Her eyes are closed because they are closed. And when she opens them, she is back where she was, a sheet dangling from the corner of the open kitchen window, her feet outlined in house slippers against the grounds and parking lot, far below, of the building where we live. This is where I find her, seen from the crowd in the plaza and then rushed up the express elevator to shout, "Mom! Mom! Are you ok? What happened?"
The sheet pierced and caught on the top corner of the window, she responding with a high wail, a keening like a dying rabbit.
The kitchen window opens outward at the top to an angle with the building's face, and dad says it's so heat can escape, but sometimes it seems like more of a ramp to just bounce rain into the kitchen. Patio tables on the plaza are like white dimes, seagulls rotate above them, the gathered crowd gaping up. The blue ocean breaks heart-rending and slowly. Do something. Do something. Grab the sheet and haul her back in, but what if I slip and drop her? Ok, lower another thing, a thing I can anchor to something. There's old rope from moving mom and dad's bed, and, wait, is the tear in the sheet bigger now?
My mother sways in the air above the gleaming cement and white dots of tables, and just in front of me a few threads part, splaying frayed fibers around the aluminum window frame, the tear widening. "Mom!," I shout, "You're going to be ok!" How strong is aluminum, I wonder. They make airplanes out of it. But soda cans too. I race to the utility closet and start throwing stuff around. Eventually I'm going to find the rope. Just keep throwing stuff.
"What's that noise?" says a kid's voice behind me and I almost jump out of my skin.
"Jesus, Robbie. You scared the fuck out of me." It's still mom, that single high shriek. I'd stopped hearing it. He's got his yellow headphones on his neck, holding his yellow Walkman.
"You said the F word."
"No I didn't." I'm trying to think. "Look, Mom is hanging out the window. From a sheet."
"Is she ok?"
"Well. I think so. But we've got to get her back inside, alright?"
"She must be scared."
"Yeah. I dunno. I need you to go downstairs, to 1502, and get them to open their window," pointing to the door, "I'm going to find the rope," gesturing to the closet so he'll understand. I start overturning things again.
"It's under the sink."
I turn to face him again. "What?"
"The rope. It's behind the cleaning things, on the right."
I open the rightmost steel door with a squeak and sweep the bottles of solvent and cleanser onto the linoleum tile. Behind them lies a neat coil of soft yellowish rope. "Wow. Ok," I stammer. But Robbie is already gone.
I need to anchor this to something so I start tying it to the bathroom doorknob. I wasn't ever in Scouts, I don't know knots, and this rope seems kind of slippery, so I just tie a big loopy mean-looking knot and tie a square knot on top of it. I pull and it holds so I run to the window where my mother hangs screaming. Below, the window of 1502 inches open as somebody inside spins the silver crank. "Mom!" I cry. "Mom!" Every so often she stops to suck breath and then lets out the same knife's edge note. "Mom!" I try again, "goddammit listen to me!" I holler with my voice cracking, fear really starting to get into me now, because without her help I can't save my mom from falling, from crushing to jelly on the flat stones of the plaza.
So I just throw down the rope and start yelling, "for God's sake, Mom," before I notice she's already reached out with one arm, still howling in that high stream of sound, looping the rope around her wrist and grabbing it now with both hands. Without her weight on it, the sheet, caught by the wind, becomes a twisting pink rectangle against the blue of the sky and the ocean, snapping and spinning upward away from the glistening building. It careens away fast, becoming another part of the air. I watch it, wasting valuable seconds of time, until a violent sound crashes behind me.
I spin and see the bathroom door now wide open, plaster dust suspended in the room from the doorknob buried in the wall, the catch and jamb bent and splintered. The rope still taut and holding. "Mom!" I scream and hear her still screaming, now four feet lower, her face white, mouth wide, one hand red from trapped blood.
"Mom! It was the door! I'm sorry!" I didn't know I was crying, but I scrape water with my knuckles off the sides of my face and run clumsy and fast to the fire stairs and the neighbors' apartment below tearing down two or three steps at a time, almost falling, scuffing my shoulder on the hall's taupe wallpaper, swinging in the open door to 1502 shouting my apologies for barging in like this.
"They're not home," calls Robbie from the kitchen.
"They're not..." I stop cold looking around the clean apartment. "How did you get in?"
From the kitchen doorway, Robbie smiles and holds up the silvery plastic of Dad's VISA card. "It's real easy," he says. I stare at him, stunned.
"You're ... something," I tell him with a gruff brotherly knock to his shoulder, rushing past into the kitchen, very sleek, full of stainless steel, the window open and the toes of my mother's house slippers just visible, as she kicks them off, falling one at a time soft onto the kitchen tile.
"She can just drop in the window now. I told her."
"I know, I know," I reply.
"She stopped screaming," he says.
I hadn't realized, but Robbie is right.
"She wanted to wait for you," he continues.
"Their kitchen is a lot nicer than ours. They have one of these coffee things." The espresso machine makes an urgent hiss as he twists at it, but I am reaching up to touch my mother's bare feet, to see her tired face looking down at me.
"Oh, honey. I'm so glad you're here."
"It's going to be ok, Mom," I almost sob, "you just have to angle your feet in..."
"I'm so happy."
"...and I'll get you. Alright on the count of three we'll..."
But we don't have to count to three. Everything stops, and I hear the glass crack and the aluminum groan. Patterned fabric flashes and I clutch at my mother's dress. A salt gust of wind and gull cries washes up as I pull her inside, and we stand that way, maybe for hours, just her and me and Robbie together, my hand clasped to his shivering back, my mother's coarse straight hair pressed to my cheek, silent and still.