by Amélie M., 17

Aloysius looked down.

Thirty-two stories below him, he could see the ground. Infinitesimally small human beings crowded the sidewalks, molding to the ground like ants marching across their hills. Alongside them, cars of red, white, and green danced their way through the streets, migrating across the terrain of gray. The distant sound of honking could be heard from his vantage point, dimmed by the steady rush of wind.

He held his balance, his life, by the railings. One hand plastered to the metal, the other carefully wiping the glass in front of him. He had only begun his work, the scorching sun just barely yawning at the open sky. Aloysius wanted nothing more than to drop down to the ground, find a park bench, and sleep for a couple of hours. The shade below him looked so tantalizing that his fingers began to itch toward the pulley. The window made an awful cry as the wiper met the glass, and he swore, remembering that his earplugs had been left on the counter at home. 

It was a repetitive job, to wipe the windows of skyscrapers. He found it tedious each day, lifted to the highest floor, slowly weaving his way towards the bottom, until both he and the sun had their feet firmly planted on the ground. He never cared much for what was on the opposite side of the window, but for an inexplicable reason today he felt the urge to. It was as if the wind was whispering in his ear. Look, it told him, tell me what you see. 

So he did.

When his eyes adjusted, he was able to see an office inside. It was bare, devoid of decoration or character. The only way he could tell that it had an inhabitant was that there was one framed photo sitting on the desk. The Scandinavian architecture of the furniture suctioned any life from the room. A thin desk (an ugly one, he noted to himself) was pushed to the far left wall. A sheath of papers barely covered the nakedness. Next to it was an (orange? He couldn’t tell through the tint) couch. Other than those two minimal pieces, the walls remained desolate. 

So unimaginative, he scoffed. 

He stayed crouched outside of the office due to the stubborn bird feces that clung to the corner and to his sudden curiosity in what inhabited this dull space. He looked away from the office for a moment, scraping at the unyielding mess. An odor began to accumulate under the now blistering waves of direct sun. Once the last remnant was removed, he stood. Aloysius then noticed a movement inside.

A young woman, seemingly in her twenties, was stepping in. She pushed the door open with her left shoulder, and as she turned, Aloysius drew a sharp breath. 

A child, nay, a baby, was sitting on her hip, its fingers shoved into its mouth, eyes carefully watching mother. The woman maneuvered easily despite the extra weight, palming a phone with her left hand. Aloysius noticed that her face appeared worried, her mouth drawn into a frown. She moved towards the couch and placed the baby on its back. Once the baby had been laid on the furniture, it instinctively reached for its mother once again, hands grasping for contact. The woman watched her infant for a moment—was it curiosity? Aloysius wondered. Infatuation? Affection? He couldn’t tell, her back was turned towards him. 

The mother then proceeded to her desk (the very one that Aloysius had insulted just minutes earlier) and sat down, collapsing into the chair. The call continued for another minute until she hung up, and placed the phone in front of her.

Aloysius watched with great interest. She began to cry. The cry gradually grew into sobs, her chest heaving, body shaking. Her head was resting in her open palms. He was unsure of how to react. Should he knock on the window? Console her? Was it wrong for him to just sit and watch this poor woman? He felt as though the glass was no longer physical, he was seeing a window into her life. Aloysius’s heart dropped. How could he have been so cruel? The longer he stood, the more invasive it felt, so he pulled the rope to lower himself down. 

The narrow lift, barely balancing Aloysius and a bucket near his feet, rolled into place in front of the next window. This window was cleaner, exempt from any morsels of bird droppings. Taking a deep breath, he reached for his instruments and began the same process. 

This time, however, he peered inside the window curiously. It was as if a different world was spread in front of his eyes. The room was cluttered to the brim, just barely allowing a chunk of space for him to gape through. His gaze followed what he could see, myriads of books piled atop one another in rolling blankets of paperback novels. Dispersed among the piles of junk were rare pieces of art. Miniature sculptures or dusty mirrors cracked along the edges. 

He pulled away. He could no longer integrate himself into these people’s lives and no longer become emotionally invested in their daily dramas. He was a window cleaner, nothing more. 

Hours passed, and his arms melted into mechanical appliances, a slave to his numb brain. His feet became one with the lift, and he no longer paid attention to what was inside the building. Once the day was done and he had just about collapsed from exhaustion, he peered one last time through the edifice of the floor he had landed on.

Inside, he saw nothing. 

The walls were gone, and the floor was gone. Everything was white. Aloysius’s head began to throb, his eyesight filled with reactive tears. Instead, as he stumbled backward, he caught a glimpse of himself. 

He was silhouetted against the landscape of Paris. The city spread behind him, turrets of old brick pummeling layers of smoke into the air. The Eiffel Tower, just to the west, sitting underneath a lone cloud. The entire view was filled with city, miles upon miles of crumpled buildings, a wash of beige, and empty windows. 

He then focused back on himself. A man in his forties, holding a brush and bucket. Knighting an orange vest and a helmet far too big for his narrow, drooping face. He saw something else too. A kid, just around ten, sitting beside him and holding a toy car. 

“Can we go to the zoo today, Daddy?”

“Not today, mon fils.” 

The boy disappeared into the air, his eyes still aching in Aloysius’ brain. 

And then Aloysius began to cry. His reflection was something he didn’t even recognize beyond his uniform and peppered beard. Wiping his tears, Aloysius swiveled to view the street across from him and looked into the furrow of a building that resembled the one that he clung to. He caught a view of a lone man sitting in a rocking chair through a window on the third floor. 

And that man turned right back to look at him.

Seattle, Washington