The platform was crowded, people on their way home for work, a woman with her two girls, one holding a half-eaten apple, a man slouched forward over his phone, three young women talking excitedly to each other, a man walking through, all of them waiting with her, on the platform across the tracks, the local and express, some glancing up into the tunnel, others barely aware they were there, the electronic board stuck at three minutes and then flashing orange. Ashe closed her eyes. The sound was distant, moving away, echoing out of the tunnel, and then it was above, heavy over the joists, coming through the cement block ceiling and walls. The train was here. It was odd, standing there, as if in a dream, going nowhere, dark and crowded, not scared, not anything, just there. They pushed past one another, some patient, and filled the train. She pressed back against the door to the next car, the cool of metal against her hip, and the train doors closed. It was slow at first, starting, only to lose momentum, starting again, slowing, and then began to gain speed, moving alongside the local train, pulling even, looking back at the people looking at them, and them moving ahead fast, swaying back and forth, clacking over the switches and breaks, flashing past the cement pillars, yellow lights and local stations, until it was almost too fast, and then braking, the woman’s mechanized voice announcing Grand Central, clicking into the station, slowing hard, stopping and the door’s opening for the swell to go out and in. She stayed as she was and watched, the little man dash of the one empty seat, the older woman pause and stand over him, the young women, still there, rotating around their pole, still talking, the young man moving his head side to side with his music, the hand reach in to stop the doors, waiting him and then another, before moving again, deep into the tunnel.
It’s not like I don’t believe in something. I treasure the moment of my eyes coming open, seeing that I am still here, that collection of drugs of knowing something. And then realizing that, that it’s not what it’s supposed to be, knowing it’s a lie. I’m going to be dead, just that. A mantra of sorts. I wait for the next thing in fear, tense and in delight. Everything is now. And if not, in a bit. It will come again. And I will have it then. That’s what I tell myself again and again.
Davis stood in the back corner of the convenience store, nervously eyeing the owner. She was old, an Asian woman, who probably didn’t care. Or maybe she did. Maybe she would lecture him and call his step-mother.
Heart pounding, he snapped the Penthouse from the rack and approached. The woman took the magazine, slid it into a paper bag and waited to be paid. He walked outside, pausing at the corner of the parking lot to slide the magazine into his pant leg.
“Hey.” His step-brother, Flynn, appeared behind him. “Can I see that after you’re done?”
Davis redid his shoelace. “Huh?”
Davis couldn’t understand how he had appeared, where he had come from. “Yeah, okay.”
It was a good issue, four pictorials, lipstick lesbians, the centerfold Pet leaning back with a cigarette in her hand. He took the magazine to Flynn and went back to his room, laying uneasily on his bed. He never spoke with Flynn. They had nothing to say to each other. And now this. Was this some kind of turning point? Would they talk about the naked women? Which was best? What they liked? What they did as they looked at them? What were they supposed to say? There was a knock. Davis sat up abruptly, crossing the room and opening the door to find the magazine, face down on the beige carpet, Flynn’s door closing down the hall.
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.”