Flat on my belly, the coat against the gravel roof, my extra set of eyes polarized against any glare, I sometimes think I can feel every vibration sent up through the frame by the elevator sinking toward the basement and every shift in temperature as the boilers kick in. The snatches of an argument from one window, crescendos of rapture from another, even the squeal of a town car to the curb cannot escape me. I am the building, the street, the city itself, the fulcrum of its life and death. My hands are a trigger, my eyes a crosshair, my mind a bullet, muzzle velocity 770, two grams of powder, 50 millimeters of near soundless doom if I choose it.
Mrs McGornedy thinks my trombone case is because I’m on medical retirement and like to take my instrument to the park. She thinks my trench coat in Spring signals the early onset of arthritis, and my dark sunglasses conceal a vitamin deficiency that causes sensitivity to the light. The way I barely speak to her when she’s mopping up the foyer or cleaning dust from the fixtures in the hall she takes for a bout with depression or an attempt to hide the fumes of an alcohol addiction. Mrs McGornedy sees the world as a dialogue with disability. I see her checking the medicine cabinet in my room when she’s sure I’m gone.
I lift the cap from the lens. Mrs. McGornedy is not wrong, not entirely. I do suffer from something. There she is, back in her apartment now, finding the envelope of bills her husband stuffed under the third drawer from the bottom, center. She takes just enough so he won’t notice. What hurts, Mrs. McGornedy is that I envy the people content in their booze or able to play music to a midday throng of pigeons. If I walked with a cane and could bore strangers with the sounds of a career I deeply miss, the vowels in between the words rich with satisfied ahhs and suddenly remembered ohhhs, then maybe I wouldn’t be waiting for the day someone phones the police about the out of place watcher on the rooftops. But there you are and here I am, with the one illness anything could cure and nothing ever does. I don’t love anything, Mrs. McGornedy. Not nearly so much as you love those extra few dollars in your purse, or making up stories to tell Mr. McGornedy about such quaint tenants in your not so private rooms. Wouldn’t you be impressed if you knew the closest thing I have to love is watching you, or the dozen other Mrs McGornedy’s my trombone sees from such a distance. You’d really have a sickness to talk about then, wouldn’t you?
Should we all go on waiting for the curtain to lift and the players to lay down their parts. Am I supposed to go on wondering whether you, or one of you, will look up and see a glint, because I’ve timed my aim wrong against the shadow of the sun, even hoping it’s so, though I never make that mistake? I’m too good at being both the actor and the audience, so the play never ends. I need a third act. I need the applause, or something more than silence. The cap is up. There you are at the window and, for the first time, I think I might just play the trombone.