It’s the old buildings you don’t look at, the underside of the bridge, the fat woman eating chips, the cemetery rows, the lonely of lonely eating you out. It’s not a big thing. It’s a nothing thing. It’s the shit of existence, stuff we don’t want and paint and smile about and drink. It’s where those existentialist fucks got their start. It’s just death, realizing that. But my spin goes deeper than that. It’s wonder in the nothingness, thinking, praying, believing it might be there, my eyes coming open, remembering I found something in my life, that surge and flight, that collection of drugs we call love. I have that. Knowing it’s not what it’s supposed to be, knowing it’s a lie that I hold. I am going to be dead. That is my mantra. At least I pretend it is. It should be. I would do things the way I want if it was. I treasure this moment. I wait for the next moment in fear, in delight. Everything is now. And if not, in a bit.
The animals started their plan with the giraffe enclosure; the bars were minimal and so not so easy to notice. It was done in an hour, mostly by the baboons. And sure enough, nobody noticed. The kids pointed as usual, the adults on their phones, management more concerned with developing a new logo for the zoo. And so the animals removed the barrier to the Galapagos Tortoise habitat. And nobody noticed. The animals removed the netting from the African Pavilion, the moat from the Arctic and the fence from the Americas. They were all free to go wherever they liked, but they stayed and were fed, like nothing had changed, and then they were gone – on the winter solstice, the longest of nights – and were never seen or heard of again.
The Davis Trilogy follows the eponymous character from high school through college and on to work. Which do you prefer as a tagline?
Desperate to be someone, he learns he can’t be anyone else.
He’s not as bad as everybody thinks.
The beautiful drift, muttering those words to myself, thinking I knew something real, a fundamental truth or at least a way inside to where I had never been let in, the godsend or baby with shining stars, something beyond me, beyond the game that I insisted on playing to prove I was right. That was what was going through my head as I accosted the family cat.
I hadn’t seen him for too long. It was like he was gone. And then he was there. I was in the land of the dead, something like that. He was quiet. There was a show he was in, on stage. He was tired of that. We talked like he had never left. I asked if he would speak at my father’s funeral. It wasn’t dark out, not yet. We talked about the things we hadn’t done. It was difficult to understand what he said. I couldn’t figure out if he was tired or just forgotten. I had texted and emailed for years. That wasn’t it. It was more of an exhaustion. He spoke well. He understood what it was to lose someone. I was sorry to see him go.
We walked around the carpet, following the story of Samra. The Duck Machine was in the back corner, an odd contraption with a lever that looked like a duck-bill and a bird floating inside the plastic tub.
“You quack into it,” the guide explained.
I did, and the duck burst to life, flapping its wings, wiggling its way out through the duck-bill opening, almost attacking me, flying at the peanut machine. The machine took pennies, which I fed it, and peanuts shot out, except that the duck was no longer a duck but an otter or a marten, something like that, and dove out of sight, now more of a snake. I still had two pennies left.
“That is the story of Samra,” the guide explained. “First one thing and then another.”
“I have no fortune for you today.” Liyuan gave Dee a cigarette.
She reached out with indifference.
“How is Icarus?”
She smoked passively, staring out.
“Always seeing the same faces, doing the same things, going nowhere.”
“That’s not entirely true, Dee. We really are going somewhere.”
“Jesus, Liyuan, what’s wrong with you? Did you actually like high school?”
“Very much. I loved to learn. It was a very exciting place.”
“I had a chance to do something another time a week or so after that, on the subway again,” Liyuan offered. “A young boy, maybe 10 years old, was performing a dance for a crowded train, with his father watching beside him.”
The boy approached Icarus again, head twisted to the side, humming a tune to himself.
“It was late at night, maybe midnight, and so I said something this time. ‘There’s a reason for child labor laws, you know.’ He glared back as the train pulled into Union Square. The doors opened, and he kicks me, hard, just like that. I was so surprised by that. ‘Mind your own damn business.’ And he storms off the train, pushing his kid ahead of him. It took me days to realize that I had been assaulted.”
“I liked living in New York,” Dee offered. “The people are real.”
“Even if they’re racists?” Faith demanded.