hybrid Monday through Wednesday, brought some sort of ghost meter—the guide dressed as a bellboy, the story another version of a failed love affair where only the woman suffers the consequences. The consequences being, of course, that the man threw her to the street below. Like trash, Mariah had said to the bellboy. You mean to say he threw her like trash to the street below.
Shannon pounds her fists against the window. Don’t jump, her fists say. Surely these were real people with blood in their veins. A man, a woman, the enormous shoes. He’s lit a cigarette. It hangs on his lip. From here she can see the red ember screaming. The woman takes hold of his forearm. There is, this high up, always a wind.
The wind pulls the woman’s scarf like a noose at her neck. Shannon again pounds the double-paned glass. The woman steps closer to the ledge on high heels—how had Shannon not noticed these delicate, tottering shoes and the narrow spires of them catching between the pebble gravel of the ledge? She should call someone but the first question they will ask is which room, which window, and she can’t answer that from here. For that answer, she will have to climb to the 10th floor conference room, the one with the floor-to-ceiling picture windows.
She re-enters the cube galley and takes the internal stairs two at a time, past the darkened offices where storage boxes pile up beneath the places where nameplates have been stripped from the walls. Past empty Deborah, 815, empty Genevieve, 909, empty Lawrence, 1003. If Lawrence were here, he would simply go next door, to the hotel, and ask which rooms, how to get to them. He had once led them down the emergency stairs during a false fire alarm, and another time during a tornado warning.
The conference room sits in the sunny southwest corner that overlooks the ledge. What she sees are the tops of their heads. The woman is on her bare knees, his hand between hers. His boots half over the ledge now. Shannon curses—she’s now too high above them to see pain or tears or laughter or drunken clumsy. Whatever is happening between them is at the mercy of the wind. Their jackets flapping like flags.
What she can see are the floors, all of them. Shannon counts up with her forefinger, all the way to open window behind them—floor eleven, north side, east corner. She can’t remember which room was haunted—1011? 946? The bellboy’s flashlight had flickered on and off, his face here, gone again.
The man jerks his hand away and for a moment both he and the woman hover between the ledge and space, that great mouth, the belly of asphalt below. Shannon slams her body against the window. If only she could reach her hand through the glass. If only she could take hold of that trembling scarf. If only, if only, if only.