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Fiction #289
(published August 3, 2006)
High in the Himalayas
by T.R. Healy
Starting, as usual, in the upper left corner, Turgeon drew the brass squeegee blade across the large, arched window. With a damp cloth he wiped the blade to remove the grime it had accumulated then made another pass that slightly overlapped the first one. And so he proceeded until the window gleamed like a crust of ice in the pale morning sun.

Sliding over to the next window, he dipped his sponge into the bucket of clear, warm water and drew a deep breath. A sliver of a smile passed across his face. The air was crisp and clean and there was not a trace of ammonia in it. Gus, his boss, always added a quarter of a cup of ammonia to the water, but not Turgeon who detested the awful smell. And up here, "in the Himalayas," as Gus referred to any building more than twelve stories, he was in charge because his boss didn't like to go up that high, claiming if he did his nose would start to bleed profusely. Up here, Turgeon was entirely on his own, dangling like a dark sash across the sparkling windows.

Suddenly some tires screeched furiously and he looked down at the shoe lace of a street and saw a delivery truck jump the curb and just miss swerving into someone waiting at the bus stop. He was up too high to make out the person who was nearly struck and now was angrily shaking a fist at the driver of the truck. He assumed the person was a man, though, from his size. And, instinctively, he wondered if the guy was the kicker he had been looking for since leaving for work at the crack of dawn.

From the moment he opened up the morning paper he had the feeling today was going to be special. There on the front page was a photograph of one of the Mardi Gras revelers from the other night kicking in the display window of a Radio Shack store. Above it was a caption announcing a $500 reward to anyone who could make a positive identification of the man in the photograph.

He certainly could use the money and figured his chances of identifying the kicker were as good as anyone's other than those who actually knew the guy. So he decided to make a conscious effort to look for him as he drove to work, assiduously regarding everyone he passed on the street. Even when he got to his job site he made sure to check out all the people who entered and left the towering office building while he hauled buckets and brushes and brooms out of his van. Although he had not spotted anyone who even faintly resembled the kicker, he was confident for some inexplicable reason that he would before the end of the day.

"If someone's going to be lucky today, why not me?" he remembered his grandfather telling him countless times after one too many beers. And he agreed with the sentiment, despite the fact his grandfather seldom experienced much luck of any kind in his short, hard life. Someone was going to collect the reward so it might as well be him he told himself.

He washed another window then hesitated before moving on and peered through it and saw a plump woman with crinkly blond hair filing her nails at her desk. And behind her was an even heavier man bent over a computer screen, his thick horn rim glasses nudged halfway down his nose. Quickly he moved to the next window and, again, peered inside but no one there resembled the kicker, either.

"Don't!" he barked under his breath, mindful of Gus' repeated warning not to gawk at those on the other side of the glass.

"Up there you're invisible, and if not, you're out of a job," Gus told him his first day on the job. "People aren't suppose to notice you or you them. That way everyone gets their work done on time."

As always, from one story to the next, he had struggled to keep from staring but now he couldn't help himself and after each washing he patiently searched through the clear glass for the kicker. The guy was never there, but still he persisted because he was so determined to collect the reward. With the money he would finally be able to pay off what he still owed for the new set of tires he bought at the end of the summer at Goodyear and might even have enough left over to take his girlfriend out to dinner at a decent restaurant for a change.

Yet, the farther he went up the sooty building the less likely it appeared that he would find the kicker. The people he observed now wore expensive suits, their shoes were polished and their hair neatly trimmed, and the watches on their wrists were as bright as the chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. Plainly, no one in these plush offices needed to kick in the window of an electronics store. So he reverted to his usual routine and refused to look through any of the windows he cleaned on the rest of the story.

He was a ghost, he reminded himself, as he polished a dull section of glass with a blackboard eraser. Not to be noticed by anyone inside the offices.

A scrawny pigeon the size of his fist flapped off the ledge just above him, and as he watched it plunge toward the street, he suspected the kicker was down there somewhere and figured he would soon be recognized by someone who would then receive the reward. The thought disappointed him, of course, but he wondered if maybe it was not for the best. He would probably only disappoint himself further by wasting the money on beer or smokes or some other frivolous purchase instead of taking care of the Goodyear bill as he had intended. Strange, he thought, how sometimes he desired something so badly that he was probably better off if he didn't get it. That was certainly true the time he bought that creaking Fat Boy motorcycle from his cousin and in less than a week spilled it and fractured his left wrist in five places. Now whenever he bent it back too far the bones squeaked, sounding a lot like one of his squeegee blades.

A few minutes later, as he drew the long-handled blade across another window, he was startled to see a smiling young girl wiping a circle in the steam on the other side of the glass. He winked at her. She then framed her face inside the circle and proudly displayed her two missing front teeth until a sullen woman brusquely seized her by the arm and pulled her away from the window. He leaned back and laughed out loud, teetering in the gusting wind.

From then on, as if hoping to see the girl again, he peered into every window he washed. Suddenly he didn't care anymore if he was violating one of Gus' precious rules, indeed he felt a curious sense of exhilaration as he carefully surveyed what was going on in room after room. It seemed almost as daring, he thought, as kicking in the window of an electronics store.

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