<--Uptime | Park Ethereal | Downtime-->
Park Ethereal - Chapter 11
The Main Lobby was a cyclone of people and sensations. I looked and listened for the sax, but the lobby was filled only with the murmur and rushing noise of people, many of them. Kelly strode quickly across the floor, moving down the steps from the taxi stand on Vanderbilt where we’d left the car. I skipped, almost, to keep up. The Metro-North ticket windows passed on the right, and we moved towards the snack bar and the stairs down to the 4/5/6 subway. Just before the archway leading out of the Lobby, however, there was a door, just as I’d remembered it; closed, worn, brown and grey. Kelly stopped before it, looked at me for confirmation. I nodded. He tried the door, and when it refused to open, motioned for me to stay there and disappeared into the police substation in the unused section of ticket windows.
He returned almost imediately, with keys, and opened the door. We both passed through, allowing it to slam behind us, and both produced Maglites. Turning them on revealed a familiar empty room with a door opposite, and we moved to it and opened it to examine stacks of paperwork in boxes. I motioned to Kelly and led him across the room-
Where there was no door. The wall was smooth and unbroken. I stared at it in confusion for a moment, while Kelly patiently waited, then examined the paint for evidence of construction. There was none.
"Fuck a duck."
"What?" Kelly looked at me, surprised.
"This isn’t the wall?"
"No! There’s supposed to be a door here, then tunnels…this looks like it’s been here forever, there’s grime everywhere, no construction…"
"Slow down, boy. When you were last here, there was a door here?"
"When was that?"
"Several days ago, when I-" I brought myself up short, looked at him. He laughed humorlessly.
"So sure it was a few days ago, huh?"
I shook my head, realizing that I’d been depending on Grand Central to remain present and not past. I don’t know why. But I felt that every time I figured out the fucking rules, something came along and changed them. Kelly was still waiting. "Now what?" I asked.
He turned, playing his light about the room. "I don’t know. Perhaps we’ll just have a look around, hey?"
I shrugged, turned away from him. We began moving among the boxes, checking underneath for trapdoors and around the edges for portals. There were none. The smell of moist paper and dry decay filled the area; the smell of warm steam pipes in insulation, of long-dry mimeograph ink like you used to smell when you put a fresh one to your nose but somehow flatter-
"Hey, boyo, check this out."
I moved to join Kelly, who was looking at a stack of boxes. His light was steady on the label of the top one. I squinted at the faded, dusty writing illuminated. STOREROOM, read the first line. Obvious. PATROL REPORTS FOR AMPD/NYPD LOC/342 1/74-9/75 read the second. I looked at Kelly. He tapped the box. "This here’s patrol logs for the tunnels from ‘74."
We looked at each other for a moment, then simultaneously grabbed a side and boosted the box towards the door. Kelly reached it first, and hit the crash bar; then we were through. He made me wait while he returned the keys, then we toted our prize off to Vanderbilt and the trunk of his department unmarked car. I slid into the passenger seat, and he into the other, and we set off downtown.
I actually hadn’t even thought about where we were going until we pulled up in front of his apartment. Kelly parked at a hydrant. As I was getting out he reached under the seat for the cyclone light and left it in the windshield, after which we lugged the box upstairs. In the hallway outside his apartment, he thumped the door with his foot, his hands being occupied with the box, and I felt a rush of panic. "Jesus, Kelly, is your wife home?"
"I’m a mess, man, I can’t go in there-"
"Aw, shaddup, willya?" He was grinning. I subsided. The door opened to reveal Lori, who kissed him quickly but firmly and moved aside to allow us to carry the carton into the living room. She smiled at me as I passed, and I ducked my head in greeting, embarrassed by my condition, but when we got the carton down, I turned to find her waiting with a towel in her hand.
"Shower’s that way, but you knew that."
I nodded, and took the towel, moving off towards the bathroom and trying not to touch anything. I’d never felt that dirty, even though there hadn’t been any accusation in her tone, and only felt better when she laid a hand on my arm to stop me and said, "Leave your things outside the door, I’ll dump them in the washer. There’s a robe of Liam’s in there." I mumbled my thanks, and headed for the shower.
I stayed in there a long time.
Some time after I was dry, I emerged in a thick terrycloth robe. My jumpsuit and underwear had vanished. There was a set of boxers and a T-shirt with the NYPD logo on it folded on a chair, and Kelly was sitting in a mound of paper with a frown on his face. He looked up as I came in.
"Ah, the sodden one returns. Grab a seat. Have some paperwork."
I grabbed the clothes, first, and struggled into them without doffing the robe, then plunked myself down on the floor across the stack from him. "What the hell is all this stuff?"
He waved the handful he was examining. "Patrol reports. Fascinating reading. Nothing here, yadda, yadda, tunnels dirty, yadda, yadda, oh yes there was a mugging today, some fool went down the tunnels where he had no business being."
I picked up a sheaf of the notebook pages and forms, leafed through them. Kelly had managed to summarize them in a sentence. I looked up to ask where Lori was, but at that moment there was a crash from the kitchen and a sharp curse in a language I didn’t know but assumed was Gaelic. Kelly grinned, raised his eyes heavenward, and continued shuffling through the stack. I slowly dropped mine to the floor and closed my eyes in thought.
"Kelly, are these things in order?"
"After a fashion, yep, they are. None too tidy, though."
"When did you say that that guy was caught at 775 that I Maced?"
"Ummm...midsummer ‘74, I do believe."
"All right, let’s check then."
"You got a plan?"
"Nope, just a hunch."
Kelly grinned again, approvingly. "Good police work, this is." He delved into the pile of paper, and with my help set aside those from May ‘74 and before. That left a pile that was, according to physical law, not as big, but somehow just as intimidating. We each grabbed a stack of reports from the top, and began reading. I found that I’d gotten early June.
The stack was entirely uninteresting. Time wore on, and Kelly and I dug through several weeks worth of uneventful (from our perspective) patrol reports. Lori called us, perhaps an hour later, and we rose from our nests on the floor amidst piles of paper to join her in the kitchen, at table. She’d set out a simple but, to my palate, absolutely fantastic supper of beef stew and rice; from a sample spoonful, the stew contained a great deal of red wine and/or beer; I wasn’t sure which. It tasted of heaven and sunbeams. I barely managed to thank her profusely before tearing into it, leaving an empty bowl in what seemed like seconds. The Kellys smiled, but didn’t comment, and Lori served me another bowl. They were perhaps a third of the way through their own portions.
Embarrassed, I deliberately made myself eat slowly. Some time passed in silence. Lori, I noticed, ate with her fork in her left hand, using the right for bread to hold the stew against the fork. The beef was too soft to catch on the tines; if you tried, it flaked apart, the carrots and beans falling back into the bowl with a laugh and a soft splash. Kelly (Liam? Hah) ate quickly but not hurriedly, a policeman about a task. Although I’m sure he’d deny it, he spent a great deal of time during the meal glancing quickly at Lori, and then, reassured by what he saw there, smiling faintly and turning back to his food. I wondered what it was that he was searching for; he didn’t seem concerned or anxious, and yet he kept looking to her.
It’s love, I suppose.
She’s still there when he looks. That’s all that he wants. I imagined, to myself, that there was a brief flash of neverending wonder at the woman beside him. I wanted there to be a quick burst of wondrous thanks to the world. That was the love I saw. I’m not sure what Kelly would have said. Most likely he’d have smiled and given me another murky answer. Did they talk of this, amongst themselves? Did she ever look up, to catch him looking? Or did she consciously not see it, rather than risk inspiring self-consciousness in her husband? I preferred the latter, imagining her seeing wihtout looking when he did so, and locking that away in her heart, a secret gift and treasure.
God, she was stunning.
Kelly, I realized, was saying something to me, and I flushed the scarlet of sheer awkward shame, looking down at my plate and mumbling something about eating too fast and not hearing.
"What’re we looking for in there, buck?" Lori paused eating, and turned to me as well, genuine curiosity in her gaze. I flushed again and returned Kelly’s look. He waited, while eating.
"Um, we’re…sorry. We’re looking for Ellyn."
"Yeah." I placed my fork next to my bowl, made myself brace my elbows to either side of it and rest my chin on my clenched fist. That way the white knuckles couldn’t show. "See, Kelly…Liam-" Lori snickered. That broke the mood, and Kelly glared at her for a moment, but couldn’t hold it and laughed too. I choked out a giggle, felt my body relax suddenly, and sat back in my chair while my shoulders shook with released tension that startled me. Kelly shook his head mournfully.
"Me wife’s been tellin’ tales behind me poor bent back, I see. An’ what’s so funny about me name? It’s the job, y’see."
"Don’t start again, Liam, please!" Lori was giggling, still, having difficulty stopping.
"The job?" I fed Kelly the straight line.
"Yep. I dunno why you two folks’d be laughing at me now. It’s just an Irish version of William. It means protection. As in-"
"To protect and serve?" I asked, a confused but swept up in the obvious humor. Lori collapsed, howling with laughter. Kelly - Kelly!- blushed. Then, after poking Lori fiercely in the ribs, which did no good at all and if anything heightened her difficulty breathing as her howls subsided to gasps for breath. Kelly turned back to me.
"‘Tis an old personal joke wi’ the two of us. See, it involves me job, a contraceptive-" I cut him off, raising my hands, forestalling any explanation.
"Kelly, please, no, don’t, your wife’ll asphyxiate. And I might too. Liam."
He tried to work up a convincing glare, but couldn’t, and we waited Lori out. Her breathing finally caught up, and Kelly gravely handed her a glass of water. His face was almost enough to send her off again, but she hastily drank off much of the water and kissed him quickly, before turning back to me. "Who’s Ellyn?"
I stared at her husband. "Kelly, you didn’t-"
"No, boyo, no. ‘Twasn’t in the script that I tell her."
"Oh." I stopped, surprised, then figured out his reference. "The hospital."
"Right. Ye told me that if it wasn’t in the script, I shouldn’t do it."
"Can you see the script?" I asked this, urgently, leaning forward. He shook his head with regret.
"Nah. I just felt that you needed to tell her, is all."
I leaned back, understanding. Lori still waited expectantly. "Ellyn is- well, this is going to take an awful damn long time."
Kelly stood, moved to the counter, returned with a tall bottle that I vaguely recognized.
"Well then, we’ll be needing some of the uisge beatha then, won’t we?" He distributed tumblers, poured the Bushmills. I took mine carefully, wondering if I’d ever drank, in this life or the other. Kelly capped the bottle and sat, offering up his glass to the air in the center of the table. Lori joined him, and after as second, I joined mine to the triangle.
"What’re we drinking to?"
"To where we first met, eh?"
"As good as any."
"The Park it is, then. Park ethereal." We clinked, and sipped. I felt my esophagus twitch once before the flame caught and spread silently to my nose, and I put the glass down, sat and simply breathed a time or two. Kelly and Lori tabled theirs as well. I looked up at him.
"‘Tis what I call it when I’m walkin’ the beat and the fog rolls in. Y’know, when it’s late and there’s not many folks about? There’s a spot, right in the middle, where if the fog is fairly thick, where you can’t see anything outside the park itself, and you’re left with this sparse copse of trees and benches and lights, fading quickly into a grey fog. Feels like everything waits."
I drank again, more deeply. "Everything waits. God, that’s exactly right. Sorry, Lori, we were talking about Ellyn."
"And I’m still waiting. Who’s the lady?"
"Jesus, this all started a ways back, and Liam’s in it from nearly the beginning. Maybe we should tell it together."
So we did. It took several hours.
At some point that evening, we ended up sitting in a rough triangle on the floor of the living room amongst the paper. The bottle was lying on its side on the floor, quite empty. Despite the fact that it hadn’t been full when we started, I realized with a slow shock, as I tried to move my head, that I was drunk. The room, instead of rotating smoothly when I turned, instead whorled crazily before settling mostly onto the level. Lori was turning her glass over in her hands, and Kelly was sitting looking at me. I realized we’d finished the tale, and I turned to Lori.
"So what d’ya think?" My voice was slurred, but barely intelligible. She smiled pensively.
"I don’t know. Listen, what am I going to call you?"
I blinked, taken aback, and looked at her husband, who also looked surprised. "I don’t know. It never came up."
"From what I can tell, it’s because you’ve rarely if ever spoken to more than one person at a time." She stretched, and stood. "Maybe it’s time to think of a name."
"But I don’t know my name."
Lori stretched again, then held her hand out towards Kelly, who began to slowly struggle upright, before replying. "I know that. But perhaps its time to decide if, in fact, that you is ever going to return. Even if you remember, there’ll be this whole story that happened to the you now, not the you you used to be. Can the old you withstand that integration? Maybe this tale alone qualifies you for a whole new person." Kelly reached his feet and took her hand.
"That’s it. I draw the line at philosophy in me home after this much of the Irish, eh? Come on, woman, to bed with ye." Lori smiled at me again, then quirked her eyebrow. Think about it. I sat back against the couch slowly, waving absently as they exited.
Who am I?
Am I the same person?
And as she said, even if I remember, am I the same person? I’ve developed reactions, memories, responses, a life exclusively part of this new me. I can’t be sure, of course, how much of what I am now comes from what I was; maybe my behavior patterns have remained consistent and I just don’t know it.
Of course, I’m still dodging the question.
I was still thinking about it a few minutes later, when Kelly came back into the living room to hand me a stack of bedding for the sofa. With his help, we quickly made it up as a bed, and he shook my hand gravely, once, before taking his leave.
I lay on the sofa, in his clothes, in his apartment, in my own head, and looked at the ceiling.
It didn’t answer.
* * *
The report we were looking for did its utmost to hide in the sea of its fellows, but to no avail. That night, five or six hours after lying down to sleep, I was up and sorting again, unable to succumb. I had returned from the kitchen bearing a cup of coffee, which I balanced carefully on the end table as I sat crosslegged, and grabbed up the next stack in line for sorting.
Five sheets in, the report smiled at me.
June 23, 1974: Patrol report, area 342/28. Officer Carl LaPaglia. Incidents: (4). Incident 1: medical call, transient, intoxicated; remanded to EMT ref. 54-54-8. Incident 2: located briefcase (loss from train?) turned in to station property office. Incident 3: EMT/Homicide call: two persons, deceased, located in transit tunnels. preliminary cause of death: struck by commuter rail train. Descrip: one male, approx. 25 yrs. of age, no ID, transient? One female, ID as Santano, Ellyn: res. 775 Park Ave. Manhattan, both together, possible assault? No information on reason for Santano’s presence in tunnels; dressed upscale, outerwear, no stains other than incurred at TOD. Remanded to Homicide, ref. 43-56-12/UHI. Incident 4: complaint, disorderly conduct, Station Snacks, main lobby-
I dropped my hand to my lap, stared unseeing at the wall. one male, approx. 25 yrs. of age, no ID, transient? I couldn’t remember the name of the story; I knew I’d read it, once, long ago, beyond the wall, but the name eluded me. I re-read the report, restraining myself by main force from leaping up and dashing to the Kelly’s bedroom to shake Liam awake with my find.
Instead, I had another swig of coffee. Something about a bridge. The name still danced beyond my reach. I ignored the rushing in my ears, drank again, and thought-
Homicide? Well, okay, the two were found on the tracks, and in a position where one might have pushed/chased/attacked the other hands closed about her neck, choking off the scream that was trying to force its way past them as she crashed through the darkness and the columns floundering but unable to keep her feet as I pulled her backwards, bringing us both down in a smash of gravel-
The smash was the coffee mug, thrown clear in a reflexive jerk to shatter against the wall; the door slamming open a few moments later revealed Kelly in underwear, gun leveled, face beginning to register comprehension, and my own face, lifting from my hands to stare at him as the gun dropped, report crumpled in one fist and tears streaming.
"I killed her, Kelly."
His gun hung straight down, now, forgotten, and tears trailed from his eyes as he came to crouch near me, and Lori moved around him to hug me, and I buried my face in her robe and cried unrestrainedly, not resisting when Liam gently took the report from my hand, leaving Lori to rock me softly, making comforting noises, while he quietly read over it, then laid a hand on my shoulder, and we stayed that way for the longest time-
<--Uptime | Park Ethereal | Downtime-->