man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney

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In "Contents of a Dead Man's Pockets", what are four suspenseful crises Tom faces on the ledge?

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Once Tom Benecke decides that he must stay and work on his plans for a new grocery display rather than sharing an evening out with his loving wife, the suspense begins as his so-valued yellow sheet with all his data compiled on his free time wafts out the open window of the eleventh floor apartment. Here, then, is a description of four crises that develop as a result of the loss of this yellow sheet:

1. Of course, the initial crisis, or moment when an important decision must be made, is that moment in which Tom sees his yellow sheet swept out the window by the draft caused when Mrs. Benecke departs. Tom rather impetuously decides that he will go out onto the ledge; however, he realizes that to walk on the ledge would be no problem if it were merely a few feet above the ground, but it is eleven floors up.

2. After he sidles carefully along the ledge, which seems much different from what he imagined from his window, Tom finally reaches the yellow sheet, but he cannot quite reach it.

He couldn't quite touch it, and his knees now were pressed against the wall; he could bend them no farther. 

Tom finds that he must bend his legs more, and looking between his legs he sees below and "a violent instantaneous explosion of absolute terror roared through him." Before this horror paralyzes him, Tom's mind forces him to raise his body to an upright position. However, he does so in such an abrupt manner that he scrapes his head and almost falls. It is only by pushing his entire torso into the bricks that he saves himself.

3. After this narrow escape from death, Tom shakes so violently and the strength leaves his legs to the point that he fears he will faint. So, he takes several deep breaths to fill his body with oxygen. Nevertheless, "[I]t was impossible to walk back." Then, Tom starts yelling "Help!" but soon realizes that no one can hear him over the traffic below. Now he knows that he absolutely must move; there is nothing else he can do.

With pure force of will, Tom shuts his mind to everything but what he must do. With shivering fear, he inches his way back to the open window. Amazingly, as he inches his way along the ledge, he touches the yellow sheet, which has been pressed to the bricks by the wind.  Taking the paper in his mouth, Tom continues his slow movement, "trembling steadily."

Tom realizes that he has but a "thin artificial control of his body" and he must fight his fears and focus only on the building.

...if he once let them flick outward, to stare for an instant at the lighted windows across the street, he would be past help.

4. As Tom continues "sidling with a clumsy desperate swiftness, fingers scrabbling along the brick," his hand feels nothing and he stumbles. He staggers and begin to fall, and his right hand gropes as he falls to his knees. As he does so, the open window slams shut, knocking his wrists. With this jarring, Tom sways and he fights for balance.

...he began to draw the full weight of his upper body forward, knowing that the instant his fingers slipped off these quarter-inch strips he'd plunge backward and be falling.

Taking the yellow paper from his mouth. Tom assesses the situation before him with the closed window preventing his entry. Knowing he must keep his sense of desperation at bay, Tom at first considers that he may have to wait for his wife to return. But, he cannot wait for four hours without falling off the ledge. Therefore, he must act. First, he tries to signal to people in windows across from him; then, he realizes that the only thing to do is to break through the glass of his closed window.

This point is the climax of the story, the highest point of emotional intensity. It is resolved as Tom is successful in breaking the window and entering the window to safety. All his conflicts are resolved as he decides that the loving relationship with his wife Claire are far more important than any sales worksheet on yellow paper. 

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