The Year of the Bills
At the start of the Year of the Bills, you’ll be fine. Spring comes as it usually does. Clear skies, baby birds. Bike tune-ups. Becoming a TA for a night class. Buying a printer. It won’t be until May that you’ll drag your face across Leland Avenue after working at O’Shaughnessy’s. The bartender will heft up your broken bike and carry it over his shoulders like Simon of Cyrene as the EMT asks you your name, your address, age, occupation. Exactly thirty-two stitches feel like someone washing gravel from the open flap of skin above your eye. You didn’t see this coming: a bill for $2,600, for the ride. Then it’s $1,200 for the room. You didn’t even know there could be a price for being in a room, but you open the envelope on the 4th of July. The supplies and equipment are their own thing; those little bills come out with the cicadas, eating through your apartment. Most hospitals rent the tools inside them, someone explains over the phone. How could you have known that? Your heart races, thoughts bursting in air. Air bursting with prices. Prices for laying down, bleeding, being. Even the nurse who hemmed up your head is her own show. Her bill for her labor announces the ides of autumn. You’ll put it on your credit card, not realizing that you haven’t paid for the anesthesia. There’s a company that makes it. They’re important. They make their bill yellow. It floats down to your floor in late October. Finally, it’s cold enough to snow on the day you learn there’s a fee for all the paperwork. They have sent their own mail, a bright white sheet with red lettering. On the back, you will write ideas for selling printers, for teaching Lazzarato’s reading of Nietzsche, for living another year.
A man’s boots appear at the top of our office window, resting on a plank. I click Save Draft and tip my chair back. Charlene’s chair swivels all the way around.
Our window is about 400 feet above the street, floor 28, a tiny baby skyscraper among Chicago’s giants. As the boots drop another two inches, water and suds start to trickle down. The boots become thick coveralls, then we see his knees. The plank clicks against the window.
“When are we supposed to present to the team?” I ask.
“In ten minutes” Charlene answers. Ropes thwap against the glass.
We hate these presentations. We started as temps, and now a couple years later, she and I wonder if we can stand to create such vacuous content another day.
Our attention is fixed on the suds, the ropes, and the boots. I feel like we’re staring into a campfire, until Charlene swivels back to her desk and starts to scrawl something on a big sheet of paper.
“Not your number again,” I say. “I don’t want him reaching for a pen or something, and then—”
“It’s not that, relax,” she says.
We stand up and press our noses to the cold glass, looking down. Hard not to. The levels of air between his feet and the pavement are astounding, breathtaking. When his crotch comes into view we back way up. “You just can’t let yourself think about it,” I say. “I mean if something went wrong, and then— all that way, if the wind picked up, god.”
“What’s the matter with you?” she says.
The plank bounces and drops hard. Charlene screams and I back up, tripping over my chair. The man’s face is young, he’s got a cigarette in his lips, calm as a spring day while he surveys our scene: Charlene with her fists clenched around the paper and me draped awkwardly over my chair. He smiles. We breathe. He shrugs. Charlene smooths out her fist.
“See?” she says to me.
It reads: THANKS! WE APPECIATE IT! He’s squinting at the letters. He has one hand on a carabiner the size of a bowling pin, the other on a bucket. Without taking his hand off the bucket’s handle, he secures it to another smaller carabiner then pulls the cigarette from his mouth— says something we can’t quite hear.
“We’re going to have to stay late and re-do this prez,” Charlene mumbles.
“No,” I say, watching a man descend by himself into pure nothingness, alone. “Let’s leave now,” I say. “Let’s get drinks.”
The top of his neon orange hat is near the bottom of the sill. He looks up as if to beg for more time from the gods, then pulls a squeegee down our glass and disappears.
Molly Sturdevant writing has appeared in Orion, Newfound, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, The Great Lakes Review, The Nashville Review, The Fourth River, Sundog Lit, Dark Mountain, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Montana Prize in Fiction 2019 and a Pushcart nominee in 2020. She is an assistant prose poetry editor for Pithead Chapel and a fiction reader for The Maine Review. The Midwest has been her home for most of her life. She is currently working on a novel.