Thursday, March 25, 2010

As I walked along 14th Street the other day there was a man lying down in a doorway, legs sticking out. He was quietly, slowly convulsing. Back arching, hips thrusting upward. Two men were standing by. Vaguely official-looking men. Doormen, maybe, or security guards. There was no urgency in their movements or demeanors. They seemed to be waiting for something – for an ambulance to come, perhaps. Or cops. They stood guard over the prone body, occasionally glancing at it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Sunset

It was hard to tell at first. Some thought they could. Others shook their heads. No one wanted to believe it.

It's happening right now. Look. Look!

No. No way.

Look again!

Really? That's impossible!

Cars stopped all along the streets. People emerged from restaurants, laundromats and drugstores to crowd the sidewalks and parking lots. Soon everyone was squinting at the sun. It could not be denied. The sky was growing darker.

Awed silence gave way to wails and exclamations.

No. No! No!

Where's it going?

It's getting smaller!

What are we gonna do?

Soon a great crimson band stretched over the horizon. Once-bright clouds hung before it in ashen patches.

"It's going to come back!" someone asserted. "It has to come back!"

"It's coming back!" someone else cried hopefully.

"It's coming back!" others repeated. "It's coming back!"

Yet it did not. In fact it was becoming difficult to see. Familiar objects – trees, trashcans, mailboxes, entire buildings – were drawn into the shadows. It seemed as though the world itself were receding with the sun.

People scrambled chaotically. A man got into his car and drove the wrong way with his door still open. Others smashed into parked cars, fire hydrants, the sides of houses. A cacophony of horns and shouts beat against the encroaching gloom.

Those who made it home huddled in terror with their families, on a couch or under covers. The most intrepid among them tiptoed to the window from time to time. What they saw out there confirmed their deepest dread. It was black as ink.

Many others were lost. They wandered the roads, the fields, the woods. If they chanced upon each other they started with fright; some ran away and some attacked, screaming and clawing madly. Some collapsed into each other's arms and fell to the ground, sobbing inconsolably.

Still others gathered around bonfires and threw in everything they could. They broke into spontaneous chants and dances, guzzled looted booze and fornicated violently, indiscriminately. What else are you supposed to do when you're forsaken by the sun?

When it seemed that hope was forever lost, that damnation was complete, a remarkable thing occurred. The faintest, palest glow emanated from a corner of the sky. The people were benumbed by fear, exhausted by their desperate exertions. Could they trust their senses? Slowly, warily, they arose from where they lay, stepped out of their homes, turned bleary eyes away from the smoldering embers of their fires.

They looked around them. Everything they'd once known emerged anew; raw, frail, wet with dew.

Was it the same world as before?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 16

Dinner was silent, though not solemn. Forks and plates clinked. We passed the blue-flowered Pyrex casseroles, butter, salt and dinner rolls with practiced efficiency and muttered courtesies. It was all about eating. Nobody cared about anything else.

When it was over sis and I dutifully cleared the table and scraped our scraps into the sink. I was old enough to switch on the garbage disposal and it still gave me a thrill. The momentary choke. Then the sucking pulverization of our refuse as it vanished into the unseen underworld, perhaps to feed some ever-hungry beast.

We scooped Sealtest Heavenly Hash ice cream into bowls and drizzled fanciful patterns of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup on top. Mom and Dad hovered patiently, waiting to mix another round of drinks.

As dusk gave way to night we went down to the rec room to settle into our habitual spots, our unspoken assignments from time immemorial: sis and me on the beanbag chair, Mom and Dad on the couch. Left-right, left-right. Dad turned on the TV. After a few commercials the title came up on the screen, in orange letters and quotation marks over an aerial shot of a five-lane asphalt highway cooking in the California sun: