The Roof (updated)

The sound of traffic could faintly be heard from the street below. The mass of cars appeared as nothing more than metal rectangles flowing in orderly lines running left and right. Occasionally, a vehicle would leave the comfort of its lane and join another traffic queue. This would inevitably prompt a chorus of metallic shouts, beginning with staccato outbursts of annoyance and building to a moving rush-hour melody of legato overtones that rivaled Bach’s hymns.

Of course, Edgar had never heard of Bach. Nor could he fathom what was happening on the avenue so far away. The metal matchbox monsters were talking to each other. It was seemingly the same conversation they had every other morning. Edgar could not understand car-speak, but to him it seemed odd that they should shout at each other every day without change.

Then again, thought Edgar, does anything really change—or do we just convince ourselves that it does?

He cocked his head to the side to peer down at the street. He had always been hard of hearing. Even with the obstruction of what his friends considered his “oblong beak,” Edgar had always relied more on sight than sound. And from his vantage atop a nineteen story office building in downtown New York, he could see plenty.

Out across the water, the Green Lady stood holding her fire. Edgar had been to her island many times with his wife and children—her “little chickadees” she called them. They were a happy family, and Edgar had worked himself to the bone providing for their two sons. He fought daily to ensure that his wife and kids would want for nothing. All at the sacrifice of his health. Many evenings he would go without food or sleep to make sure his growing boys could get plenty of both.

Edgar was coming to a skidding stop as his sons approached adulthood and began branching out, away from their mother’s protective nest. Just as he had begun to allow himself to think of the possibility of rest, his wife had announced she was pregnant with another child.

Before the boys, Edgar had been giddy with anticipation. A child was something new. It would be an adventure that would bring fresh change of pace, despite whatever difficulties may come. Maybe that’s why the cars down on the street changed lanes—to shake things up. Like Edgar, the thought of a new adventure was more alluring than the comfort of monotony, even if it ruffled some feathers. But just like the cars below, Edgar had been deceived in thinking a new lane would change his outlook in the gridlock of life. He had quickly learned that no matter how many times you switch lanes, you were still stuck in traffic.

He had weathered the disappointment with his first sons through the foolhardy vigor and fortitude of youth, but now he was at wits’ end. He worked harder than ever to provide for his wife and newborn, but no matter how much effort he put forth, it seemed inadequate. In this new lane, he was overwhelmed by the honking horns of younger more vigilant men. It was getting the best of him.

“Don’t forget to pick up dinner on the way home.” His wife had reminded him before leaving that morning.

“How could I forget?” He had wanted to retort, “How could I forget that your life and the life of our child rests on my shoulders every moment of every day?” But instead, he only asked what sounded good to eat.

“Oh, nothing special. Just a rat or two,” She had joked. But Edgar hadn’t laughed.

Nor had he a rat to bring home that night. He took a step back from the edge of the roof. The ledge he was perched upon was barely more than a step; someone could easily trip on it and fall to their death. Edgar thought about this. He wondered how badly a fall from this height would hurt; does an instant death imply no pain? Or is the real pain in the drawn out mental fatigue and torment Edgar had been experiencing for years?

He turned and looked across the roof. The drab shades of gray cast a depressing atmosphere on the desolate concrete landscape. The view was hardly improved by the speckled pigeon-shit paint job left by the roof’s only consistent visitors. Since Edgar had started coming to the roof, there had always been several other birds absent-mindedly pecking and cooing—but today he was alone.

A front of warm air wafted over him. It came from a metal vent on top of the building. From it, steam billowed up in the cold winter air. Edgar didn’t know from where the cloud-like vapors came or what kind of structure he was standing on. It must be a cloud factory, he thought. To him, it seemed the concrete giant was a volcano fuming with anger—most likely due to the unceremonious shitting of thousands of birds upon its head. Yet always the shit-covered roof welcomed more shit-dropping pigeons. Always, it welcomed Edgar to come and stand on its ledge. Always it would puff out smoke and wait to see what he would do next.

The warmth felt good on Edgar’s face. He let out a breath of acceptance, and took another look around the rooftop world. Normally he paid little attention to his surroundings on the roof, but today he wanted to remember everything. He wanted to feel as if it were his last time to feel. His last time to see. His last time to breathe.

He turned back to look over the ledge, but didn’t look down. He preferred not to think about how far he would fall. He thought about his wife and child. He thought about the dinner he hadn’t been able to get. He thought about his obligations. He thought about how long he had struggled. He thought about how tired he was of it all.

Letting out a long breath, his inhibitions fell from the ledge. He closed his eyes and jumped. The wind rushed by as he sped toward the traffic-jammed street. The sound of the passing air consumed him. Faster and faster he fell. Nearing the end, he let his wings unfurl, catching the wind like a parachute. He banked sharply and pulled out of his nose dive just above the pavement. Several strong downward thrusts from his wings set him atop a pleasantly cool breeze, carrying him back to his nest.

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