My name is Ella and this is my rooftop. Over there is the aluminium door that is bruised from countless attempts to escape. The handle is broken but the lock does not budge. There is a broom, in splinters. There is my friend Daniel who is looking over the edge for people to scream to. The words are always whipped away by the wind, and even if people hear them, they think they're imagining things, and even when they hear them and see where they're coming from and look directly at us, they think we're just a couple of college kids fucking around on top of a nine-storey building. Which I guess we are.
Oh my god they said, the taxi's here, at which time I was standing against one wall smoking a cigarette with Dan and he was standing, hands open like a question. It was night, I was drunk, we were on the rooftop because we thought it would be fun, and I guess it was. Things were kind of starting to catch and blur and I was hoping I would last and I wanted Dan to leave me alone because he kept bugging me about his best friend who was going to kill himself, apparently, because of me, apparently, and all Dan was asking for was for me to send him one text, or anything. And after this long pause and I flicked my hair aside because the wind was blurring it all up, it was windy up here, I just said ok, dimly aware at that moment that the music had stopped, the voices had been cut off, there was a dim hollow bang of a door shutting and it cut the voices and the sound of sneakers on steps. I threw the cigarette to the wind and said as I went toward the door: I don't want to think about this tonight, as at that very moment I tried the door and realised it was locked and we were locked out, on top of the building. Dan immediately pulled out his cellphone and started dialing. At which moment I was thinking about my cellphone lying in my bag, behind this aluminium door and one flight down. Dan's phone beeped, and I knew, and I instantly started thinking of my phone lying down there with a pang of regret. No, Dan said, no no no. Critical battery, of course. Cellphone's dead, naturally. What a perfect pile of shit.
Sobering up in that realistic mid-morning light, we still weren't worried, really. We'd talked all night, sitting against a wall, about all sorts of shit, starting with a trip we took up the coast last summer, and twisting, flicking deeper, until at some point I was telling Dan stuff about my family, about my mind, that I thought I would never tell anyone, and he the same, though we were both quite drunk. Periodically Dan would get some great idea and would leap up to try it, but he would inevitably come back with a lopsided look of disappointment on his face, give the door a few loving kicks. We still found it kind of funny. From night, daylight looked like a serene oasis of certainty. As soon as the sun came up and people were walking round on the footpaths below, working in this building, or the twelve-storey McGrath library opposite, we would be seen, we would be rescued, we would be peachy. Feeling stupid but grateful.
The sun climbed and we moved around the four walls of the building staying in the shade until the sun was right overhead, and then we just sat and baked. The surface of the building was dark and hot. I forgot: it was Sunday. No one was working in the McGrath building save a few hardy students who scuttled in and out, thinking about deadlines and forty-page readings and Derrida. Certainly not thinking about looking up. People generally don't look up, I've found. If there's one thing I'm going to do when I get off this building, it's this: I'm going to look up more often. Dan's voice went hoarse from screaming, until he sounded like a clarinet with a broken reed and I told him to shut up. He threw the broom-head off the roof: it sailed into the path of an asian woman, clattered to the pavement right in front of her. She just stopped and looked at it, then looked up at us, I could have sworn, directly at us, us waving our arms and screaming help, but she just moved on. In the afternoon there was music playing over in the quad behind the library, drum and bass, a live show. Between the McGrath and the English block there's like this wind tunnel. So the music would come to us sometimes clear as blue sky, then it'd suddenly cut out, flick away elsewhere. I don't like drum and bass anyway. After Dan's first panic attack (he has anxiety issues: he told me), after the first of many fits of rage where I thought he'd smash his head open or break his arm or something, the way he was whaling on that door, I rolled up a spliff with what little pot I had and we got a little high and laughed at the sheer stupidity of the situation. My stomach started rumbling. We talked about food, endless food, and I thought about eternal sex.
It was really fucking cold that night. Dan had some Eckies so we split one and felt a little better. He told me about chills he gets down his spine when someone explains something technical to him. I get the same when someone tells a really good story. You know. We bonded. Even so, I was getting a little sick of him, and he of me. We split the other Eckie. The city was beautiful. I never thought about all the trees, islands of green, the million lights. Dan's from the country. He said city people don't appreciate the absurdity of cities, of people living in such close proximity, crawling over each other, crossing paths to sit in cubicles, crawling home to sleep in boxes, blind and mute. He said when he first got to the city he looked people in the eyes too much. He said he had to shut off the part of his brain that notices things or sees humanity, because the city doesn't have the patience for it. It's like, I thought, walking through a mall. It's exhausting, not because you're walking very far, or anything, but because you're looking at all the people and their clothes and the way they look and thinking about how you look and by the time you've walked like two hundred metres it's like you've run a half-marathon. How on earth, Dan moaned, how on earth can two people honestly get trapped on top of a building?
And now it is daylight again. Dan is about to attempt, not for the first time, to climb to the lower floor. My building is not designed to make this easy. There is a large ledge to get around first, and the concrete juts out at least a metre below the windows, so it's a pretty big fall. Then you have to think about the window itself - though I suppose Dan's so desperate he'd smash it in a heartbeat. He's disappeared over the edge. I discouraged him at first. It seemed altogether far too dangerous, far too risky, when we'd probably be found, a couple of hours from now. Perhaps a couple more. This can't last too long. Oh, it can, it will. It just keeps going. How does it keep going? How can two people get trapped on a building? How can they be ignored for so long? How much would they have to scream, to bellow, to actually get someone's attention? Even when they'd got someone's attention, what then? What do we have to do to get off this goddamn thing? I never thought I would look so hungrily at the ground, at green grass.
I am looking at a grassy knoll. There are people spread out with food and coffee under a gum tree. A girl in a yellow top is texting - the sun flashes off her cellphone screen and hits my eyes. And everything is cool and calm. The morning is tipping into the afternoon again. Birds are passing by, silent.
And suddenly everything is moving: the arms of the gum tree are waving and the ground is rippling like a shaking sheet. People are screaming, I can hear it even now, and I am screaming too, as the building lurches and throws me three feet in the air and back, the whole city is shaking and roaring like a great beast falling, and something twitches and palsies like a nerve deep within the building, I can feel it, even skating over the surface, something has snapped, is irreparable, and the floor drops out beneath me and the sky wheels past and I see the ground, finally, I see the ground, lurching toward me, coming up to greet me, to embrace me.