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by Philip Berry

Ugly and asymmetrical, a high rise sits on broad concrete pillars just south of the river. Its mid-rift is swollen, sticking out like an angular pregnancy. The glass skin takes on the colour of the sky, and today it is a patchwork of blue and white. Jack’s on a bicycle, waiting at a red light. A puff of dust appears next to one of the pillars and a man falls to the ground. A fraction of a second later Jack hears a gunshot. It is concrete, exploding. Then a tinkling, as though a jovial god is striking high notes on a xylophone. Diamond rain falls. Windows shatter, compressed by the forces that are building within. Jack, who has a talent for space and time, watches and calculates. When the tower falls, it will fall in the direction of the bulge, that massive engineering misjudgement. It will fall on him. His instinct is to flee in the opposite direction. He converts vertical dimensions to horizontal. The building will lay down gracefully while Jack pedals, gaining on him as he gasps, his head turned, watching the silver leviathan, seeing his own fearful reflection enlarging in the glass that will fold over him. An alternative solution: Jack is close enough to get on the other side of the tower and across the broad bridge before the final collapse. He pedals madly towards the rubble at the base, into vitreous, stinging rain. Brown dust accumulates, billowing up and out in slow curls, but the line remains clear in his mind. His front wheel hits a child, no more than six years old. She screams. Jack jumps off the bike and pulls her off the ground. Her gaze is fixed to the tower’s entrance. A woman, her mother, is trapped in the revolving door. The frame is warped by the same forces that shattered the windows.

The mother Indrian, like the kid. She stops banging the glass of her triangular cell. She has accepted her fate. Instead she points to the girl, then to Jack, and brings her palms together. She tilts her head forward, in thanks. The tower’s metal bones scream. The pavement shifts. Shadow moves. Sharp rain intensifies, cutting Jack’s shoulders and forearms (he still has his safety helmet on). He takes the girl into his arms and runs away, towards the bridge and the northern embankment. Jack runs, the child bouncing on his shoulder. She sobs into his back. She thumps and kicks, and is lucky that he does not drop her. The air clears, but he does not stop running. Now he staggers, now he is on his knees. He releases her, and she runs to safety of a watching, horrified crowd. She looks back and sees him lying down. Even though the tower collapsed away from them, its explosive force sent a horizontal projectile backwards. It broke his back and ruptured Jack’s spleen. When the lights change, Jack pedals away. He knows his calculation is correct.


About the writer:

Philip Berry is a writer whose piece, Calculation, features in Erato's second issue, Sacrifice


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