"You're gonna break your skull, fella," the gal kept shouting down to me, to which I replied, "I'd break that and many a more in the name of your safety." She stressed to me that she'd just as well wait for the fire department — those valiant buccaneers of Ladder Company Number 5, skirt-chasers and wannabe samurai, all of them — rather than risk bodily damage straddled across my back. I'd hear nothing of that.
"That is not romantic," I told her. When I reached her in the cage I thrust out my strong grip just as I had seen numerous movie heroes do — Errol Flynn and the like — and then, reassuring her of my brawn, flexed a bicep. I was in excellent physical condition, it's true, and could have modeled for one of those home gym systems with all the pulleys and wires and whatnot. Likewise, my hair had Vitalis shine, was not thinning.
She appeared incredulous and who could blame her? "Just hold on," I said, "and put some trust in me, Charles Homar. Others have done so and not been badly disappointed."
"I'd rather not die, thanks."
"Not a chance. I am neither bogus nor brash, just a citizen out doing his duty. Look into my eyes, miss. What do you see there? That's right: I was a Templar Knight a few lives ago. Let's meet the earth."
"Why do you speak that way?"
"That weirdo way."
"No comprende, chica."
"Oh, Christ," she said. "Are we really going to do this?"
And I said, "Really."
Light as a bag of foam packing peanuts — I had once toiled for a shipping firm — she held on as I descended that metal mess Mr. Ferris would have disowned had he seen it. This feat of heroism came breezily and without much sweat, so jazzed was I on her pheromonal scent, the elements of lust just then coalescing into love, a single-celled splotch becoming a giraffe. Onlookers cheered, some clapped; one obese popcorn-eater, spellbound by the scene, had a swift back-slap for me and then mumbled something incoherent, though it sounded faintly congratulatory.
Soon the fireworks were done; boredom ensued and people dispersed. Gillian and I stood there, hands in pockets, not five feet apart, her breath still the nervous kind of the almost-harmed. Me: I was sweating now, but not from the climb.
"Thanks for saving my life, fella," she said. "I guess you're a hero."
"It's just a job, madam," I said.
"But we could have waited for the fire department, you know."
Where did her lips get their collagen pink puff? The last time I had seen lips like those in person was when unwise nuns had hired me to teach autobiography to a classroom stocked with teenage Catholic females. In my head now was a violin and organ ditty circa 1850. Something German.
"Local firefighters would have accidentally grabbed your breast while helping you down, believe me."
"I see," she said. "And your touching my breast was accidental?"
The record playing my dreamy German ditty scratched to a halt: you know the sound. "What? I touched your breast? No. I'm a gentleman. Really. No, I didn't. Did I? What?"
"I'm kidding," she said, and her teeth were so white! "Not touched. More like brushed."