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.
I went to get that new enhanced driver’s license today – something which requires two proofs of address, passport, green card and social insurance card, to say nothing of the undisclosed number of unmarked bills, blood and Stem cell samples. This was my third attempt. A guy stood wavering at the entrance and then puked on the sidewalk. It didn’t seem like a big deal to him, more like he was spitting. The woman at the front door was very nice and upbeat and steered me to Counter 30. I thought that I might actually get my enhanced license, and the counterperson made me even more confident. She accepted my unopened utility bill and asked for my Social Insurance Card. I had forgotten that. I would return. That’s what I told myself as I sat down at my desk and realized I had forgot my glasses on the counter.