HIT & RUN
By Shoshauna Shy
I wondered what kind of “closure” did Jean think she was going to get?
YOU ARE FEMALE & DRIVE
A RED CAR.
YOU RAN OVER MY CAT
ON WINGRA STREET
PLEASE CALL JEAN.
NEED HELP WITH CLOSURE
I came across this notice the week that Eric, my boyfriend-since-high-school, suddenly moved out of our apartment to follow an Edgewood College grad to Schenectady, New York. Apparently, someone’s cat darted into danger, a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What was there to explain or describe—unless apathy meant the driver didn’t brake or she actually went out of her way to hit the animal. But who would fess up to that?
I pictured Jean barely out of her teens, just a few years younger than me, stapling laminated notices to phone poles outside of The Yellow Platter, a neighborhood café. I had started going there for breakfast so I wouldn’t have to start the day alone. I imagined her returning to an empty apartment where a catnip bunny lay under a chair, saw her reaching instinctively for fur among the bedcovers at 3 AM. I doubted that meeting the red car phantom would make 3 AM’s any easier.The waitress at the café knew my order without asking. She didn’t require me to speak. For some reason, I felt the need to save my words so I’d have enough of them in case Eric realized his folly and finally called.
Two weeks later, I saw the actual Jean tacking a flyer to the bulletin board inside the café. She looked nothing like I thought she would, except for appearing as dispirited as I felt. A heavy woman with graying hair in a slack ponytail, she reminded me of the unpleasant lunchroom lady at Jeffrey Middle School who always wore a superior smirk as if I were a fool to eat what she dished out. Not the sort to fall to pieces over a pet.
The indifference of cars has twice made mush of my own tabbies. One was driven by someone I never saw; the other by a ponytailed hipster in a blue Volkswagen that looked like it had gone 200,000 miles and had a date with the graveyard. At first I wanted him to stop and come back, witness what he had wrought, commiserate, repent—but then I figured if the guy told me he had driven up both coasts of the continent and through Canada twice without ever hitting anything, I would have felt a lot worse. As it was, I spent a good hour crawling through the woods across from my house looking for Tamari who had leapt off the curb and gotten bunted by a headlight.
That night, I found myself calling the number on the flyer. All I intended to say was that I lived nearby, and offer her the chance to talk and get her grief off her chest. I’d just listen.
A slightly husky voice answered. When I said I was calling about the flyers, she immediately asked if I’d meet her at The Yellow Platter straightaway.
It was long after the dinner hour, and the place was almost empty when I walked in. I saw her waiting for me in a booth by the back window dressed all in white, thick hands wrapped around a glass of iced tea. Jean did not smile in greeting, did not introduce herself, did not extend her hand. She just sat and gazed up at me, drinking me in with the unabashed openness of a child. I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my sweatshirt and took the seat across from her.
“You felt the thump when your wheel hit him, didn’t you?” she blurted between chapped lips. “You even stopped and got out.”
Jesus! What was I doing here? What did she want me to say?
“You don’t have to defend yourself. Just tell me if Mookie was alive when you left him.”
That’s what she wanted to know?
Tears were flooding down her cheeks. She rubbed her reddened eyes with the backs of both hands, the table rocking a little under her elbows. Then she grabbed a napkin from the dispenser and held it over the top half of her face. My thoughts ricocheted off the walls. What could I possibly do now?
Slowly, the napkin lowered.
“Aren’t you at least sorry?” she asked me, her voice hoarse and meek, drained of all anger. A stray hank of hair swung loose across her forehead.
My stockpile of words was still low, but it wasn’t like she needed all I had.
“Yes.” I reached across the table and touched her hand. “I am so very sorry.“
Old Man With Blue Ball
By Craig Loomis
First the colors, second the man. But the colors are first. It is an early Wednesday morning, the sun slowly picking its way through the highrises, and as I turn the corner at the flower shop, I see an old man I have never seen before. It is nothing like a see-your-breath cold; in fact, there is a clue of springtime in the air, but he is wearing a tree-bark brown sweater that has a strange white smear across one shoulder. He is kicking a blue ball against the school wall. The ball is small, the size of two fists, and I can see how once it might have been a deep-sea blue before all that kicking and dirt and scratching. He is a good kicker, the ball thudding against the wall and obediently, dog-like, rolling back to him; and when it does he stops it with the toe of his shoe and waits a moment—as if he is listening for someone to give him permission—before giving it another gentle nudge against the school wall that is still too early for any students. But I have things to do, places to go, and so leave him kicking as I head into the park.
The next day he is there again. The clue of springtime has disappeared but he has no sweater; instead, he wears a tree-bark brown shirt, with one sleeve rolled up; he is at it again, kicking the blue ball. I slow to watch him stop the ball with toe of his shoe, first the right shoe, then the left, and then hesitating, even leaning over to look at the ball, as if seeing it for the first time, before kicking it against the empty school building. And except for a group of shuffling Indian women who are busy cleaning, wiping, rearranging, getting ready for the new school day, it is just the two of us. I watch him until he turns to watch me, and we wave to each other.
The next morning is a Friday and cooler, cloudy and when I see him he is wearing brown pants, and I want to say they are the same tree-bark brown but they are not. His sweater is the color of butterscotch. I watch him kick the ball until, again, he stops, turns to me, and motions for me to give it a try. I shake my head, a no thank you, and he shrugs and goes back to thumping the ball against the wall. I watch him a little longer to see if he will miskick—the ball spinning off into the parking lot—but of course he does not. When I wave good-bye he does not see me.
That night I dream about clothes the color of a creamy butterscotch, and I wake up hungry. The next day I think about telling him about my dream, and almost do, but he is kicking the ball very hard; in fact, there is an anger in his kicking and I think it better to say nothing, and hands in pockets, head down, aim for the park.
Saturday he is not there, nor the morning after that, nor the morning after that; and I can only think that the old man with blue ball is now over, that that small part of my life is finished. I think of it as a small three-day episode, and if it were not for the colors, it would have been meaningless, this old man with ball. But come to think of it he wore round, golden spectacles. He needed a shave. Still, in the meantime I can’t help but wonder what it all means—these three unimportant mornings of old man with ball, and now nothing. For some reason I feel sorry for myself but I don’t know why.
Rue the Whirl
By Samuel Buckley
Happiness is a roll of frames left in an old Nikon: Frame One, the sun falling across the sand and rocks, Two, the shadows of trees, Three, the sea, Four, the clean empty shells on the rocks, Five, the black and white dog bolting across the sand with driftwood in its mouth, Six, the sandcastles as the tide comes in, Seven, the way those sandcastles are still there, and always will be.
Up quick, shoesies on and out of the door: things already in the car, apart from the assorted gadgets and curios crunching in his backpack. Seatbelts on? Note out for the milkman? Here they go.
The cat watches from next to the wheelie bin.
The car pulls them free of the suburbs and cascades to the ring road. A milk-float crawls past them as they slingshot out of the city and he holds a little plastic windmill out of the window and it spins and the wind roars as they pick up speed.
—Close the window, Tom, his sister says. It’s too loud. Dad—
—Close the window, Tom, there’s a good lad, his father says. Too loud when we’re on the motorway. And aren’t you cold?
—He’s too excited to be cold, his mother says.
The windmill goes back in the backpack.
The motorway is a slow grey river, carrying them, extending out to infinity and Birmingham. When they pass a sub-station there Tom’s eyes light up, and he looks: towers of brown porcelain segments linked with wire bridges and steel scaffold.
Now, though, a whirling sensation is throwing him backwards and forwards in time. So he is passing the same sub-station again now, but older this time, in nineteen ninety-nine, looking through a Beano. Then an even older and lankier version of him passes through twelve years after that, watching smoke pour out of the looted stores after the riots. He is seeing all these people at once.
Birmingham is a great round haze: they slingshot off it and onwards.
—Are we nearly there yet? Tom asks.
—No, Dad says.
He awoke one night with the rain hammering on the roof of the blue caravan they stayed in, the wind howling around the tin walls; a gate rocked against its post with a tolling boom. He called his mum and dad.
—There now, Tom, Dad said. Don’t worry, mate. Did you have a bad dream?
—Well, it’s all right now. Want me to wait here awhile?
—All right then. I’ll stay till you fall asleep.
When he woke up again, he was three years older and three hundred miles away. The air was cold and salty from the sea. He edged down the hill, to where the lush grass began to thin and black shoals took over from the peaty ground.
He was now in his own version of a twenty-year-old photograph, wandering onto the beach with his auntie’s dog that they all loved.
Fetch. He gave a piece of driftwood his best lob and the dog hotfooted after it. No sounds except the soft sigh of sea and the patter of paws until a squadron of seagulls dismount, illuminated by the vanishing sun, cackling and laughing their way away.
Then an odd thing happened, something he was never able to explain. At a tiny point on the dry sand in the upper part of the beach, between drying mermaid’s purses and bunched black seaweed, a tiny tornado formed. The sand leapt into whirl, no taller than a daffodil: particles of seaweed and shell sucked into it too, but still Tom felt no breeze. After a moment it grasped a mermaid’s purse and hurled it at him. Then the whirl stopped, and the sand and seaweed fell.
The paw-falls return and a soaking stick is dropped at his feet. Again there was no noise but expectant panting and the soft sigh of the sea. He throws the stick. Paw-drops scatter.
He watches for a long time, willing the whirl to return and still trying to make sense of what he has just seen. He dips his toe into the little circle left by the whirl: nothing.
He falls back in time again. Back into the last century. The one nine-nine-nine. There is a tornado in Birmingham and he is sure he can see it: an odd fold in the clouds, a variation in the grey. A twister. Finger of God.
—Mum, Mum! I saw the tornado, Mum! It was an F5 or an F3 at least.
His mum didn’t know what he was on about, but he knew that the F5 was biggest, like the one that threw the house and the oil tanker at the end of that movie. The F3 was in the middle, still bad, like the one that threw the boat at the pylons in the earlier bit. They were all deadly. But it was probably an F2, or something, or—
—Yes, darling, Mum says. Now shouldn’t you be trying to get a little bit of sleep?
—But Mum, I’m not tired.
—Yes you are. And you’ve got school tomorrow.
—Can’t I just stay home?
—No. It’s the law. The police will come on their horses and arrest you if you stay home.
So he sleeps.
They drive two years into the future, and when he wakes up again he hears raging wind and the vinyl crackle-fuzz of falling rain on the tent canvas; he creeps out, careful not to press the sides or rustle too much with the sleeping bag, and poke his head out into the wet for a second. No tornadoes; only rain. Or was there? How did you know what you saw? Was it imagination or real? Were you just remembering it wrong?
Hair’s dripping when he’s back in the tent. He’s woken no one. It’s still early; he’s half-asleep.
A Comfortable Chair
By Noelle Palmer
She bought Chris at a garage sale. She sat down in the chair more from pity than interest. He was tattered and smelt of cat piss. Besides, he looked foreign, with a cushion pattern she could not name. She wanted a chair she could relate to, someone to share the daily trials of life with. Despite the ample seating in her apartment, she longed for a kindred spirit to have armchair chats with. She was tired of her back-biting couch and rough-and-ready kitchen stools.
She was surprised when this garage sale special announced stiffly, “I used to be great.”
“Oh?” she had responded simply. She had learnt to acknowledge understanding without giving way to unnecessarily long interruption. A chair may wait several decades before, if ever, finding some creature with the ability to understand it, never mind the will. Too many end up in the dump, that tumbling graveyard, bemoaning to no one their forgotten lives.
Chris told her his story: a story of a man with little more than a handsaw, lathe and sandpaper, who carved from a felled maple a beauteous chair. He told of how the man gave this creation to his young wife; how she embroidered pillows reciting Jesus’ love to comfort the chair. Chris had been moulded into a devout believer.
Time had passed. His arms were massaged weekly with lemon oil. Chris had saved pennies under his cushions, causing squeals of excitement when the grandchildren climbed upon him. The man and the woman grew old. The man disappeared. A few days later, the woman fell asleep in Chris’s cozy embrace. He had felt the warm urine penetrate his pristine pillows as the woman turned into corpse.
They took her away a few days later. Their loving grandchildren now looked upon him in disgust. Jesus was stained yellow. Abandoned in attic hell, Chris stopped believing. Chairs cannot cry.
Ten years he had been imprisoned, performing his duties only to spiders and moths, mice and mildew. He had been scratched and abused, burrowed in and buried under. This was the first sun he had felt since that day of death discovered.
“I don’t expect you’ll take me,” Chris told her in an empty voice. “All I ask is for it to end. They wouldn’t have wanted me to become this.”
She was sceptical of saving him. She had good reason.
She was seven when she first sat in her father’s raggedy-looking armchair, Randolph. Pleading screams had erupted as soon as her young bottom lowered into those well-scratched, once-plush folds. Randolph’s entreaties for protection from their ferocious family cat had chafed at her naïve heart.
Although she had wished to run away from this pain, she was unable to so heartlessly abandon this seat of distress. She had listened tenderly to the tortures endured. When her father came in, she had scurried away, but was back in his arms before long.
The cat never spoke to her. It never complimented, appealed to or loved her. Her father’s chair did all these things. She could not stay away from Randolph’s love and pain. Whenever the room was empty, she would shyly, slyly, lower herself into the depths of his soul.
After five sittings, she had known what must be done. She had lifted the cat into her arms, feeling the stab of its claws as her father’s chair had endured them for years. She had walked to the river, plaintive meows unable to compete with the memory of Randolph’s anguished pleading. As she held the beast’s thrashing head underwater, she had felt at peace with this deadly baptism. The sins of the cat had mixed with the sewage, washed away, diluted into nothing. Only after the matted and tattered body was found did she wonder if her parents’ tears might matter more than a chair’s moans.
This painful memory intermingled with Chris’s tragic story. A man hoping to be rid of a heap of mouldy wood and battered batten, slowly walked by, cupidity alit in his eyes. She curled away, nuzzling into Chris’s threadbare back. She slowly stroked the worn texture of this chair of sorrows.
For a pittance, Chris was hers.
Chris became her greatest confidante. She brought all her men back to the apartment for his assessment. He always found them lacking, as did she. She continued to search, striving to find a man who could match a chair, her comfort and best friend.
“I’m not really so old,” Chris told her one day. “I’m a well-built chair. With your care … ” he left the sentence open, rushing into the next. “I need you.”
She needed him too.
“Love me,” he asked of her.
She loved him already.
This caught her by surprise. She polished and vacuumed him. She had spent hours reupholstering him to his exact specifications. She talked to and petted him. Surely this showed her love, her commitment.
“I can be your man, a better man than any other.”
She assured him that he was.
“Love me, as a woman loves a man.”
“Relax,” he soothed.
She did not understand.
“Love yourself in me,” he murmured.
She got up and walked away. It was their first fight.
She came back the next night in lingerie. As she sunk into his velvety folds, she felt Chris quiver.
“I love you,” he told her.
She touched a breast hesitantly, coldly.
“Yes,” he coaxed, in an almost E-Z Boy growl.
She let her self-consciousness drift away. There was only her and Chris; Chris who knew everything, her every disastrous relationship, her every awkward angle and doughy curve.
If chairs could cum, he would have with her.
She awoke the next morning in Chris’s comforting embrace. Her search was over. She snuggled in deeper, relishing the contented groans of the chair’s deep slumber. She let her exposed body softly be claimed by this effortless love that tingled up through every caressing fibre.
By Doug Hoekstra
Recently I went out to a club to catch some live music, dressed in black, surrounded by black light in a black box. I stood to the side and watched two guys and one girl, laptops and synthesizers placed on tables like lab experiments, blurting out blasts of processed sound, while backlit screens threw amoebas on the walls. The patterns were interesting for a minute or two, but soon I realized that it would’ve been useful to ingest some new club drug I’d never heard of to fully appreciate the artistry and drop my head in half-time like everyone around me. But they are only tools, I thought, and somewhere in the waveforms of tomorrow, a genius lurks.
Listening and watching, I was struck by the gravitas, as the performers pushed buttons and stared at screens, seemingly detached and afraid to connect with the audience sway. Pushing middle age and living with their parents. Away. From the world, from the love, and from the hurt come the best kind of trials found in the best of the old songs, witness to common pain and redemption. I stayed to the end anyways, hoping to miss something. Afterwards, I went home and put on some Frank Sinatra vinyl and danced slowly around the living room with my lover in my arms, simple steps, smelling her perfume, lights low, our shadows moving gracefully as one. And when occasion called, I’d stop and look into her beautiful, blue, lighthearted eyes. Indigo.
By Artemis Savory
Jessie is staring at me in that unnerving way he has. His glasses are too big, and he’s always fussing with his hair, which is too long because his mother won’t bring him to get it cut. But he ought to go get it cut on his own, because he is an adult for goodness sake. I am looking down at the menu in my hands, trying to study the new specials. It’s the cold season. My brother pulled the blankets off of me again this morning, and when I went to chase him, his cat attacked me. She is a little shit.
I am leaning against the countertop, and Jessie is leaning over his register. He hardly ever says a word, but I know he is in love with me. I see Mr. Bulldog Face through the big window out front before he enters the diner and says to me, “Hey Kelley, GO HOME.” He is grinning, but I don’t know if he is serious or not—he always says this to me, and I can’t figure out what it means. Is he grinning because he knows I am uncomfortable? Or is he for real? I smile and nod my head and ignore him.
If Jessie’s teeth weren’t so big then I would absolutely consider sleeping with him. He is the only boy—I mean man, mama says I need to call them men when they’re not in high school anymore—the only man that I see on a daily basis, and who is near my age.
Mr. Bulldog Face is old like my father, with a dirty beard and fingers that pry. He can’t mind himself. Even now, he is coming behind the counter to get himself a cup of coffee, and he is trying to pinch my boob, but I won’t let him. I smack his hand and he grins more. I want to shove him into the glass cake display so it shatters and he bleeds.
But instead I walk over to Jessie. I am growing brave today. “Why don’t you ever ask me out?” I ask, trying not to bite my lip.
Jessie’s eyes go big, and he starts mussing his hair, but before he can say something, the Girls rush inside. It’s Marian and Dorothy and Mrs. TJ. I have known them all my life—they are my classmates’ grandmothers, and they are chatty and smiley, and teasing. I like them, though. Just now, they see Jessie’s perplexity, and Marian looks from him to me and says, “Now Kelley, what did you do to this poor young man?”
Dorothy, who is always wearing red glittery shoes like her namesake adds, “Yeah, he looks like you just flashed him! Did you flash him? Or did you do something worse?” She waggles her eyebrows at me conspiratorially.
I fold my arms over my chest and keep my lips together, and Mrs. TJ says, “A lady must have her secrets, isn’t that right dear?” Mrs. TJ is of the Purple Brigade. She is always wearing a purple jacket and a purple skirt, and her eyelids are so dark purple it’s amazing she can see out of them. She knows my secrets, because she was my guidance counselor all my life.
I smile and nod at the lot of them, and they shuffle in to their table, which is off in the corner, closest to the restroom. I wave to Jessie, who still has not moved, and I go to get the ladies their drinks. While I’m walking by him with the tray of coffee cups in my palm, Jessie touches my shoulder carefully. I stop and look at him, wondering if he will dare to say something, if maybe he will ask me out, if he will say more than a sentence or two, like he usually does. I am preparing to thank him, to say, Yes! I will absolutely go out with you.
But then he says, “Your shoe’s untied,” and I look down, and it is, and I wonder if Jessie has a bone of comprehension anywhere in his body.
I bring the drinks to the ladies, and Mrs. TJ says, “He’s an idiot, child. Maybe it’s time you went elsewhere. This town has no young people—you must get out and explore the world. You’ll love it.”
“This is where I belong,” I say, turning to look back at Jessie, who is no longer looking at me; now he is looking down at his hands or at the register numbers. “I don’t need any more experiences.” But for a second, back when I came up to Jessie, I did want them, and Mrs. TJ just nods and takes a sip of her tea. She slides a folded sheet of paper across the table, and when I am at home I will read a snapshot of her adventures in Africa, and remember my own adventures with men in the backs of pickup trucks. I will dream of much bigger things, and then I will come back to work and stare at Jessie some more, wondering if he will ever ask me out.
BURNS THE TAR UP
By Ryan R. Latini
Manny said he wouldn’t sell to me until I got the infection in my arm taken care of. It’s surprising who ends up caring. For some reason, I asked no questions. My mother always said acceptance was my problem—“For once, let other people be right.” So tonight, Manny was right. I walked toward the boardwalk. “Why don’t you put that arm under your pillow for the Arm Fairy?” he yelled. “That shit is going to fall off.” I kept walking. This was different.
Night was rising over the Asbury Park seaside. Somewhere out across the Atlantic, between here and Europe, it was night on the sea and it was heading toward me—a quiet wave chasing the light. I just walked. My arm pulsed. I had about two hours before my withdrawals would make it hard to get around. I gave ten dollars to Gabe to score for me—told him Manny was mad at me about my arm—and by the time he came back under the boardwalk, it was night. The seagulls were quiet. Lights from the street slashed through the planks onto the sand. Feet shuffled. Going. Coming.
Gabe didn’t have to duck where the joists were low. He was made to live down here. I was not—knots on my head prove it. The sand is like moon dust, well ground from junky feet. We split the hit—a runner’s fee for Gabe. Bic lighter beneath a spoon. Light from the flame casts out the slicing light of the storefronts and arcades above.
Gabe, a strange alien, stomps off to his piling deeper under the boards, out of sight. We are not subterranean. I don’t know what you would call this.
I feel good until I don’t. The sun is not out. The shadows that interrupt the light through the boards are less frequent. My arm smells. I have a fever. I can’t stay awake. It is not the opioid fog. It’s something else. I’m giving way to it. It’s different and I like it. I’m scared of it. “Gabe!” I yell into the darkness, a seemingly endless corridor of pilings. Just waves. I lower my head onto the lunar dust. The seagulls start up. My arm is growing hot. A cigarette falls through the boards about ten feet away. I crawl to it, dragging my arm. I blow the smoke on my arm to shoo away the flies. They are eating me. The sun will start chasing the night over the ocean, as it always does. Sweat and cold and an arm of fire. If I had a pillow, I’d sleep with my arm under it—leave it for the Arm Fairy. I wonder how much it would fetch? I just need ten dollars. I blow smoke on my arm before the cigarette burns out. Manny will not see me today, which is different. I am proud of this. It’s different.
By Tom Sanders
This is a story about France.
Jay’s my drug dealer, because the dark web and all that freak me out, and I like to do my bit for the British economy by buying local. Jay had been off the radar—a stint at Her Majesty’s convenience, in a high security prison that prohibited pretty much everything except toothbrushes, underwear, and religious texts. And horrified by the thought of three long years of enforced sobriety, Jay preemptively soaked a King James Bible he had bought in Waterstones in enough liquid LSD to bring a festival to the brink of ego-death.
So as the humdrum prison routine became too much for him to bear, he began to nibble, from “In the Beginning” and onwards, at a rate of about a wafer-thin page a day, with the force and drive of a self-flagellating Quaker, through the creation of the Earth and the flooding of the world, the exile of Man from the Garden, the flaming sword of divine truth, until the guards found him screaming and trying to force his body through a solid brick wall, having devoured most of Corinthians during what was a particularly tough day in his cell.
But now Jay was out of prison, and his new number buzzed twice. I disconnected and he called me back, enumerating his wares in the tone of the proudest of sommeliers.
“Good coke, cheap coke, MD, speed, tabs, France, Ket—”
“France?” I said. The word had come out of nowhere. I wondered if I’d really heard it.
“Yes, mate,” he replied, sternly. “France. New stuff. One of these research things. Makes you feel like you’re in France.”
There was a long pause.
“It makes you feel,” said Jay, “like you’re in France. You know—France? Eiffel Tower. Eva Green. Je joue au football. Royale with cheese. France.”
“Je joue … ”
“Au football. France.”
I did a mental inventory—so far that day I’d eaten a plate of scrambled eggs and finished the butt of a joint left from yesterday’s party, hardly enough to seriously scramble my ability to process words.
“I think I’m all right, mate.”
“Tell you what,” came the voice over the phone. “I’ll throw you in a gram bag this time, and you make up your mind. See you in ten.” And that’s how I found myself alone in my room with a bag of grainy white powder, on which was written in crude marker pen: “France.”
Jay, and many others, made his fortune off the stuff in that bag. The effect was a sensation that could only be described as intimately French. It was a serene, warm, emotional state: a hot bath for the soul. You closed your eyes, reclined, and your nose filled with the smell of baking bread, red wine, roasting coffee. Soft light from candles and lamps. The gentle buzz of passing people, the clinking of glasses, a rustle of erudite conversation on the edge of reality.
No anxiety, no fear, no bad trips. You were in France, except it wasn’t really France—more like the Hollywood imagining of Paris, a mythical place half real and half dreamed. Midnight in Paris France, maybe, or A Moveable Feast, if that’s more your style. The place a million tourists have looked for and none has ever found. The heart of Paris Syndrome, the Disneyland of the civilised world. It was like a memory, a memory of somewhere you’d never been to, and those few lines would take you right there, and remind you how happy you were to be home.
It’s amazing how quickly things become normal. Soon, alongside the Ket-heads with their ears against the speakers, and the babbling mephedrone freaks, the boys on pills, grinding jaws and sweating, you’d see a group, all smoking, sitting next to shopping bags brimming with baguettes—even wearing cloves of garlic and some ironic berets. It’s not like these little accoutrements added much to the whole experience, but people chose to embrace it, and soon police were bursting into warehouses filled with junkies smiling to themselves and humming along to Edith Piaf. And why not? It was funny, in a way.
And then the comedown. How to explain it? Like being pulled by the neck from somewhere warm and beautiful and shoved face first onto a cold stone floor, plunged back into the icy cold reality of the world you ached to forget. Addicts are addicts, fiends are fiends, and France was no exception.
I would often overhear people talk about how they were going to kick the stuff, work a job, save up money and buy a one-way ticket to Bordeaux. But no one ever did, not one. I don’t speak French, but I know a little German, and the Germans have a word—they always do—they call it Sehnsucht, nostalgia and longing for a place you’ve never been.
After a few months, things got dark. Stronger product, higher doses, needles, and people lying on their backs with a thin trail of white spittle on their lips, murmuring strange sounds in a parody of accented French, praying in incomprehensible tongues to an unhearing ceiling.
And then it was gone. No more to be found. Well, the research labs that cooked up the stuff tried their hardest to synthesise similar drugs—“Hollywood” or “Tokyo” they called them. There were some bad times in those months—a bad batch of what was quickly nicknamed “Swindon” lead to a spate of suicides throughout the Southeast. It wasn’t going to be recreated, that was for sure; it was a moment in time, and that moment had passed.
I’m glad it’s gone, and I’m happy enough now, in my way. But there are those nights when I catch myself lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, heart keeping the same old rhythm, and I smell the scent of baking bread, red wine and hear the familiar voices whispering, and I long for a place I’ve never been—France.
The Living Statue
By Lenore Weiss
The longest Galatea had ever held one pose was for two-and-a-half hours while sitting close to the port of Barcelona where tourists strolled by wondering if they had actually reached the end of La Rambla, and seeing no further displays of magnets, scarves, or mugs to capture their attention, crossed the street leading over a small bridge to a Starbucks with a view of the pier. Every fifteen minutes or so, there were a few tourists who paused to see if she would move, a quiver in her finger, a turn of the head. Most tourists understood she was a living statue in an elaborate costume sprayed gold and black, ridiculous in the summer heat, but well worth the money the agency paid her to do nothing. In fact, those were the words on their flyer, “Get Paid to Do Nothing,” which she’d found stuffed inside a newspaper.
A month ago, when they’d given her a half-hour of training, a young man with rotting teeth who claimed to be a sculptor predicted how the very instant she assumed her position on the plaza, she’d feel an overwhelming urge to shift, scratch her nose, pull her panties loose from her ass. “Recognize what’s going on, but think instead, how your feet hurt, or how your mouth is dry. Transfer that feeling to another part of your body.” Galatea tried to remember his advice, stood there on her first day in a black mantilla and gloves, balancing her weight evenly between her two legs, and trying not to clench her muscles. “Whatever you do, don’t blink,” he told her. “That’s how people can tell you are human.” He said that she might want to buy a pair of contact lenses, which helped the whole eye problem thing. He wished her good luck and said that he had to get back to a large block of marble.
Galatea wanted to excel at something, having wandered around Barcelona since she’d arrived in the spring trying to sell God’s eyes on street corners near metro stations resulting in being chased away by the police, who threatened her for not possessing a permit. As the weeks went by, she got better at being a living statute, enjoyed those moments when a family gathered around her with their little girls and each one of them removed a fan from her pocket, posing while their mother or father took a picture with a cellphone that they’d immediately relay back home. Galatea enjoyed those moments, the only time that she dared to move, handed out her fans and collected them back again; the family then smiled and walked over the bridge where she knew they would be greeted by a real beggar.
She took her job seriously, practiced achieving true stillness: read up about yogis who slowed their pulse rates down to almost nothing. It took time, all of it took time, but before the end of the summer, she had calmed her nerves into slowing down their electrochemical impulses and stopped the constant twitching of her muscles. Everyone gathered around her and pointed at the statue. They threw money into her pockets.
One evening the sculptor came by and unfastened Galatea from her spot on the plaza, carried her off with some difficulty back to his flatbed truck and to his studio where other statues of women were waiting.
By Geraldine McCarthy
Crows cawed from the copse behind the house. Carmel felt they had an eye for her. She patted the baseball cap that she wore: a protective barrier of sorts. Only 9.30 in the morning, and her armpits were already damp. Her hand trembled as she attempted to turn the key in Mrs Daly’s front door.
Safe in the hallway, she inhaled deeply and pulled off her cap. “Only me, Mrs D.”
“Morning, Carmel, love.”
The sitting room, newly converted to a bedroom, was crammed with armchairs, a sideboard, a bed, and a chest of drawers. Mrs D, propped up by pillows and ready for the morning skirmish, tapped her long fingers lightly on the bedspread. Lank hair framed a pale, thin face. Her pink nightie came up to her chin, trimmed with lace, giving her a regal air.
There was no point in prolonging it. “So, will you have a little wash, Mrs D?”
“Are you saying I’m dirty then? Do I smell?”
Carmel stifled a sigh. “No, of course not. But you know, I’d be in the height of trouble with the public health nurse if I skimped on my work.”
“That one, when she comes in, she doesn’t even take off her coat!”
Carmel kept her expression neutral, as she cajoled her way through Mrs D’s morning ablutions. It only took twenty minutes, though it felt like an hour.
“Well, you can tick your box now, Carmel, love. Old woman washed and powdered.” Her voice softened. “Why don’t you make us a cuppa, if you have the time?”
“Okay, won’t be a tick.”
In the kitchen she put on the kettle and searched the cupboard for biscuits. Tea made, she brought it in to Mrs D, but the old lady had already started to doze.
Carmel plopped down in the armchair by the bed and did some alternate nostril breathing in an attempt to relax. She rated her clients not by their contrariness, not by their level of dependence, but by the birds which hovered in the vicinity of their homes. Mr Fitzpatrick’s place wasn’t too bad: he had robins in the back garden, even had a feeder for them, but she always made sure his kitchen window was shut and never ventured out the back door. Mrs Early’s wasn’t the worst either: a few blackbirds on the telephone wire now and again. She sweated a bit at the sight of them. It was the crows, though, which sent her into a frenzy.
A battered rag doll slouched on the armchair opposite reminded Carmel of the Cindy doll she had when she was five. It was a blazing hot summer and she was playing outside the farmhouse, brushing Cindy’s hair, trying to style it this way and that. So absorbed in her play was she that a hen flew in from the yard, unnoticed. Claws dug deep into her scalp and feathers flapped madly, providing a bizarre fanning effect. She needed to scream but no sound came out. Her father, passing down the road on his tractor, saw her predicament, jumped down and ran towards her, clapping his hands and shouting, “Shoo, shoo.”
The hen released her grip and flew off, leaving Carmel’s head tingling.
She fingered her hair at the memory, and realised that her tea had gone cold. She checked her watch—still ten minutes to spare. It was a pity Mrs D slept on. Carmel would have liked to talk. She rarely told people about her phobia, fearing they would use it against her. A woman of almost a hundred could hardly do that.
Not like her mother. After the incident with the hen, her mam used to drag Carmel by the hand when she went to feed the turkeys. She never brought her brother or sister, just Carmel. Waves of nausea used to come over her as the turkeys’ heads bobbed on their long, scrawny necks. Her mother used to make her throw the grain to them. Once she kicked her mother in the shins. She didn’t do it a second time.
A friend, years ago, suggested her mam was only trying to desensitise her.
Now it was time to face those cawing crows again, to sweat, and shake, and swear, and run. She would call them ‘bastards’, except she hated that word. It was a word favoured by her mother.
By Ronan Hession
I couldn’t quite place the guy who was on the TV. He was groomed and tanned and beautiful and well-built and all the things that look good on the screen. The host of the show was trying to winkle some personal details out of him; you know, whether there was anybody special in his life and all that sort of stuff.
The groomed man—who turned out to be a former singer who was now up for any form of celebrity whatnot—said that he was actually celibate, in response to which the host tried to keep his smirk as neutral as possible, unsure whether there was a punchline coming.
I was reminded of David Porter-Dunne.
When I was about eight, David Porter-Dunne was on my football team. My childhood seemed to be full of inconsequential, sketchy duds like David Porter-Dunne; a whole cast of forgettable cameo pals who I played sport with, or who I met at birthday parties. They were kids I never thought about unless they were standing right in front of me; I probably just assumed that they turned into limp robots when I left the room. This one time, while in the changing room after a match, David Porter-Dunne made some sort of wisecrack about me—I don’t even remember what it was, but we were eight at the time so it was probably a remark drawn from within a certain limited range of the comic spectrum. Tired, with mucky knees, and in no mood to take stick from a guy who had few friends, I shot straight back at him: “Shut up, you dick—your parents are celibate.” The whole changing room went quiet, the other guys recognising the sound of a knockout when they heard it, even if they had no clue what it meant.
You see, the day before that match, I had been lying on my stomach, watching TV, while my brother Michael—who was, and still is, twelve years older than me—painted historically accurate uniforms onto the little lead soldiers he used for his war-gaming club. Michael got an A in history, which my mother took to mean that he knew about everything that had happened in the world up until the present day. As my father had left us several years previously, it was Michael’s job to answer any hard questions, even those that were not strictly relevant to the past.
There was a commercial running on TV at the time, where a woman, wearing a white T-shirt and white jog pants, stood doing a yogic headstand against an all-white background. The narrator said something like the following in German, with English subtitles on the bottom of the screen:
1979, gave up smoking
1980, gave up drinking
1981, became vegetarian
1982, became celibate
1983, bought a Volkswagon
So I asked: “Michael—what does ‘celibate’ mean?”
Without breaking the delicate brushstroke with which he was painting a Prussian infantryman, Michael answered: “It means that you have a double-barrelled name.”
I never questioned these things. Like when he told me that Black Forest Gateau had splinters in it, or that I was hyperactive because I had been given the blood of Mork, from Mork and Mindy, in a transfusion after birth.
The whole business with David Porter-Dunne had been buried and lost to me until that immaculate TV mannequin started talking about his celibacy, as I considered for the first time the scene as David asked his parents—Mr Porter and Ms Dunne—if and why they were celibate, and the sheer impossibility of them divining the ultimate provenance of his question.
By Alva Holland
‘Have ya lost your bleedin’ mind, woman? Names on a bench. Pah!’
‘None of your “but Joe” nonsense. Keepin’ up with the Joneses is all.’
‘Wouldn’t it be somethin’ though, Joe, to have our names on a brass plate on a bench, ya know like the way they do in church? Wouldn’t that just make ya feel real important like?’
‘Full o’ notions, woman. Now, where’s that new door knocker ya wanted me to hang?
‘Tis in the cubby under the stairs, on top o’ the pile o’ rags I’ll use to spit ’n polish when you’re done.’
‘That’s more like it. Stick with the brasses on your own front door. Brass plate on a bench, indeed. Women! Speakin’ o’ which, where’s that lazy git?’
‘Don’t call her that, Joe. She got feelings.’
‘I’ll give her feelings. Feelings she’ll feel all right.’
‘Sharon! Get your lazy hip up here and help your mother.’
‘No need to shout, Da. I was on my way.’
‘Always on your way, you young wans. Did ya hear your Ma’s latest? Only wants a bleedin’ brass plate on the bleedin’ bench in the woods they’ve now decided to give a posh name to. Deer Park they’re callin’ it now. Did ya hear that?’
‘Why does Ma want a brass plate, Da?’
‘How should I know, girl? Ya know your Ma well enough by now. Full o’ grand ideas—thinkin’ everyone should be posh like yer man up in the church there. Followin’ him around like some groupie she is when he a man o’ the cloth. Bet it was him put those notions in her ‘ead. Cat got your tongue girl?’
‘Sharon! Get out here and help me hang up these clothes. I’ll be ’ere all day on me own.’
‘Ma, why d’ya want a brass plate on the bench?’ Da said somethin’ about the church.’
‘Your Da don’t know nothin’ girl, and don’t tell him I said that. Father Michael thinks it’s a grand idea.’
‘Creepy collar? What’d you go talkin’ to him for?’
‘What’d you call Father Michael? Wash out your mouth with soap, young ’un. He’s a man of God. I think it’d be just lovely if we had our names on a bench like they do in church.’
‘Nothin’ they do in church is right, Ma. Creepy Collar is proof. All the choir girls say so.’
‘Sharon Alice Jones, I swear I’ll let your Da beat ya like he wants to if you don’t stop that rubbish comin’ out o’ your trap. Father Michael is a good man.’
‘No good man does what he does, Ma.’
‘What’r you sayin’ girlie? What’s wrong with your eyes? Don’t turn away from me like that. You explain yourself or you’ll be explainin’ it to your Da. Speak up girl, I can’t hear you with all that snivellin’—never seen ya like this. What the hell’s goin’ on?
Jesus Christ, Joe, get your whippin’ ass in here to this girl. We got a problem like we never ’ad before. Joe! For crissakes Joe—get in here.’
‘Woman, they’ll hear you in the graveyard, the way you’re yellin.’ Is the house on fire? What’s wrong with her? What’d ya do to her?’
‘I didn’t do nothin’ to her, Joe, but ya gotta listen to her now. That goddamn Creepy Collar is havin’ his dirty way with her. Oh! I can’t, I can’t take this. Him and his … oh my god, Joe! What’r we gonna do? Our little girl. Our baby. Jesus, Sharon, love, stop bawlin’ will ya, while we try to sort this out.’
‘Joe? Joe? Say somethin’—Joe! Don’t you go flying up there with your temper up and your ticker tockin’—don’t ya go near that gun room, ya hear! You in jail not gonna do nothin’ for no one, ya hear me? Joe! Get back here!’
‘Sharon, I gotta get after your Da. Will ya be all right? Ah Christ, love, I’m so sorry. Wait til I get my skinnin’ hands on that miserable dirty old git. I’ll give him bench names. He’s gonna ‘ave his name on a headstone by the time we’re finished wit’ him. It’s okay, Sharon, love. It’s okay. Your Da’ll see to it he never touches anyone again. I swear on your Granny’s good name and grave. Oh, thank God she’s not here to see this. Turnin’ in her grave she is now. Lord above, save our souls and put that bastard where he belongs.’
‘Come ’ere love. You’re safe now.’
Confession Is Good for the Soul
By Damhnait Monaghan
Father Flanagan twitched the faded velvet curtain in the vain hope someone would appear on the other side of the grille. His stomach grumbled like an unrepentant sinner. He cursed the Bishop’s insistence on these late night sessions. Confession was a young man’s game.
He used to wait ten minutes, then lock up and go home to his dinner. But the Bishop had installed a time clock in the inner sanctum; Flanagan was stuck until eight thirty. Mrs Paterson’s dinner would be as shrivelled as Oliver Plunkett’s head. Pleased with this analogy, Flanagan reached for his pen and notebook to record it. But as he pushed aside the Bible on the little shelf, his fingers curled around a knife, stained with blood.
He inhaled loudly. Still carrying the weapon, he whisked the curtain open, hastening towards the Church doors. Tugging hard on the heavy wooden handle, he basted his red face in the damp air.
His breathing slowed but picked up speed again when he saw Janet McCarthy limping up the road. Sweat pricked Flanagan’s brow and neck. Perhaps Janet would walk past the Church towards town. But no, she stopped at the graveyard and leaning on her cane, fumbled with the gate. Flanagan clenched the knife hard, loosened his collar with his free hand. Janet McCarthy was coming to confession.
He squeezed back inside and hurried to the confessional, one hand holding his belly for comfort and aerodynamics. Proverbs 23:2: If you have a big appetite, put a knife to your throat. But there was no need; his appetite had vanished. He shoved the knife in the Bible and waited for Janet.
Two months earlier, out on the front steps of the Church after Mass, Janet had told him she didn’t feel right taking Holy Communion because she no longer attended Confession. Flanagan had half listened to Janet, half wondered what Mrs Paterson had prepared for lunch.
“Ah sure it’s hard to be a sinner at my age,” Janet said.
The gastric juices in Flanagan’s stomach began to sing. Soda bread and maybe some stew?
“Janet,” he said. “Could you not indulge in a bit of gossip about your woman down the road, Mrs Glenmore?”
“Ah sure I wouldn’t know about that, Father.”
Had Mrs Paterson mentioned pie this morning? Flanagan thought she had. And custard.
He upped the ante. “Could you not take the name of the Lord in vain? In your own home, like.”
After Janet recovered from her coughing fit, Flanagan admitted defeat. He told Janet that God would want her to have the comfort of communion.
“Ah no, Father, we earn that comfort through the release of confession.”
All Flanagan wanted was release from the conversation. “You’ll have to kill a man, so, Janet,” he joked.
Her bleary eyes glistened in the sun. “That is a grand idea indeed,” she said.
Now, Flanagan waited in the confessional. For the first time in his life, he prayed he was mistaken. He heard a raspy sigh as Janet lowered herself to a kneeling position in the little booth next door. She could not see Flanagan’s two legs jiggling up and down in a frenzy.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
Formalities dispensed with, she said she’d stabbed her cousin to death in his bed. She wouldn’t be drawn on his identity, only that he wasn’t local. “I’m a great fan of Miss Marple,” she continued. “I’ve left no clues. Besides, he’s a recluse. He won’t be found for weeks.”
She creaked to a standing position. “I know my secret and the knife are safe with you Father. I’ll see you at Mass on Sunday.”
Back at the rectory, two whiskeys in, Flanagan’s mind raced. If Janet was caught would he be charged as well? He imagined the headlines. Priest counselled murder! Bloody knife found in confessional—details page 3.
All week Mrs Paterson asked Flanagan was he poorly, as she cleared another barely touched plate. At Mass, Flanagan could barely look at Janet as she accepted Holy Communion. Had she winked at him? No, surely not. It must’ve been a twitchy eye.
The following Thursday as Flanagan sat in the confession box, he heard the raspy breathing, the tap of the cane coming down the aisle, the squeak of the confessional door. He put his face in his hands. During the long silence he heard the tiny tick of his old watch, the thrumming of blood pumping through his veins.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession.”
Flanagan exhaled, his lungs now as empty as his stomach.
“I didn’t kill my cousin. My sin was to lie to you.”
There was a sudden faint gurgle from Flanagan’s stomach. He removed his hands from his face and looked through the grille. Janet’s brows were knitted together, like a long black scarf.
“So you didn’t stab anyone?” His voice rose slightly higher than he would have wished.
“Miss Marple says that people believe what is told them. So I thought I’d tell you I committed a sin.”
Flanagan’s gastric juices swirled up his insides, juddering back down momentarily when he asked, “But the blood on the weapon?”
“Beet juice, Father. Can I have my knife back?”
By Sudha Balagopal
Tina wakes to the rich aroma of melting butter. She hears the sizzle of bread on the cast iron skillet. Hans, her husband, is packing Anya’s lunch—third day in a row.
He cuts the edges off a golden, grilled cheese sandwich. Using a cookie cutter, he shapes them into two perfect hearts. A bunch of champagne grapes and a bag of veggie chips—a medley of colorful beet, sweet potato and kale—go into the box. On a dark-chocolate square, he draws a heart and writes, “DAD.”
“Never home to say goodnight to our five-year-old. And now you think packing her lunch can compensate?” she shakes her head.
He leaves the room, doesn’t respond.
“That’s right. Walk away,” she shouts.
Anya’s lunch box returns empty.
That evening the child refuses to bathe and throws her toothpaste-smeared brush into the toilet. She falls asleep exhausted.
Tina sets her alarm for 5:30 a.m. She makes a quesadilla: multi-grain tortilla filled with mushrooms and Fontina cheese. The bite-sized triangles go into Anya’s lunch box with a side of guacamole.
Again, Anya brings back an empty container.
By dinnertime, though, she’s crabby. She flings her plate onto the floor. When Tina answers the phone, Anya draws on the walls with crayons. She doesn’t want to hear any bedtime stories.
Next morning, Hans fills two six-inch pieces of celery with cream cheese, a line of raisins arranged like ants on a log. He’s already made a mini-pizza with an English muffin base, Kalamata olive for garnish.
“When did you come in?” Tina asks. “I needed help with Anya’s tantrums.”
“What’s that about?”
“It takes more than a fancy lunch to show you care. She needs you.”
“I have to work, goddamnit,” he yells.
She shouldn’t, should she? “Is it work or Pinky?”
He grits his teeth. “Her name’s Tammy Pinkerton. You know we work together.”
“That, I do know.”
Hans comes home early—to pack a suitcase.
“Off with Pinky?” Sometimes, her tongue won’t stay still.
He’s loud. “It’s a business trip.”
“When do you return?”
“I don’t know.” He doesn’t look at her.
He kisses Anya twice, once on each cheek.
The phone rings before he has pulled out of the driveway.
It’s Anya’s teacher.
“Good evening,” she says. Her greeting doesn’t sound like one.
“I thought you should know something.” The teacher pauses, as if to sort through words. “Today, your daughter did something rather … unusual. She took her friend Jackie’s peanut butter jelly sandwich and ate it.”
“Whaat? My daughter stole food? But, why on earth? We pack her a special lunch every single day.”
Another pause throbs.
“Then, I should also tell you that I’ve seen your daughter throw her lunch into the trash.”
Tina hangs up, rests her head on the window pane.
In the distance, Hans’ car becomes smaller. And smaller.
By Shawn Cassidy
He should have sensed that something was off midway through the second slice. Known it by the end of the third. But Danny Kabrinovich was too consumed with what he was doing to convene the give-a-shit committee in his head. Every night, he ordered the extra-large special from Joe Seppi’s. A behemoth pizza topped with all the usual stuff and much more. Danny was especially fond of the tongue kiss of raspberry jam along with the salty slime of anchovies and snails. When he had a friend, sometimes they would come over and be offered, (very generously in Danny’s mind), a tiny portion cut from the tip of a slice. And just as sure as the fat on a Kardashian ass, they’d pucker up, thrust out their stinkin’ pink lapper and spit Joe’s manna from heaven onto their paper towel plate. The visit never lasted long after that. Danny was too pissed off and the guest, too appalled at the voracity with which their newfound acquaintance chomped and drooled on what they thought tasted like the business end of a diarrhetic hyena. So, mostly, Danny ate alone.
Tonight’s feast was different. Even the usual delivery schmuck—whose tip, “buy low, sell high”—didn’t show up. The special, instead, came in the hands of a Geritol guzzler of indeterminate breed. Yet, to Danny, only two things really stood out; the geezer said the pizza was on the house and damned, if he didn’t have the whitest and tiniest teeth he’d ever seen. Hundreds of them.
“ ’Bout time Joe gave me a freebie.”
“My employer felt you deserved a very special meal.” His teeth clacked the punctuation. “Your steady dedication to our service deserves something superb; surpassing special.” Danny thought he saw a crow-colored fork race across the teeth before they cracked shut again.
“Well, fuckin’ A!” Danny stole the over-sized box from the stranger and cocked his head back to deliver his gratuity. Two pale hands shot up and flash-fanned around Danny’s face. “No tip necessary.” Clack. He turned and vaporized down the stairs of the sixth-story walk-up.
Danny took the box in, opened it. It did look bigger–more to it. It smelled of the usual with something else. Something rich. And earthy, like a night crawler that just shit on your fingers after you impaled it on a hook.
“Fuck it. Time to eat.”
Working his way through slice number three, Danny should have noticed the 50-cent fish clock on the wall had stopped. By the crust of four, if he had a TV, he would have seen on the news that floods, earthquakes, and fires had erupted in faraway places. By five, those places ceased to be and the mountains, buildings, roads, and people that surrounded his state were too, no longer there. The tangible world grew infinitely smaller; a void of black in its place. Six and seven woke Danny’s reptilian mind with rips of screams and sirens; panic and fear arched through his chest. Tears ran and raged in the running sores erupting on his stretched to capacity cheeks. He couldn’t stop. He knew it was bad but he had to finish. The horror of what he was doing with every bite was apparent over the wriggling and writhing toppings of slice eight–the final slice.
And as he forced the last bite into his now toothless, formless maw, surrounded by a blackness older than the first bang, he understood that neither he, nor anyone, would ever again order a pizza, with everything.
NEW WORLD TOWER
By Fred D. White
For the past three days, backpacks in tow, Melody and her brother Mark had been exploring the ruins of Manhattan, photographing the destruction (hoping someday to create a visual memory of the great American catastrophe) and sleeping overnight in one of the many homeless shelters. Now they were heading back to their underground commune in Central Park. When they entered the narrow, rubble-strewn streets of Greenwich Village, Melody said, “We need to visit New World Tower.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Mark. “You’ve heard rumors, right?”
His sister made a face. “You mean those stories about their ruthless androids?”
“It’s nothing to sneer at.”
“Come on, we’re supposed to be intrepid chroniclers, remember?”
Mark relented. They passed the Washington Arch, or what was left of it, and headed up Fifth Avenue. It would be a long walk to 56th Street and the New World Tower, the tallest intact building on the island. They stopped at a Shelter near Union Square and ate lunch: watery bean soup and a stale bagel.
Half an hour later, they resumed their trek. Occasionally they stopped to photograph a ruin or defaced storefront, paying special attention to the graffiti—multicolored chalked or painted swirls of irony: “Look How Great We Are!” “Drape Old Glory Over Our Graves!”
Melody suddenly clasped Mark’s arm. “Did you feel that?”
He nodded. “Like something rumbling underground.”
“Like a subway train rumble. Remember subway trains?”
“Of course not,” Mark said. “The system was shut down when I was three.”
“Well, I was six and I remember them perfectly. Daddy even took me on one, a month before 6/12. It was spooky, being so far down.”
“Hey! Maybe it’s a ghost train down there!”
“Don’t be childish, Mark. They’re probably still using the trains for evacuation purposes.” Melody shuddered as she recalled how, after 6/12, the surviving trains were used to evacuate thousands out of Manhattan.
“I bet lots of people are coming back and setting up secret communes like ours,” Mark suggested.
“Along with militia gangs and rogue cyborgs.”
They passed the gaping cavity at 34th Street, where the Empire State Building once stood. Squatters had set up camp in the pit and ran razor wire along the perimeter. They quickened their pace.
Finally, the gleaming brass shaft of the NWT jutted up from the other derelict and shattered structures just ahead. The antenna atop the 58-story skyscraper was obscured by a yellowish cloud.
“I’m surprised that the New World Tower managed to survive 6/12 intact.”
“It must have something to do with their deflector shield,” Melody said.
Ten minutes later they arrived at the fabled building’s entrance. They passed through an automated screening station. At a second screening station inside, an android with a gold-plated face emerged from an enclosure and asked them to state their purpose.
“We’re sightseers,” Melody said.
The android ushered them into the foyer. “Enjoy the exhibit,” it said. Melody gasped at the mounds of shattered statuary, defaced photographs of civil rights leaders, widescreen video streams of scientists being dragged from their laboratories and herded into paddy wagons, and mounds of shredded newspapers. She took out her camera and began photographing the displays.
Two androids approached them. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” Mark whispered.
Melody slipped her camera into her backpack. “I want to see what’s upstairs.” She moved toward the elevators, but the two androids blocked her way, their luminescent green eyes scanning. “State your business,” said one of them.
“No business, just sight—”
“Access denied,” said the android, moving its hand to a sidearm.
“The entrance guards admitted us as sightseers,” said Mark.
“Sightseeing is restricted to the main level exhibits.”
They turned to leave; but one of the androids grabbed Melody’s arm. “Show me your camera.”
“No.” She tried to extricate herself.
The android grabbed her backpack, pulled out the camera, and crushed it with its foot.
“America will be great again,” it said. The androids clamped restraints on Mark’s and Melody’s hands and herded them to an escalator going down.