Alex, one of the building maintenance crew, came up from the basement carrying a ladder to help staple a king-size bedsheet across the archway to the dining room so Stanley, my stepfather, wouldn’t have to see his wife dying. Alex wrenched the two halves of the ladder apart and as he climbed up in his heavy work boots, the light from the 13th Street windows gave his hair and clothes an ethereal shine from the thin layer of dust coating his plaid shirt, tan pants and the wisps of sandy brown hair peeking out from under his baseball cap.
He was breathing heavily between his teeth, muttering to himself how he didn’t want to be there—he knew the old lady was sick—as he pulled the two sides of the bedsheet apart, he fingered one side of the archway. He pierced a hole in the corner of the sheet with a nail, leaned to the left and hammered it in. He almost missed his footing as he reached his foot out and started to climb down, but regained his balance as he pulled the ladder to the other side of the arch. The rusty metal screeched across the floor. He looked up squinting as the sun reflected off the silver top of the ladder. Alex pulled the visor of his cap down with one hand and pressed the spreader stays with the flat of his other hand. He glanced at the black under his fingernails from the day’s work and shook his head.