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Story by Erin Vachon (Read author interview) March 7, 2022

Photograph by Paul Bilger

we were giant sized high above the city, community volunteers on a federal allowance, sorting white polo shirts and khaki slacks and timberland boots into folded piles on commercial carpet, and we would descend into the streets to collect recruits to wear the garments, foraging through parks for young citizens wandering in search of something bigger, hearts aching to clean up abandoned lots littered with ripped condoms, to sow flowers over old seeds, and this city would bloom because we were the helpers, the corps of america, we would save the people in our red coats, with our bare-nailed hands, but from up there in the downtown office that day, piling uniforms by the window, we gazed down on all rooftops, and we witnessed two men lurch out onto the asphalt of the roof below, tiny pocket-sized people crumpled in daylight, but then one jerked up their arm, too long, its wrist, its hand, its finger extended too far, and its finger was a gun, and next to me someone said, call 911, and someone clutched the cordless phone in their hand, a landline because in the early aughts connection was no promise, and the man advanced on the other and the other fell back, elbows striking tar, palms up, no, stop, and a voice saying yes, someone’s about to murder someone on a roof downtown, we’re all watching it, we can see it about to happen, we can’t help, and our hands pressed the window, his finger on the trigger, his hands were up, my hands banging the pane, and the gun flashed, and we-I-we screamed, and the man died, and I was part of something bigger, death pressed to the window, we pressed ourselves to it, yes we just saw him die sendhelpsendhelpsendhelp, and there was no help for us, we could not help anyone, and we were part of something bigger, and then the cameraman walked out from behind the brick structure on the roof, and there was no blood, and the dead man stood up, and the murderer helped him, palms out, and my hands fell from the window, and we stepped back from the glass, the clothing on the floor jumbled in one pile, and next to me the phone beeped when they pressed the off button, oh I hung up I didn’t mean to, we laughed, just a movie, not death at all, but when I rode home on the bus I still cried like I did every day, without a screenplay, and in the morning I told my boss I think about death all the time, I am folding in on myself again and again, I must help myself before I disappear, I quit, and exiting the office downtown in wrinkled corduroys and stained converse, I stretched my hands up to the buildings from down on the sidewalk because I couldn’t see the rooftops, I couldn’t see anything at all but their mirrored glass windows pinging back and forth, reflections of all these life sized people walking under the infinite blue sky.

About the Author

Erin Vachon lives in Rhode Island and their work appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, Brevity, CHEAP POP, Cream City Review, and more. They are Hybrid Editor for Longleaf Review and an alum of the Tin House Summer workshop. Erin earned their MA in English Literature and Comparative Literature from the University of Rhode Island, and you can find them on Twitter @erinjvachon.

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Four
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