5A – Floating

Reluctantly, Anja hoofs to Danny’s apartment.  Dark now, to Anja the city and its lights cast an empty glare to the pavement.  The magic which other eyes intimate reflect shallow desperation, all intrigue and no insight, while something is tugging from the bottom of Anja’s soul, and anchoring her feet to the ground.  She wants a sea anemone to glow from the shadow cast by her will back at them, diamond clear, blue, cold, and, if only, ah, she could now lift her head and see them below. But as she rounds the corner red lights flash across her face and on the crumbling brownstones of Danny’s block, traffic is slowing and several unoccupied cop cars are parked near his apartment.  Danny’s lights are blaring from his basement window, and inside, like a miniature theater, the cameo of three cops: two men and a woman questioning Danny as he sits at attention on his chair like a terrier, panting, looking fearfully up then regretfully down to the floor, wringing his hands, hunching his shoulders in an “I don’t know” defensive fit.  Anja slows down.  Inching forward, she reads panic on Danny’s odd face.  If Eric has killed the mole, he and Anja go to jail, if Danny breaks down, testifies or blabs.  Danny called the cops!  Danny is cooperating right now. Danny, the coward — the spy, enemy, mole!

Well now, Danny!  On the other hand, if Eric dies in the tunnel or remains lost, tied up, tortured or bleeding along a rail in the dark, the municipal cops might contact the transit cops and fish him out, which would be fine.   Anja does not, however, feel convinced — they might contact Eric’s parents and worry them to the grave, or, if Eric emerges unscathed, and is found guilty of nothing more than chasing a guy into a tunnel and losing his way — he and Anja will, at least, be fined.  Worse, Anja will be deported. Returned to Deutschland.  They will not catch me.  What is Danny telling them?  He probably traced the story to the open mike debacle when I told total strangers I lived in a watertower! I can be traced to Eric, then Elizabeth’s apartment — and she will revert to her first impression and claim I broke in her apartment to steal!  Isn’t it dramatic to be a victim?  The age of victims! Someone running into a tunnel is nothing.  Neither is a girl sleeping in a watertower.  Judges can be lenient.  Could Danny hold Anja’s part back? Would he?  Danny may offer a reason, an alibi, for Eric’s disappearance.  Wait, maybe it wasn’t Danny but a platform witness who called the cops?  Or the guy who took the picture?  But how would the cops locate Danny from a photo, even if he wears a most memorable face?  Almost a mask?  No.  Forget the connection between the photographer and the open mike herd.  Anja, consider only what you see.  Danny.  Danny’s caught.  Perhaps the witnesses called too but the cops connected the dots through Danny, the facilitator.  Forget it.  Anja, you must disappear.  Can you tell them more than Danny? Describe, police-sketch the mole?  Did you see him?  Anja feels nagged again, as if reality is infinitely receding and she must passively wave it good-bye.  If she could only see Eric — peer through the pavement, the soil, wires and rails to her man.  There’s a school of dolphins swimming in her consciousness but she can’t see them either.  To escape this delusion she inches back and crosses the stairwell.  A man three buildings down the block is watching the scene, and Anja.  His eyes crawl up her back as a taxi horn blares.  Anja feels fixed in the stranger’s radar so she shrinks behind a lamp post.  A cop glances from Danny’s window but Anja just became invisible.  As a taxi then a truck squeeze around the outer most cop car, she sees Danny again, crying, by himself, as the cops are huddling with their backs to him.  She fixes on the spy down the block.  Edging closer, she steps forward, even if it brings her closer to the cops behind Danny’s window.  Suddenly, Danny sees her, from inside his apartment.  He seizes up in horror, mouthing like a mime, “Get outta here!”  Anja points and mimes a “You” then “tell them?” indicating the cops, “about me?” pointing to her chest.  Danny wags his head, “No.” But can she trust him?  The cops are finishing up.  Danny, still seated, glowers. They look dissatisfied, weary. Danny, a mess. Anja retreats down the block, avoiding street lamps and car headlights when the guy, the spy, watching her, jogs up to her side.

“You know anything about this?”  He’s wearing glasses, and a shabby, civilian suit, sneakers, out of breath.

“Who are you?”  Anja turns her shoulder to him and adopts a brisk pace.

“Daily Star.”  The man wants to see Anja but she is striding fast, cold-shouldering him.

“You could be anybody!”  Anja begins to stride faster, the man to jog.

“Look!  Here’s my press card.”  He shoves it beneath Anja’s eyes.  Anja doesn’t look, pushing it away.

Anja’s just about to begin running when the guy beats her for a few strides, turns and quickly positions a camera before her face, and blinds her with a flash.  Anja cries softly, shoves him aside and sprints down the street, then hides behind a stairwell, then jumps through a hole in the fence of an empty lot.  She waits by a darkened wall, panting, watching him keep jogging past her down the street then crossing 1st Avenue, and out of her hair, then she re-jumps the fence and makes her weary, frustrated route, back home.

As Anja closes in on Eric’s building, she admires, again, her watertower standing silently, benignly, over the street, like an ancient village hut, a sentinel, a darkened minaret in full view of a clocktower which decries mortal time — then Anja spots a woman — not Elizabeth — passing through the front door.  Anja bounds the stairs and slips through the door before it locks, avoiding a woman who could not be a tenant, more of a frizz-haired prostitute-type, but who could care less that Anja shows no key.  Anja hears voices as she scales the stairs.  Passing Eric’s apartment — no lights.  Elizabeth presumably having left to mingle with her friends, or, hopefully, sipping drinks on Fire Island.  As she ascends, higher, nearing the top floor, the voices grow louder.  Anja cools out and lightens her step, then stops short.

“It’s gone unrented for a month.  It’s good because the water’s been out and the system, the water tower’s, fully fixed.  Better than before.”

“What does it go for?”

Fifteen hundred.  A month’s security deposit.  Usually it’s two.  Which is fair, considering the view.  Just look at the street!”

“Nice.  Does the water work now?”

“Sure.  Here.”  Anja hears the sound of water rushing from a kitchen faucet.  “Full pressure.”

“Come, here, in the bathroom … “  A pause, then a fainter rush echoes from the bathroom shower,  “Everything’s fine.  More modern than other buildings.”  The voice itself sounds as if from the bottom of a well.

“Yes.  Thank you!”  The second voice trails off.  Anja tiptoes past the door.

“Have you made up your mind?”  The agent tries not to sound anxious  but Anja can hear another voice, greed ranting at the agent in his head, and worming out through his mouth.

“I like it, but … ” Anja hears as she cracks the door, the hinge of which she has oiled every day before these last three.  She tiptoes onto the roof.  Everything seems different now.  Anja used to know every square roof-inch, but now, after the repairmen worked here, the roof is strewn with scraps, stray tools, planks, a few poles, pails, iron hinges, rings, mops, wood shavings, shreds of cedar, a dozen plastic garbage bags.  It’s a mess, an obstacle course, and she can feel the mass, even smell the ton or two of water in her tower.  It’s filled!  And no longer her tower. Water is sleeping where she once dreamed.  Then Anja hears an abrupt retort.  It’s the stairwell door.  She crouches and hides.  At least she still knows the drill.

“Look Willie, Slavko’s got to clear this roof.  We never leave our stuff, we can save some of this …”

“I just worked five days straight, twelve hours a day, and I need one evening with my wife and kids when I don’t drink.  Mimi’s catching on about Vicki.”

“Forget your whore!”

“Don’t dare call her a whore, or I send over the goddamn ledge!”

“Oh you will?  I remember that next time your ass is hanging over the edge with Williams about overtime.”

“Don’t ever call Vicki a whore, you jealous bastard.  Why, she’s got a bush, like this … “  Anja assumes he’s cupping his hand and feels disgusted.

“You told me about her bush a million times.  You go like this … five times a day.  Now tell me about when Slavko can come.”

“Tonight.  Late.”

“And if landlord’s man comes beforehand?  No more payday!”

“He won’t come. The landlord’s dying of cancer.  The whole operation’s falling apart.”

“If he does, I get Vicki.  Deal?”

“Deal.”  They both laugh and are about to slam the door.

“Wait, why don’t we threaten Slavko to make him actually show?  He didn’t show up Wednesday.  It was Sylvester’s turn but he’s hurt and none of us want to do it. The guy’s a slime but he needs anything we give him.  He was late Thursday, too.  Four hours, the slob!”

“Yea!  Look, you call the idiot, and say … “  With this, they slam the door.

“It could be a long night.”  Anja whispers to herself.  She opens her blanket and thinks: “There’s only one thing to do — “  As she walks around, inspecting the tools and cast-offs on the roof she discovers a long wooden pole, painted green, with an unfortunate hook on one end.  “I could plant this baby … like so.”  She lifts the pole, right hand under, left hand and forearm over, eases back to the far edge and begins to mark out her steps to the box as she once did in Dresden.  She allows herself to pursue her tom boy fantasy, dreaming of vaulting right over to the other building.  She peers up and considers the eight meters higher ledge and remembers the collapsed lounge chair she used to peer down on from her tower.  “Those guys try to catch me … I’ll just … leap” She giggles.  Olympic Gold!  Delighted, she decides to hide the pole in the watertower with her, after she undoes her blanket.

She crawls up the tower and opens the hatch, and peers down on the deep pool of standing water.  It’s filled just below the brim but she notes that there are several meters more where the cap rises to a peak.  She crawls back down, pursues her old ledge-slink, this time also dodging the repairmen’s tools and wood scraps, sits in a corner near the stairs, tears back the nozzle and blows up her mattress half-way.  She retrieves the pole, climbs the tower, drops it inside, climbs down and resumes filling up the mattress.  It might be a fine exercise for a day at the beach, if she enjoyed the turquoise waves of Greek islands or the Florida coast or Fire Island, but now the new float will occupy the center of the tank and she will have to negotiate around it, and beneath the tower cone which allows no more than a few meters of room above her head to breathe.  She’s must do it even though the mattress could tip over and she could fall straight from her dreams into the drink.  The instability of the mattress will be aggravated by her riding slightly askew to the float.  One false move, one unconscious flick of leg or shift of hip could plunge her under in the dark.

She ropes the mattress to her back as a precaution against it standing out from her body while carrying it up by hand.  She wearily scales the stairs, with the awkward package of her other belongings in her blanket, then remembers to protect, at least, her passport, steps back down to the roof, finds a plastic bag, knots it up and again re-scales the tower.  She turns around slowly, unties the mattress, lowers it into the cold water while holding the package, feeling less agile from lack of practice. The moment of truth is coming.  She arranges the mattress just so, wedging it around the float and to the sides of the tank, so the immensely important first stage — the landing — does not end up a bitter comedy.  She would prefer to forget the now submerged ladder, and just dive in to enjoy the water around her body, but resists, as it would chill her for the whole night.  Who knows when the clean-up replacement will finally show up?  Could be hours.  She knows that the tower is taller and the water higher than she would be standing, perhaps rising four meters above her head.  One can drown in a glass of water, Anja shivers.  She will sink with one wrong move but now it’s hard to adjust the inflated thing and she decides to blow more air into its plastic nozzle for added buoyancy.  She must be as careful as the first Americans landing on the moon!  She must use both hands to unplug the plastic nozzle but it’s clearly impossible — to hold her bag above the water with her left while steadying herself against the tower with her right. She descends the tower and completes the final inflation on the roof, and again repeats the whole scaling and turning procedure.  Finally, the third time, she uses all her strength to lower herself, fingers barely grasping the wooden cap support beams, then drops, rocks, almost loses control, cools out, keeps swaying, doesn’t move, remembering wistfully that the whole point on the beach is to capsize these mattresses in a big splash to cool one’s sun-baked body. Anja waits, maniacally conscious of every ounce of displacement, adjusts her ankle slightly, and now, lying on her back, she looks up — at nothing.  She slowly pulls back the hatch and now she’s lost in total darkness, listening for the sounds outside which will announce the arrival of the unlucky repairman on midnight cleanup duty.  Hopefully he will work fast so Anja will be freed from her dark, watery cone.

Maybe it’s time to think now.  What else can I do?  How are sounds changed by water?  Anja listens, tries to differentiate between the little she hears above, as she cracks her hatch slightly: a horn, the disembodied whoosh of tires on asphalt, and the brakes or engines from the street which rise muffled through the medium of the water.  She remembers trying to talk, shout, scream at her friends in their local swimming pool.  She could hear the absolutely loudest voices if directed right into her ear.  Indeed, there are few rising sounds but all may be leaking through her hatch.  Better think, Anja.  Think old school subjects.  Remember Thales? “All is water.”  He began Greek philosophy.  She thought it ridiculous the first time she heard it.  Her teacher defended it, winking, arrogant, lording it over the students because he had read more books, while rushing through every thinker as a prelude to All Holy Marx. Thales was first to unify all “phenomena”, whatever that meant, by claiming conceptually, not mythically, “All is Water.”  Well! Her teacher noted it is certainly true for all sentient life, for human life, which makes wonder, science, thought, the investigation of the universe, possible. He then added that Thales had to prove he was a Capitalist because everyone claimed that a “lover of wisdom,” a philosopher, was an impractical dreamer.  Thales was supposed to have told from the stars that a dry, devastating grape harvest one season would be followed by a bumper crop the next.  He bought up all the wine presses then sold them at a huge profit to prove he and philosophy were practical and shrewd whenever they, or he, or it, wanted to be.  The teacher claimed that the beginning of philosophy, then, associated itself with market speculation and usury to prove itself, and it only ended with the triumphant of Russian comrades’ introduction of a worker’s state, which finally reached into their country to replace Hitler.  He preened himself a very clever Commie to give it that turn, to twist the meaning, so Thales was somehow corrected by Marx (re: Stalin-Honecker, spies, barbed wire).  By guys like her dad.  In fact, now Anja remembers it, he stared at her in a silly way, making and re-making his party-line point about Thales, and now she realizes the teacher was hoping she would tell her father how he tied together the seeming archaic origin of Western Philosophy with Marxism (and intrusive spying on its own citizens, lead in Dresden by you-know-who) and maybe her father would cut teach a break in his omniscient files.  Maybe raise his salary!  Just who was the speculator?  Indeed.  Goddamn liars!  No, Anja, don’t go that way.  O.K.  “All is water.”  Remember it the ancient way.  Long live Thales!  Well, it’s rather silly — unless you sleep in a full watertower — but then again, she might as well worship Thales now because, geez, all her world is water.

Actually she liked Heraclitus better,  “All is Fire”  Anja imagines a great world conflagration, flames spiraling along walls like snakes, liars’ heads exploding from intense heat, pyramids crumbling into burning piles of ash, mud huts and tires aflame, then all, especially her enemies, swept away by merciless, scorching wind.  Mothers holding children tight to their breasts, escaping, because Anja helps them, old men racing out of town on wheelchairs, which Überfraulein-Anja stole from temple warehouses beforehand.  Nice fantasy.  But Heraclitus didn’t even believe it literally true — he meant only to say: everything changes.  Everything does change.  Can’t step in the same watertower — twice, no, once!  He preferred a “dry soul,” meaning drinking made men silly.  And fire, unlike water, is not really a substance.  “All the world is fire.”  Sounds better now as Anja grows colder with her pores infiltrated by water-cooled and laden air.  She will eventually mold, if she stays here long enough.  A nice camp, even an ashcan fire.  Fireplace.  Hairy-clitus.  Sounds like crabs!  Hairy Clitoris?  Sounds like a drag.

And well, water is what this tower represents: Water is life.  Astronomers who locate other planets circling distant stars say that all a planet needs for life is water and it will develop.  Earth is not so special.  There are other billions of other planets with the potential for water, for life.  Water equals life.  Thales was right.  But, then again, Heraclitus has his point.  But this tower?  Forget it, it stands now for pure utility.  Water pressure, very Roman — wait — her calf itches.  If her thigh itches she could really grapple with it, but her calf means risking tumbling over into the aquarium, in which not a week ago she made her bed.  It was her old room down there, submerged.  She imagines herself making her bed and reading underwater, like a porcelain figure in a fish bowl.  Only moving.  Weird.  Now her tower is no longer broken it’s no longer hers.  She’s in the landlord’s fish bowl!  She wants to clap like a seal.  Don’t scratch your itch!  Anja’s new, first dictum.  Scratch your itch and dump your ass.  She can resist scratching mosquito bites!  She could resist this bitch.  But she has no reason to be here.  Does she need it any longer?  Stay still.  It’s true.  Acknowledge this later. Stay afloat, Anja!  You must coach, cheerlead yourself.  Keep thinking! About what? Isn’t life itself like floating when one’s un-self-conscious?  One’s health, too, ’til one loses it?  For the duration, for the erosion that goes with aging, one floats until going under, then one drowns.  No, don’t even think of drowning, Anja!  Stay cheery — be a floating philosopher.  Raft of the Medusa!  No.  Wrong myth. Great painting, though.  Shut up, Anja.  You will not survive this without staying up.  Yes, isn’t life like floating?  And isn’t this what we do in life?  Floating in air? — flying.  Floating down the street?  — walking.  Floating when you sleep? — dreaming.  On the isle of our egos, on which we float, after just one snub, a scrap of an insult, we list; after one bitter experience, we capsize; more, we are collecting barnacles on our skulls at the bottom of the ocean.  Dead.  No, but the good times are like floating.  Singing is floating on a note.  Pole vaulting, floating over the bar.  Good running feels like floating when one’s in shape.  Floating on a boat? Sailing.  She’s on a raft — Anja is Eric’s Woman on the Raft!

That’s it, Anja.  You are his woman on the raft.  The lover who brought him to her bed and combed his chest hair with her teeth.  How like a mother-figure this woman on the raft fantasy seems. But how beautiful in its adolescent fervor, a pure desire before the central hydraulics and greed, the “money shot” which corrupts the senses and body of the male.  Corrupts his sense of taste, degrades his self-confidence into surliness, pollutes the pure liquid of his young soul with octopus ink, and through which, to his will and to his love, he can never swim again.  Anja, consider why adults crave sex.  Is it the big windup, the seduction: the eye-game, first chat-up, first kiss, touch or the act?  Is it the hydraulics of penetration?  It’s not the savage tension nor the developed filth of it (which reveals and revels in despair, and often hides with jokes) but the release, the oceanic moments right after climax when the chain of desire, the need, is gone.  It’s the sweet oblivion, release-freedom to float which makes everyone either construct or ruin their lives pursuing it.  Sex, the omniscient “it”, the id, das Es, until “it” no longer dictates, reduces with its Cyclopic eye, everything — all psychology, beauty, money, greed, history, power, religious fervor, the festering generation of species, the dance of peacocks, the lumbering jaw-boning battles of sea cattle, the jerking of monkey and man — since that elusive happiness, perhaps life itself, tends towards the final floating, the way home, to the final destination, the Big House, Ithaca, Nirvana, Samhadi, the ocean, the universe, the end!

Sounds suspiciously like drowning!  Death.  No, Anja, every one of your fancies are sailing to your fear.  You must be the Fearless One!  Odysseus?  Diana.  You must survive this claustrophobia.  If Eric survives and you drown, you risk his life twice!  Endure this for Eric.  Erik the Viking!  Yes, make him discover America! Follow his archaic adventures sailing uncharted seas, past ancient Iceland, listen to totemic drums, the Indians, forget Columbus!  I mean, what did the Vikings call Native Americans?  Try to remember.  You never learned that!  Here they are!  Wow.  They’re coming down the shore of Newfoundland to greet you, Erik. You’ve been long floating, courageously.  Floating past primeval forests and icebergs.  Floating over the edge of the earth.  Too bad it’s too cold for them to be naked!  No, don’t let Leaf Erikson meet leafless savage babes, unless you’re one!  Yes, don’t move, confound your calf itch.  You’re an Indian princess, Hiawatha? Big Sea Water?  Shenandoah’s daughter, interracial marriage, Pocahontas, no, Goddamn Disney!  No, you’ll be Anja and he be Erik, you’ll mate on the Hudson and Mississippi Rivers, sweat bullets in a calm on the Pacific (Anja o’ the Raft).  You’ll float furiously past Magellan to Asia!  Eric picked you up in North America and all future history books will retrospectively change at one time!

“O but god, I’m tired of being trapped here!” Anja whispers aloud.  Just dying to shift my position here. It’s impossible to stay rigid unless you’re dead.  Discipline Anja, discipline!  Back to philosophy?  No, she’s lost her patience!  Fantasy?  Too cute.  Stream of consciousness?  Henri Bergson!  Both or all three?  She read a little pamphlet by him in French a month ago.  Yes, all existence is just like a water hose shooting water molecules which are just like phenomena in duration.  It makes her want to pee.  If she pees, not being able to move, she’ll have to pee herself.  Now, that will lengthen the duration! If only she had a man-hose, she could point it left.  Proust?  Memory creates time.  Well, O.K. but something must give.  Better to live like Proust in a cork-lined room than a cedar barrel filled with water.  Her water-filled bedroom!  Joyce?  A thousand pages about one day, reference to the Odyssey, Ulysses, why not?  But can she stand another second here?  Each second reads like a thousand pages.  She has no intention of stretching a week of bewildered memory or reading in the dark, to a second more of this …  She’d rather push the cosmic fast forward, now. Just tell me, where’s the button?  Or the lever, or the flush?

She feels the level decrease. Oh, god, the water’s dropping!  She’s dropping!  The mattress is dropping!  Stream of consciousness, my ass!  Down the drain is more like it!  She’s in a big sink!  A toilet!  Who’s using the shower?  Are all the building’s toilets, faucets, and showers blazing at once? This late?  Her mattress scrapes against the float, de-stabilizing both.  She tries to shift her weight, slightly — she’s going to go down like a circus clown.  Fate has thrown its ball at her red tin square to send her splashing around ass-first.  But who’s laughing?  Her enemies!  Fate wins a stuffed doll!  A dead girl. Maybe it will be better finally to swim inside the tower.  How she wants to!  She’d rather freeze to death than stay rigid another moment.  She hears a gurgling.  O god, it’s filling back up again!  She rides it up, steadying herself. ever so carefully with one fingertip, then another, on the tank wall.  What if she is interfering with the working of the float?  What if the tower keeps filling up until she’s pressed to the top of the cone and drowns, flooded by the torrent escaping from her hatch, thrust right out of the tower, right over the roof with a waterfall.  O, thank god, it’s stopped.

What if the guy never comes?  Wet rat.  Anja Wet-Cold-Rat, the First, if you please.  No, thank you!  If she rolled over in the middle of a justified nightmare and died dreaming, what then?  Nothing, of course.  Death.  She will not sleep!  Do not die and do not be melodramatic!  You’re really in a private war now, Anja. You’re an American in Normandy, behind the lines in WW2.  You’re trying to assassinate Hitler, hiding from the SS in Berlin, just above his headquarters.  You’re Anne Frank.  You’re Dorothy and the flying monkeys are circling your tower.  How long could she survive hanging on to the mattress?  How long can one stay in water without suffering exposure?  How long could she tread water to keep her temperature up?  Two, three, four hours?  Could she just hang on alternately to the ladder, then rely on the mattress, mix it up?  Yes, why not?  Wait.  She hears something.  Anja opens the lid and sees the edge of a plastic bag being pulled by a hairy hand and hears the gruff movements of a drunk and angry workman forced to clean up after the repair work.  Relief is coming.  It will take him no more than a half hour to finish.  Maybe an hour.  Why not let herself fall into the water now, why not itch that calf, and take a bath, a swim, a little dip?

She pulls the hatch down soundlessly and lets herself slip gently, then fall into the dark cold water, feeling a tremendous relief from her static mattress floating, though the sensation is rather frightening.  Which way is up?  Just float back up, Anja.  Yes.  Trust the natural rising of your oxygen-filled lungs.  Take a breath. Even if it’s pitch dark in every direction, you will not drown while awake.  It didn’t matter whether you close your eyes.  With the hatch closed she can see absolutely nothing and touch alone will bring her  to the ladder when she pleases.  Ah, there’s the pole.  Don’t let it get caught in your cuff.  Don’t disturb the float.  Careful, dear Anja!  Take off your clothes!  Pull off this heavy jumpsuit.  Zipper down.  Hang on to the ladder.  Pull out an arm, a leg, second arm, second leg.  Set it on the mattress.  Gently.  Oh, god its cold.  How nice to be naked in the water!  Rub your calf now, scratch that itch.  Breasts are cold.  Rub them.  How Eric loved them!  Eric survive! I’ll bring you up here.  We’ll make underwater love.  She feels like a fish when the lights in human apartments are out, somersaulting, circling.   Oh, how she wishes the water felt warmer.  What a strange fish she is!  This is your fishbowl — but no one can see you.  How much did humans pay to walk out from the ocean?  Why can’t monkey babies swim?  How can humans?  We lost our hair hanging out on the beach, escaping lions, tigers and bears.  It’s in our genes.  That’s what she heard.  Watch the mattress, your stuff’s in a bag but don’t chance it.  Ooo, I’m cold. Shiver my timbers!

After diving to explore the inflow pipe, she feels for the ladder and climbs up to peep out the hatch at Slavko, the unlucky substitute for Willie, the fourth member of the repairmen of Anja’s posttower Apocalypse.  How he loathes his comrades now!  Mmm, smells like he’s been smoking a joint. He’s looking for something.  It’s the pole!  Anja leans her head out completely to hear him speaking to himself.  “Damn, where is it?  Sylvester!  Vicki mine now!  Where’s the pole?  I’ll  …. make you suffer!  Suffer!  Hear?  Wait.  We leave it in the tank?  Oh, for Jesus Mother Mary!  Fuck it!”  Anja’s watching the drunk substitute in an absolute rage, stuffing everything he can into black plastic garbage bags.  “You gave me salary on Wednesday!  Turdsday too!  I been skimm’n.  I got you for a thousand last March.  ‘Member Grand Street?  ‘Member Grand Street?  No, you no see the money I stole.  You so smart — you don’t know!  I got you for five, count ‘em five last year!  You think you so hot with Vicki!  Why, I can fuck too!”  This guy’s out of his mind, Anja says to herself, giggling, half from relief that he showed up, knowing she’ll be able simply to sleep on the roof till dawn, half because the fixers of her tower are also miserable, apparently, the stupidest of them having stolen money, skimmed, as he said, from the others.  “You do the books but I take the money!  Where’s the pole?  Who cares?  Who care?  I got my pole for Vicki!  I got my pole for Vicki!”  Anja, incredulous, watches him pull his trousers down to his knees and he’s masturbating on the roof, standing up, repeating, incessantly, like a whipped mule, “Pole for Vicki!”

Anja, luckily, cannot actually see his thing, which he takes so seriously, which bluntly expresses his revenge over cleaning up the roof for the others.  His hand completely covers his pole.  She wants to ignore him but the workman’s laughable desperation, his wounded animal act, appears from a height like a set-piece performance of a pitiable Everyman undocumented in democratic or socialist homilies to the working class.  The roof resembles a bad theater with distant city lights faintly illumining a hapless Neanderthal, standing above New York, conquering his humiliation by exposing himself and repeating “Pole for Vicki” like a pocket Caesar or Napoleon.  Vicki must be pretty hot property for these guys!  Anja laughs, and wonders just how Vicki would react if she saw this creature’s notion of power and revenge.  He seems to be climaxing as even his obsessive short sentence bust into bits. “Vicki! Vicki, Vi …V,V,V, F, Fuck, Po, Po- V, V,V, Fuck me!”

Then something which Anja could not have anticipated happens.  Slavko, just as he finishes, looks squarely up to Anja’s eyes.  He must have heard her laugh, or the hatch creak, or felt her watching his performance but he sees her, no doubt about it.  Eyes wide open as if spotting a ghost, in shame and rage, still with his pants at his ankles, he points with his free hand: “You!” which he repeats, while Anja closes the hatch and dives to desperately locate her jumpsuit.  Underwater and in the dark, she circles quickly without finding it, surfaces, dives, circles again, feels, grabs it but it is terribly hard to put on the one piece suit and he just may well be drunk and shamed enough to be climbing the tower as she fumbles to step into it, clinging to the submerged ladder.  Why did she lose her radar?  Why did she get sloppy?  Anja opens the hatch and he’s already at the bottom with his trousers hitched up swearing, “Spying on me! Slavko get you!”

Anja has to decide within a second whether to put on her suit or grab the pole, as this man, unlike Eric, knows exactly how to climb the tower and has done so perhaps for a decade or more, fearlessly.  He’s drunk, brutal, angry, and shamed enough to kill her without conscience or one false move. He’s also undazzled, given his profession, by the height, her equal in aerial war.  She wraps the jumpsuit around her neck and chest, grabs the pole, climbs the ladder and sticks her head out the hatch. Leaning on the hatch edge, feet on the inside ladder, Anja sees him just ten feet below her.  Just lower than the reach of the pole.  “You climb up and I will smack you right off onto the street!” Anja shouts.

“Try it, rat girl!”  He’s sweating over his eyes but has the confidence to wipe it away with one hand.  How does he know of her as rat girl?  He wasn’t there when she claimed the rat was hers.  They must have told him the story.

“I won’t try! I’ll do it.”  In fact, if Anja really does go into a full swing right now, she will lose her balance.

“Rat girl gonna die!  They told me about you!  Blonde girl with accent.  Real pretty!  Real bitch!”  He’s breathing hoarsely but he has stopped climbing.  The pole’s hook end is poised just above, but to the left of his face, so that she has swinging room.

“You would kill me?  For what?  Because I saw you jerking off?  Because I know you stole money?”  Anja tries this, but her left foot almost slips and the end of her argument is lost in regaining her place.

“Good reason, rat girl.  Good reason.”

“Look,” Anja has the hardest time steadying her voice now.  The pole is heavy when held at its top and she is visibly shaky standing on the submerged steps. “We are even.  You know something about me. You know I’m here.  And, I know something about you.  We both tell no one and no one gets hurt.”

“You be hurt!  You can die.”

“I can tear the skin off your face!  Or you can kill and try to bury me or end up in jail.  Neither of us wants jail.  Right?”

“Jail?  I discover rat girl in tower.  She dies, no one knows!”

“My name is not rat girl.  I was simply taking a swim.  Now, I could use this against you.  But I’ve seen men before.  I don’t care if you skimmed money.  But if we fight and I lose the battle (which I will not!) — your friends know you’re up here — and you still lose.  You go to jail for murder.”

“You just a rat girl!”

“No, I’m a woman with a pole who can knock you off.  I can explain later that you attacked me on the roof.  Show them your semen!  Get the DNA tested.  I can inform your friends about the money you stole.  I’ll tell them about Vicki.  How would I know her name?  Or, if you get me, you got to scrape the semen off the roof.  I have friends who know I’m up here.”  Anja stops for a second, noting that she has lied a second time, but to the man who was only now beginning to second guess his fury, it looks like she might be considering how to contact them.  She could scream.  Anja never thought of that.  She found her composure and read doubt on his ignorant face, and finishes.  “They know I’m up here and they’re going to come up to see me in a few minutes.  I expected them by now.”

“You lie!”

“No, me tell truth.”

“How I know you tell no one?”

“Because I have something to lose too! This is against the law!  Swimming in a watertower.”

“It is against the law!”

“Yes.  And what do I care if you’re jerking off on a public rooftop?  This is New York.”

“Yes, this is New York.”  Slavko almost smiles.

“Look, tell no one about me.  And I tell no one about you.”

You tell no one.”

“I tell no one.”

“You tell no one?”

“Yes, if you tell no one.”  The level of discourse seems as low as they are high, and it’s sorely testing Anja’s patience.  Ominously, Slavko seems to note that Anja’s jumpsuit is simply wrapped around her shoulders, and since he knows the watertower — he certainly seems fearless about the height –  he begins to wonder just how steady she is standing there, with her two feet under the water, on the ladder, and with no way to leverage herself into an effective swing. Anja senses this and decides to use her comparative weakness to her advantage.

“Look, I’m going to swing the pole back from its threatening position.”  She does this to use one hand to adjust her jumpsuit.  She knows she’s taking a chance, and possibly, it’s stupid.

“That’s good.  No need to hit me.”  Slavko batters his eyelashes slightly and crunches his one continuos eyebrow to seem cute.

“No”.  She winks at him and adjusts the jumpsuit to let him see a little shoulder.

“You’re pretty.”

“Yes, but I’m in a strong position.  The pole is still above your head.  And I will risk killing you or dying rather than let you come another step closer.”

“I don’t want you to die.” He says sweetly, but with a desperate homeliness which makes Anja visibly shudder.  But it is not something Slavko would notice.

“No I do not want you to die, either.”

“You no tell no one?”

“I tell no one.”

I tell no one.”

“Good boy, now bring those bags downstairs and we’re even.”

“Even steven?”

“Even steven.”

“Tell no one?”

“Tell no one.  Now, go finish your job.”

“Bye Bye.  I go down now.”

“You go down, now. Bye.  Ta Ta.”


“Au revoir, my little bear!”