400 metres up the side of the monolithic tower the two men went about their business, welding, welding, welding. Like houseflies in gas masks they clung to the riveted steel frame, siphoning showers of sparks that died to dust long before falling to meet the heads of the commuters below.
Maintenance was an anonymous occupation. Jody often speculated upon the people and the stories being told far below him, people going about their business, completely unaware of his presence. If you forced a pushpin into a map, he always thought, it would pierce both himself and some complete stranger, someone who would never have cause to acknowledge his existence. Under the mask, his brow would prickle at such thoughts.
When he had first started working on the towers, everyone he met had shown such interest. ‘How exciting’ they had cried as he told them of his life in the clouds. He had been a hit with women, a fearless modern-day hunter-gatherer, scaling cliffs to bring home bison. It had been fun.
Of course, since that morning, times had changed. Now no-one talked anymore, and everyone still stared up into the air whenever a jet went overhead. Suddenly, overnight, the questions had changed from incredulous intrigue to incredulous concern.
“Aren’t you worried?”
“Do you have life insurance?”
“What if it happens again?”
He always explained that nothing had changed, you were just as safe on the outside of a building as you were on the inside, but no-one seemed to be listening. As soon as people heard towers they saw planes. Times had changed.
He thought back to that day, the rolling news and the low roars that had torn through the crisp air. The gaping, smouldering wounds of blackened concrete had reminded him of a time from his childhood, back home in that whitewashed two up, two down in Oklahoma.
He had gone to the cinema that day, with his mother and elder brother, a weekly tradition. They would catch the matinee, and then later, drink sodas and discuss the movie in the polished haven of Huey’s, the best (the only) soda bar in town.
In the early evening they had returned, greeted by a terrible sight. Something, some monster, had punched a hole clean through the thin wooden walls of the lounge, then breathed fire on their home within. The three-piece was a soot-blackened mess, dripping still with water from the fireman’s hose.
His immediate fear was for his father, who spent his Sundays watching the game, beer in hand, from that very couch. Panic gripped him and queasily he ran inside the shell of the front room, his feet treading white steps in the charred ground.
Later they would be told that Herb Ackerman, a farmer from nearby Redbird, drunk on a cocktail of gin and his wife’s presumed infidelity, had sped off the dirt road, through the wall, the couch and the liquor cabinet, a shower of coruscating sparks and then a terrific explosion as it tore apart the kitchen drywall, severing the gas main. Herb had felt nothing, in his last seconds, except perhaps for a desperate loneliness. Jody’s father was unharmed in the back bathroom, feeling only the heat of the devastation upon his bare knees.
The relief at seeing his father again had been all consuming. Although the following months had been difficult, Jody had never forgotten that initial churning in his gut, and was always glad that, for him at least, the worst had not happened.
High above, a plane was coming in to land at Kennedy. Jody, as always, leant out and over, and saw the haunted faces peering up and past him. For a moment all was still. Then the heads went down and he was invisible again.