She molded each bare foot against the concrete, one after the other, abandoning the stairs’ rough steel treads and gelid handrails. The bitter air enveloped her and snatched at her clothes and did its utmost to strip the warmth from her body. She crossed the slight expanse of the rooftop and laid her hands on the porous slabs at its edge and leaned forward and felt their weight, and her own, and resisted it.
Edifices clawed their way out of the horizon and reached up into the endless deep, polluting the darkness with otiose squares of harsh light and faint, flat forms of aluminum. She arched back and saw their reflection in the stars above which shined through the interstices of space.
“You again?” A man’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
She turned to see a figure emerge from the staircase. The heavy door swung shut behind him as he entered the dim light and the chill air of the night. The owner of the voice made his way over and leaned on the barrier beside her.
“Me again,” she replied.
His eyes wandered from building to building, cataloguing the light-squares and steely façades.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said after some thought.
She watched a hand slide into a pocket and return, phone-laden. She watched another hand tap the screen, and she watched the city appear in miniature on its surface, a second imperfect mirror for the world. She watched the hands swivel around, finding a perfect composition, and she watched them capture it for eternity with one more touch. She watched them bring the device back to a suitable reading level, and she watched glazed reflections of bright shapes and colors drift across the eyes of her companion as the hands swiped enthusiastically to and fro. After a while, she watched the hands, satisfied, restore the phone to its pocket.
“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, it is.”
“The city. It’s beautiful.” For a moment, she listened to the cars rushing by on the streets below, and then she spoke again. “What were you doing with your phone?”
“Just taking a picture. I like to show my friends where I’ve been.”
“Do they doubt you if you don’t have photographic evidence?”
He smiled. “No, nothing like that. I just think it’s better if they can really see it and experience it themselves.”
“Of course,” she replied. “I—um, I do that sometimes, too.”
“You’re up here a lot.”
“I like the view. Same as you, I guess.”
“I just like to get away from it all for a little while,” he said.
“Away from it all? But this is the center, the nucleus, the hub of life and activity and invention and interaction. Look,” she pointed, “in that one building there are probably thousands of people, plodding through their daily existences, saying ‘hi’ to one another on the street as they pass, smiling, sometimes, if they’re in a good mood, lugging themselves back and forth from their big, important, and tolerably unenjoyable jobs or schools or parties or whatever, buying their groceries, checking their email, watching their TV shows, seeing their movies, reading their books, checking their email, having their phatic little conversations, driving, walking, biking, driving back, checking their email, sleeping, for God’s sake, sleeping, and getting up, pretending that each day is new and different because it’s the only way they can get through to the next, and that’s just one building, and there are thousands of those, just here, just right here, and everywhere else too, and—Sorry.” She looked down.
“You’re right. It’s all the same, it’s all too much.” He paused. “But when we’re up here, we don’t have to partake. We can just watch all the sameness and all the muchness from a safe distance.”
“It’s comforting, really,” she said.
A soft hum replied in his stead and the phone emerged once more, bearing a name and a number on a vibrant display. He excused himself with an “I’m sorry, I have to take this” and retreated to the staircase. The heavy door swung shut behind him and left the rooftop in a newer, deeper silence.