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Montgomery Smith and the city

By John H. KnightPublished 4 months ago 18 min read

Montgomery Smith was ready to die. He even knew how he would want to go. He wasn’t sure when; he could have waited until Sunday evening. Yes, he could do it then, after a weekend of getting ready, though there was not much to get ready for. Dying can’t be that complicated, he would probably succeed on the first try. But what if he somehow talks himself out of it during the weekend? Then he would just go to work on Monday, listening to Hank all day long, Hank, who decided he was Montgomery Smith’s friend even though Montgomery Smith had never given any implication that the feeling would be mutual. At lunchtime, which Montgomery Smith used to spend alone, Hank would be there, following him outside the factory, to his favourite bench in the courtyard, just under the tall tree.

Hank would tell him what he did do on the weekend (though Montgomery Smith couldn’t care less), and he would bum his cigarettes (that he didn’t mind, he hated smoking but also hated how people looked at him when he said it out loud, so he carried a pack around), and he would call him “Monty” all the time, a nickname Montgomery Smith despised. After describing his dull weekend Hank would go on a rant about rich people and the government and those Guidoes, Jews, and Negroes and Polacks. He had a mock name for just about everyone. Montgomery Smith often thought about telling him that his grandma was Polish. It wasn’t true, but he wanted to see Hank’s face. Of course, he never did.

After a long shift, he would go home to his empty and cold room, eat a Campbell’s tomato soup for dinner from the can and he’d go to sleep. And then the worst thing would happen: he would wake up to do it all over again.

Montgomery Smith didn’t have a bright imagination, but he thought if Hell was real, it couldn’t be much different and certainly not much worse than his life.

No. He couldn’t risk chickening out. He had to do it tonight. It was a good night for it: the wind was roaring through the brick buildings and the low, grey sky promised snow. At least there would be some poetic beauty in his death. Not that he knew what poetic beauty was, but he thought about his blood on the clean white snow and he assumed that must be somehow poetic. Felt like it.

He was hungry after his shift, but then thought, why eat if he was about to die anyway? But then again, why not eat one last good meal, if he was about to die anyway? It’s not like he needed to save money. So he went to a restaurant, a fancier place he couldn’t afford normally, and ordered a steak, medium well. It was so good it almost gave back his will to live. He wondered if there will be stakes in the afterlife. If there was an afterlife, that is. Montgomery Smith wasn’t sure what he thought about that.

By the time he left the restaurant, the snow finally started to fall.

The city was really pretty tonight, or maybe Montgomery Smith just finally opened his eyes to its beauty. He decided to have one last walk in Central Park before he dies, just for old times’ sake. They used to have picnics there, him and his wife, before. He hadn’t been in the park for a while.

Other people enjoyed the snowy weather, too. A few kids were running around, laughing loudly, scraping up what little snow was already stuck on the ground, trying to throw it at each other. A carriage passed noisily, horseshoes clapping on the cobblestones of a bridge, a lamp swinging its yellow light back and forward, back and forward. The coachman swore at the kids, who just laughed harder, shouting back ever meaner things, their faces full of glee and red from the cold. One of them tried to throw a snowball at the coachman but missed and ran away. The horses’ breath was little clouds in the cold.

A few couples were taking a stroll, arm in arm, walking slowly, whispering what Montgomery Smith assumed were lovely little secrets to one another. It’s been a while since he was walking around slowly, arms in arms, with anyone.

The cold crept up on him as he crossed the park, slowly infecting his bones. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets, pulled his head between his shoulders, and off he went, raising his eyes to the skyline every few steps. The snow was falling so thickly by now it obscured most of the world from him, but it couldn’t hide the titan of buildings he was headed to.

The tallest building man ever made, a marvel of architecture, and a testament to human will. Montgomery Smith found it odd that someone wanted to build something this tall. Wasn’t there a chapter in the Bible specifically warned not to do this? He was not an avid reader of the “good book”, as his mother always called it, but he had a more practical approach. He thought the taller a building was, the easier it collapsed. Same as when you build a castle out of cards. He could go to three stories but at the fourth, it always collapsed.

The Chrysler Building, however, seemed to be stable enough, even in the screaming wind. It wasn’t done just yet. It was already the tallest building in the city, and if the papers were to be believed, in the whole world, but it was still missing the crown, the elaborate roof they planned to put on it. Montgomery Smith saw a picture in the paper and he thought it to be pretty, but unnecessarily complicated.

Getting to the top of the building was easier than he previously thought. The two guards though walked around occasionally, spent most of their time in a makeshift bodega, huddled up in the warmth of a little wood burner. The fence was tall but had a loose slat that he could push aside creating a gap just enough for a skinny man such as himself. The enormous metal beams waiting to be installed provided excellent covers for sneaking around. The only hard thing was to climb all those stairs up to the top floor. There must have been an elevator somewhere for the workers, but he couldn’t risk it. If the guards would hear it, he would be done for. So he climbed and climbed, stopping for breath every ten stories or so, using the metal beams to shelter himself from the wind. The outer bearing beams were like a skeleton, a skeleton of a giant, made out of metal. Montgomery Smith had to admit, it was pretty impressive. He hoped he was wrong and it will not all collapse one day soon.

Every time he stopped snow started to build up on his hat and shoulders. If only they’d have put in the windows already! It would have been a much more pleasant trip. But of course in the end it didn’t matter.

At last, he reached the top. He had to clutch on the rail next to a metallic eagle guarding a corner to keep his balance. The wind was out of control up here, tearing at him, trying to push him over. His hat went flying and disappeared in the whirling snow. He barely noticed it, staring down at Manhattan, at the snow and the lights and people who looked tiny, ever so tiny from up here. He felt like he was already out of it, not part of the same life they had down there.

There was nothing else to do but jump. It wouldn’t even be hard: he should just climb up to the rail and the wind would probably do the rest. It could be all over in a minute, or maybe less. How long it would take to fall from this high?

‘I would be more careful if I were you. It’s a long way down.’

Montgomery Smith whipped around so hastily he almost went over the handrail backwards. His heart was pounding in his throat. At first, he didn’t see who spoke, but then he spotted a silhouette in the shadows. A tall someone, being visible by only the deeper, denser darkness than its surroundings.

‘I didn’t mean to scare you,’ she said, stepping forward. She was wearing a black dress with long fringes at the bottom and silvery strokes in the fabric.

‘Who are you?’ the man asked. His voice was still a little unsteady.

The woman frowned as if it was an unusual question.

‘You can call me Amy,’ she said after a few seconds.

‘Montgomery Smith,’ the man nodded. He raised his hand to his hat but of course, it was gone. She smiled and stopped next to him, hands on the rail, taking in the view of the quickly whitening Manhattan. She was a little taller than him.

‘Aren’t you cold?’ asked Montgomery Smith, looking at her naked arms. She didn’t have a coat.

‘The city tends to be cold at this time of the year,’ she answered distantly. ‘It’s already November, Montgomery.’

‘That’s not what I… Never mind.’ It was weird to hear his name like this. People always called him either Monty or by his full name. Nobody ever called him just Montgomery, not even his parents or his wife.

He wanted to offer his own coat but he didn’t want to be too forward so he just stood there, watching the snow and listening to the moaning of the wind.

‘Why do you want to jump, Montgomery?’ Amy asked, still not looking at him.

For a moment he felt the urge to deny it, but then he thought it was pointless. Everything was. Yet, that was too big of a question for Montgomery Smith to answer. He had so many reasons, piled on one another, weighing him down to the point when simply existing wasn’t even painful anymore, only very, very exhausting. He realized that the woman was looking at him now, her face curious.

‘I just want… Quiet,’ he said finally, struggling for words. ‘Just not… Be anymore, I suppose.’

Amy nodded.

‘I understand that. What I meant was, why here? Why the Chrysler Building?’

Montgomery Smith felt that he was blushing and he was thankful for the darkness so she couldn’t see it.

‘It’s… Silly,’ he mumbled.’

‘I won’t laugh,’ she said with a warm smile. The wind was playing in her short dark hair, dancing with the locks.

Montgomery Smith took a deep breath.

‘In my whole life… I was… I’m the third son of my parents,’ he found a direction. ‘Everything I did my brothers did before me. In school, I was always just a little short of being the best. Back in the War I almost made sergeant but they went with another guy. Now, in the factory, every time there is a promotion they list me and give it to someone else,’ he sighed, cracking a sad half-smile. ‘Even my wife prefers another man over me. But then I saw it in the paper. There was an article about this building, how it will be, how it’s the tallest one there is… And that nobody died during the construction. So I thought… If I’d be the first, at least there would be a reason for people to remember me. To be the first at something…’ his voice trailed away, and he turned his head so the woman couldn’t see his face.

‘There are other ways to be remembered,’ Amy said gently.

‘I would probably end up botching them,’ Montgomery Smith laughed weakly. ‘But this… Even I can’t mess this up.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she said, ‘It’s pretty windy. What if it takes you and just throws you back into the building three stories down? You’d forever be the idiot who tried to jump down but couldn’t.’

The man stared at her for a while, then snorted. The snort became laughter, a real one this time. Amy smiled.

‘Do you… I mean, I can…’ Montgomery Smith made some hesitant movement as if he was trying to take his coat off. Amy grabbed his hand and shook her head.

‘Don’t worry. I’m not cold. I never am.’

Her hand wasn’t cold. It was not warm either. It didn’t even feel like a human touch. The man shrugged and straightened his coat on his shoulders. Snow covered them once again and he wiped it off.

‘Why are you here, then?’ he asked Amy. ‘Planning on jumping, too?’

‘Wouldn’t make a difference,’ she said, turning back to the flickering lights underneath them.

‘What do you mean?’ Montgomery Smith asked.

‘I don’t die,’ she said casually. ‘I can’t. At least I never did before.’

The answer only confused him further, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know more. Amy was kind to him so far and he didn’t want to find out that she was some kind of lunatic. So he just said a non-committing “hm” and hoped she won’t say anything else weird. Of course, he wasn’t that lucky.

‘You think I’m crazy, don’t you, Montgomery?’

‘I… Not sure. You sounded a little crazy. But I’m not judging!’

She giggled.

‘If that helps, I’m definitely crazy,’ she said, grinning. ‘Perhaps not the way you think, but I am, nevertheless.’

He knew he shouldn’t bite. Never encourage a lunatic, he heard that somewhere.

‘So in what way are you crazy, exactly?’ he asked.

‘It’s a crazy city, Montgomery,’ Amy replied. Her eyes followed something the man couldn’t see. ‘Almost seven million people, each with their own hopes and fears and dreams. Used to be much less. Smaller. Didn’t have buildings stretching for the skies. Or music they conjure from thin air. Or trains deep under the ground. It was always big and messy but lately… I can hear them all. Every one of them. Their prayers and cries and laughter. All of it.’

He believed her, though he couldn’t say why. Maybe he just wanted to.

‘Are you… Are you God?’ he asked hesitantly, avoiding her eyes.

Amy scoffed a little.

‘Which one do you mean?’ she asked. ‘They are worshiping at least half a dozen in this city.’

The man didn’t know much about other religions. With all fairness, he didn’t know much about his own, either: he was christened and been told repeatedly how to live a life that God will approve, and he even did some effort to that end, mostly out of habit. But for him God was kind of like a distant uncle: living far away, never visiting, hating most people and not giving much crap about anything. There was an Indian cleaning lady at the factory and Montgomery Smith knew that she believed in some kind of six-armed goddess, but Amy had only two arms. And what would a god of another country be doing here anyway? Or did gods travel just like ordinary humans? Maybe they needed holidays, too.

‘Then what are you?’ he asked.

‘I’m Amy,’ she said simply. ‘I am… Me. This…’ she made a vague gesture including the whole city under and around. ‘ me.’

‘You are New York?’ Montgomery Smith felt confused. How can a person be a city? ‘How can a person be a city?’ he asked out loud.

The woman shrugged as if the answer was obvious.

‘Back in the days, humans gave personality to every little brook and hill and even bigger stones. Prayed for the river to give enough fish. For the ground to grow enough wheat. For the forest for prey. And they listened. They awoke. Some went on to become gods or spirits of the land, local myths. Gods of lightning and rain and good harvest and love and war. You people aren’t different now. You come here, thousands every day, dreaming of a better life, praying for it. New York means a new life for so many. Millions around the world are dreaming about it. About me. So I… became. Started to exist, one night, as the spirits of the land and field and the forest did long before me.’

‘Because people believed in you,’ he said.

She nodded.

Montgomery Smith stared into the snow again, thinking. In a weird way, it made sense. He almost wanted to believe her. Wouldn’t it be a much better world, if it was true? Maybe radio sets and automobiles aren’t all there is. Maybe there are real, old-fashioned miracles, too. There is still some mystery in this new world.

And it found him of all people.

‘Why are you telling me all this? Why would you care about one person, if there are seven million others? People die every day.’

Amy looked at him sadly. There was something else in her eye and it took a second for him to understand what. It was pity.

‘You are not here for me, are you?’

She shook her head with the same sad smile.

‘I’m sorry, Montgomery. I just like this building. Like the height.’ she sighed. ‘Death of a new yorker… It used to sadden me. Before. Now… It’s just too many to fathom. If I’d mourn every one of you, I’d go insane from the pain. So I learned not to care. Not to notice.’

The man nodded, leaning on the handrail. Of course she wasn’t there for him. Why would she?

He tried to imagine how it would feel to have an entire city in his head, but he couldn’t.

‘Can I be a city, too?’ he asked. ‘I… I could help you. All those people… It must be a lot.’

She smiled again and looked into his eyes for the first time. Her eyes weren’t human, just as her hand wasn’t. He felt lightheaded. Muffled voices started to talk in his head, first just a few, then more, and more, and he felt what they were feeling, and somebody just died and he died with her, and people made love and he felt them too, he felt the taste of cooked corn as someone in Brooklyn was eating some, a cut on his finger, his lungs were on fire and he was in love, madness, so much madness, he fell off of something and his leg cracked, music came from nowhere, all kinds of music and there were things, too, not humans, something very old and hungry and someone with rage instead of a soul and sadness, all that sadness…

His back hit a metal beam. His entire body ached, he felt all the injuries and pain and pleasure the people of New York felt, and he didn’t know who he was. He was Suzanna who was dying and that made Steve devastated, and he was Steve, too. Carol cheated yet again and she was ashamed but also giddy, her lower belly still sore when she climbed in the shared bed and he was Carol, too. Shruti was afraid of the thing in her closet and Montgomery Smith was Shruti, but he was also the thing in the closet.

‘That’s how I feel every second, Montgomery,’ said Amy. ‘Do you want this? Do you want to be like me?’

‘No,’ he said, his voice croaked. ‘But we need to… They are…’

‘Help? No, Montgomery. I don’t help people. Bad things are part of the city, same as good ones.’

He nodded. He decided that he would help on his own, but all the knowledge he had just seconds ago started to fade. His body didn’t hurt anymore. The last echoes went and all his feelings were just his again. He felt like crying. He wanted to help and he didn’t even remember to whom.

Amy reached out and pulled his hat from a dark patch of shadows. She put it on his head and grabbed his shoulders for a moment.

‘I thought I lost it…’ he mumbled, raising his hand to the hat.

‘Lost things can be found,’ she said.

The man closed his coat tighter around himself. For a while, he forgot about the cold, but he felt it once again now.

‘What should I do now?’ he asked, avoiding her eyes not only out of fear but shame, too. He was taught that a man always knew what he was doing, that a man always had a clear purpose but he didn’t know it, didn’t have one, not for a long time.

‘I don’t know, Montgomery,’ Amy answered. ‘I suppose you go and live your life. For the better or the worse. You might end up here again in a month. You might end up in the history books as a hero or an inventor or an artist.’

He scoffed and even rolled his eyes.

‘You had an entire city in your head,’ she said somewhat impatiently. ‘Your first thought was to help them all. So go and do that. As yourself.’

‘I can’t… I just…’

‘Try. That’s what every one of the others does too. You are not special just because you are in pain. You’re not the only one. Everyone is dealing with something,’ she took a deep breath. ‘Just try, Montgomery. Maybe it will work.’

He didn’t know what to say or if he could speak at all from all the feelings clogging up his throat. So he just nodded, turned around and started his way down the stairs. When he looked back before a corner, Amy was gone.

FantasyHistoricalShort Story

About the Creator

John H. Knight

Yet another aspiring writer trying his luck on the endless prairie of the Internet.

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