by JC Isabell
A kid, a ledge, and a construction worker.
New York looks especially beautiful when you’re looking down from the top of the Empire State building. You can see everything during the night: flashes of lights from all the skyscrapers across the city, the bright yellow cabs that seemed to be at a standstill, hundreds, if not thousands, of people walking the streets just trying to get somewhere. Just trying to live their lives.
Unlike them, I wasn’t trying to live mine.
It was much easier to get to the top than I expected; not a guard or businessman insight to wonder who I was or where I was going. Just some goofy-looking teenager with messy hair and bad complexion. It’s the only thing anyone ever saw in me, which is exactly what brought me to where I am: the tips of my shoes just inches from the edge of New York’s tallest building. Just inches away from my sealed fate. I had it all planned out: a note left to the parents, empty locker at school, and my-
“Hey kid, what the hell ya doin’ up there?”
The voice alone was enough to send me over the edge. Instead of jumping to my doom, I’d be known as the guy who was literally scared to his death. I turned my head slightly, trying not to move my body, and look down to see where the voice came from, when only a few feet away from me was a relatively large man, dressed in a fluorescent yellow vest and hard helmet, some type of superhero sub in one hand and a thermos in the other. I hadn’t even heard him come through the door. He took a large bite out of his hoagie before speaking again.
“You aight, kid? You get ya self into a situation?” His accent was a mix of Jersey and the Fonz, but his attire said plain old construction worker. He spoke to me surprisingly casually, as if I wasn’t about to kill myself: he talked to me as if this was no big deal.
“Just enjoying the skyline,” I replied coolly, turning my head to face the city once again, trying to make it seem like all I was really doing was looking at New York.
“I do thata lot, too. On my lunch, me and some of my guys come up here and relax before goin’ backta work. Real calming, real smooth. Sometimes we tryda hit as many birds as we can with just peanut shells and food wrappers. It’s more fun than it sounds, I swear kid.” I just nodded my head, not turning to face him. There was a silence between us before he spoke again.
“My name is Nicky,” he said. "Nicky Russo. What do they call ya?”
I keep my eyes forward, my back to him. I don’t answer him. I don’t care what his name is or what he does. I just want him to go back to wherever it is he came from.
“All right, kid, suit yourself.” I can hear the scraping metal as he unscrews his thermos cap and takes a long loud chug. I look over my shoulder, and we make eye contact. He had bright eyes to match his bright yet annoying personality. He stretched his hand out to me to offer me whatever was in his thermos, but I turned away, refusing. I wasn’t up here to make friends.
“Yeah, the city is real beautiful. Lived here all my life, well Jersey, actually, but I neva seen somethin’ that could be betta than this. Why don’t ya come down and we can look at it togetha?” He set his drink down and hear his feet take a step forward. Somehow, my feet felt both as light as a feather and heavy as bricks. I felt frozen.
“Y-you know, I think I’m g-good,” I stammered, trying not to lose my composure while also not trying to fall off the edge, either. “Just gonna stay where I’m at.” I looked down to see that it was a farther drop than I expected. The wind tousled my hair and swayed my body to the point I felt as if I could just float away.
I could practically feel his eyes looking me up and down, as if he could read my entire life from just my appearance. His loud chomps on his sub were loud enough to where I didn’t even have to look back at him while doing what seemed to be a deep visual analysis of me. I’m pretty sure he knows what I’m there for. He has to know now.
I expected his next words to be profound, like a you-have-so-many-reasons-to-live speech, but I was caught off-guard when he asked, “So, you a Metz fan or Yankeez?”
I look back at him, feeling confused and annoyed at his presence. Was the last conversation I have before I died really going to be with some laborer about sports?
“My brotha Joey is a real die-hard Metz guy, where my sis Linda is more Yankeez than A-Rod. Our house is a big mess during spring training. Since I can rememba, it’s been a big fight in my house. I’m kinda into the Chicago Cubs, though. I would neva tell anya them that. I’d get gutted like a fish. But seriously kid, they coulda won the World Series a few years back. They gotta real shot at the playoffs this-”
I couldn’t stand to hear one more senseless word come out of his mouth.
“Would you please, just, shut the fuck up?!” I exclaimed, my voice booming, my head turning to yell at him. My mouth went dry. I just told a hulking construction worker to shut the fuck up. If I wasn’t dead before, I definitely was now. All he had to do was just step forward, and I’d jump just to get away from him. Or he could just pick me up and throw me off.
He didn’t do any of those things, though. He kind of stood there, looking dazed and confused, like he didn’t hear me. Then, he looked up, rocking on his heels, letting out a long whistle. His hands were behind his back now.
“Listen, Nicky,” I said, feeling calmer now, and tried to compose myself, “I know what you’re trying to do, but it’s no use. I’ve made my choice. We both know why I’m up here and it would be a lot easier if you just go back to wherever you’re working at. So will you just, like, back off?” He was as still as stone but broke out of his shock. He started to laugh as he crumpled up his sandwich wrapper, and threw it past me, off the front of the building. He let out what was more of a hearty chuckle than a full-blown laugh as I watched the crumpled brown paper ball glide fall through the air, dropping and dropping and about to meet the ground. All I wanted to do at that moment was smack his smug Jersey face.
“Aight kid, whatever you say. If ya was real set on it, ya woulda done it by now. See ya ‘round.”
Without another word to me, he picked up his thermos and left, his chuckle still filling my ears, and his last words to me filling my brain.
Was Nicky right?
Wouldn’t have I have done it already if I was really going to do it?
What the hell does that guy even know?
“Goddamnit.” I let a heavy sigh escape my lips.
I took a deep breath before jumping down from the concrete edge. I took one last look over the edge and decided it was for the best if I just went home.
A few weeks after that, I decided that I should have never been up there in the first place. I really wanted to thank Nicky for pissing me off to the point that I didn't make the biggest mistake of my life. I searched for him everywhere: the city, local construction sites, Facebook, and even the top of the building where we first met. Every time I thought I might have found him, I just ended up coming up short. I asked around for him, approaching every big and scary construction worker who crossed my path. I asked them if a big brown guy with a thick Jersey accent was working with them on their site. Some of them would ignore me, some would tell me to get bent, and others would tell me that they had never seen Nicky. No one had ever even heard of a Nicky Russo before I asked them about it. After a while, it seemed only logical to conclude that Nicky was just my conscience telling me to get down and go home. Nicky was never real, just in my head.
That year, the Cubs won the World Series.