My sister died a few minutes ago, scaling a building on the Upper East Side. The bag I needed had been clenched between her teeth. I swung for it as she fell, but it bounced off my fingers, caught up with her mid-fall and landed square on her face right after she hit the ground.
The momentum of my swing almost shook me clean off the rough exterior wall and I scrabbled my feet against its surface to regain some purchase. Between deep breaths, I tried to get Mom’s attention. My first shout must have been lost in the breeze, but she heard me second time around.
‘Tiffany fell off?’ she asked.
I nodded, then shouted to make sure she got the message.
‘Oh for the love of Christ,’ she said. ‘Did she have the bag?’
‘What a total cunt.’ She continued her way up the wall and I followed, gradually closing on Mom who was still shaking her head as I caught up.
‘She had the bag,’ I said.
‘I know she had the bag.’
‘So what do we do?’ I asked.
‘Did they get the fall?’
‘Yes on camera.’
‘I’m not sure,’ I said. I overtook her, using the adhesive fingertips on my gloves like ice-axes, pulling myself up in long, exaggerated leaps. ‘If it’s on camera, they’ll still air it. We’ll still get paid.’
‘And if it’s not then she’s fucked the lot of us.’
I stopped, winced, rubbed my eyes with one gloved hand. They ached. ‘Me worse than you,’ I said. ‘I need this.’
I leant back, hawked as much phlegm as I could muster, and spat.
Mom flattened herself against the building. ‘What the fuck?’
‘Shut up and listen.’ After a moment, I heard the faint spatter of my wad hitting either the ground or, amusingly, whatever was left of my sister. Either way, it was no good.
‘They won’t have recorded that,’ I said. ‘The fall wasn’t far enough. No excitement, not enough viewers, not enough sponsors. We’re not getting paid for that. We need to keep climbing.’
‘But she fell right off,’ Mom said.
‘Exactly. She fell. It was an accident. Nothing juicy about an accident. Keep climbing.’
‘I am fucking climbing.’
I set off again, the same steady motion, mom breathing heavily beneath me. The show’s sponsors wouldn’t care where the excitement came from, so long as it came. I could make it come. The dizzy pain behind my eyes was growing sharper. Diacetylmorphine withdrawal was bad after twelve hours, and only getting worse. Mom’s last batch was four hours ago. Tiffany had gone fifteen.
‘Why do you have to go so fast?’
‘We need to break in before midnight if we’re going to get on the show,’ I said. I wasn’t sure if she’d heard me or not. ‘We need to break in before-’
‘How are we breaking in without that bag?’
‘We’ll find a way,’ I said. I stopped and leant down, yanking undone the laces on my right boot. It’d be difficult to climb with only the one, but I’d manage. Mom’s breathing was laboured as she drew level.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m solving the problem,’ I said.
‘You’re never going to break in with that.’
‘Probably not,’ I said. ‘But I’m still getting paid.’
I swung the boot as hard as I could with my free hand, connecting with the fingers on mom’s left. I heard the magnet inside the toe shatter on impact as mom’s palm came free of the building.
‘Oh you little bastard,’ she said, as her boots, unable to take her weight, began to slide free of the wall.
Behind us, the little red light on the TV camera-copter flicked on. I shot it a grin and watched mom fall until I lost her in the darkness. She sounded different to how my sister had as she hit the floor. But then he was a lot heavier. I hoped they’d scrape her up before I got back down.
Robin White was born in Kuwait, grew up in the U.K. and has spent his adult life on the road. His work has previously appeared in Dogzplot and n3rdabl3. Follow him @robinjameswhite.