Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


Empire Home

The twin towers were the new buildings on the block; flat, glass, too straight we thought, too perfectly square. Yet, I hardly knew them after they grew up, they, living downtown above the ghosts of lower Broadway.

I remember when the streets of Wall were abandoned at night, when the spires of Trinity Church loomed darker than dark as the evening wore deep. Only spirits, or a lost mariner, and characters, one or two, roaming the canyons of those distant downtown nights. Also roaming, a giant named Brown, and a kid named me.

Back then there was only one Empire in the city, a building so tall us kids wondered how it got built. You know, there were apes living up there, huge apes, and they leapt from ledge to ledge every night after the Empire workers had all gone home. We’d sneak up to our five story roof to sit in Empire’s shadow, just to see for ourselves, and it was true; those gigantic apes swung from floor to floor as if they didn’t care, as if they couldn’t fall.

I forget the year, but I remember 1970. That’s when, from time to time, the apes started sitting more still, staring south, way down 5th Avenue, wondering how they could climb those giant towers rising near the downtown shore. We wondered too, and wondered about the lights going up so far from our midtown roof.

But, by then even I had grown up. Our little building was gone and another stood in its west-side space. Yet, the Empire was still there, over the city, the apes again leaping high as if they didn’t know about towers standing down south. So, now I wondered if the measure was only straight up.

In New York every building has a name, even little buildings you might think were never given a name. There’s the Flatiron, you know, and the Cable, you don’t. So many names I can’t say them all. Some cement, or stone, others mortar and brick, a few esthetic, all functional, many beautiful. But the Empire is most amazing of all, with bombers crashing in -- only to fizzle out.

Murphy’s grandfather told us kids about those bombers, and air ships, and the high railings to keep the wild noon-people from leaping off. And how the Empire got its colors at night, the green of St. Patrick, and the red-white-and-blue. Yet, he could never quite explain how those apes got up there, nor how they managed to leap up and down, moon after star – even now. Maybe that’s the secret, after all, why they swing from floor to floor, scaring planes, watching the lights, changing the colors, raising the flag.

But the building us kids loved most was the one which walked only five stories up, the roof where we sat late Saturday nights watching the apes not seeing us. Not so scary when you’re little, only when you’ve grown up.

I was trying to remember what our building was called, but we changed its name nearly all the time, you know, the way kids do. Now, when I meet my friends from before, each of us remembers a building named Home, still there, Empire close, looking down at little eyes twinkling up at the Empire night....

© D.M.Molloy


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