More Than We Can Bear

“Can you believe the bitch ate my yogurt?” I exclaim as Sam smirks and extends his tattooed arm toward me. He hands me my Blonde Vanilla Latte before wiping the black marble counter with his little towel.

“Sounds like she’s bad news,” he says, with a weary look. “Want a couple of Egg Bites instead?”

“No, maybe later,” I say folding my paper napkin and sneaking him a seductive wink. “Gotta keep my bathing suit figure for another month.”

“Larissa,” Donna says appearing next to me. “Saw you waitin’ here and thought we’d ride up together.”

“Oh!” I say with my head swiveling between my two friends. Before I get a chance to introduce him, Sam turns and flips his linen cloth over his shoulder. “Bye,” I call after him as he goes back to his silver trimmed espresso machine.

“Aren’t you late?” I ask, thinking of how jarring it is to run into work friends outside. “You’re usually settled with the radio going before I get in.”

“Yeah,” Donna replies, weaving past a tall woman on a stool. “‘L’ line’s slow.” She bumps up against a guy whose nose is buried in his laptop. “Excuse me,” she mutters as he glares at her over his shoulder. “I hate when the train pokes along. You’re in early!”

“Had another fight with Mulva,” I say as we break out of the narrow coffee shop and march across the busy concourse. “I gotta get outta there.”

“Ha! You didn’t call her ‘Mulva’, did you?” Donna asks as she flashes her card at the security guy.

“I should’ve,” I say, holding up the plastic ID around my neck. We both get an automatic nod from the guard. Riding up the escalator, Donna tucks her pass away in her purse as she smiles down at me from her higher step.

“My roommate will probably move in with her boyfriend after Thanksgiving. Maybe you could come live with me?”

“Augh! November. By then, Deloris will be dead, and I’ll be doing time for killing her,” I say with a wry smile as we join the cluster of people around our elevator.

“What happened?” Donna murmurs, looking around nervously.

“It’s outrageous!” I say as the doors open. We shuffle inside and stay silent until they close again. Once the car starts moving, I continue. “If you found yogurt in the fridge, and you didn’t buy it, wouldn’t you know it wasn’t yours?”


“It’s not rocket science! Who goes around shoveling strange yogurt in their mouth? It was supposed to be my breakfast!

“I find Deloris in the bathroom. She’s combing her hair like she wants to yank it out by the roots. That monster has great hair. Awful skin though. Psoriasis, I think? She’s moving huge clumps around, trying to hide it.

“I’d pulled the empty container from the trash and was waving it in front of her.

“‘Sorry,’ she says. She doesn’t even offer to pay for it. Meanwhile, I’m going to work on an empty stomach.”

When the elevator stops at the 44th floor, the whole car is quiet while a bent-over man in a rumpled cotton suit pushes his way off. I start in on Deloris again once the doors close.

“Did I tell you she was wearing glittery lip gloss when she interviewed me? I should’ve known right then she’s a mental case. Spewing all that I’m ‘easy-going’ garbage while asking me like, ten thousand questions. Didn’t even listen to my answers. Before I’m finished, she’s telling me about everything in life that’s bothering her.”

“That’s a huge red flag,” Donna says bringing the sip hole on the lid of her cup to her lips.

“Yeah, but I needed a place to stay, and she was affordable.”

“This city has too many borderline personalities going south,” Donna remarks as the doors open on the sky lobby.

“Wanna take the stairs?” I ask.

“Nah. Two flights up?” Donna says tilting her head toward her coffee. “If it’s down; sure.” We go stand by the next set of white elevator doors.

“What a great-looking day,” I say gazing out at the Hudson and the blue-green ocean beyond.


Donna’s a decent girl from Pittsburgh who might be ten years older than me. Her collarbones stand out too much and, if I’d known her when I came to Manhattan, I would’ve moved in with her in a heartbeat.

“Hey!” she says unlocking the office door, “Mister Mammon’s ‘sposed to be back today.”

“Finally,” I say brushing past her and dumping my bag on my receptionist’s desk. “I’ve been answering frantic calls from clients for days. Nobody knows what’s going on. I’m running out of cheerful platitudes.”

“Yeah. I used to handle those calls AND do the bookkeeping. I’m glad he hired you.”.

“Me too. When I told her about my new job, my grandmother said I was workin’ in the Devil’s towers. She’s like this weird religious socialist? Gran says the cruel babble in here is stripping pensions and financial security away from hardworkin’ folks.” Worried I’ve forced the conversation into a sharpe curve, I change the subject:

“Did you interview at Mister Mammon’s place?” I ask as I pull my phone headset out of the drawer.


“I thought going to some guy’s house on 73rd was wack ‘til I saw the security here.” Donna settles at her desk next to our only narrow window and boots up her computer. As I grind the earbud in my ear, I slide the hook over my helix. I’m hungry and wish I’d bought a brownie, but I take a sip from my coffee before positioning the microphone. With only a few bucks left, I’m trying to be frugal.

“I’ll be glad when he gets here,” I say, using my small mirror to re-adjust my hair. “He was supposed to pay me yesterday but called to say he wasn’t coming in. He promised me cash today.”

“Said the same to me,” Donna replies without looking up from her work.

“Oh?” I respond. I didn’t know Desmond had also talked to her. “I was glad he gave me an advance when he hired me. I would’ve been a mess otherwise.”

“Yeah,” Donna says, keeping her nose buried in her work. I know she’s not listening anymore. Since walking me through the security rigmarole two weeks ago, I’ve sort of been her protégé. There are so many people in these buildings. Donna and Sam are the only two I know. I’m not supposed to start work until nine but, if nobody calls, I don’t have anything to do. I’ve never been in a place where the boss is always absent. I decide I’ll keep prodding Donna. Maybe she knows what’s going to happen next.

“His place is nice! Expensive,” I say, starting cautiously.“ A skinny snake of a woman took me upstairs where Mister Mammon was being fitted for a pin-striped suit. There was a bald man with a tape measure ‘round his neck, crawling on the floor in front of him, marking off the cuffs.”

“Sounds like Desmond,” Donna replies, without looking up.

“Mammon comes downstairs later and says I’m hired. I thought he was going over my resumé an’ checking my references, but he wasn’t upstairs that long. He’d even changed his clothes. With that cleft chin, light hair an’ touch of gray at the temples, he looked very dapper.

“He was also wearing a boutonnière flower. Who still does that? A dead pedal was sneaking out near the stem. He must not have seen it. Smoking a British cigarette, he looked like a guy who knows things no one else does. I got the strangest feeling from him when we talked. It was like he was saying my thoughts out loud.”

Thinking about odd feelings stirring inside me, I remember Mom’s deathbed advice. “Don’t fall for sexy guys,” she said, “all men are lazy fucks lookin’ for a fast lay.” Desmond Mammon doesn’t seem like that though. It’s like he’s more than a man.

“Yeah,” Donna says, finally turning away from her screen. “When he talks to me it’s like his voice is inside my head. He lives in a sweet spot where nothin’s outta reach. With soft Italian shoes sinking into thick carpets; his magical life is effortless. He knows the right people and, with that jaunty handkerchief peeking out of his pocket, he looks so relaxed. Wait ‛til you see some of the bling he wears. Subtle, but awesome.”

I want to expand on what Donna’s saying:

“When he called me last Wednesday,” I explain, “I didn’t know what to say. He’s supposed to be on vacation? I could hear seagulls and ocean waves in the background... I pictured him strolling in front of a line of luxury yachts with his cashmere sweater tied by the sleeves around his neck. He wanted to know how I was doing?”

“You should have yelled; BARBARIANS ARE AT THE GATE,” Donna enacts, waving her arms in the air. We both laugh.


A man in a tweed jacket and plaid foulard barges through our door. He looks like the Muppet Beaker with his mass of red hair, huge eyes and long tube-like face. His crazed expression makes me think of a maniac taking a break from a shooting rampage.

“Which one of you is Larissa?” he demands. Donna quickly turns away and busies herself with a spreadsheet on her computer.

“I am,” I say, getting up from my stool. “How did you get in here?”

“I was talking to my brother downstairs. He said I should come up here and straighten this out.”

“Who are you,” I ask, trying not to look scared.

“I’m Anthony Newhouse,” he says, annoyed by the question. “Where’s Desmond Mammon?”

“He’s not here yet. Would you like to wait for him?” I ask, nervously glancing around because I can’t offer him a chair. He also scans our mostly empty office.

“I’m not standing around for nothing!” he grumbles. “Call and tell him Newhouse is here.”

Forcing herself to concentrate on her monitor, Donna continues to work diligently in her corner. I walk as casually as I can around the front of my curved desk, pushing my stool in front of me. With an affirming nod, he parks an ass cheek on the stool and leans his elbow on the chrome rim of my desk. Avoiding his penetrating glare, I glide back to my console and plug in the headset. There’s a button programmed for Desmond’s cellphone so I tap it gently.

“Hello,” my boss says.

“Mister Mammon. Hello. It’s Larissa. I hate to bother you but Anthony Newhouse is here. He wants to see you.”

“Let me talk to him,” the red terror demands leaning forward. His eyebrows squeeze close together as I point to my ear, indicating it’s a headset.

“Good,” Desmond responds warmly, “I want to see him too. I’m a block away. I’ll be up there in ten minutes. Set him up in my office.”

“I can’t,” I say. “It’s locked and we don’t know the code.”

“No problem,” he says without hesitation, “it’s 6-6-6-9-4. Make him comfortable. I’ll be right up.”

He hangs up on me as I stand there bewildered. Cautiously unplugging my headset, I smile politely at the angry man. “He’s just getting dropped in front of the building,” I say, hoping to avoid an outburst. “He wants to talk to you.”

Turning sharply toward the corner office, I walk to the large oak door. I’ve never been in there. As I poke the code into Desmond’s electronic lock, I try to sound cool and competent. “He says you can wait in here.”

Fortunately, the door opens and I’m looking at a stark room that appears to be intentionally undecorated. Other than a huge desk, soft chair, computer, telephone, and wastebasket, there’s nothing else in here. Mister Newhouse storms past me and, seeing no other choice installs himself behind Desmond’s desk. I look around, but there’s nothing personal in sight. Donna has followed us and she’s standing behind me in the doorway. I wonder if she’s ever been in here.

“I’d like a cup of coffee,” Newhouse demands as he looks around the room like he expects to find something useful.

“We don’t have a coffee maker,” I say, realizing, for the first time, how unusual that sounds.

“I have a water bottle,” Donna brightly suggests as she raises her arm and points toward her desk.

“Okay” he says as Donna leaves. An odd look clouds his face when he realizes the water is something she brought from home. Avoiding eye contact, both Mister Newhouse and I seem to be frozen in an awkward moment. I don’t know what to do and I wish I was back in my workspace. When Donna returns, she hands him a sealed bottle of Poland Spring.

“I’ll leave you here,” I tell him. “Mister Mammon will be along in a few minutes.” A lone crumpled paper in the trash basket catches my eye. It hasn’t been emptied in two weeks so I reach down and smooth the sheet out on the executive desk. It’s an invoice from an office furniture rental company.


Donna and I return to the front area when we hear a loud BANG.

“OH MY GOD,” Anthony Newhouse yells. He’s blocking one of the windows when I rush back in. I step over to the adjacent narrow frame. Everything looks pretty normal except there’s a puff of smoke and papers flying in the air. For a moment, I think the other tower is shaking.

“Something exploded!” Newhouse shouts.

“A bomb?” I ask as Donna presses herself against me to look over my shoulder. I can smell her shampooed hair as her coffee breath steams a little circle on the glass in front of us.

“I’ll go turn on the radio,” she says, sliding her hand tenderly down my back before running off.

“Maybe it’s a gas pipe,” I say, glancing at Mister Newhouse.

“You think somebody installed a Viking Range on the sixtieth floor?” he says, mocking me like I’m a moron. “They’re trying to blow up the building again.”

“1010 W.I.N.S. says there’s a big hole!” Donna shouts. “Desmond’s probably out front and can see it. Call him.”

I hurry back to my desk and plug in the headset. Punching his cell number, a recorded voice tells me all the lines are in use.

“Can’t get through,” I shout while trying his landline. I’m shocked when he picks up.

“Hello,” he says. I hesitate, not sure what to say. “Hello?” he repeats, sounding a little exasperated.

“Hi. It’s Larissa again. I thought you were out front?”

“I’m running a little late,” he says with a tinge of stress in his voice. “Why are you calling?” he asks. Just then, the fire bell starts ringing in the hallway.

“What’s going on?” I call over to Donna.

“I don’t know,” Desmond says sounding confused. “You called me.”

“It’s a plane!” Donna shouts with her left ear plastered against the radio and her right finger is buried in her other ear.

“What?” I say, looking at her. The rhythmic bell keeps clanging.

“What’s going on there?” Desmond demands.

“A PLANE” Donna shouts. “It flew into the building.”

“A plane?” I say as Anthony Newhouse steps out of the corner office.

“What’s that bell mean?” he asks, pointing toward the door.

“Fire alarm! We have to evacuate,” Donna insists.

“Hey!” Desmond shouts, his voice filling my head. “What’s happening there?”

“I’m leaving,” Newhouse announces as he strides past me. For a short time while the office door is open, the hallway bell sounds even louder. I look at Donna and say:

“I’ve got Mister Mammon on the phone.”

“Ask him what we should do,” Donna pleads. Out of habit, I cup my hand around the thin microphone stick in front of my mouth.

“Mister Mammon. This is Larissa again. Can you hear me?”

“Yes! What’s happening there?” he repeats.

“A plane. It hit the World Trade Center.”

“The other building?”

“Yes. They’re sounding the fire alarm. What should we do?”

“If it hit the other building,” Desmond calmly says, “there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Shouldn’t we leave?” I continue, hoping for clear instructions.

“No. Wait there. I’m on my way,” he says as he hangs up again.

“He wants us to wait for him,” I tell Donna while pulling off my headset. The bell is still clanging in the hallway.


Donna and I stare out Desmond’s north-facing windows. The smoke has turned black and it’s getting thicker. It makes my mouth feel dry. I notice the open bottle of water glistening on Desmond’s desk. It looks so inviting, but I can’t tell if Newhouse put his lips on it or not. I decide I’m not going to take a chance.

“Do you think he’ll have our money?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Donna replies without looking away from the ominous cloud wafting toward Brooklyn. I can tell she’s also thinking about something other than the accident. Fishing for an answer, I wonder out loud:

“What do you suppose Newhouse was upset about?” Donna looks at me and I see fear in her eyes. There’s something she isn’t telling me? “Do you know?” I persist.

“You should ask Desmond when he gets here,” she answers, looking back toward the smoking north tower.

“That won’t be for another hour,” I respond softly. “He’s still uptown. With alarms goin’ off, they might not even let him in the building.”

“He’s at home?” Donna asks, abruptly turning toward me. She looks ashen.

“I couldn’t get him on his cell, so I tried the landline. He picked up. He’s still at his place.”

Deep furrows draw heavy lines across Donna’s forehead. Moving stiffly, she goes back to her desk. After taking another look at the injured building, I follow her. Donna’s rocking gently in her chair, cradling the handwritten ledger. I pull up my stool to sit in front of her. The tainted sky, East River, and Brooklyn are visible through her window.

“What’s going on with you?” I demand.

“I asked him to hire you because I’m a terrible liar,“ she says. ”I needed someone to talk to the clients while Desmond worked his secret strategy.“

“Secret strategy?”

“Yeah. He’s got a plan involving Futures,” Donna says, her eyes full of eagerness. “Today’s the big payout. He said it’s a brilliant strategy. Some event is supposed to trigger a windfall. His share alone will make him richer than Bloomberg.”

“Event? Like an announcement?”

“I don’t know. I’ve spent the last two weeks liquidating client accounts and pouring the money into the Cesar Fund. Desmond and I administer it. That’s the secure derivative you’ve been answering questions about.”

“I don’t answer questions. I read from Desmond’s script. It’s all delays and double talk. I don’t even know what ‘ottimati e popolari’ means,” I bark enraged. I feel like I’m being used. “Who authorized the transfers?”

“I did,” Donna says dropping her eyes. “Desmond made me CFO the day before you started. I ordered and signed for everything.”

I jump to my feet to grab the ledger. All those calls asking me why the numbers on the balance sheet keep getting shorter. It feels like a scam. I want to see what I’ve been roped into. A loud noise erupts behind me and I’m thrust violently to the floor.


It’s like an earthquake. The whole building shakes as acoustic panels come crashing down. An empty metal bookcase next to Donna’s desk falls on top of her. Hanging by their wires, lights flicker as dust fills the room. Fluorescent bays and galvanized steel air ducts hang precariously from the ceiling.

A moan behind the radio newscaster echoes my confusion. A pyro fountain of confetti-like sparks is shooting off in my head. Numb, I can only lie still for a moment, fighting for my next breath. For some reason, the fire bell has stopped ringing.

“Argh! I’m bleeding!” Donna cries.

“There’s been an explosion in the south tower,” the newsman says over the high-pitch hum in my ears.

“Larissa!” she calls to me. “Help!”

Slowly, I pick myself up and push debris out of the way. Pulling back the empty metal shelves, I can see Donna huddled against the wall. She looks terrified as she lifts a blood-smeared hand.

“My leg hurts,” she says, pointing to her thigh. I flip over a few more steel shelves revealing a three-inch gash just below her hemline. Her hose are torn in several places but the cut doesn’t look deep. The other runs expose angry abrasions.

“I’ll get the paper towels,” I tell her as I look around. I can’t figure out where anything is. The Bounty Donna brought in on Friday is lying partially unrolled on the floor. I carefully pick my way over the rubble and tear off the soiled sheets.

“Can you remove your pantyhose?” I ask. Grimacing in pain, she reaches under her skirt, rocking from side to side. As she slides off the sheer material she draws in a stiff breath. I press some clean paper towel sheets against her wound. “Tie this in place with the nylon,” I direct.

“Where are my shoes?” Donna asks as she secures the paper wad against her leg. Her monitor is lying face down on the floor and one of her pumps is sticking out underneath it. The other shoe is a few inches closer. I pick it up and hold it in front of her.

“Do you have a sensible pair?”

“No,” she says, looking at the wreckage strewn all over the floor. The radio explains that a second plane intentionally flew into our building. A cold chill shoots up my spine. We were attacked.

“Can you stand?” I ask Donna. “I think so. Help me,” she says, lifting her elbow.

Leaning on my arm and gritting her teeth, I guide Donna to the door jam. She steadies herself while I go get her other shoe. Because of Newhouse’s commotion, I’m still in my street runners.

“Let’s get outta here,” I say, not even bothering to look for the expensive heels I bought last week.


Our hallway is empty but, when I open the emergency door, there’s a steady stream of traffic going down the stairs. We join the march and, holding the railing, Donna manages to keep up. There’s a smell of smoke in the air and the emergency lights are on so it’s easy to see. Surprisingly, everybody is quiet.

Merging with people climbing from lower floors, things slow down by the exit. We finally pour into the bright sky lobby on the 78th floor. The noisy tumult is confusing but the open space is a relief. The captured smell of panic is baking in the vivid sunlight under the high stucco ceiling. A white-shirted security guard paces in front of the elevator doors shouting:


Turning and marching in the opposite direction, he continues:


Donna and I push our way into a corner where she can lean against the window. As we rub past others, I hear snippets of conversation:

“There are no cell lines!” a pug-faced lady shouts as she waives her Blackberry in the air. She looks at me like I’m supposed to do something about it.

“It’s like the ’93 bombing,” a willowy man tells me, nodding his head. He looks like a guy who works in a bookshop.

“The FBI says the planes were hijacked,” a Jerry Orbach-looking man announces as he rolls up a sleeve, revealing a hairy arm. The fierce-faced guy has a dozen people around him and his bossy voice has a taste of brutality in it.

“A Wall Street trader told me they’re closing the market,” a dark-faced fellow with slack cheeks and crinkled eyelids adds. The melee of voices makes me feel panicky.

Pushing up against the window, I look out as a news ‘copter flies by. A video camera is pointed toward our building. I must look pathetic, caught in this appalling steel and glass trap. I don’t want to stay here.

“Let’s go back to the stairs,” I whisper in Donna’s ear.

“We can’t,” she says meekly. “They’re blocked.”

“Not if we go up,” I suggest with a sly smile. “We’ll go to the observation deck, then onto the roof. We’ll be lifted off the building when rescue helicopters come.”

“That’s more than 30 floors,” Donna complains.

“Well, I’m not staying here,” I say looking around. “You coming?” I start to push my way back toward the stairwell. Hesitating only to take in a breath, Donna says:

“Wait for me.”

The ruckus fades as we squeeze through the emergency door. There are far fewer people on the stairs than before, and much more smoke. I press myself against the center railing and look down the narrow chasm. Glowing red like a kiln, I can see fire several floors below.

“Come on,” I encourage Donna as I start to pull myself up against the tide. Surprisingly, people move to the left so we can get by. The smoke seems to be getting thicker and some of the office workers coming down are clutching handkerchiefs against their faces. As Donna and I continue to climb the stairs, traffic is getting lighter.


I grab Donna’s wrist and pull her through an exit door. I don’t know what floor we’re on, but the air out here is better.

“We’ve got to go back,” Donna begs.

“What?” I say in disbelief.

“The ledger,” she pleads. “It’s still in the office.”

“So what?”

“Once I’m outta here, I can give the money back,” she says wringing her hands with tears in her eyes. “It’s all in the ledger. I gotta know who and how much.”

“Forget it!” I shout, grabbing her arm. “We have to save ourselves.”

“No! They’ll put me in jail!” she whines, breaking away. “I gotta fix this.”

Donna runs through the stairwell door and I take off after her. No one is on the stairs anymore as she descends into the brewing murkiness of rolling smoke.

“Come back!” I shout but the thick gray air muffles my words. I can only wait a few seconds before the air becomes too thick. Turning upward, I charge up a few flights before bursting out on the 84th floor to breathe some clean air.

Leaning with my back against the wall, I take a huge breath and run up two more flights. I have to take another break but I better climb fast if I’m going to outrun the smoke. Filling my lungs, I plunge back into the stack. I can’t see my feet but the steps have a regular pattern. Pulling hand over hand on the railing, I run up two flights. It’s hard in one breath but I’ve got to make progress. The longer I take, the harder it’ll get.


Dizzy from running and climbing with little oxygen in my lungs, I pause with my chest heaving on the 88th floor. I draw in fresh breaths as I wander through the strange shambles. The hollow emptiness feels dangerous. The smell of smoke isn’t so bad here and, creeping through a dimly lit corridor, my heart is pounding hard in my chest. The building is getting hotter. As I turn a corner, I see a door that’s slightly ajar in front of me. A liquid squishy sound and faint moaning are coming from inside. I peek through the narrow gap.

A couple in the middle of the room is stretched out on the floor with parts of their nearly naked bodies exposed. A brawny man is on top and he has his fist buried deep in the woman’s tangled hair. Clearly visible veins on his knuckles show he’s got a firm grip on the girl. His spine sticks out between massive shoulder blades and he’s rutting like a razorback. I can’t see his face.

The woman looks blankly at the ceiling as he vigorously moves up and down. She’s powerlessly enduring what’s being done to her. Turning her head slightly, her eyes widen when she notices me. She silently mouths:

“Help me.” Cringing, I turn and run back toward the stairwell.

“Help me!” she shouts out loud as I cover my ears, my face burning with shame. I crash through the door and bolt up two more stories. Busting out on the upper level, I’m afraid the man is coming after me. Looking back, I swallow another huge breath and rush into the murky smoke.


When I scramble out on the 92nd floor, an older obese woman wearing orthopedic shoes is propped up against the elevator wall. Despite her pessimistic eyes gazing lazily at me, I’m glad to see her. At first, I didn’t see the metal rod sticking out of her belly. The crazy pattern on her psychedelic blouse hides a large crimson stain and there’s a puddle of blood on the carpet next to her. Feeling guilty for abandoning the girl on 88, I ask:

“Are you alright?”

“Couldn’t be better,” her nasal voice answers sarcastically. Why do New Yorkers always have to make me feel like an idiot? I begin to breathe normally and I’m feeling a little calmer. I drop to one knee by her side. The helpless shame I’m feeling is similar to the way I felt when people used to gawk at my mom. I didn’t like being seen with her and I also pretended I didn’t hear the snide remarks about her enormous size.

“Those sons of bitches left me here,” the fat woman says, her nose and eyes running. “Said the firemen would come and get me. There’s no firemen. Nobody’s comin’.” She feebly lifts her arm waving her cell phone. “I tried to call my husband an’ tell ‘im to cook his own damn dinner, but I can’t get a line.” Leaning in, I can smell raw blood. I take the phone from her. She seems to be dying a little more with every shallow breath.

“I’ll try for you,” I suggest. “What’s the number?”

“Forget it. It’s no use,” she says resting her hollow cheek on her shoulder. Losing color, her consciousness is melting away and she appears to be getting smaller. I slide her phone into my back pocket and take another deep breath. I’ve got to conquer more flights.


The observation deck feels like it’s still a lifetime away. I hate this building. I do two more runs before I’m forced to rest again. Perched like a chiseled goblin on a gothic cathedral, a boney man is sitting on two filing cabinet boxes. Long gray threads of desperately combed-over hair strain to obscure his baldness.

“I’m going up to the roof to wait for rescue ‘copters,” I call as I walk toward him. “You could be stuck here a long time.”

“That’s okay,” he says, as a manicured fingernail scratches a bead of sweat off his upper lip. Moving his palm over the smooth cardboard, he adds, “I’m staying here with these.”

I continue to walk toward him as he stands, taking a defensive posture. His expression becomes as stern as an oil painting in a museum’s portrait gallery. “Run along now,” he cautions me as his hand reaches behind his back.

I stop short, thinking he might have a gun tucked away back there. His protective attitude means he’s guarding something valuable. “I’ll be fine,” he adds firmly. I remember Mom’s ironic tradition of watching Die Hard every Christmas.

“You got bearer bonds in those boxes?” I ask.

“Something like that,” he says, casually bringing his empty hand out front where I can see it. “You expect helicopters to lift you off the roof like it’s The Rapture?” he asks as he sits back down on his boxes.

“Yeah, something like that,” I reply with a shrug. The air is getting thicker and my lungs feel sore.

“Tell ’em to come an’ get me,” he says as he starts to cough.


After running three more times up the stairs, I’m exhausted. I venture out on the 100th floor. Other than smoke, nothing is happening here. I grab a small chair and whack it a few times against a window. No dice. I can’t even crack the glass. Shrinking into a corner, I feel weak and hopeless. I have ten more floors to go and no strength.

I pull the cell phone out of my pocket and, with a shaky hand, dial Grandma’s number.

It rings six times.

I’m mortified when Aunt Louise’s message on the answering machine picks up. Saying I’ve reached the Tinsel Curtain, it tells me they’re presently closed. They always take a walk after breakfast and it’s 7 a.m. out west. My heart is pounding when I hear the tone and I hesitate before saying anything.

“Hi Granma, hi Aunt Louise. It’s Larissa···” I start cautiously. What should I say?

“I’m on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center and a plane’s hit the building. There’s smoke everywhere from the fire.” I hesitate again, not sure what to say next.

“I’m okay. I can still breathe.” I add hopefully. “Can’t go down. It’s Hell down there. I’m headed for the roof to be rescued.”

There’s a deafening noise below me as the building shimmies to the left. The floor quickly drops away, crumbling into huge rolling pieces. Sliding into a growing hole, everything is falling.

“I love you!” I shout like I’m in a dream.

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The author is Arnold Hanna