A white scarf.
That’s what he saw first, from the intersection he had just crossed. Serenely floating yet strangely out of context, he regarded it rather than registering it. He, being at 10:40AM, on May First 1947, Patrolman John Morrissey. Standing on the corner of Thirty Fourth and Fifth. There was no sense of alarm, no quickening heartbeat of panic, just a mild observation. For a moment, he was reminded of a dove.
And then the lights changed and the procession of cars resumed their caravan towards downtown. And his focus returned to his work.
Not for the first time, he admired the slopes and flourishes of the new, post-war automobile designs; the Cadillacs and the Roadmasters. Patrolman Morrissey could see himself in a Roadmaster, ragtop naturally. In burgundy.
A white coffee.
And Robert Wiles stood to the side of the counter and stirred in three cubes of sugar, two brown, one white. The ginger girl at the cash register took for the thirty ninth coffee of the morning and leaked the thirty ninth smile.
He sat at one of those tall tables by the plate glass window and the world outside looked to him like a moving photograph. It was true what Old Lispy said, even if he was just an old hack, to consider yourself a true photographer, by design required you to see the world as composition.
Composition and form and depth. The Cornelius triad. Two years studying photography at Columbia and that was all he had gained. Two years wasted. And if he was honest with himself, which he generally tried to be, the whole gig had been to spite his father. Robert Sr had pointed the way very early on, with slipper and on occasion birch, towards a History Major and his own worn footsteps. The thought of studying dead people and things held the appeal of a damp grave. The thought of following his father a fresh one. Photography had been an arbitrary act of rebellion, picked blindly from the prospectus, nothing more than a riff of chance. As he often did when he thought of his father he pulled out the pocket watch, his twenty first birthday present, it read 10:37AM. He replaced watch to pocket and let his finger trace the form of his Bessa Rangefinder camera as it sat dormant on the table.
A white Lincoln Continental.
Outside the Empire State Building pulled out into the traffic and Arthur Steiner’s run of good fortune continued. Parking outside this address was always difficult but he eased the Cadillac Limousine into the newly vacant spot as if greased by the very metaphysics of the world.
In fifteen minutes the diplomat will step through the revolving door of the lobby and into the Springtime glaze of Manhattan and Arthur will respectfully bow his head and hold open the rear passenger door.
He would aim the black Limo north up Fifth, past the New York Public Library and the International Centre of Photography. Take the right onto East Forty First Street.
East Forty Second;
Grand Central Station.
The Chrysler Building.
The pushers and dopers on the corner of Lexington.
Due east, towards the river for a half dozen blocks and then a left at the Robert Moses Playground and then onto the Plaza of the United Nations building. Somebody dressed exactly like Arthur will open the rear passenger door and the diplomat will quit the car.
And Arthur’s day would continue. Taking Omaha Beach this job was not but that feeling remained from Normandy and he was grateful for it. That strange, almost translucent sense of luck that whatever was going to happen he was going to be alright. That everyday had the exhilarating and innocent potential to be a good day. He had heard rumours of something called shell-shock that wrecked and tortured veterans but that was all alien to him.
He checked his watch, it was 10:32. Time enough a plenty to cross the street and grab a pastry from Café Piccolo.
The girl’s face was as white and flawless as a porcelain doll.
Betty-Lou Oliver felt her own aspect blush and she returned her gaze to her feet. The elevator was crowded and the girl in the corner appeared to be unaware but Betty-Lou could feel the desire radiating from some hidden place within her. The girl didn’t look like a secretary or copygirl, there was something of glamour about her, like straight out of a movie. A sadness too.
Betty-Lou straightened her uniform and snuck another glance. This time the girl gazed back, a half smile traced over her lips and she quickly looked away.
The bell pinged happily and the number 75 lit up on the panel. And Betty-Lou felt the tightening in her heart and the bottoming out of her stomach, feelings familiar on this floor from two years previous. From the crash.
The plane, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber had, in thick fog, struck the building between the 79th and 80th floors. Betty-Lou had been running the elevator for six months by then and was happy in her work, it gave her time to think. Mainly surreptitious thoughts about girls and wants and sadness. That day, as the plane hit and the elevator dropped at close to free fall velocity, her secret thoughts gave way to the blanket white noise of terror. Remarkably, unexplainably, she had survived almost completely unharmed.
A somewhat earnest reporter from the Globe had at some later date helpfully informed her that she now held the Guinness World record for surviving the longest elevator fall.
She was back to work within a month.
His white cane tapped out a hidden algorithm of the planet.
And he alone felt the change of nuance in the percussive rendering of the world as the road met the sidewalk and he raised his step accordingly. He felt the Officer unclasp his elbow and say;
We’re on the other side now, buddy. You’ve got it from here… right?
Frank Ashby said he had it from there. The streets and avenues that he had once walked so confidently and seen without really looking were now the shadow of a memory and the world that once seemed so vibrant, even during the war, was nothing more than a smudge.
The shrapnel that had blinded him almost three years ago, on that hell held beach, had, he was later told, ricocheted off a fellow marine’s helmet and caught him flush. His nose had been immediately broken and his eyes ruined. But for what he had lost he had gained a different plain of knowledge.
He knew from the pattern of his daily walk that the Empire State Building was about two hundred feet west of Fifth. He knew to walk as snug to the brickwork of the towers and blocks as he could and he knew to widen the sweep of his cane to account for the larger numbers of pedestrians.
He knew to smell the Spring on the air.
He knew that metallic taste of something imminent.
He knew that the bells of the Church of the Incarnation were striking for the half hour.
A white Dove.
Perched perfectly weightlessly on the rail of the 86th floor observation deck and soundlessly took flight as somewhere behind the elevator doors rang open and a fresh volley of wide eyed tourists emerged blinking.
The Dove cast his flight in a lazy looping circle above the spires and rooftops of midtown Manhattan and towards the green expanse of Central Park. His inherent instinct directing him towards the picnics and feastings of the May Day celebrations and the inevitable scraps.
The sheer number of day to day people living day to day lives. People being born and people dying and the Dove thought how arbitrary it all was. Another New York moment in another New York day.
The pocketbook was open, it’s spine cracked back on itself, one white page skyward.
Detective Frank Murray sighed and lifted it gently from the neatly folded tan coat upon which it had rested alongside a brown makeup bag.
Written in looping cursive;
I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me. My fiancé asked me to marry him in June. I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.
He stepped forward, his hands resting on the rail of the wall over which the girl had jumped. Eighty-six floors. How long would that have taken? What was her final thought?
What stops any of us jumping? He wondered and he thought back to that shell-shocked kid from last Summer and the half dozen between then and now that had done the same. A person has a reason, he decided. Some dark secret reason stuffed down deep inside them in a place that they themselves may not be able to fully reach or grasp.
Down below the scene was being cleared away. He didn’t feel like eating lunch.
Her left hand cloistered in a pearl white glove loosely grasped her white pearl necklace.
And with her ankles softly crossed Evelyn McHale looked to be no more than asleep. The tilt of her movie star like chin added to the effect. The way the United Nations Limousine had, on impact, crumpled around her impression, seemed to have somehow softened molecularly into sheets of satin or silk.
The apocalyptic crash of moments before seemed to belong in another dimension entirely. Frank Ashby was reminded of mortar fire.
Patrolman Morrissey turned quickly when he heard what sounded like the end of somebody’s world. Already a crowd was condensing around something halfway down the block and he broke into a jog.
Arthur Steiner paused in the doorway of Café Piccolo his Croissant halfway to his mouth, a momentary culinary mannequin. Untrusting of what his eyes were seeing, he abstractly wondered about what to do about the diplomat. His presence in the moment returned sharply as something black and square and swinging from a leather strap knocked the pastry from his grasp.
Robert Wiles went into auto-pilot and raced out pushing by the figure frozen in the doorway his camera a pendulum thrown by his rush. He crossed the street at speed and sharpened his elbows against the crowd.
And his first thought was; beautiful.
Betty-Lou Oliver could have sworn that she saw the girl re-enter through the elevator doors as it stopped at the observation deck on its way back down the shaft but when she looked again she was mistaken.
At Elmshurst Hospital a Dove heard the cry of a newborn baby girl.
Somewhere unremarked upon a white scarf settled on the kerbside.
The white-haired artist in what he called the factory, 1342 Lexington Avenue, in 1962.
Considered the image before him, blown up in scale and propped against the three-legged chair that served as an easel and he saw potential. And beauty.
He would cut the stencil from the Linoleum, much better than the card of previous work, he would silk screen it blue. In a block of four by four, fading from top to bottom. He would use all his guile and skill and he would manipulate the image supremely.
He would call it The Most Beautiful Suicide in the World.
He would make his life his art and his art eternal and he would live forever.