Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 41 of 64

“Oh my Lord!” she said, and her hand jumps to the hammer in its bandolier holster on her round tummy. She claws at it frantically.

“Please,” I say, holding my hands in front of me. “Please. I’m hurt is all. I came up here to get some fresh air and the door swung shut behind me. I tripped when I knocked over the chimney to get someone’s attention. I’m not dangerous. Please. Just help me get back down to the twentieth floor—I think I might need a stretcher crew, my back is pretty bad.”

“It’s Caitlin,” she says.

“I beg your pardon?”

“My name is Caitlin,” she says.

“Hi, Caitlin,” I said. I extend my hand, but she doesn’t move the ten yards she would have to cross in order to take it. I think about moving towards her, but think better of it.

“You’re not up here to jump, are you?”

“Jump? Christ, no! Just stuck is all. Just stuck.”

Linda’s goddamned boyfriend was into all this flaky Getting to Yes shit, subliminal means of establishing rapport and so on. Linda and I once spent an afternoon at the Children’s Carousel uptown in Manhattan, making fun of all his newage theories. The one that stood out in my mind as funniest was synching your breathing—“What you resist persists, so you need to turn resistance into assistance,” Linda recounted. You match breathing with your subject for fifteen breaths and they unconsciously become receptive to your suggestions. I have a suspicion that Caitlin might bolt, duck back through the door and pound down the stairs on her chubby little legs and leave me stranded.

So I try it, match my breath to her heaving bosom. She’s still panting from her trek up the stairs and fifteen breaths go by in a quick pause. The silence stretches, and I try to remember what I’m supposed to do next. Lead the subject, that’s it. I slow my breathing down gradually and, amazingly, her breath slows down along with mine, until we’re both breathing great, slow breaths. It works—it’s flaky and goofy California shit, but it works.

“Caitlin,” I say calmly, making it part of an exhalation.

“Yes,” she says, still wary.

“Have you got a comm?”

“I do, yes.”

“Can you please call downstairs and ask them to send up a stretcher crew? I’ve hurt my back and I won’t be able to handle the stairs.”

“I can do that, yes.”

“Thank you, Caitlin.”

It feels like cheating. I didn’t have to browbeat her or puncture her bad reasoning—all it took was a little rapport, a little putting myself in her shoes. I can’t believe it worked, but Caitlin flips a ruggedized comm off her hip and speaks into it in a calm, efficient manner.

“Thank you, Caitlin,” I say again. I start to ease myself to a sitting position, and my back gives way, so that I crash to the rooftop, mewling, hands clutched to my spasming lumbar. And then Caitlin’s at my side, pushing my hands away from my back, strong thumbs digging into the spasming muscles around my iliac crests, soothing and smoothing them out, tracing the lines of fire back to the nodes of the joints, patiently kneading the spasms out until the pain recedes to a soft throbbing.

“My old man used to get that,” she said. “All us kids had to take turns working it out for him.” I’m on my back, staring up over her curves and rolls and into her earnest, freckled face.

“Oh, God, that feels good,” I say.

“That’s what the old man used to say. You’re too young to have a bad back.”

“I have to agree,” I say.

“All right, I’m going to prop your knees up and lay your head down. I need to have a look at that ventilator.”

I grimace. “I’m afraid I did a real number on it,” I say. “Sorry about that.”

She waves a chubby pish-tosh at me with her freckled hand and walks over to the chimney, leaving me staring at the sky, knees bent, waiting for the stretcher crew.

When they arrive, Caitlin watches as they strap me onto the board, tying me tighter than is strictly necessary for my safety, and I realize that I’m not being tied down, I’m being tied up.

“Thanks, Caitlin,” I say.

“You’re welcome, Art.”

“Good luck with the ventilator—sorry again.”

“That’s all right, kid. It’s my job, after all.”

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