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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Sean and his sister Mary are met one day after school by their father, with whom they have very little history, given his confinement in an asylum. The children have no keys to access their apartment building, but Mr. Kennedy is determined to get in and uses the fire escape to do so, with the reluctant children following behind.

All of a sudden, a bell starts ringing loudly, and the children’s father—who had begun cleaning the windows with obsessive concentration—is alerted to the arrival of a doctor and orderlies from the asylum. In an attempt to escape them, he climbs onto the windowsill with Sean, and the boy stares down at the cracked pavement far below.

The story leaps forward several years to find Sean twenty-two years old, about to graduate college, and engaged to marry. He has repressed his memory of the day with his father and regularly dreams about people falling from windows, without understanding why.

Sean marries his wife out of fear of loneliness rather than love, and the pair do not enjoy a close relationship. Sean carries on an extramarital affair with a woman named Judy, and in an exercise subconsciously inspired by his father, he tries to climb into her apartment building, but she turns out not to be at home. But when Sean and his wife’s two sons, John and Philip, are born, they quickly become a source of delight to him, and when his wife asks him for a divorce, he is more concerned that he will not see his sons again than that he will not see her.

The story comes full circle when Sean, while en route to a business meeting, is trapped with another man in an elevator that has stopped just short of the sixty-fourth floor. The younger man, who resembles Sean’s own son Philip, is very afraid, and Sean comforts him. Later that night, Sean remembers the day his father held him on the windowsill far above the cracked pavement, but he is no longer afraid; he has finally come to terms with his childhood trauma.

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