He was scared shitless, up this high. But he was scared not to come up, off balance with the bucket of bolts, a drift pin and a wrench. The steelworkers above him placed angle-iron sides and he put the cross pieces on, an X, stuck the drift pin in a hole to secure it while he bolted the open holes. Then he’d tap the pin out, bolt that hole. Three inch angle iron was his footing. Climb up the X, do another one. No one used harnesses. It never occurred to him. OSHA was not a factor in the 1950’s.
He’d heard about steeplejacks and mountain climbers just letting go, relaxing backward to gravity, falling without a sound, no yelling. It was a rapture of some sort, a fuck you to fear. They gave themselves to the monster.
The wind was wilder up here. His hard hat blew off. He grabbed for it reflexively and lost his footing for an instant before he hooked an elbow on the X, hugging it while he watched the metal hat fall. The hard hat turned over and over in seeming slow motion as it fell, smaller and smaller: he saw it hit the deck a hundred feet below, a hundred and fifty, bounce off the plate steel, into the water, flashing in the sun. A couple of men tying steel below looked up, shading their eyes.
He left his bucket hooked to the X, climbed down X by X, slowly, shaking. When he got to the bottom he fell forward on all fours. He saw the foreman’s Red Wing boots, heard his voice, lowered so only he could hear, “You don’t like working high, you don’t have to, son. Hell, I got welders who won’t get up on a stepladder.”
Guinotte Wise has been a creative director in advertising most of his working life. A staid museum director once called him raffish, which he enthusiastically embraced. (the observation, not the director) Of course, he took up writing fiction.
Copyright © 2015 by So-in-so