It was a perfect day here. The kind of clear cold day in the winter, that makes everyone in the country move to Los Angeles, and who could blame them, appearances count. Outside the window of deli, the clouds danced against the azure sky, with the purple hills of the Santa Monica mountains painted in the background.
Maybe not quite perfect.
“What are you staring at?” My lunch companion, Greta snapped her fingers in front of my face. “Oh her, just ignore her. She’s disgusting. They all are.”
I hadn’t seen her in a while, not that I actually thought about her or worried about her. That red-headed homeless woman was back in her familiar spot on the brick walkway across the street from the high-rise building that I managed. I tried to ignore her, in her filthy, poo-poo squalor, but sometimes I couldn’t overlook her. She was like some animal in the zoo that was uncommon, or maybe a little too recognizable. I told myself that I didn’t care that she sat on the dirty sidewalk, bare-footed across from my shiny, green glass high-rise building.
She didn’t beg for money or sit on the building steps, and wasn’t a nuisance other than being who she was. She just sat in her grime looking at the sun. She wasn’t aggressive like some of the homeless guys that haunted the alleyways and greenery near the UCLA campus. She just hung around Westwood Village like some kind of ghost. What she was, was a reminder of how swift the fall could be, and some people couldn’t or wouldn’t catch themselves.
It had been raining for the last three weeks, and like the rats the homeless scurried away into whatever holes they disappeared into, reappearing when the sun made a showing. They were familiar in their way, the homeless. Sleeping on their special street-corners where they held out their plastic cups asking for money. I didn’t give, except to the red-haired woman because she didn’t ask. My own sort of protest.
My friends thought I had a glamorous job because of my nice window-filled office in a big office building in Westwood, and today it was dazzling. The hills of the Santa Monica mountains were shaded in plumish-blue, and in the foreground the red-bricked buildings of the UCLA campus had been cleansed by the rain. Clouds played in the clear blue-sky forming pictures. It would be the perfect day to lie down on a grassy spot on the campus and watch the clouds form into animalistic pictures. The wolf eating the bunny.
But the clarion call of work beckoned.
The inside truth of managing an office building in Los Angeles was that it consisted of entitled people with nasty habits who thought I was either their mother or psychiatrist or both.
“Ellen, the toilet’s backed up in the women’s room on 5,” or “I’m too hot, but the person next to me is too cold.” I fondly called this the three bears syndrome. And there was Mr. Pee Pee, the anonymous executive on the twentieth floor who couldn’t seem to hit the urinal either due to poor aim or on purpose.
My friend Greta, complained at lunch that her she thought her boss was going to fire her. I could only nod my head in understanding, while watching the red-head woman sitting outside the window wondering if she’d ever had a job. I must have smiled in relief at seeing her.
Greta cracked; “You think it’s funny, I could end up like her.”
My mother didn’t raise me to manage buildings. Wait, my mother didn’t raise me to do anything, because she was there, on the street after Dad died. A swift fall, that left her daughter to live off the kindness of strangers.
Office buildings are communities. You see the same people every day, and you have neighbors that you become friends with who are in the office next door, for a time. Tenants pass as friends, and you go to lunch occasionally with them until you or they move on into the nether-regions of life. I was the mayor of this community, and everyone looked to me to solve everything. You pay me, and I take care of the toilet, Mr. Pee Pee and every mess along the way.
On this pleasant California day, my tummy was full after my pleasant lunch. I fixed my red lipstick, brushed my too long hair, presenting an unruffled air of control. I fixated on my computer screen, preparing to get back to the salt mine in my eleventh-floor office, facing the door, away from the window and its distracting beautiful view ready to greet face-on whatever was in front of me.
A slight turn of my chair, and I could gaze out the window at the diverting hills, and cloud-filled sky. If I looked down, there was a surface parking lot adjacent to the seventh floor jammed full of Mercedes, and BMW’s and the SUV’s of entitlement.
There was no window gazing today. I was determined to finish the first draft of the budget, but thought about coffee. My assistant was still out to lunch, in both the figurative and literal senses. A shadow darkened my screen for a nano-second, something rushed past the window in a flicker of dark to light. I turned, but whatever had dimmed the light, it was gone. A hawk that had spotted a mouse for lunch-time, or maybe the shadow of a plane on its way to lands unknown. Whatever it was, it was gone.
Three phone lines lit up. I picked the first line.
“Good afternoon,” was the only piece of my corporate phone greeting I blurted out, because whoever was on the other line, she was screaming.
“Oh, my God. Ellen, oh my God did you see. Oh, dear fucking God in heaven!” Panicked, screaming. She was talking so fast I couldn’t understand her. Until I heard the word ‘jumped.’
“Who is this?” I yelled over the hysteria.
“It’s Denise. Oh, shit did you see.” Denise the panic attack from the eighth floor. She began to sob. I didn’t know what to do with this.
“Denise, can you hold? The phones are crazy.” Every line was lit.
“Oh my God, she jumped. She’s on a car. On a car in the parking lot.” Her words came out though a flow of hitched, hysterical breathing.
My brain refused to catch up. There are times that you want to take back the things you said, or change what you did. Life, does not come with an editing option. I should not have looked out that window.
My brain edited out the “on a car” words, that might have been a warning.
I slammed the phone down, and rushed to the window, unprepared.
The window was the enemy. It pulled me toward its tender view of the bluish mountains colored by the afternoon light. I looked down at what no person should ever see.
The mind-altering, smashed, grisly remains of a human who decided to end it all in public. The end of an existence that could no longer cope with this life, and survival was not an option. Their only choice was the tunnel toward the end, and hurl themselves in a fast death off the roof of a high-rise and onto the black roof of a Mercedes.
It wasn’t like a movie. It was oozingly real.
A crowd gathered below in morbid fascination, wanting to see the gory remains of the end a sad human existence. A woman’s body splayed on the roof of a black SUV, mixed with red stuff and grey stuff. My lunch burbled, and sweat formed under my armpits. Security was already there roping off the area. I called the police, who were on their way. I turned toward the white wall, and like an automaton called my boss.
“A woman jumped off the roof onto seventh floor parking.” My voice shook. How unfortunate, how unprofessional.
“What the fuck happened.” Arlene gasped.
She didn’t intend to sound harsh, it’s only that at the moment the world was harsh. I could picture my director, Arlene, her beautiful blonde hair standing on end in shock at being interrupted at whatever it was that she did all day. I refrained from stating the obvious.
“We’re looking at the camera footage to see how she got up there.” Bullshit, but I gave myself a pass considering I felt the sensation of water on my face.
“Well, call me when you have more information. Are you okay?” Arlene asked.
It was that small touch of concern in the moment that seemed so humanless and unforgiving, that I closed my eyes to release the silent tears that blurred my eyes and flowed down my face. I’m certain my intake of breath was what she heard.
“We’ll send so and so, and so and so.” She babbled.
She could have been reciting Jabberwocky for all the sense she was making. I could have given a shit because security was at my door, madly waving me to get off the phone because the police were on site. I wiped my face on my sleeve
My assistant, Lori, wandered through the front door finally back from lunch, a baffled look on her face at all the commotion.
“A woman jumped off the roof and landed on parking.” I looked her in the eye and held her shoulders.
Lori seemed confused, uncertain, slow at processing what I had said. The madness outside the window flashed through my head.
“Under no circumstances are you to look out the window. Please just keep calm, and answer the phones. Call me on my cell if you need me.” Auto-pilot had kicked in, but I knew there were tear tracks flowing through the makeup on my face. I wiped at my face again, make-up streaks on my hand.
Lori said nothing. She just reached out and hugged me, and I hugged her back. She held me for a moment longer. In this comfort, I was allowed to breathe.
I looked out the window, and another security guard was there shooing the looky loos away. One of the parking attendants was throwing up next to a Lexus, and a couple of cops were there. My heart was skipping a merry tune. I wanted to go home and cover my head with a blanket.
With my security commander in tow, I ran for the door.
We got in the elevator, and blessedly was no one there. I closed my eyes, and tried to control my breathing, act calm, be professional was my internal chant. But what I really wanted to do was leave and never come back. I didn’t want to see this, or do this. I was afraid of the monster waiting for me. Time was running on a faster clock than I was.
Everyone was looking at the mayor, to fix this. To do something.
My security commander, Tommy, had been at the building longer than anyone, almost five years. He was an older, religious man who just did a job he took pride in. As we reached the seventh floor, he stopped the doors from opening, and put his hand on my shoulder. His head was bent slightly, and I could see the contrast of his full white hair against his dark face, his mouth moving in silent prayer. He opened his eyes and looked at me, and gave me a tissue.
“All her troubles are over.”
Yes, but mine are just starting. I touched the warmth of his hand.
I introduced myself to the detective, and we exchanged business cards in professionalism. I looked Detective Ortega in the eye.
“The building is twenty-three stories including the penthouse.” I didn’t say that any lame brain could get onto the roof by taking the elevator directly to the penthouse, a point of contention between me and the higher-ups. He’d see it soon enough. He said something about her being a Jane Doe with no identification, and that there are thousands of Jane Doe’s in L.A. every year. How Dickensonian, “Let them die and decrease the surplus population,” was my only thought.
Out the corner of my eye, I could see her. The red-haired homeless woman I knew, but didn’t know. I took a step toward her, and Ortega put his hand out to stop me.
“I know her.” I blurted out. It was her, my homeless woman.
Detective Ortega looked up. “You knew her?”
“I mean, I don’t know who she is, was. I just saw her around the village. She would hang out across the street. I gave her money.” I felt like an idiot. Babbling. Strangely, silently grieving.
The detective waited to see if I had any other information.
“She must have found her way into the stairwell.” I paused, and considered. “Will you find out who she is? What will happen to her?”
“If we can’t I.D her, she’ll end up in a county plot. Can we go see the stairwell and the roof?” He was cool, cold, only doing his job, and he probably saw worse than this kind of horror every day.
I could only wonder who she had been, if her family still cared about her, or if she had driven them away because she couldn’t cope with whatever it was. Was their anyone who would care or remember her?
Not even an hour had passed, and she had been a living breathing being under an azure sky. Now, she was just a pile of dirty bare feet, and red hair, smashed bones into a lifeless rag doll, no longer human. Someone I had seen, gave money to, and wondered where she had gone to in the rain. She couldn’t endure life anymore, so she discarded whatever pain, illness, want, rejection or other crap life inflicted. She left herself to the mayor, and she would never leave my mind. The fall was swift, and life had gone by too fast for her.
But I’ll always remember you, Jane Doe.
Deirdre has an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her work has been published in Eskimo Pie Literary Journal, The Revolving Door Literary Journal, and soon to be published in Down in the Dirt Magazine. Her novel, Teaching William is currently seeking agency representation.