Richmond Wanderings: Rooftopping on Tuesdays

by Maya Chesley

photography by John Dijulio

A block from where I live, a wonderful, cluttered building sprouts up from the ground. Ivy beards over its walls, hugging it like an old and near-forgotten lover. We crawl up this ivy, Elise and I, up the rickety black of a ladder that will one day hide behind the green of platonic leaves. We scurry over the ledge onto a slanted white rooftop pulsing with breaths of yellow light that slip through see-through windows.
At the top of all things there is quiet. Even as the two of us–loud beings–invade this soundless space, we feel this silence. Cold-assed, we sit on the metal roof and look out at our domain–a much visited dining hall, a cathedral. We can just make out the tops of an aging theater over in the distance. Words slip out as pleasant drops from tongue to lip to freezing air. They dissipate in fumes, but nothing–not the words or the lips or the fumes that float out and then vanish–can disturb the quiet. This quiet hangs, a peaceful giant that will not move. It rests, lingers. It is as if we talk and the bubble around us sucks up the sound from our mouths. We sing and the sound enters the bubble, and outside of the bubble no one hears any of what occurs within. Elise shares her and I share me, and we do it all with sound that appears and then disappears just as quickly, retreating from us.
Above all, though, there is cold. I think it is this that brings about the quiet; it silences all things, sends rabbits to their holes and bears to their dens. Only humans–Elise and I–remain exposed. We sit in the open with empty stomachs and prickled skin, and with the refrain of “older brother, restless soul, lie down” crooning and vibrating against the corners of our heads. We look up and see that stars have come out. They show wide-eyed at some points, winking at others. They flit in and fade out and flirt with the eye. I feel their yellow glow above us, beneath us, the yellow glow of ceiling lights.
At the top of all things, I feel a stillness even as I move and breath and sing, and the stillness seeps into every bone and joint until they rest at once. Breathing slows. Songs play backwards. I want forever to be at the top of some building, staring down at the cobblestone below.

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