Domp……….…… Domp…………… Domp…………… His black Docs made dull, solid sounds on the wet concrete. He looked down at his feet. Domp………Domp……… Domp……… faster. At least it wasn’t still raining. The rain had been warm, and now the cold pavement steamed. He came to a building and stopped, stared up to the gray sky, and took a deep breath before entering the lobby. Domp…Domp…Domp…Domp…Domp… Up the stairs quickly to avoid the smells. Door, key, lock, click. He slammed the door behind himself, breathing heavily. The woman – Madame – walked into the room.
“Where have you – “
He brushed by her, eyes down, not wanting to talk or explain. She grabbed him by the hood of his black sweatshirt.
“How did you – “
He thought about all the stains on his khakis. So many times falling down. Ramps, railings, steps, curbs, he’d even tried the stairwell in his building - definitely illegal. She hated that “past time” almost as much as she hated him at the moment, standing there wet on her carpet. He knew what she saw: sullen, lazy, dirty, where had she failed? Finally she decided he wasn’t going to respond or look at her, so she dropped her hand and they walked off in opposite directions. domp…domp… domp… the carpet muffled sounds. Click. Another door closed behind him, another click and it was locked.
He sank down onto his unmade bed (unmade beds were very much against regulations) and opened his black leather messenger bag. His life spilled onto the carpet. Wallet, keys, Zippo, Swiss army knife, cell phone, Chapstick, Advil, gum, pencils, sketch book, address book, a pack of Camels, and various napkins with numbers scribbled on them, tickets, fliers, rail stubs, bracelets, wrappers; it went on and on - his life as a collection of souvenirs, proof of his wanderings. Two small silk coin purses from China town – one red and one blue – stood out amidst the jumble. He picked them up. They both were fat with paper. “Love mankind, trust the majority, and never owe anyone. Lucky #’s: 3 7 17 27 31 45” “The face of nature reflects life’s ups and downs. Lucky #’s: 10 14 18 24 28 41” Fortune cookie fortunes. Probably thousands of them, rolled together in neat wads.
The other purse held a smushed stack of little squares. “Ride With T Aud 4 1/03 9:05” “Light It Aud 5 4/17 7:25” “ Graduate Aud 1 7/27 10:05” “Citizen K Aud 1 3/20 9:25” Movie ticket stubs. Looking back at them he found he even remembered most of the movies, which surprised him. A thousand fortunes, a thousand films, the most recent one dating from nearly a year before. Had it really been a year? This realization struck a new sense of urgency into his tired quest. He would find her, he had to! He laid back on his bed to think. The scream of drills forcing metal stairs into the stonework of the building interrupted. No, this house was not a place for thinking. He crushed his life back into his messenger bag and climbed out the window into the city.
It had been over three years ago when he first discovered the restaurant. It had started out as one of the worst nights ever. One of Madame’s overstuffed boyfriends had kicked him out of his own building. He left with his bag and his board and just started going. After what felt like hours he could not go anymore. He didn’t know were he was or how he’d gotten there, and he hadn’t really cared. But when he turned to look at his reflection in the window of the shop next to him, he noticed the big words on the window. “ALL YOU CAN EAT CHINA BUFFET $2.99” Ding ding ding! The place was small and dingy, but the food was good. And in many ways he preferred the smell of frying grease and unvacumed floors to the stench of Lysol and oily money that permeated the streets around his building. He knew how well he didn’t belong there. “You have tasted the bitterness as well as the sweetest of coffee. Lucky #’s 12 14 18 20 28 36” His fortune from that first evening. It seemed to fit the day, to fit his whole life – it made no real sense. He liked coffee but……he didn’t dwell long to think about it. He glanced at his watch. 9:20 PM. Too early to go home – time for a cigarette. He sat on the curb smoking, bathed in the harsh, bluish, regulation lights that were set out along the street and in the restaurant. His building was apparently exempt from such regulations. Yellow lights across the street caught his eye, and he looked up to see a magnificent, crumbling, old-fashioned movie palace. “Nine Beautiful Auditoriums” the banner sign proclaimed. “Only 99 cents per show!”
“What are you guys playing here?” The man at the ticket counter rattled off the list. Turned out, it was cheap because all of the movies had already come out in the big time multiplexes a few months before, so he had already seen them all. Except, in Auditorium One, the theater only showed classic films. That night he saw “Citizen Kane” with Orson Wells. “Stubbornness is not a good virtue. Lucky #’s 12 14 18 19 20 36” He went home.
Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom. The bass rocked his body hard, jolting him back to the present. The lights and the crushing swell of people made him dizzy. Smoke, sweat, alcohol, hormones, and perfume hung in the air above and around the crowd. The strength and the illeagalness of these clubs made them so much more intoxicating than ever in the past. Now the DJ’s and partygoers were persecuted, and the clubs were tucked away into huge, abandoned warehouses in the tunnels underground. He couldn’t remember when or why he had started going. If Madame ever found out about this habit he’d really be in for it. He knew how she hob-knobbed with the “elite,” the ones in control of the city. They employed the “regulators” who dressed all in gray and “kept order” in the city. Most people called them the blues though, “beware of the blues” or, if someone got picked up or went missing, “so-and-so, he got the blues.” Slang terms left over from days in the past. “Watch your relations with people carefully, be reserved. Lucky #’s 4 8 12 23 27 36” He and Ducky had taken to calling them “those black men” which caused anyone who happened to overhear them to dismiss them as everyday racists, for the regulators were not spoken of in the public streets. “You are talented in many ways. Lucky #’s 10 13 17 19 28 35”
Boom Boom Boom. He loved the music. He had tried mixing and scratching things himself for a while, and everyone told him he was good. But the money and danger of the equipment and profession made it nearly impossible for anyone who didn’t have some high-time connections. And he supposed that Madame’s ex-boyfriends didn’t count. Oh well. Fuck, he had been there for a long time. When she had disappeared he had gone down nearly every night, searching, being careless and noticeable. The last three months though he hadn’t been able to dance. It felt good to be back. The clubs were about the best place to get mixed up with the blacks without being automatically killed, and perhaps he was trying to get close to them. He had even bleached his dark hair the white-gold color of hers. Blondes weren’t common, and neither was hair dye. Standing out was highly frowned upon. She had definitely stood out. Maybe……
“Sitting towards the south may bring you good luck. Lucky #’s 11 21 31 41 45 48” The Southside China Buffet had become a place he went to a lot. Two or three times a week, whenever things got a little too confining and he needed to hide, he would end up taking himself out to dinner and a movie. Exactly $4.23 for the whole evening. Taxes were getting high. “Streetcar Aud 1 4/13 10:05” “Scarface Aud 1 5/6 9:50”
He had been going there for three or four months, always eating alone, lonely, but peaceful in his solitude, when he began to notice the girl. One would think that, being such a regular, he would begin to be recognized by the people, or that they at least would become familiar to him. On the contrary, the waiters, diners, and ticket-takers seemed to change daily. If he ever saw someone that he had seen before, it had been months since he had encountered them, and so they had forgotten each other. “The smart thing is to prepare for the unexpected. Lucky #’s 12 17 19 33 36 38”
The girl had white blond hair, and the most peculiar orange running shoes he had ever seen. They had to have been vintage, like his Docs. Very far from regulation. Who was she that she could get away with wearing shoes like that? She looked a few years younger than him, 16, 17…… She was always clean but her clothes were well worn. She was pretty, not scrawny, with pounds of silver bangles on her wrists and a judging quality to her watery green eyes. All in all, she frightened him, somewhat. There she was, in his same hiding place, eating by herself, bundled up in a well-cut black leather jacket. She even had the nerve to go to the movies after dinner!
Within two weeks he was paranoid. He went to Southside nearly every night, and she was always there. She had to notice him too. Technically he had done no wrong by being there, but her presence made him feel guilty for some reason, like he was an intruder. He had been there first! They would sit and stare across the restaurant at each other over their sesame chicken and rice. His whole life he had been automatically accepted by all of his schoolmates. And here he was, completely intimidated by some young girl in a Chinese restaurant.
One night he went and she wasn’t there already like she always was. It was so hot that night, but crisp heat, not sticky, like the city had been placed in an oven to bake. He was worrying about her for some reason. He felt that they had a connection. He also sensed that she lived her life outside of regulations. When he was getting up to leave for his movie that night, she walked in. She wasn’t wearing her leather jacket that she had worn every other day even though it was the middle of the summer. Something in her motions had changed also, so he went back for an extra bowl of Jell-O and ate it slowly, watching her. She paid, got her food, and sat down with her back to him – another first. Her shoulders were shaking. Crying? He wasn’t going to fall for it, she was surely laughing at him for staying when she came! How obvious could he be? And besides, if she really were crying, what would he say to her? “Don’t be afraid to take a chance when the opportunity of a lifetime appears. Lucky #’s 8 11 14 19 30 42” His fortune of the evening decided it. He went and sat down across from her.
“What’s – “ Unsure of what to say she caught him off guard when she glanced up at him, face wet, and smiled. New tactic.
“Hello I – “ Putting up a finger to quiet him she slid another fortune cookie across the table towards him. Crinkle, Crack. “Don’t ask. Don’t say. Everything lies in silence. Lucky #’s 4 5 7 17 24 34” Whoa, whoa whoa.
“Rear Window Aud 1 7/16 10:35” It unnerved him to sit through a movie with another person right next to him. The girl however, didn’t seem to notice his presence or care. Afterwards, she followed him home, or he followed her back to his building, he couldn’t tell which. When they were about a block from his building she spoke for the first time.
“I’m going to call you Raven”
“You always wear black shirts, and your hair is almost black, as are your eyes. I’ve only seen you are night, and you have crept into my place while I was gone.”
“What does me being at Southside have to do with you calling me Raven?”
“Ok. Then, while you were gone where? I was there first! You’re the creeper!”
She smiled. “ Nevermind.”
“Well, well, I’m going to call you Ducky.”
“Yes! You have yellow hair and orange shoes and… and… and you walk like a duck! So there! What do you think of that?”
“I walk like a duck?”
“Um…… Ok, no, maybe not that one. But I’m still going to call you Ducky.”
“It’s a deal. Goodnight Raven.” With that said she flashed him another smile, turned down an alley, and was gone.
They met each other three or four times a week. Somehow, fake crabmeat never got old. He liked the classic films he had never seen, she loved the newer ones. They saw them all. They never talked much about anything that wasn’t right in front of them: the food, the weather, the film, the people they passed by. She swore she didn’t go every night, just the nights he was there. Except that he never knew in advance to tell her if was going to be there one night or not. But thoughts like those were much too nebulous for him to dwell on in those times. “Happiness begins with facing life with a smile and a wink. Lucky #’s 18 19 25 26 44 45”
When the weather started to change that year, it got cold really fast. He asked her whatever had happened to her leather jacket.
“Oh, that. It went missing a while back,” she said with a vague wave of her hand. He didn’t ask her about it again. Instead, he went to one of the “thrift” stores where the black men resold the clothes and belongings of the people they had “collected” at a low price as a “service to the poor.” He found a dark blue jean jacket with homemade, 80’s style studding in a star shape on the back. It was lined in faux sheepskin and it looked warm. When he gave it to her she started laughing. He felt defensive and protective all at once.
“Look, it’s really cold outside Ducky and all you wear are t-shirts. And it didn’t seem to me like you were going to be doing anything about it anytime soon either. If you think it’s ugly then, shit, just give it back to me ok?”
“No, no. It’s great. Thank you.”
“A wise person cares not for what he cannot have but for what he can. Lucky #’s 3 13 23 33 43 45” “Titanic Aud 3 11/12 8:50” “East of Eden Aud 1 9/29 7:10” “A gambler not only will loose what he has, but will also loose what he doesn’t have. Lucky #’s 4 12 23 33 36 39”
Two whole years. Sometimes a week or two would pass and they wouldn’t see each other, sometimes they saw each other every night. They did dinner and a movie often, but fake crabmeat really does get old, so they did other stuff too. Whenever the weather was cold she would wear the jacket. Never leaving the Southside district he could be sure of not running into anyone from his end of the valley. He loved talking to her, although, the more he thought about it, they had never really talked at all; he knew nothing about her and as far as he knew, she knew nothing about him. But in some ways, that didn’t matter. Things weren’t always as exciting between them as they were simple. Life was too complicated. They needed each other. “Things in life should be simple rather than complex. Lucky #’s 12 18 19 32 34 44"
Then suddenly, she was not there anymore.
At first he wasn’t very worried, but as the days turned to months he freaked out. DompDompDompDompDomp. Every night he could he ran to the Southside – hoping. He searched everywhere in desperation. After two months he was lost. “Ideas you may believe are absurd may ultimately lead to success. Lucky #’s 1 4 31 34 36 39” Absurd ideas huh? What was with these fortunes? They were always so…prophetic. It almost smelled like something in the air of the place could be causing it. He laughed. On this side of the city it was more than likely toxic chemicals than anything else. Ok, well, he’d try anything once. Absurd ideas it was. The cookies! He stole the whole basket of them and ran out of the restaurant. He hid in a bathroom stall at the theatre. Crinkle, Crack. “Do you know that the busiest person has the largest amount of time? Lucky #’s 3 6 9 15 21 27” No, he didn’t know that, and he didn’t care. Crinkle, Crack. “Pray for what you want, but work for the things you need. Luck #’s 2 8 13 24 25 42” He’d been doing both of those. Another. “The first step to better times is to imagine them. Lucky #’s 3 7 12 24 27 33” His whole life he’d been doing that too! He tried more and more, eating cookie after cookie till he made himself sick. Alas, he could glean no hints from the little white strips of paper with the uniform red type. Finally there were just two cookies left. He picked one up. Crinkle, Crack. “It may be well to consult others before taking unusual actions. Lucky #’s 1 4 7 17 24 29” Dammit!!! Consult who!?!?
Frustrated he threw the basket against the mirror. True to the age of the building the mirror shattered. Shards of glass painted a glittering picture among the cookie wrappers and papers on the floor. The last cookie stood out at his feet. Crinkle, Crack. “A good evening is one spent in good company. Lucky #’s 4 6 18 21 23 40” Ha! How intuitive! He was missing his company alright. Come, on now Raven, try a different path of thought. Company, company, people, crowds, clubs! He left.
Thus began his hunting. He went all over the city. Under the city actually – the mazes of tunnels and warehouses soon became more familiar to him than the streets above. Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom. He started to meet the people. “Don’t be over self-confident with your first impression on others. Lucky #’s 4 23 26 29 33 44” When he ran into familiar faces it made him feel more comfortable. He made connections, meeting people who knew the people he had already met. But whenever he asked them if they’d ever seen his Ducky around the city, they all said no. The longer he went without finding her the more convinced he became that she had been “taken” by black men. What drove him mad was that he could not think of a single offense she could have committed that would necessitate her disappearance. This train of thought led him without fail to an even more disparaging one. He couldn’t think of what her offense might have been because he knew nothing about her! How much more fruitful his search could be if he had any idea where to begin.
Six more months went by. He had given up on his previous life. His old mates, his school, his schoolwork, even Madame no longer could threaten him. But then his yearly marks went to his building in the mail. He had forgotten all about that. Madame found them. Her boyfriend at the time was one who wanted to “play family,” and the knife came down with a resounding thwack. He was stuck, in the flat, for the whole summer. Cabin fever hit him hard. He got in fights with Madame and all of her guests. He broke things, he cried, he wrote volumes of poetry, he chain-smoked out his window, stole her gin, hid things, talked back, screamed back, and finally, quit speaking altogether. This went on for three months “Your luck has been completely changed today. Lucky #’s 11 14 19 34 37 39” Their building needed renovating. Its safety measures were out of the date the city decided. Fire escapes were put up. The cold metal was painted black. Black for Raven. Raven escapes he thought of them.
“Depend on your feet, you can climb the highest mountain. Lucky #’s 8 11 14 25 34 38” One of the first things to be confiscated by his “caring supervisors” was his board. Now he had to use his feet. As he walked he realized his clothes were still wet from the rain that afternoon. At one time, this would have bothered him. By now he was so thankful to get out of his building that a snowstorm would have left him unruffled. Domp……Domp……Domp…… He hadn’t been back to the restaurant since the night he had stolen the cookies. Now he headed there almost out of habit. All You Can Eat China Buffet $3.50. Some things did change. He got his chicken and his crab and rice and sat down. At least the smells were the same. “Tomorrow will be an important day for you. Lucky #’s 3 8 12 27 37 42” Hmmm……good to know. As far as he was concerned today was the best day he’d had in the last three months. Freedom was so much sweeter to him after it had been denied. If tomorrow was to be better than he was all for it. “Rebel Cause Aud 1 8/31 9:30”
After his movie the thought of going home sickened him. His watch read 11:30. Thinking back to his fortune, he realized that it almost was tomorrow. If tomorrow was to be so good, he thought, why not stay up for it. Boom Boom Boom. It felt pure to be back in his rhythm, back in the places he belonged. Energized, he searched and questioned for Ducky with an intensity he had never felt before. The realization of how much he really had loved her struck him like an anvil to the skull. “Love is the only medicine for a broken heart. Lucky #’s 12 14 17 27 30 45” “Love is the glue that holds together everything in the world. Lucky #’s 9 21 30 31 32 33”
His watch had hit twelve around the time he had arrived at the club. “This is really a lovely day. Congratulations! Lucky #’s 1 12 15 17 40 43” When he didn’t find her at the first place, he went to the next. Criss-crossing the city, he searched in every place he thought she could possibly be. He lost all sense of time or date; staying beneath the ground could confuse a person that way. After what felt like weeks, despair set in.
BoomboomboomBoomboomboomboomBoom. He was ready to give up. The swirl of so many people, so many bodies, lost in their own worlds of sweat and bass line. Crowds like these could pulsate, acting as one single living organism unaware of the parts which made it up.
Then he saw her. A break in the crowd revealed the blond hair, the star jacket, Ducky! Pushing and shoving he fought his way too her. The relief in his heart was boundless. He had known for a while that she was gone, quite possibly collected, and people who are “collected” don’t come back. But some part of him had continued to hope. He was not so pessimistic as to face facts until they could be proven. Beating his way through the unrelenting crowd he hardly noticed the other people. He felt like he was flying. There! Got her! He grabbed her arm harder than he had ever grabbed anything in his life. The girl turned.
What? This had to be a joke. This girl was not Ducky. She was not even close. Maybe he had just fought his way to the wrong person. His head swam. No, this girl, she was……wearing the jacket.
“Where did you get that jacket? That’s not your jacket! Who gave it to you?”
“What are you talking about? This is my jacket. Who else’s would it be? Not that it’s your business but I got it at a thrift store almost a year ago ok? Get lost you bastard.”
A thrift store? How could Ducky’s jacket have gotten to a thrift store. The only stuff those places sold was……things that had belonged to the people that had been………taken.
Truth stabbed him in the chest. He couldn’t breath. He felt himself falling. All those people and somehow there was a clearing enough for him to collapse to the floor. The clearing closed. The crowd danced. Boom Boom Boom Boom.
“Even under ideal conditions, most people do not see colors in exactly the same way. Lucky #’s 1 3 5 7 11 13"