Together on the Roof
Legs pumping. Each step drove Dr. Reynor up the stairs as each breath
became shallower, and both knees screamed at him. He was no longer
standing upright, but leaning forward drastically as he grabbed the rail
beside the staircase, pulling himself up. His toes pushed off from
every other step.
Below, he could hear the roar of people. Glass was breaking. People were shouting. Above, he could see the door to the roof. He opened the door while he was still a few steps below it, and fell through the entrance. His eyes started to close themselves. He should just lie there for ever. But he couldn’t.
The doctor pulled himself up to his feet, and closed the door behind him. He squeezed his hands into fists and then released them. He breathed deeply, but shallowly, then he stumbled over to the edge of the building, and lay near it.
Looking over the small ridge onto the crowds below, Reyner saw people tipping over a police car. Others were fighting among themselves. Suddenly, there was a gun shot, followed by a car alarm. Reyner sighed. The building across the street from him was smoking badly, and out the front door, a man ran out carrying a television set. Reynor turned onto his back and stared up at the black night sky.
‘Lovely view, isn’t it?’ he heard. Dr. Reynor whipped around and prepared to stand. A young man was walking toward him.
‘What are you doing up here? What do you want from me? I don’t have any money...’
The man looked at Dr. Reynor, and started to chuckle. ‘What would I want with money, any way?’ he asked.
‘Well,’ admitted Reynor. ‘I’m not sure. But there seems to be a lot of thieving going around to-day.’
‘Yes,’ mused the young man. ‘Yes, that’s why I came up here.’ He looked now wistfully at the sky. ‘Although, if you think about it, escaping thieves is as pointless as being one.’ The man looked back at Reynor and winked. ‘To-day, at any rate.’
Reynor smiled. ‘I guess that’s true. Will you help an old man up?’
‘Not afraid I’ll rob you? Or worse?’ As the young man said this he offered his hand out to Reynor.
‘Like you say,’ explained Reynor, getting to a standing position and then rubbing his knees. ‘Not much difference either way at this point.’
The noise below increased slightly. Reynor could no longer distinguish individual noises. The two looked up at the sky for a long moment.
‘This may be a redundant statement,’ said Reynor after a while, ‘but I don’t wish to die.’
‘That makes sense,’ agreed the young man. ‘I would also prefer not to die.’
‘But there’s very little we can do about that, isn’t there?’ Reynor sighed. ‘I’m a surgeon, you know. I’ve stopped probably hundreds of people from dying. But for what?’
‘Well, I’m sure you never thought that your operations would make them immortal. Every one has to die some time.’
Reynor looked up at the asteroid. It was little more than a large star, now. ‘And now not even my skills can prolong a life.’
‘I was a student,’ said the young man. ‘I was due to graduate this Spring. I was going to be a structural Engineer.’
‘I’ve been selfish,’ said Dr. Reynor. ‘Here I am, lamenting how I’m not ready to die, and I’ve had such a full life. In fact, I was looking at mandatory retirement in the next few years. Meanwhile, you never got the chance to discover your potential.’
‘True. But I don’t think that’s any reason to believe that my death is more tragic than your own. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that all life is precious.’
‘I know what you mean,’ said Dr. Reynor. ‘You know how in ethics classes, you get those questions, where it’s like two people, one heart. Who gets it?’
‘Yes, I know those sort of things. There’s always the one guy who has a family, a promising career, and the other guy is mentally retarded or a high school drop-out or some thing.’
‘Exactly. I had one of those things a few months ago. You know, before every one knew.’
‘And what did you do?’
‘Well, in this case the promising career family man had no family, but was a semi-successful business man. And had a greater need for the transplant in question. Not a heart, but marrow. So I gave it to him. But the other, a teenager addicted to crack, she never got her turn. She died. And although I’d made the correct decision, I can’t help but feel guilty.’
‘There’s no point in regret. Especially not now. You made the decision you thought was right.’
‘I guess… Do you suppose there’s any thing after this?’
The young man motioned to the sky. ‘After THIS, you mean?’
‘Not really. Never had any reason to believe there would be. You’re a doctor. How can any thing continue once the electrical pulses stop? What makes us up is a collection of cells. With out those cells…’
‘I know what you mean. I really do.’ Dr. Reynor looked up at the sky. ‘But facing this, to-day, it makes me wish…wish there was another way.’
‘Then believe there is,’ offered the young man. ‘Belief one way or another won’t stop that asteroid. Might as well be contented during your last hours.’
The noise below had gotten especially loud, now. Dr. Reynor kept looking down at the crowds below. It seemed like there was just constantly crashes and screams.
‘Why are you up here?’ asked Dr. Reynor. ‘I mean, I wanted to escape them, to get away from the kind of people down there. But like you said, it’s pointless. So why are you here?’
The man smiled. ‘Well, it’s pointless… but it’s also pointless not to just put a bullet through my head now and end it. I mean, no matter what we do, no matter where we are, we will all be dead very shortly. I guess, the thing is, I just wanted to enjoy what time I had so much as I could.’
Dr. Reynor nodded. ‘It’s pretty big, now,’ he said.
‘It won’t be long,’ agreed the man.
‘My name’s Reynor.’ He extended his hand.
The young man took it, and shook. After a pause, he said, ‘you’re wondering about my name?’
Dr. Reynor nodded.
‘Why? It’s not like it’ll matter after five minutes. I think they’re coming up.’
‘You know,’ the man said. Then he pointed over the side of the building. ‘THOSE people.’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘I hear a lot of people climbing up the stairs.’
Dr. Reynor strained, and then he heard it, too. They were yelling and probably fighting, but still near the ground. Dr. Reynor ran over to the door and closed it.
‘What are you doing?’ asked the young man.
‘They’re coming for the roof,’ explained Dr. Reynor.
‘I thought we just agreed that outrunning them was pointless.’
Dr. Reynor slid the wooden plank in its sleeve. ‘But we also said that we’d rather not deal with them.’
‘Does that make you feel safe, doctor?’
‘Not really. Almost. I’m worried they’ll break it down.’
‘And that?’ asked the young man. ‘Would you bolt the door on that, as well?’
‘If only we had such a door…’
The young man shook his head. ‘You’re an educated man. You’re an atheist, I presume?’
Dr. Reynor nodded. ‘When a man has the lives of another in his hands, I don’t know how he can believe in a higher power.’
‘So what would be the point in preventing this?’ The young man was pointing at the asteroid. It was now about as big as the moon. ‘You are mortal, sir,’ insisted the young man. ‘Asteroid or no, you would die. What is the difference if it’s now or later?’
‘But all this knowledge, all this skill… how can this just be snuffed out? How can our glorious society, our buildings, our technology, our science… how can that just end?’
‘It will. It was always going to.’
Dr. Reynor nodded. He heard banging on the door to the stairs. Dr. Reynor looked from the young man to the door, to the asteroid. Then he walked over and opened the door.
Fourteen people, all fairly young, poured out onto the roof. One of them, a boy with purple hair and a nose ring, grabbed Dr. Reynor. Dr. Reynor just closed his eyes. He would be brave.
The boy said, ‘thanks for letting us in,’ and then looked up in awe.
Dr. Reynor saw that the other kids were all silent, staring at the sky as well. Even the young man who had been up here first was absorbed by what was going on. Dr. Reynor patted the back of the purple-haired boy, and then he, too, looked up into the sky.
brought to you by brook