Evening Thoughts on a Fire Escape

Lena Kim

"If you throw one more rock, I swear you'll regret it!"

Clara ignored her landlady. After all, it was unlikely that the 67 year old grandmother would be willing to risk her life climbing up the fire escape over a few pebbles. Despite her urge to throw down some more pebbles, Clara decided to watch the city below her instead. The sun was just above the horizon, and the throngs of businessmen flocking the streets were starting to trickle away. Everyone was going about a normal Thursday, ticking off the last checks in their routine. Everyone, except Clara. Picking at a hole in her jeans, she tried to concentrate on it, but failed. No matter what she seemed to do, her thoughts kept returning to Anne. It had been twenty days since she left, thought Clara sourly. Twenty days and not even one call or text to her. Not a single notification from Anne.

“One day, we’ll leave this city together. Go anywhere we want!”

Clara frowned. “But what about school? My parents would kill me!” 

Anne just smiled. “Then we’ll wait. After school, we can start our lives. You’ll come with me, right?”

They had talked about it for ages. Hitchhiking through the New England area, maybe even going cross country to California. There had been plans, some that Clara had spent hours on, of train tickets and budgeting. Plans for two. But apparently, Anne had decided to change things.

Clara stared at the glowing icon in her phone. She was so close, her number right at the tip of Clara’s fingers, yet so distant. So removed. Clara hesitated, hovered, for a second over her screen, before holding in a breath and pressing call. The phone rang once, twice, three times before Anne picked up. 

“Hello? Clara?”

Clara’s voice caught in the back of her throat. It took her two tries before she managed, “Where are you?”

“I’m in Maine. What, no how are you?” Anne joked. 

“Why did you leave me?” Clara blurted out. “We planned this for the two of us. How could you leave without me?” 

Over the line, Clara could almost hear Anne’s frown.

“I didn’t leave without you. I just left. Don’t you remember? I asked you if you wanted to come with me, and you said no. You said no.” 

Clara felt overcome with emotion. Frustration? Anger? “I said no because I need to focus on school! That’s what’s important right now. You couldn’t have waited for me? Not at all?” 

Anne went silent for a bit. “This is my life, Clara. Look, I care about you, but you need to start living your own life. You never wanted to leave New York, Clara. Don’t even try to deny it. How long are you going to attach yourself to other people?”

Helplessness. That’s what Clara felt. Raw, childlike helplessness. Did she ever really want to leave? “I-” Clara tried to say something, to argue back, but there was nothing she could say.

“You’ve tagged along with everything I do, Clara, whether you liked it or not. I don’t want you to live your life as someone who just trails by. When are you going to find out what you like? Clara? Clara, are you there? Cl-” 

Clara hung up her phone. How much of her life was just an extension, a facade of what others liked? The sun began to melt into the skyline, streaks of pink and red staining the sky. How much of me is me? Clara thought. Tears started to well up, pooling out of her eyes. Was I ever really happy with myself? What do I really like? Staring down at the few people below her, she saw a young girl walking a dog. A couple entering a restaurant. An old man exiting a taxi. Looking at the crisscrossing paths and glass buildings encircling every corner, Clara thought, I do love it here. Maybe Anne was right. Clara had to figure herself out first, and take hold of her life. Looking out at the sunset, Clara managed a small smile. At least I know I love sunsets.

“Clara! Come down and eat something!” Her landlady shouted. Wiping her tears, Clara got to her feet. Climbing down the fire escape, she thought that perhaps after eating, she would do some planning to her life, instead of chasing dreams she didn’t care for. Perhaps, Clara thought to herself, she would call Anne again.

Lena Kim

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