"A Close Call"
As Alex Dorsey looks across the yard at Mariangela Diaz, he has no idea that in 99.99999% of the parallel universes that him and Mariangela both exist in, they actually meet at this party and embark on a horribly destructive and lengthy love affair that ruins both of their lives and leaves them bitter, hollow shells of their former selves… creating a legacy of pain and sorrow for generations.
FORTUNATELY, this version of Alex and Mariangela happen to live in the parallel reality where Mariangela picked up smoking at the age of 16 (which only occurs in .00001% of the parallel universes she and Alex exist in), so that when Alex spotted her from across the room, he thought to himself “I don’t like smoking” and then quickly looked away… never to think of her again.
While each of their paths in time always lead them here to this party, in this universe they thankfully do not continue together… both of them never knowing how close they came to lives of pure misery.
"I’m studying to become an architect," Marcie said.
"Why is that?" I asked her.
She turned away from me to look at my little sister, Caire. The five year old swung up and down and back again on the swing, using all the right motions to gain momentum. When she flew she kicked her legs up and when she descended, she tucked them in backwards and repeated the process. Over and over until she was well up into the air, laughing. After a few swings she turned her attention back to me but never looked me in the eye. She was still looking out at something beyond me.
"The way buildings are designed and how people move about them," she said. She stopped and looked back at my sister, then me, and thought about how to explain it. I told her it was alright but went on. "Every angle, every wall is supposed to make a person reflect on how they move and the process that went into the design. Every building was designed for a specific purpose, some good and some bad. But they were all crafted to, in some way, move you towards a new space that creates a specific feeling in you. Whether it’s to move you into somewhere new and strange or force you out. Some people design buildings to make you feel something without saying anything. I love that."
My sister flew to high into the air and landed on her back onto the grass. She doesn’t cry. She picks herself back up and when the two of us look over to her she just dusts herself off and laughs, throwing a thumbs up into the air. I wonder where she learned that. I turn back to look at Marcie but she stood up from the bench and began to walk back to the house and the family party.
With her hands in the pockets of her sun dress she turns her head back, “you guys coming?”
The boy quivered as Eustace pulled the revolver’s handle back. Eustace had chased him for something closer to five or nine miles. Tracked him. Followed his scent and the crack of twigs he left behind. Eustace knew his prey, this wasn’t his first man hunt. The boy could be no older than fifteen, possibly thirteen, but who counts birthdays anymore? It had been years since the sun stopped passing its course on the land and the sky remained grey. It had been years since any crop had grown on this land once called a democracy or a republic, depending on who you talked to. Eustace only knew survival and that was the way of the world. The boy whimpered at the sight of the rusty hammer pushed back. The boy cried out loud, a final attempt to try pull sympathy from the old man.
"Please sir. Please," the boy begged. "Just take my bag, take whatever you want. Just," and he ended it there and took his hands onto his face and cried.
Eustace brought the revolver down to his bag and opened the flaps. Nothing but empty cans and a small sack of dried pinto beans. Disgusted he spat onto the ground and kicked the dirt. Time wasted and spent on another man when he could have chased another.
"Stop groveling," Eustace said as he slung the revolver back into his pants. The boy did. He wiped the tears from his eyes and begged and thanked Eustace for sparing his life but as he got closer, Eustace kicked him in the stomach. There was a rustling some hundred meters from them. Two, three, and unknown amount of men or women or beast in the woods.
"Quiet," Eustace whispered to the boy. "Shut up, and follow me." And the boy did.
And there we were, coming back to the start of the trail. We ran beyond the bend on the road where the artillery rounds used to fire. The sun rose over the top of the dying bridge and from the entrance I could see the old West Pointer in his forties, so eager to retire, yelling for his company to…
We found it there in Pittsburgh, how could we not?
It was there, through the cracked up hill roads in the Spring time and the rusting industrial powerhouse that still churn today. Where all we used to do for days on end was drink craft beers and cheap liquor and pretend to smoke inside dub step shows, with girls who often used the word ‘like’ one too many times. We were twenty then and we didn’t care about planning tomorrow, only today and now mattered because what was the use of worrying except to move us further into this, this, this, American adult life? We trudged through youthful Oakland streets and never ending two dollar specials of Dos Equis. Through the smiling curious faces of well to do families who found solace in the bricks of Squirrel Hill homes, where children never seemed to cry and parent’s never appeared to be frustrated like they were back home. Through the eyes of fake framed hipsters always talking about this and that and the need to always feel different all the time.
The only question we ever asked, that wasn’t about one of those true Pittsburgh angels canvasing through the unfamiliar coffee shops, was whether or not you could find happiness through the end of a bottle. Well can you? And although all our questions were left unanswered, those few days we smiled and dashed madly from one venue to the next. This atmosphere was understood never to last long, so we’d drink and drink and forget our troubles three hundred and fifty three miles away. What was waiting back home will wait. For a moment we found it. We found peace.
"I was 16 when I first saw New York. I spent a long, perfect August afternoon here with a cousin I had a crush on, and by the end of the day I was thinking, This is the place for me. When I started out as a writer, though, a few years later, I was afraid I’d get eaten up if I moved to New York and be demoralized by the competition and spend all my time earning money. So this is still the advice I give to young writers: Go to, like, northeastern Ohio, and write your first book. Go someplace cheap, and move to New York later.”
Looking for someone to whip your writing into shape? Then tweet the new Gordon Lish bot, a Twitter account which offers unvarnished critiques of your tweets and fictional sentences. (Related: Frank Kovarik on the editor’s relationship with Raymond Carver.)
Staring at the wall in my room I thought about drinking with my battle buddy and eating sushi. We’d do this every month, just the two of us. Meet late in the night, order two or three plates of crunchy stuff and spicy stuff and we’d eat it with our hands. Always wrong. The actual Asians in the place would stare at us briefly and scoff. We’d match eye level with them and they’d turn away, fast, and pretend they were lost in an interesting conversation with their partner; not staring at the barbarians two stalls down drinking sake by the bottle and pouring soy sauce on their sushi like it was Tabasco. Fuck you.
Walls encompass me, making me feel small but with the knowledge that I am safe, nothing can ever touch me. Not here. I should feel glad that I’m given this lifestyle while others are less fortunate, like Facebook likes to remind me. So when I do lose fault I think about my battle buddy and pounding Sake like shots like young fucking fools. I think about what it would’ve been like if he were here right now and gone to grad school on his own without Uncle Sam’s help. Not in Kandahar.
IN THE LAND OF THE FREE,
There was a staircase that I had just noticed next to the bathrooms and the ATM. I followed it upstairs to an outdoor small garden and patio. Keeping up with their design on the main floor, they placed concrete floors and steel lined up painted in white around the patio preventing anyone from jumping down and anyone from looking up. The people from the outdoor top floor patio could look down on the street. It was becoming what the Apple store looked like if it were a lounge. At the center of the patio was a square bar with a lone male bartender dressed in black preparing for the night and the 30-year-old Trisha, smoking another cigarette by the bar. I checked the iPhone again for any text messages from the girl I haven’t seen in years on Facebook.
I sat down next to Trisha and took out the cigarette I bought from her. I ordered a Brooklyn lager.
“Am I bothering you?” I asked.
“No. What’s up with your backpack?” She said pointing to the GORuck bag I had been carrying all day.
“It’s my travel bag, I pretty much carry it around everywhere.”
“Don’t you have someplace to put it?”
“No not really. The guy whose apartment I was supposed to crash at never showed up.”
Her drink came, it was a whiskey sour.
“I hate those guys.” She said blowing smoke in the opposite direction.
“Who? Patrick and all of my friends?”
“No. Jeffy and his butt buddy Pat from accounting. They’re always so vulgar. And they say the most idiotic things. They’re both from UCF and came to New York acting like a bunch of cunts honestly. I hate them. They’re always trying to sleep with me.”
“ Aren’t there rules against that sort of thing if it’s unwarranted.”
“Yes. But I let them. Not because they have power over me or anything. I’m a manager at my firm and I’m two tiers ahead of those clowns. But every time they come up to me, compliment me, or make references to some sort of threesome; it makes me feel a little better about myself.”
I didn’t say anything and just kept drinking.
“Granted I could punch those two assholes in the dick and get away with it. But they know that and I think, they think, it turns me on. One of them is engaged you know? The other has a serious girlfriend. Yet they still hit on me, and I talk shit to them but they just keep coming.”
“I don’t understand why don’t you say something to HR or someone else.”
She doused her cigarette in the glass ashtray in front of her. The bartender took it, cleaned it, and placed it back.
“It’s just nice to feel wanted sometimes, you know? Not all women are like this. Not all women should be like this, but some are. Some girls, like me.” After a short pause she started up again. “I was married once you know.” She showed me right hand and the indent of where ring used to be.
“I was married when I was twenty. The first one to do it out of my high school class. My husband, Greg, was this big brawny cop. He looked menacing but he was really just a giant teddy bear puss. I’m kidding. But he was the nicest guy I ever met. He just swept me away on prom night and we had been dating ever since. We bought our first home together in Newark and I commuted to the job I have now while he stayed a cop there.. It was a rough first year trying to stay afloat; making all the mortgages and bills in time, wondering when we’d be ready for kids. We had our relationship planned out but not our marriage. It’s sad thinking about it now, but for every day that we argued and complained about the little details, I think back and wonder how I could have spent that time just listening for once or help really plan things out. He died two years later on a street corner while on patrol. Shot in the face. The hole in his head was enormous. They said I shouldn’t see it. But I had to. His partner tried to shoot down and chase the bastard but he couldn’t They eventually caught the guy, and he’s in prison now. But does it matter? Greg’s dead. Greg is dead. Ten years went by, and well, you know.” She took out another cigarette and asked for two shot of Soco.
“Do a shot with me?” She asked. The two shots arrived and we downed them quickly while sucking on the limes. “We should go downstairs. They’re probably waiting for us. Maybe Samantha fell down on the street and can’t get up, again.”
The MoMa was packed with tourists and kids from the colleges throughout the five boroughs taking advantage of the free pass. They checked my bag, eyed the laptop and the camera, and let me go. There were a number of languages spoken around me as I climbed up and down stairs. Gawkers from around the world spoke in French, Spanish, and Portuguese; all speaking in their native tongue the word for ‘confused.’ College students snapping photos of the pieces with their DSLR’s and their smart phones, trying to get the right angle so they can look as artistic as possible. A photographer took a photo of a piece of art to make their photo look like a piece of art.
In 2007 I was a cadet, still in college, and at a Hotel bar with Mick, Lacier, Zac ‘without the H’ and several other people I don’t talk to anymore. We had snuck into the party with a group of NYU kids in expensive suits. It was some girl’s 21st birthday party. This was when Mick still had money in the bank so he ordered a bottle of Jameson for the table to impress his blonde girlfriend at the time and we each took a shot. My girlfriend at the time, Heather, gave her shot to me.
“Your friends are crazy.” She whispered into my ear.
“I know. But I just met them. They’re all in the ROTC program with me.”
Mick took his girl to one of the hotel floors and tried to hook up in the mens bathroom while the rest of us stayed by the lounge. Patrick recognized a couple by the bar and brought them over to the table.
“Hey everyone this is my good friend Brandon and his girlfriend, um, Rachel right?’
“Yes. Hey everyone!” Rachel said cheerfully.
We all waved and they sat down next to Heather and I. Rachel was quick to talk but her boyfriend said nothing the entire time. When someone mentioned that we were all cadets in the ROTC program, Rachel revealed to us that Brandon was in the Army and had just gotten back from Iraq. Brandon said something to his girlfriend that if it was quiet I could hear it, but due to the loud club music playing overhead it sounded like gibberish. He was upset.
“Honey, you should be proud of what you did. These guys are Army too, they understand.”
No one said anything for a while and Lacier, Zac and the other guys left to go dance and flirt with the rich girls on the dance floor. Heather and I stayed. We drank the Jameson in silence and eventually I looked over at Brendan and asked him a bad question.
“What was it like over there?”
“It fucking sucked.”
Heather’s gay friend Michael was with us too. A Beyonce song had come up that made Heather and Michael scream. Brandon jumped slightly out of his seat and started rubbings his legs. Neither Heather nor Michael noticed.
“OH my fucking God. I love this song.” Michael screamed. “Let’s go dance.” He got up and started running for the floor and Heather egged me on as well. I excused myself and walked over to dance with her. After ten songs I walked back to the booth and found Brandon in the corner of the booth with his hands buried in his face. His girlfriend placed her arms around him and when she saw me she yelled at us to go away while holding one of the empty beer glasses at us like she was holding a knife.
Heather and I left the hotel right after that. Walking to the subway that would take us Uptown she asked me what was wrong with him. I couldn’t explain it to her logically so I shrugged.
“I don’t know. He’s drunk.” I didn’t know what else to say.
She frowned and we kept walking to the subway.
There was something about trains that made Nikki happy. She would take the train everyday for a job that had her just breaking even but that didn’t bother her. She enjoyed pretending to read the same novel for over a year while she caught glimpses of people’s eyes and faces, imagining what their lives were like and how good or bad they had it in the world. It was the overwhelming amount of people who were always different, always moving, and always in a hurry that let Nikki’s imagination run wild allowing her a small piece of happiness in a world she didn’t control. It was the endless drive for people to get some place in order for them to just survive that made her smile. She was satisfied living her life sitting on the train, wondering when everyone would realize they were all a part of some elaborate joke.