<--Uptime | Park Ethereal | Downtime-->
Park Ethereal - Chapter 6
There was a period of consistency in my life. It was a clinical consistency, natch, but a period there where I grew to recognize where I was waking up, even remembered to answer to Dennis when addressed. The days were long. I spent much time simply studying the faded black felt of my talisman, trying to discern as much as possible. It was difficult not to damage it further; as well as the fabric had aged, it still cracked at the slightest flex. I tried soaking a part of it constantly, and although it did seem to improve somewhat, it never reached the point where I was confident that it wouldn't so easily degrade.
A moment of possible epiphany passed uneventfully when I was introduced to the smiling Mrs. Kelly. There had somewhere in the back of my mind been an idea that she would look like Ellyn, perhaps a lot, even though she hadn't really in her pictures. Alas, or perhaps, thankfully, she looked like nothing but her cheerful and sympathetic red-haired self. I remember thinking apropos of nothing really one evening that the Kellys should really be on some Irish tourism poster somewhere, if it weren't for the fact that they were both New Yorkers. They visited me at least twice a week, always together, and were generally the best hospital visitors I can imagine existing. Example: They would arrive, usually with smuggled food. After a brief initial conversation, they would each produce something to do- a book, or crossword, or in Kelly's case, paperwork, and would simply remain, quietly. My space was my own, even while they were there, but were I to look up from whatever diversion they'd brought me and speak, I would instantly have both the attention. If I slowed, or felt poorly, they would ensure that I was comfortable and return to their own devices.
It probably saved my sanity. I can't remember anything before the park, really, but I'm sure I hated hospitals. The general bad feelings for the places I had then were so strong as to be easily able to bridge spacetime, surely.
And eventually, I was released: committing forgery and fraud left and right, Kelly waded me through the raft of paperwork and I found myself standing on Park Avenue in the mid Seventies with him, contemplating an invitation to stay with him and Lori. I thought about it for perhaps two seconds, after which I refused as gratefully as possible before I could change my mind. He seemed to understand, which was a relief; I sure didn't. He offered to walk me back to wherever I was staying; in fact insisted, saying he wanted to know where to find me in case anything happened.
It was a weird feeling to know someone might actually look me up. I choked on my mumbled 'Sure.'
And so we walked. The long way, really; down to Grand Central and back up the tunnels. Kelly, the cop, showed no reaction at all to leaving the lights and the platforms and the people in plain view for the dark, sunken shadows. We shared the walk companionably, with no talk, and the door waited for us, closed as usual. I held my breath as I opened it, but the knapsack was still there, covered with a fairly thick layer of dust. I invited him in, formally, and he solemnly accepted, wandering about the edges of the space while I checked my belongings.
Everything there, we both slowed to a halt and looked at each other for a while. Suddenly, with a trademark manic grin, he pulled a flat package from his jacket and offered it to me. I fingered my(his) jacket and asked him what it was.
"'Tis but a wee something for the home."
"'A wee something?' C'mon, Kelly, don't embarrass me."
"Are ye daft? If I ever get to hear the whole story, Gawd, sure an' that'll be more than enough. An' if I don't keep ye healthy, I might never learn me part."
I took the package. It was heavy. Shredding it, I found a flat box which must have once contained a laundered set of shirts but which now contained, nestled amongst the tissue paper, two Maglites and a spray can which closer examination revealed to be Mace. There was a large (four D-cell) and a small (two AA cell) Maglite, and a fob for the miniature Mace can, plus two sets of batteries for each light. Oof. My arms ached just looking into the box. I looked accusingly at Kelly. He shrugged, suddenly quite serious, and held out his hand. I took it; we shook quietly, and he turned to take his leave. Before he could reach the door I spoke. "Hey, you silly bastard, you're welcome here anytime."
He turned, pearly teeth gleaming in the grin. "Well, o-kay, me boyo, but perhaps next time I'll bring some beers for the fridge, eh? 'Tis a mite dry in here." And with that, he was gone. I heard an improbably cheery air fading down the tunnel in an Irish whistle, and I had to sit down a cry for a bit.
It succeeded in making me incredibly sniffly and not a little annoyed at myself, but I felt better.
For lack of anything else to do, I loaded both Maglites with batteries. Never having disassembled one, at least in this persona, I did so and was pleased to find that they both contained a spare halogen lamp wrapped in foam beneath the springs that sat on the battery caps. The small light was enough to see quite clearly by, and the large one, identical to the one I'd borrowed from Kelly, lit my room entirely simply from reflection off the ceiling. I took the Mace, and after some experimentation, found that it would clip to my clothes. It hung there, a small aluminum and toxin weight that I (to my discomfort and unease) soon managed to not notice at all.
Taking inventory again, I realized that I was stalling, at which point I stopped deliberately and carefully put everything I was fidgeting with away. The room looked the same. Checking my pocket, I placed the cracked beret inside my knapsack and zipped it closed. The rationale was simple; the only way to see Ellyn was to see the new beret. I had reached a level that could be called belief which stated that both berets couldn't exist for me simultaneously; this was a level of impossible arbitrarily seated above the one that I appeared to be inhabiting.
With that settled, I went out, extinguishing the light and carrying the large Maglite. The small one I secreted near the entrance to the bolt-hole underneath a rail and between two ties. The backpack was a tempting enough target; while the beret might serve as some protection I didn't want to lose my reserve light.
Stepping back, I found it quite impossible to make out the flashlight in its belt pouch, now mostly covered with gravel. Even with the large light on,it was locatable only by touch. Satisfied, I set off uptown, back towards the hospital I had so recently left but this time beneath the city.
Not much happened for many blocks. I avoided several trains, mostly commuters leaving the City for points north with the occasional straggler returning through the tunnels bound for Grand Central.
There was a sign on the wall, painted long ago in industrial off-white that had faded and been coated with tunnel grime. Someone recently had gone over it again with a can of fluorescent pink marking paint, like is used to denote dig lines for Con Edison and Nynex on the streets of New York. It read '64th' in letters as tall as my torso. I looked around with the light, carefully; it didn't look exactly the same, but close enough. With little trouble I managed to locate the crack in the wall.
Metal and hydrogen and oxygen, all converged in the browned crusts that clung to the edges of the plate around the hole. I looked through into darkness. Shining the flashlight through and up, I found at the top the expected round shape of a manhole cover.
There was a sudden double clanging slam, and I recoiled reflexively, withdrawing my head and shoulders from the manhole before realizing that it was just some vehicle passing over the manhole at the top of my world.
I stepped through the gap.
It was somewhat cleaner in the manhole. The only clue to the reason for this was the high-water mark and the drainpipe leading away from a grille down out of sight to the center of the world, as far as I knew (although probably only a few feet.) The walls were covered with an almost perfectly regular patina of rust and dirt, so pervasive that I was unable for the moment able to determine whether the manhole structure was iron or stone or concrete. It's shape looked fabricated; rounded and tapering slightly towards the top. I decided on iron out of strict fairness.
The walls were stark ochre sameness, gently curved planes of rust and grime. I lifted my finger in one and wrote the word ELLYN in bold caps across my field of view. Finishing the last letter, I flinched as the train slammed by behind me, filling the crack in the wall with the flickering violence of passing steel. A bare second later, I heard the screams, and then the thumps, driving the blood from my face as I wheeled to hurl myself through the opening. I caught myself by the shoulder in the gap, wrestled myself through, closing my eyes with the pain and falling forward, unmindful of the train blurred past. Gaining my balance before I nosedived between the trucks, I opened them again to the sounds of the train fading, abnormally quickly, in the direction of Grand Central.
There were no bodies in the tracks, of course, but there was a flickering near the side of the track as a shape wavered, leaving behind only the small fractals of track bed stones and grime. Perhaps six feet of trackside returned to normal focus almost guiltily, and I stood with my hand outstretched and eyes narrowed.
Squeezing through into the manhole again I stared at the blank and empty wall, then put my clean finger into my mouth before writing SAXOPHONE across the surface and watching it intently. Nothing happened as I waited, and I heard the creaking moan of another commuter, at a saner pace it seemed, heading for the liberation of tunnel's end. This time the noise went on for perhaps three or four minutes, and as it ended, I turned to the tunnels in time to hear a thud and see the vinyl case bouncing on the track in the wake of the train.
Giggling without noticing, I moved into the tunnels and picked up the plastic handle, watching as the case came with it. The side of the case had the words 'Springer' in very faintly raised type embossed onto it, and the unseen but soft red velvet within cradled the metal form to itself in a lover's touch.
The wall was clean.
I stepped past it into the rougher tunnel of the path downtown, walked as it rose above track level, turned to cross the tunnels-
-laid the saxophone down in the tunnels and twisted off the Maglite to wait for another to come the other way.
Nothing happened. I decided I was stretching probability just a bit, so I backed away to the manhole and stared at the wall again. It defied me, offering an answer in response to a verbal Creation. Gifted, I knew not what to ask for, and the rust particles stared silently, waiting to be disturbed. I raised a finger, hesitated, and slid back into the tunnels for the walk downtown.
The bolthole was empty save for the knapsack, and I made myself comfortable on the floor before quickly falling into a dreamless but agitated sleep.
* * *
I walked down the uplevel passage to Grand Central. Feeling the lock of the door to the maintenance closet against my hand. Running my hand over the boots I wore in silent gratitude and pressing the door inward to slip unnoticed in the stream of commuting humanity into the warm womb of the station, to head for Zaro's and spend some meager cents I had found in my knapsack on a cup of coffee. The caffeine stormed my brain; I could feel it methodically sledgehammering away at the crust that seemed to have taken root on the inside of my skull. Thought rushed back in, making me realize how seldom it had been present the past day. I choked a bit on the coffee, and three or four commuters with expensive coats gave me hostile glares. I smiled back at them, and all of them looked away, discomfited.
That was fine with me.
What was truly striking, as I looked at the commuters, was how entirely divorced from any socially normal concept of time I seemed to have become. Essentially, the only referent I could give for the present was 'winter,' which would probably be woefully inadequate in New York City. The sort of answer, in fact, which would get you hauled off to Bellevue by the first police officer who happened by to poke you with a stick and ask you what day it was.
From the amount of coffee being consumed I presumed it was morning. I suppose I could have simply gone outside to look, or found a clock, but the blind spot behind which the clock above the info booth had slid was slightly ominous. Reluctant to test it, I sipped at my coffee. The fraying of the script was palpable, here. Realms of uncertainty were evident; I felt the pen poised hesitantly above the paper, scurrying to catch up whenever I made a choice. The script was no less forceful than before; but I felt that momentarily I had outrun the pen. Sure that sooner or later my subservience to its lyric would return, I detected within myself a need to do something meaningful to prove my actual independence from the script, but for the life of me all my brain would come up with was to sit there and drink my coffee, waiting as the bakery slowly emptied of customers on their way to work.
Finishing the coffee, I sipped longingly at the last dregs before carefully sliding the cup into the waiting trash receptacle. There wasn't time to wonder where it was destined for before swinging back out into the stream and turning left into the Main Lobby.
Metro North New Haven Line and Metro North Stamford Local, all waiting to leave. The incongruity struck me; even if there were commuters who commuted from Grand Central to Stamford to go to work, this train would probably get the there far past the beginning of the workday. I tried to make out the clock, but my gaze slid past it to come to rest on the blank blind spot of a maintenance door on the other side of the lobby from the Tunnels.
Intriguing. I hadn't much better to do. The door was set actually just outside the Main Lobby itself towards the entrance to the Lexington Lines subway. It wasn't a crash door, it was a lockable steel door painted bland tan and coated with a light dusting of New York City ol' home grime. What made it special was the oh so thin crack of blackness at one edge, and the visible angle to its hinge it had. Sitting open as it was, I couldn't help but feel drawn to it, tunnel dweller that I had become. I pushed off form the smooth expanse of marble where I had been leaning and shuffled off towards it, my eyes fixed on my goal.
Halfway there, I was bumped. Hard. I fell backwards and sat on the floor, rubbing my nose from the pain and shock and attempting vainly to overcome autonomic nervous impulses long enough to manually focus my eyes. It worked, after a fashion, and I looked up into the bored/annoyed/tough/scared face of a New York City Transit cop, and the nightstick he was pulling from its loop. I smiled wanly, and held out bothhands in apology. The nightstick cleared the loop, I could see with detached fascination, and hovered, unsure of what to do. I remained sitting, my arms out, not moving. Finally, the lack of obvious threat performed its minor influence and the cop held out a hand.
I took it and levered myself upright. He looked at me piercingly. "You all right?"
"Yes, thanks, officer, I just wasn't watching where I was going." Pitched in the clearest, most precise English I could manage. I saw him look me up and down, and begin to decide what to do next. I attempted to stop the process: "Sorry to be in such a hurry, but I was heading for the Six train."
"You gotta be somewhere?"
"Yes. I...I have to meet a friend uptown in fifteen minutes. Eighty- Sixth Street."
His face told me he didn't believe it for a moment, but he had no real choice, and withdrew his hand from me and his weapon. "Okay. Sorry about the bump. Better run catch your train."
"Thanks again. Yeah, I'll do that." I walked off quickly but not hastily, making my deliberate way for the subway entrance. Feeling his gaze on me, I continued past the door (which now, it appeared, was locked, damn it) on to the small stairway up to the escalator down and thence to the platform of the number six East Side IRT train.
I didn't go through the turnstile. I didn't have a token. But I turned towards the token booth, to the left of the stairs, in case he was watching me from the top. After a few moments standing beside a token machine, I ventured the courage to look out. He wasn't there.
Feeling better, I dared a look up the staircase. Nothing. I decided it would be better not to be seen in the main lobby for an hour or so. Which was a damn shame, because I suddenly realized that I had a burning question I needed to ask my friend with the sax- but then, he hadn't been there when I'd come through, so there was no reason he'd be there this quickly. Perhaps that hour would do me good. The door was locked, too. I wondered at this strange turn my life had taken, where doors that I saw instantly becameimportant to me. Well. All else was the same as it had been before I bumped the cop. I checked myself and realized what had had him so upset- the Maglite, tucked securely in my waist, must have hit him and felt like the weapon it might be if needed. I drew it out and tested it, needing reassurance, and the white glare poured forth. I clicked the rubber covered button, and it vanished again.
Leaning against the wall, I tried to come up with some sort of plan for my next action. Reflecting back, I cheerfully admitted that planning really hadn't gotten me all that far. Really, getting hit on the head seems to have been more helpful. But that's neither here nor there, of course- even if there were someone lurking about waiting to drop one on my crown, I didn't feel like permitting it at the moment. My head was feeling tender after the shocks it had been dealt, and I was still weak from my visit to the tender ministrations of the hospital.
All this was well and good, but not helpful. At that point, light clicked on in my head, as opposed to the flashlight, and one of the major impossibilities of recent weeks jumped out at me. (Boy, I must be ill; if an impossibility is bothering me, that is.) The Wall of Destiny on Sixty-Fourth street. I christened it thus, while leaning against a wall many blocks downtown of its brownish span. I could feel it waiting for me, feel the soft rust coating on its surface, and feel the laughter which it trilled through my fingertips as it called Ellyn forth into the tracks for me. Not into the air, no; not into the world, but only to the second before her death. I couldn't decide if the Wall's inability to bring her back to full and continuing life was a lack of power or a clue and signature of my puzzle. Still, I wanted to find out. It looked like I would have to brave the lobby; two transit cops on the other side of the turnstile border were already eyeing me carefully, and I hadn't even made a move for the trains yet. I slowly turned back to the stairs and began to shuffle up them one at a time, moving both feet next to each other before continuing on. I risked a look back after fourteen steps; they had lost interest as I drew further from their demesnes. I continued my upward shuffle, trying to lose time.
By the time I reached the top, I was a bit tired, not so much from the climbing but the delay. Still, I made it over the final step with a sigh of relief,and turned towards the lobby. No cop. Somehow, the shuffle continued to rule my motions, and it was easiest to simply allow it as I passed the snack bar and the deli, watching the space unfold about me as the ceiling came into view. A patch of it was lighter color, I noticed; cleaning, or some other deliberate action, because it was a rigid square. I saluted the ceiling mentally, wishing the station well. Continuing on, I spared the (still locked) door a glance, before making my way towards the platforms. The platforms were much the same. So were the tracks. They bore me uncomplainingly to 64th street, where I slipped through the familiar jagged portal and examined the wall.
It was clean.
Not a speck of rust on it; it gleamed with the dull glow of metal new to the light of day, or at least of the world around it. I drew a finger over the surface experimentally, and left nothing but a briefly tenured smudge of condensate on the chill surface which quickly vanished. The Wall had gone; long live the wall.
Somehow, I felt I should be disappointed, but I couldn't manage to become so. It felt right. The manhole (I spun once to make sure) was clean everywhere, as far up as the top, where the cap still awaited. I could feel it passing silently out of the story, and I hurriedly dove for the tunnels before it dragged me with it.
The trek back down to the Lobby was getting shorter all the time. I dodged local and express trains with unconscious ease, intent on not thinking until I reached the end of the journey. It came in time, the lights ahead, wan fluorescent blue photons (weren't blue more energetic? Some part of me resisted the adjective) leaping convulsively and suicidally into the night of the tunnels. The few incandescent fixtures in the tunnels near the station seemed to not throw any light at all, simply to expend their energy in throwing the blackness off themselves. The sodium lights further up the tunnel hid around corners, not wishing to spend effort on peopled platforms- I imagined them waiting for the trains, conversing silently and quickly as they rushed by. Did an entire train converse? Or just the locomotive? Or each car? If the latter two, I pictured long strings of bright quick chatter as each passed the lights, a staccato whispering of information passed betweenthe train and the tunnel before the train burst out into the night with no one left to talk to, the conversations sustaining it and raising its spirits to blast forth its shout into the air outside, to hear it reflected off unresponsive buildings and bridges and embankments as the train made its way to other tunnels far away.
The music waited for me; it curled around the entrance to the tracks in visible curves and danced laughing around my tired head, lifting my face upward gently with its fingers. I smiled, feeling my step quicken slightly, and dropped my tired shuffle in a heap at the end of the platform before walking the last few hundred feet to the doors. Heading across the lobby, I joined the customary crowd about the Chemical Bank as he threw the music out into space. I stood, this time, listening, realizing as I did so that the music wasn't the same from out here. Having sat next to him as he played against the wall, the acoustics were different- the music changed on its way between the musician and the audience, shaped by the space and the bodies, and indeed by some other factor I could not name, becoming beautiful for what it could do rather than for simply being. I didn't move beyond the crowd; it wasn't my music, this time, and I merely waited for the set to end.
It did, in time, the sax moving quietly to its soft bed and the musician, drained but restored, to sit in his usual place at the foot of the wall. I dug frantically through my pockets, coming up with a dollar and sixty-four cents. Enough. Running across to Zaros, I purchased two coffees, and danced my way back through the throngs without being tagged 'it,' the coffee intact. He looked up at my approach, and a smile lit his face, age and emotion and leathered skin in startling clarity and beauty as it did. I smiled back, hesitantly (I have no idea why); handed him his coffee, sat beside him.
He gestured to the sax case, the sax resting in its bed. I hooked it with a foot and slid it across the floor to me, the rasping noise echoing off the vaulted ceiling. I lifted the sax, and saw that its bed was lined with bills- ones, occasional fives, and two or three tens peeked out at me. I replaced it carefully, closed the case, locked it, and slid it over to him. He looked up at me as I did so. "You can take some, son, if'n you in need. This old man ain'tgonna eat more than half o' dat before tomorrow, and I gots another set in me yet."
I shook my head, moved but conflicted. "Nope. Yours, not mine."
His brows drew down. "Didn't say it wasn't mine. I said 'if you need,' boy."
I held both hands out placatingly. "I don't. Not yet."
"Bullshit." He snorted into his coffee, sipping once. "I saw you grubbin' in yo' pants for the money fer dis java."
"Doesn't mean I need money. Just means I ain't got much."
He turned to look at me, and his smile again crinkled leather in his features. "That's true, boy. Well, jes' remember."
I nodded. Then remembered why I'd come. "Listen, I need to ask you a question. It's about Ellyn...the Angel."
"And what's that?"
"You said when you saw her, it meant you'd find the sax. Right? And you found the sax at a bus stop on Sixty-Ninth, where I left it when I chased her."
"Yup." The emotional support that I drew from that simple answer, accepting as it did the whole craziness of what I was saying without a hint of disbelief, shook me in its power. I plunged on nonetheless.
"Okay. When and where did you see Ellyn, before finding the sax?"
My old companion tilted his head back against the cool hard wall and thought. Hard. I could see him concentrating. Finally his head dropped forward once more. "Dat same day. I was asleep on de sidewalk 'bout maybe three blocks uptown...yep, Seventy-second fer sure, it was a big cross street. Anyway, I remember; she stopped and gave me some change, and then headed on downtown, but she turn and she smile at me, like I was s'posed to follow her. So I did; but I lost her in de crowd, and when I got to de bus stop at Sixty-Ninth I stopped to catch my breath, and there it was, nobody standin' near it or nothin'. Jes' waiting for me. I couldn't see her by then nohow, so Iwalked it downtown to mebbe Fity-seventh street, and went down a stairway into the tunnels with it. That what you wanted to know?" He, too, was curious, as Kelly had been. I noticed, abstractly, that his accent fluttered too.
"That's it. Where on Seventy-second were you? Near Lex, or Park?"
"Park, boy, near Park. More money on Park." He cackled momentarily.
"Seventy-Second and Park." I clung to the datum, clutched it to my chest in a figurative clenching of my fingers and felt the informations squeeze and give slightly under the metaphorical pressure of my hands. It wriggled, trying to flee, but I held it to me fast, held it to me and listened to it struggle to join my name and past behind the white. No, I willed it silently, you can't.
Fear hit suddenly; since the mugging I couldn't remember forgetting anything that I had experienced or learned afterwards. The illogic forced a grin- of course I couldn't remember what I couldn't remember. More to the point, I couldn't remember struggling to remember anything, which meant I hadn't had to or I'd forgotten faster than that. In either case, something special about this particular bit of information made it slippery; made it want to run and hide, but I would not let go.
I stood. "Thanks. I gotta run."
He didn't look surprised. "Yep. Sure do. Warm nights, boy."
The salutation was new to me, but made perfect sense, for which I was glad; something sure should. I jumped to my feet (no small feat) and briskly made my way out the platforms into the tunnels. I found that traveling Manhattan was easier in their warm embrace, and the jog uptown was merely monotonous. Sixty-fourth brought the crack in the walls into viw, and I slipped from the tunnels into the manhole and had actually started climbing the ladder before I realized what a bad idea it would be to just pop a New York avenue manhole from beneath. Pausing to catch my breath and my thoughts, I rested for a moment with my head against the ladder and my palm against the wall behind. My other hand hurt where the ladder rung dug into it.
The trip uptown had brought sweat to my forehead. I rubbed it away from my eyes; it was dripping, now that I had stopped moving. The action felt gritty; I brought my hands down in front of me, and even in the dim lightfrom the tunnels I could see the smear of darkened rust across my palm and the flats of my fingers from the wall. It took a moment to penetrate, after which I jumped from the ladder, dropping to all fours to absorb the jolt, and leaned in close to the wall.
It was, of course, rusty. Iron met air met water, and the chemical dance followed; I could see the ballet just beyond my nose. The ball generated drunken revelers; brown and red particles that spun from the particle dance floor having swung down the rungs of their energy states as I had swung from the ladder. I pictured iron oxide molecules flexing as they hit the bottom; perhaps bringing more atoms to bear to absorb the shock.
Stepping back, one hand to my mouth (damn the germs) I reached forth with my other (the rusty one) and touched my forefinger to the wall. It didn't help, though; I still had no clear picture of what to ask and the one thing that sprang to mind seemed far too dangerous and deus ex to even consider, so I didn't. I sat there for perhaps three minutes, with one hand to my lips and the other comically pointing at an unimportant spot on the wall. No flash of genius intruded, so I sat there another few minutes, convinced enough of the importance of the event to wait patiently for inspiration. It didn't disappoint me, really.
My finger moved, of its own volition as far as I could tell. I could feel it riffling through my memory looking for my conversation with my saxophone friend. What had he said? Twelve years. I subtracted the number, crossed my mental fingers, wrote the year. Underlined it for good measure. Looked up at the manhole. Girded my loins and ascended the ladder; listened momentarily and pushed the steel circle up.
Nothing happened to me. Taking that as a sign, I levered myself up out of the manhole onto Park Avenue (it was night) and quickly moved the cover back into place before scuttling for the sidewalk. Passing between two parked cars, I made it past the decorative tree planter, one of a huge number placed forlornly on the avenue, and looked about me.
The cars, a dead giveaway. God only knows what year, but something earlier than it had been underground. I moved uptown, steadily, noticing that it was warmer here than it had been. Thank God. I shivered in memory. Seventy-second wasn't that far, a mere jaunt; my gaze kept straying back to the fins on the cars, and the clothes on the passers-by who were suddenly there, walking out from behind the curtain onto the set with newspapers clutched in their hands, briefcases, scarves, all the like that city dwellers bear with them on their daily toils. Dodging all gazes, I swerved uptown, to turn the corner, and caught myself on the edge of the corner building as I did so. Using just my head, I peeked around the wall. Scanned both sides of the street, looking towards Lexington-yes. There. He sat against a wall, much like I seemed to spend time doing, a genial smile on his features, which were already creased. I could see the years hiding in them, and I wondered how quickly they would come out. It was my friend; no doubt there. I eased around the corner, with my eye on him. He was on the uptown side of the street, across from me, and about fifty feet in from the corner. I positioned myself near the corner on my side, looking up Park avenue from my vantage point.
Nothing happened for a good long while. I remember it only as a long period of time; perhaps several hours. My life was teaching me patience with a rod of iron and hours; hours spent doing not much of anything at all worked their changes, and I found time becoming less of a barrier than it had been.
Yawning, I stretched and checked on my companion. He was apparently asleep; a cap was pulled down o ver his eyes and his hands were clasped across his stomach. He looked quite comfortable, actually. I watched him for a moment, wanting to smile, and wondering what would happen if I were to run over an explain to him what would happen- about the saxophone, and Ellyn, and about me. Would he remember it that way, the next time I spoke with him in our world of the Main Lobby? I couldn't tell. Time itself was dancing slowly in front of me, a fragile featherweight puzzle, and for reasons that I could only describe as aesthetic I was loath to do anything to disturb the fine gauzy strands that made up its shape.
By sheer chance (at least, I supposed it was chance. These days, I can never be sure) I was looking up the street when she appeared. She came out of a building perhaps half a block up from me; I watched her smile at the doorman, who touched his cap and allowed the door to swing home after she had gone. Suddenly alert, I felt the adrenaline coursing through me, my heart pounding in protest of the violation of natural law, but it was far too late for that sort of misgiving. I sat up straighter, and watched as Ellyn turned the corner onto Seventy-Second and paused before my companion, who pushed his cap back from his eyes when he realized she'd stopped. I could see her pause for a moment, before reaching out a hand to him, then turn to quickly make her way down towards Lexington, and fifty feet later, turn back momentarily. I could feel my own legs tense involuntarily, wanting to follow, and my companion arose from his seated pose, lanky and tall (!) and set off down the block after her in a pace that I recognized as hurried-but- deliberately-not-threatening. Yeah, he said he'd chased her, once. Smiling, I watched them pass out of sight into the crowds. By this time, I should be somewhere near Lexington avenue myself, saxophone in hand, waiting to see her go by. In a moment of curiousity, I wondered if the passers-by would disappear here as well when they vanished to allow me to enter this world down on Lexington avenue.
I moved up Park, then, towards the building she had come out of. There was a number on the awning; Seven-seventy-five. There was, of course, the doorman to contend with. I faltered to a halt, my hands brushing unconsciously at my clothing; there was no way I could pass myself off as anyone who should be allowed to peruse the directory. Of course, I realized, I knew her name. Perhaps that would get me far enough to check. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; I set off again with a firm stride (or so I hoped) and found myself in front of the door in mere seconds. The doorman, seeing my approach, opened the door. He appeared to be quite nonplussed by my apparel and gave me a patently suspicious scowl as he asked, "Yes?"
"Good morning, sir. I'm looking for a Ms. Ellyn Santano?"
That rated me a lowering of the scowl to a mere frown. "And your name is?"
"Oh..."(damn.)"...sorry. Michael. Michael Stone." It flowed from the air easily enough.
"Is she expecting you?" "Not...really, no. I was given her name by my parents, they said to look her up...I'm from out of town. Wisconsin." I shut up before I babbled myself past believability.
"Oh, I see. " The frown was lessening. "Well, son, she's gone out just recently. May I give her a message for you?"
"Gone out? Oh. Oh, okay; you could just tell her that Michael Stone stopped by. She has the number."
"I thought you said she wasn't expecting you."
"Um...well, not here, but she has my parents' number, and they can tell her how to get in touch with me. She doesn't have my number."
"Very well. One moment." He moved behind a small concierge's desk, and wrote briefly. I watched as he folded the slip of paper and moved it towards the wall of pigeonhole mail slots behind him. Pausing before I could tell which apartment he was reaching for, he turned to me. "Was there anything else?"
Damn. "No, thanks very much." I turned to go, opened the door, and looked back quickly. He was pushing the slip into a slot that read '9H'. I turned away before he could see, and made my exit. Somehow, clearly, that was all I was meant to take away with me. For lack of a better plan, I began walking down Park Avenue, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine for a change.
There really wasn't much doubt, of course. The timing was just too close, and the chances just too damn great; but it actually didn't occur to me until around Sixty-fifth street, when the pedestrians wandered off behind the ethereal scrim and there was a sudden hush in the air that caught at my throat. Time slid away again down a slope of confused and battered psyches, bouncing my own along before it in a game of cosmic kickball, reaching the bottom of the hill to turn about again and laugh.
The street came up to slap my feet; I was running, I think. No reason on earth that I could think of made this a good idea, but no hope for it; there was traffic sliding past me in the shape of parked and silent cars (a fin caught my trousers, and I stumbled out into the avenue) that parted for me in a quietdanse macabre of metal and lacquer and glass. I saw the beret skipping across the pavement, laughing, its felt form winking in the sunlight, and even as it came to me in an oddly detached way that something was different this time my eyes fed me the sight of Ellyn dropping below the streets; her head down as she carefully watched her footing. Mine was erratic; the view of the world I was getting was interrupted at odd moments by the pounding of my feet as they tried to turn the world; sliding to a stop on my side ignoring the pain I realized that this time there were no pedestrians, there wasn't anyone, this wasn't New York but my own private version-
-throwing caution somewhere south I dove down the hole, awkwardly tucking one shoulder in a forlorn hope of rolling with the shock that came and smashed my right arm up towards my chin. For a brief frightened moment I thought I might roll onto my neck and break it; but I crashed heavily to the ground on my side and struggled upright with my right arm useless and dangling, to careen through the gap in the wall and fall once more on my side in a pile of gravel and metal. Ellyn was downtown of me; I watched her kicking at the gravel as she tried to run bent over. Her hands batted the beret, which was already dancing in the sudden push of air that was ghosting down the tunnel.
I roared an inchoate mix of fear and frustration as I forced my arm to bend enough to lever me upright as the first sounds of steel arose from behind me. Determined not to look, I staggered upwards once more and took off down the tracks ignoring the shouts of imminent anatomical damage from the arm which I was pumping furiously for all I was worth, sacrificing all for speed. Ellyn was no more than ten feet away, now; her face as it turned to me was painted with fear and adrenaline; I could see the lights blazing about me and her and the tunnel, washing us all with a random coat of incandescence; as I reached her I swept her into my arms and pushed to the right as hard as I could, feeling my feet begin to slide out from under me as we swung to the side. The air horn was filling the world with a strident call of fear and pain which made perfect sense in the frozen glare of the moment that held for an eternity of silence and then
released us to fall over the side of the rails, stone and wood and metal rushing up to touch us as Ellyn's scent caught my head; I twisted, some nameless chunk of wood met the back of my skull and there was a startling pain in my right leg as we were slapped brusquely aside by the train. Screeching roar of brakes and rush of pneumatics blasting my hair about my eyes as I rolled to a stop finally, and unfolded my arms as best I could, looking down; she was there, real, solid-she rolled away from me in panic and turned back, her eyes wider than seemed possible with fear as the train thundered past us, and I smiled weakly as my body began to catalogue the simply astonishing number of places that were either broken or really not enjoying the experience at all. The silence returned, momentarily, which was strange as I could clearly see the train rushing past, the lightning sparks of its windows flickering off the pillars, but I didn't really care, for Ellyn had pulled me away from the tracks somehow (my body wasn't really responding) and fallen to her knees besides me. I noticed with a distracted twitch that her hair was mussed, but that's about as far as I got before she kissed me and I couldn't see much past my eyelids, but I struggled to a sitting position and wrapped my arms tightly about her, one hand brushing her hair back while her lips held mine, her hands pressed against my back and my other hand resting gently on her neck, which was smooth and warm. I felt and heard her sob once, into me, and there was a sudden shock of cold which vanished as quickly as it came to leave me sitting in a puddle of frigid water beneath the snowy streets of the world's most impressive city with my fists and chest clenched around cold and icy emptiness and I threw back my head and screamed for the loss, the roar fading into a sniffling sob, the train's red glare fading into the dark and the tunnels wrapping me, alone, in their familiar black embrace.
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