It was a sunny morning for Peter. And it stayed that way for him, even though the sky was covered with debris falling slowly on the ground, like the most peculiar snow, along with papers drifting through the air like weightless birds. And it was so; for Peter was lying motionless on the floor of his office, blood covering his forehead, as the floor was falling, and falling, to crash to the floor below, setting it on fire. And the date was September 11, 2001.
This is the story as the world knows it. Another name added to the memorial, another photo to the pyre that burnt into the sky, made out of candles, drawings and wishes to the stars.
But if I were to tell you the story, well, lots of things would change. Peter was my cousin. Ten years older, a boy in his twenties, with the brightest smile in the world. He knew how to make the best toys out of wood, and so I often teased him, telling him that he should have left his newfound job at the World Trade Center and work as a carpenter. And when he asked how would he made a living out of it, I just laughed, and handed him some of the money I loved to make out of dirt, telling him that he was now rich.
If only he had listened to me.
Today I found his business card while cleaning the attic, the place with such a low ceiling that only I could fit. After all these years, we were finally moving out of that old house that creaked with every step, in which I had spent all of my childhood, but I hated almost every inch of it. It reminded me of him.
But now the wound had almost closed, mending over time, until all that was left of it was just a little scratch that bled from time to time. So, upon stumbling over the little rectangular paper, I didn’t cry, I didn’t even flinch. I greeted it just like a long forgotten friend and blew the dust off it, revealing the series of little black digits over the white background.
And I still don’t even know why I did this. For I took my cellphone out of my back pocket, and after registering the time, it was 8:43, I called.
Call it curiosity perhaps, wanting to know if somebody had gotten his old business number, wanting to completely heal that wound in my chest, I don’t know.
A male voice answered the call. “Peter Jenkins here,” he said in a serious, but rushed manner, with an enthusiasm evident even under all that professionalism.
I found myself speechless, struggling for breath. No, it can’t be him, Sarah, he died years ago, he-
“Hello?” the voice repeated, and this time it was evident, it was him.
“Peter?” I asked with a voice that creaked through a closed throat. “Is that you?”
“Who is this?” he replied, and I knew him so well that I knew he was pinching his eyebrows together, trying to recall something, looking to his right, confused.
“It’s Sarah,” I said, pressing the phone so desperately on my ear that it hurt. And although I couldn’t see myself, I knew that I looked paler than a sheet at the moment, I was like a ghost speaking with another ghost, because I had seen his body, laying motionless next to all the others, his eyes closed, that black metal railing sticking out of him, his fair hair turned grey from all the ash that had fallen on them. “Your cousin.”
“Oh, hey, sweetie!” he exclaimed in recognition. “What happened to your voice?”
I ignored him. “Peter, what’s the date?”
He paused for a couple of seconds. “September 11. 2001. Why?”
I didn’t care how this was happening, or why. “Peter, I need you to get out of your office. Now. Right now.” I said, realising that I could save him, save the man with the curly blond hair, so blond that I called him “my sheep”.
“Sarah, sweetie, I can’t hear you, there is a weird noise, and-“
There was a scream, the sound of something falling, and then the line was dead, making me jump to my feet, my head crashing against the low roof.
I checked the time with shaking fingers. 8:48. The time when the plane crashed into the North Tower, on Peter’s floor, killing him on impact.
I pressed redial, my hands were shaking so much that I nearly dropped my phone twice. Only a generic voice came through, a lady saying something along the lines of “The phone number that you are trying to reach does not exist.”
I had a general rule: Never cuss when angry. I broke it like I never had before.
Because Peter was now dead once more, the person I had loved more than anyone else in the word, but for these five minutes he was alive, and oh god, I had missed his voice more than anything. And it was I who found his body all those years ago, another nameless man next to the nameless ghost, the sky on fire, the blue lights of ambulances and police cars blinding me as they rushed by, the people pushing through the crowd, holding photos of their loved ones, but I didn’t need one, I only had to reach out my hand to touch him, and knew that it was him, my insides on fire, a distraction so that my heart wouldn’t stop, a trick, because I knew that I would be missing him forever. And “Never Forget” was written on the cars full of dust, but how could you, how could you forget the people running away from their deaths, the pavement cluttered with corpses, the blood and the smell of despair hanging heavily in the air. The rescuers collecting names and shouting to each other, the broken bodies carried on the streets, the body bags, and Peter in the middle of this, with his mischievous smile still on his lips, even when everything else was gone.
Praying that it was just another nightmare, one of those where you run, but you’re not fast enough, just like this one, being able to hear his voice, but not being able to save him, with the throbbing of my head reminding me of the truth, that I was alive and he was not, and the wound on my chest was still pulsing blood, just like that day all these years ago.
I can’t remember how the rest of the day went by. I only remember some hands lifting me, being wrapped in a blanket, still clutching the phone tight in my hand. Whispering in soft, considerate voices, the word “concussion” over and over again.
I woke early next morning. Checking my phone, I saw the digits 8:00 shining white on the screen.
This time when I called, I was directed to voicemail; his familiar voice directed me to leave a message after the distinctive sound.
“Peter?” I said through a closed throat. “This is Sarah. As soon as you hear this, you need to get out of the building, do you hear me? This is not a joke; I swear, you need to listen to me. A plane is going to crash into your office. And as unlikely as this sounds, you need to trust me. Please. I love you,” I whispered the words that I should had said all these years ago, when he left for work to never come back.
I remained curled in the couch not knowing how I got there, my eyes unshifting from my phone, willing it to ring, for something to happen. And it did. It was 8:43.
Five minutes to convince him. Again.
“Sarah, sweetie, what is happening?” he asked in a concerned voice. Of course he didn’t remember anything form yesterday. September 11, 2001 was a sunny day for him, and nothing more. This had to change. “Another nightmare?”
I grabbed from the prompt he gave me. As I kid I usually had these weird dreams that aunt Sue considered prophetic, and sometimes they were.
“Yes,” I said with an urgent voice. “A hijack. By terrorists. If you stay there, you are going to die.”
He laughed. “Sweetie, don’t you worry, I’m in one of the safest places in the world, remember? And besides-” He laughed again. Nervously. “If I don’t finish this report on time, my boss is gonna kill me!”
“Peter!” I snapped. “Screw your report! For me! Do me this favor! Just for-” I checked my watch, “two minutes! You need to get out of the building!”
His sigh came through the line. “Fine, sweetie. Just for you.”
All I could do was listen to his steps.
“Peter? Talk to me while you’re at it!” I pleaded, because I could save him, I had to.
“I’m walking down the stairs right now,” he said, and in truth, the sounds confirmed his words. “The big ones, with the black railing, remember?”
And I had a terrible feeling, for I remembered the black railing sticking out of his chest all these years ago, and I wanted to shout something to him, but he shouted first, a raw cry, along with the a deafening roar, and the line was dead once more.