Story begins Here.
Bayonne, his feet dangling off the edge of the building, stared south toward the river and the old neighborhoods. Central City stretched before him, and the tree lined streets lit with the red and green of traffic lights and the amber glow of lampposts electrified the city along its north-south arteries, Hill Avenue in the west, Division in the center, and Woodrow Wilson Avenue in the east. To his right, and only a couple of blocks away, he could see the lights of Capitol Hill and the glow of the Central City Chateau, the sports stadium. Beyond that, the university in midtown stretched up to The Hill neighborhood, which blocked the view of the suburbs beyond. To Bayonne’s left, the skyscrapers of Downtown dropped into several blocks of buildings no taller than two stories, houses, markets, strip malls, and schools, the neighborhood of Echo, which stretched to the lake, and south of Echo, The Docks glowed along the lakeshore. The city felt empty to Bayonne, devoid of any life worth knowing, worth keeping, any life that could affirm one’s future. He’d felt that emptiness since the loss of his wife, almost fifteen years before.
Bayonne said, “There’s no getting over the loss of a loved one.”
“How would you know?”
Bayonne shook a cigarette out of his pack. “I know.”
“My boy passed away almost a year ago. This was my first Christmas without him.”
Bayonne swallowed a dose of distilled spirits and returned the bottle to Mr. Claus.
“My wife didn’t know how to handle it. She stopped speaking to me, and before the holidays, she moved back in with her parents.” The man flicked ash toward the street below. “Her parents live in Florida.”
The man lifted the bottle to his lips, swallowed three times, and exhaled. When he spoke, his voice sounded tight. “I haven’t heard from her.”
“I never liked Florida, all hot and humid and too much rain.” Bayonne exhaled a cloud of smoke. “How can you have Christmas without snow?”
“That’s what I said, but my wife liked the beaches. She wanted to buy a boat.”
“That’s not a bad idea. Maybe you should move to Florida, join her. Maybe the warm weather and longer days would cheer you up.”
The man took another drink and passed the bottle to Bayonne.
“I don’t want to be cheered up.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to sit here and drink, and I want my son back.”
“What happened to him.”
“Cancer.” The man rubbed his cigarette against the lip of the building, and the sparks from the tip of the smoke spread and tumbled several feet into the night before blinking into darkness. “They said it was in his blood, spread throughout his body. One day he was fine. The next day he was tired. We took him to the doctor, and they did what they could, but by that time, there was nothing to do. He wasted away in front of us.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
The man nodded. “Can I get another smoke?”
“You know the irony of that, right?”
“At this moment, my health doesn’t feel that important.”
Bayonne handed the man the pack, took a sip, and set the bottle on the ledge between them. Across the street and several feet below, Bayonne could see people clustered around a window and gazing in their direction. They’d turned off the lights to see into the night, but the glow from an adjacent room or hallway backlit them. Bayonne had always been amazed at the way misery drew the attention of others, attention you’d otherwise struggle to receive. People would slow to see a car wreck but couldn’t be bothered to chat with their neighbors. At this point in his life, Bayonne had no interest in misery, suffering, or, for that matter, the people who circled around pain like panting hyenas. He’d seen enough to expect little or nothing from others, and he was rarely surprised when he saw people at their worst.
Bayonne pointed at their audience. “I bet those are the people who reported you.”
“Why is my grief their business?”
“These days, it seems like everything is everyone’s business.”
“Like a good neighbor, nosy Nelly is right there.”
Santa waved at the gawkers, and Bayonne chuckled to see them exchange glances and gesticulate toward one another in the half-light of their observation post.
Santa turned to his companion and looked into his face for the first time. “With that beard, you look more like Santa than I do. Are you a cop?”
“I’m a detective, but I don’t quite have the girth to appear merry.”
“Neither do I. This is padding. What kind of detective are you?”
“Does that include suicide?”
“Sometimes. It’s technically illegal.”
“But I haven’t killed anyone yet.”
“I was in the neighborhood.”
Bayonne flicked his cigarette into the ether.
Bayonne and the man dangled their feet off the ledge and took in their surroundings.
“It’s a nice view.”
The man said, “I grew up here.”
“I suppose this view contains a lot of memories.”
The man nodded. “Some good and some bad, but I’ve always loved the city. It has so much energy, so many people, so much culture, and so much power.”
“I grew up in Detroit, but I know how you feel. There’s something about the city, any city, a way it keeps you from feeling alone.”
“Sometimes, and sometimes I feel as though I’m surrounded by people without anyone to talk to.”
“People are afraid, more afraid than they used to be.”
“We’ve always been afraid.”
“We haven’t always spent this much time dwelling on our fears, our discomfort. That’s what we’re doing up here, isn’t it?”
Continued in Part Three.
Image by Tanya Dusett of Unsplash.