A New White Shirt by John Grabski

Emanuel released the breath from his lungs, pressed his back against the flat wall, the brass button of his denim jacket scraping the polished granite behind him. He turned his neck, flattened his stubbled cheek to the cool, gray stone and inhaled smoothly as he sidled along the tower’s ledge. A pigeon, baffled to see him at cloud level, tipped his wings and abruptly changed direction. Its concussive flapping muted the city’s hum. His eyes caught a flash of yellow as the morning sun glanced from the roof of a taxi twenty stories below. His breath stopped short, stunned by the reality of the taxi and the distance between them. He closed his eyes and swallowed. Adrenaline clamped vice-like teeth around his vertebrae then shot to his brain where the mercurial impulse paused to rake fingernails across amygdala’s chalkboard. He shuddered. A pulse of urine rippled down his thigh. His hands, searching, pressed the wall. His palms, wet with sweat, slid across the glassy surface. Fingers, fully outstretched, grew moist and bulbous at their ends— like ten amphibian cuplets seeking a vacuum. The tension, ever so slight beneath his skin, was a comfort he’d never imagined. But that did little to quell the terror, for he could not shift his weight behind him—he could not steady his balance. On the wall the comforting words were chiseled, ‘Custos Terrae,’ Protector of the Earth. But the heart of the sentinel stone was as lifeless as its ethos was stoic and unforgiving. The slightest forward bend and Emanuel would rocket down the face of the tower, lips galloping a backwards snuffle at two hundred miles an hour. Descending horizontal, he would peer through each passing window, longing for a look of compassion or a kind gesture. Instead, their faces would grimace, reflective of shock or pity. A woman polishing a four-bay toaster, the eyes of a round-faced child lost in her artwork of fog on glass, portraits unreeling frame by frame by frame. Each floor, a lover, a friend, a mother, a child. It is said that in man’s final moments the eyes spill forth a lifetime of colorful words—the emotional kaleidoscope’s failed attempt to escape. It’s starburst, eventually falling in on its own black hole. But now, he could only envision his eyelashes blinking uncontrollably while the wind viciously snapped his hair. Trapped within the walls of his skull there echoed a metallic scream, a tone so familiar in dreams. But this is no dream, he thought soundly as a tiny spider approached his face. How does it grasp the polished surface? He regretted climbing through the window in a childish fit of rage. He would hurt Elena by hurting himself—a spiteful act that would end with her begging forgiveness. But he had not fully considered his actions, had not contemplated the binary promise, the utter finality of zero and one. Nor had he measured his chances alone on the ledge. The cold, dead rock offered no quarter, no middle ground, no allowance for revision or change of plans. He had leapt to the ledge with his heart fully committed yet his mind languished behind—the latter knowing little about matters of love. Again he shuddered; his frozen pose plumb and straight as the wall behind him. The spider, content with her findings, scurried to the open window. Disregarding his balance he dashed behind her and with a final lunge leaped over the sill to safety. Inside, Elena sat round shouldered in a chair beside the stove—her sinewy hands cradling her face. “Manny,” she sobbed. “He means nothing to me.” Emanuel paused to acknowledge her presence. Without a word he stepped into the washroom for a shower, shave and a finishing splash of bay rum. Afterwards, he turned to the mirror and carefully studied his face. He drew a breath, threw back his shoulders and uplifted his chin. The silvered glass reflected the portrait of twenty-six year old Emanuel Ethan Altora, a man that would not work his usual eight-hour shift at the bottling plant that day for he would stop off at Josephs on 55th where the tailor would fit him with a new white shirt. Later he would surprise her with flowers and an invitation for oysters and chardonnay. His heart, not his mind, always finding the way.

Wounds breaching the heart
Wash clean as mother of pearl
Sorrows fall away

John Grabski is a runner, writer and poet. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at The Harpoon Review, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Eclectica Magazine and Cyclamens and Swords. He is hard at work on his first collection titled Into the Vertex. Excerpts of his published work can be seen at www.GRABSKIworks.com or find him on Twitter at @GrabskiJohn