“What can you do?” The hot dog vendor sighs from behind the mist of steam. He fishes for a stick of sausage and then plops it on the sliced bread. “New York is a falling city.”
Never before has June given the street talk any credit, that New York is this kind of place or that. The signs have been following her since she moved downtown over a year ago, but she often chooses to look the other way. Avoid it or not, those cream and mustard stains in the vicinity of hot dog carts and ice cream trucks aren’t merely the tokens of gastronomic success: New Yorkers entertain a habit of dropping mass. Soles and heels recycle the tossed plastic wraps and saucy droplets every day and leave their permanent marks on the concrete.
“Now, will you look at that,” a customer points his ring-clad finger up and past June.
With a delay, June raises her gaze from the ketchup stains near her feet to yet another mass ready to fall: black, brown, yellow men and women of the white-collar variety, blessed with long hair, short hair, no hair, all kinds of it, with their lips cutting their faces in countless different shapes that can be interpreted anywhere between relief and despair. Unlike their chain-smoking colleagues on the sidewalk, they laugh, chat away, and hold hands on the roof of a thirty-story plaza that looks like a gift box against the 9/11 Memorial. They don’t seem to need the sun to brighten their mood, even on this Monday afternoon.
United, the mass steps into the air with the respectful silence of those who walk into a library or a sacred tomb. They dive through the sky at sixty vertical miles per hour. Each looks blue from afar, pink from nearby, and blends with the blacktop after the landing.
Eleven try and die.
“There will be more jumpers than newborns in a hundred years,” says the hot dog vendor, the only eyewitness who isn’t shaking in a mile’s radius, and no one hears his words other than June. “New York is a falling city.”
June, like others in the crowd, opens her mouth as if she’s about to cry, though she can’t cry; it’s the conscience of a city wailing through its alarms and honks, capsuled in a terror only its citizens can comprehend. Nothing moves other than the teary eyes flickering to rewind the snapshots of the past few seconds as if they could reassemble the bones, wash the blood, glue the meat, and raise the dead with the intent of their gaze.
Instead, the clouds huddle together like angry gnomes and paint the sky into a darker pink. They growl and split in two as if to wash away all the sorrow below. With the first raindrop, the soupy bites of June’s hot dog flood out of her mouth like unintelligible words and colorize the vendor’s handwritten banner on the cart: a dog for heightened pleasures and the hot beyond.