“Hey, neighbor!” Chawly called down from across the way. He had a pint glass of something that looked like red wine in each fist. I knew it couldn’t be–not in Topside–but Chawly had his ways. Chawly yanked the line-suspended basket that served as dumbwaiter between his window and mine over to him and placed a glass in. He gave the basket a shove, sliding it across the expanse. “Taste somma this!”
The basket was a battered salvage from an abandoned grocery store and stayed remarkably stable on it’s journey, barely sloshing the blood-red contents. I watched the drops fall and disappear though the cloud cover, wondering if they would hit any Suits on the ground. I smiled, imagining red splatter all over the pale face of Suit, on his way to a job or meeting or something, his eyes scanning the heavens, wondering where such sacrament came from.
Actually, it was probably raining down there.
The wine was shit, naturally; the latest in Chawly’s experiments to speed up the fermentation process in grape juice. “This is gonna make me blind one day,” I called out to Chawly.
“Whatchu worried about missing?” Chawly howled back. He motioned over-dramatically to our surroundings, arms out stretched. Living above the rain had spared these top tenements water damage, but the heat had baked the buildings until all surfaces were the same cracked brown. Chawly almost blended in, with his tan skin, filthy shirt and tangled hair. Chawly had been here when I was broke and starving, and Topside was the only place I could go; to me, Chawly was Topside. From the way he yelped and hollered when the buildings swayed in the wind to his usual, pantless way of hanging off his window ledge. No one lived Topside by choice, but Chawly certainly made the most of it.
“You cooking over there, Chawly?” It smelled like hamburgers, but I knew it couldn’t be. Not even Chawly could get beef.
“Hells yes, brother! Morganna totally brought home the bacon!” Morganna was Chawly’s cat, just as brown and dirty has her owner. The realization of the sort of “bacon” Morganna was able to catch and kill suddenly made me queasy. “You okay there? Your air-conditioner on the fritz?”
I glanced back the black cube in the corner of my room. It’s sputters of pure oxygen in the thin air caused the airborne dust to dance and panic. “Nah, it’s fine Chawly…”
“Somethin’s bothern you, brother. Here, penny for your thoughts.” Chawly flipped a coin, the distance between our windows making his simple act miraculous. It hit my hand still warm from Chawly’s fist.
“This is a five yen coin, Chawly.”
“Does that make it more or less than a penny*?”
“I think it’s about the same amount of worthless.”
“Let’er rip, then.” Chawly crawled out onto the window ledge, his long, naked legs dangling in midair. “Let’er rip.”
I took in a deep breath and let it snake slowly back out of my lips. “I ain’t ever gonna get out of here, am I?”
“Old widow Keerney bought it three days ago. You could move in to her old place.”
“Not that. Topside. I used to go places, you know? On the ground, up the river back east. The world’s a big place, man. It gave me everything I needed. I was like a rolling stone, Chawly.”
“Like a stone,” Chawly said, drawing it in. “I heard once, that you drop a penny from high enough, the force of gravity turns it hard and fast. You can kill a man from this height, turn a worthless coin into a killing machine. Load of bullshit, but fun to think about.You wanna be a stone, that may be the only way.” Chawly turned around, slinking back into his crevice of a room. “I got meat on the grill. You’re welcome to some, you wanna come over”
I laughed at this. Pass the chasm that separated our buildings? Might as well fly, or put on a Suit. But Chawly stopped me fast with a stone-serious gaze. “Basket’s waiting, brother.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“I don’t got your faith in the world, neighbor. But I do know that I anchored this line pretty damn well.”
“And if the line breaks?”
“You were the one that wanted to leave.”
I imagined falling out of the basket, tumbling through clouds like spilt wine. “Maybe I’ll get lucky,” I said. “Maybe I’ll land on a Suit.”
“HA! I like that!” Chawly threw his bearded head back, and his laughter echoed and shook the stones of Topside.
For the first time since I had first crawled up to that umpth-hundred-floor room, I felt it shake me, too.