Not bad, is it? I’ve got loads from back then, but this one’s my favourite.
Thought it’d make my name, but no-one ever asked who took it. Associated Press had us all up in the sky in those days, capturing the good news, trying to distract folks from the reality. Didn’t matter if you had a head for heights or not, they wanted the shots.
I don’t think they’d’ve been built in better times. Desperation: that’s what makes a man work on a length of steel inches wide and eight hundred feet up in the air. If he could earn his coin on the ground, he would. Some of them were naturals, like the Mohawks. Never bothered them. But most were immigrants, just trying to survive.
They kept their fear well hid, I tell you that for nothing. You had to up there; ignorance was the only thing keeping you alive. Soon as you thought you could fall, you were gone, didn’t matter if it was a plank or a camera in your hand.
This though, this was one of those beautiful clear autumn days in the City. Sunlight shimmering on the smog, turning everything soft focus with no need for technical tricks. And from that angle the Park rolled all the way out to the horizon. Now that’s a backdrop I said to myself.
So I just rounded up the nearest bunch of them. Eleven there was. My wife said after I should’ve got twelve, you know for the disciples. ‘Does that make me Jesus?’ I asked. Well, the look I got.
Anyway, the ironworkers were up for it. ‘Where’d you want us?’ they said, mucking around posing like Greta Garbo or Clark Gable. ‘Just eat your lunches like you do this every day’ I told them. Nearly blasted my cap off, they did. ‘We fucking do do this every day bud. This ain’t for the cameras.’
Eventually, they all settled, looking like a line of ragged budgies on a spar. Once they’d stopped posing and were just smoking, eating or yakking to each other, that’s when I took the shot.
You know, I didn’t even ask their names. The number of people that’ve come up to me since saying I took a picture of their Da or Uncle or whatever, you’d’ve thought there were a hundred guys on that girder.
I bumped into one of them in a bar a few months after.
Him, that one there.
So he tells me, ‘ ’member that photo you took of us all eating lunch up the Rockefeller?’ ‘Sure’ I said. ‘well’ he continues, ‘three of them gone already.’ One fell, one got crushed and the third drunk himself to death.
Sure, it was a short life. ‘Dead man welding!’ I heard one of them shout after his buddy nearly made the drop. That’s what he said. Dead man welding.
And they all laughed.
Sheila Scott is a hybrid writer-scientist who most enjoys turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Publications include Causeway, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Poetic Republic, plus shortlisting for Arachne Press Solstice Shorts. She helps lead New Writing Showcase Glasgow. Her intermittently hyperactive Twitter account is @MAHenry20.