by W. F. Lantry
Everytime I drive down this road I think of Paul Goodman asking, “Driver, what stream is it?” But of course it’s only the Hudson, hardly flowing, and there’s nothing special about it. And the Parkway, named after the same guy, is barely moving either, what with all the traffic lights. I didn’t plan on them, and now I’m late, pointlessly, because I was taking a nap and thought I’d wake up in plenty of time. I burn a few lights, hoping there aren’t any cameras. Besides, the sun’s going down, and there’s a lot of glare off the water.
So I turn into what I think is the Village, only it’s not, it’s the Bowery, but I have no idea how anyone can tell the difference, it’s all foreign territory to me. There was a time when I was surprised by actual weather in Manhattan, snow or rain, how could such things exist in the built world? But they don’t right now, it’s a clear spring day, and I’m looking for a parking place.
I know you’ve heard every story, and let me tell you it’s all a myth. It’s not hard to drive in the City, you just need to change your mindset, you only need to get position on the other cars and you can go. And parking isn’t a problem either, I’ve always found a place. So I’m on East 4th Street, and cruising through the construction. All the trees are gone, it’s all barricades and yellow tape, but there’s a break in the line, just the size of my car. I back in on the first try.
I’d been told there’d be a big line and imagined velvet ropes or something, but it’s nothing like that, people are going along what’s left of the sidewalk in costume, heading for somewhere else, and the only ones going up my targeted steps look pretty normal. They’re made of marble and I bet they looked really cool sometime around 1917, but the Revolution was hard on them, and now the walls are painted red, anyway, so they clash. They’re cracked in a few places, boots maybe, or gunstocks used as canes? It’s hard to tell, they’ve been like this a long time, and they’ll go on being this way. Things don’t really change, no matter who’s in charge.
Except the scotch is good, better than it used to be, and way cheaper than the same stuff a few blocks away. Aged twelve years, and ending up in a red room filled with mice. Or maybe they’re voles, it’s pretty dark, my eyes haven’t adjusted yet. There are people I know here, and some who know me, and then there are others. One has a wild look in her eyes, the kind of look you’d avoid when you’re sober. The kind of glance you’re drawn to after scotch.
Not one, two, because they’re so cheap, and she’s pretty in the darkness. There are six chandeliers with tortoise shell shades, but most of the bulbs are burned out. Lenin’s on the wall, Trotsky in Mexico, the People’s Committee is meeting, discussing literature, but the photo’s frame is broken, and the glass is cracked, and no-one can see the expression on the face of the Chair. It doesn’t matter, there’s no time to investigate, someone at the podium is talking, there are introductions, but wild-eyes is still staring at me.
Flax hair, maybe blonde? Her eyes look violet in the light, but they’re likely blue. A white sweater to emphasize every curve. I notice the gold bangles because they match her earrings. Where have I seen them before? She’s the only one in the room who could afford those boots. And that skirt: silk or satin drawn tight. What’s Pashmina anyway? Cashmere with silk threads interlaced? She’d do better uptown, where the whiskey costs more and the glasses are clean. But maybe her prey doesn’t congregate there.
It does here: wall to wall, standing room. People are crowding out on the stairway, trying to hear. Chairs get pushed closer to tables by the time the second reader starts. I get shoved closer to her. I feel like a wildebeest, pressed by the herd till I’m right at the edge, facing a lion. I can see her thighs tighten, as if she’s ready to spring. Now I know why the wainscoting’s broken, why the cracks in the walls haven’t been repaired. What’s the point? If this kind of thing happens every Saturday night, you couldn’t even get a work order approved.
Dante says the lost souls long for their fate. I’ve seen birds freeze within the gaze of even a Persian, knowing what’s coming, unable to move. As if they longed to give themselves to those claws, as if they desired their blood to become a gift. I understand. Her smile leaves me a statue. She whispers something in my ear. But I can’t make out the words, the reader, who had mistaken the lamp for a microphone, has found her place, and now it’s her voice filling the room and my ears. Besides, there’s no escape. Would words really matter now?
The crowd starts milling around as the readers change. One of them can’t be found. Scouts are sent out to retrieve him. They drag him back in from somewhere outside, their long knives still in their sheathes. He looks around the room as if he’s seen this mood before, as if he’d been the one to feed their hunger on other nights, but now it’s his turn, and he’s afraid.
It’s the fear that draws her attention from me. She only turns away for a moment, just barely breaks the gaze, but it’s enough. Everyone is leaning towards the podium. The red flags are waving, hammers and sickles, CCCP. My limbs recover from stone. I can whirl around, like a small bird taking wing, towards the door and the stairs, down the marble into the night. It’s cold outside. It’s raining.
published 11 October 2014