◊ Claire (I)
He heard Krakow. He was unhappy. The macaw complained, with a fury: “They’re at it again! They’re at it again!”
His neighbor, Red, was an elderly citizen; only lately, which is to say, the last few minutes, had Red begun to suffer a lower body injury, which stemmed from the ricochet of a bullets pinging upon the street below their apartment complex in Coney Island. He was fetching avacados. He had never tried avacados. He didn’t seek medical attention, but, to join the mingle, agreed solemnly with Krakow, his bird, who presided over it all from the sill of their window mantle. He said, “Yes, they’re at it again, Krakow. They’re at it again.” Red’s words didn’t soothe the macaw, however, and instead caused them to repeat their iterations, one after another, several times, until Gabriel, Red’s son, offered the “official wave,” like the red flag of a coach’s challenge, from the kitchen. Their point had been made.
The usual clamor of Friday mornings could be upset by open, and random gunshots, the typical clamor, the ruckus, turmoil, and loud tumults agreeably toning the demeanor of New York’s lifelong denizens; they didn’t like it; they didn’t like it like a continuously misplaced cymbal in a Broadway show. New York City drive-bys, whose heritage was, in fact, normal and teeming, stretching from the days of the Dodge Brothers, and Thompson Annihilators, the strange, strange distant regularity of firecracker sound — and that it would happen, at all, and then happen again –– had, he mused, ousted what once might have been Vegas glam with New York blam. The shots, even the ping winging Red, remained unconfirmed. Of course. Nobody ever confirmed gun shots. A mere mention of gunshots, except in protracted epistles, could mean one was unfit to live in New York.
Red’s neighbor, the college lecturer, who lived across the hall, responded to the hail of pellets with a practiced, and glum dismay, a perfectly-reasonable degree of ho-hum. Gabe, for his part, after inspecting their facade for any gawdy holes in need of Spackle, and deliberately slamming heavy open, over-sized glass windows in a show of disgust, probed his temples, and sinus, then removed to the kitchen to double-check his supply of Prilosec, and Swanson. He did feign a cough, affirming the moray of temporary disarray, but that was it. Overachieving, Red asked a neighbor’s head, allowing the neighbor below his flat to peering at the street from her portal. “Anything?” The woman slugged the air, and disappeared without a reply. Red joined his son in the kitchen, wincing lamely from the injury, thought he vowed to “call the medics,” and, distracted by another thought, opened the refrigerator, cradled out a hoagie in his forearm, like a football to the bar, and murmured, “We could die here without ever leaving the house.”
What’ere may have been the g’nfight, it was doused by a sudden downpour, which inspired the college academic to visit Red, Gabriel, and Krakow, and to bring sociology. He tipped a Starbucks coffee, slightly tilting the cup, once more, contemplatively, from one side to the other. Friday morning, Friday at Battery Park; a ritual celebration, however modest, of his time at Marsh College. He bantered the autumn air, rubbing his arms, and a fleece jacket, found in his spacious closet, a walk-in as large as the rest of his Brooklyn flat. He could still see the paint fade in the kitchen around the table, with the rolling line of pencils, the yellow-lined paper, the handwritten tale of midlight. A maven of House Hunters – Renovation, he wondered how much, — a million, a half, five- hundred thousand dollars — could have made by flipping the closet. He didn’t own the flat. He muttered about blood clots. “Clots, – clots like a freight train; all in a line, all in a row,” orbits of a solar system, planets, rumbling forward in dumb, infinite sails.
He heard Red holler: “How about that one!”
The college instructor was set to yelled back to Red, a verbal shot-in-the-arm; having heard his neighbor through a crack in the door, and the cigar smoke of the hallway, he decided to antagonize him with a renewed bid of friendliness. He knew Red was accustomed to the floor for disasters, and other regular outbursts. He presumed everyone knew. Krakow didn’t waver. “They’re at it again,” it wailed, only this time to Gabriel, and the macaw shook his head, about man bewildered.
Sociology, the study of the science of how g’nfights are paused by rain, felt wearisome to the Coney Island lecturer, and mythology, somewhat lighter. He availed after breakfast to explain all of New York to Red. The elderly man proved blank much of the time, and also later. The instructor had mulled mythology, a recent passion, — he was ready to announce to his Marsh colleague, Joe, how the Greek tragedies, and the Greek comedies, were, actually, all comedies, and probably brought to theaters in Rome like Broadway — and decided to share snippets of the new theory with Red, who had been shot, and would probably appreciate knowing the motive of the streets of New York City, and how they were rooted in ancient Greece. Myriad, sundry gunshots were part of the designs of the Moirai; they doubtlessly insisted upon them, each, and all. Red displayed a patient, and peculiar glance. He read from theoi.com on his cell phone; the Moirai were “three beautiful goddesses of the realm of fate, who ‘personified the inescapable destiny of man, (who) assigned every person to his or her fate.” The instructor then Googled greekmythology.com, which points out that these “fates, these individual destinies, were assigned to mortals at birth by the Moirai.”
Red asked, “Who, again?”
He said, “Their names were Clotho the Spinner, Lachesis the Alloter, and Atropos the Inflexible.” Red didn’t comment, but raised his brows, which were intentionally left blank, and he allowed his door to swing slowly shut.
Joe was more generously disposed, on the cell phone, about gunshots-and-New York, granted a prerequisite (“It’s nowhere near as bad as it was before.”). It was simply, simply put, part of the “percussion of life in the City,” part of “the fabric of the big show,” and “a dimension of life,” and one shouldn’t worry, unless it was necessary. Red was just “another fellow traveller, with an email address.”
He allayed, “Things don’t always happen for a reason.”
“Of course not,” Joe replied. “Hey, it wasn’t you, bottom line.”
“I suppose,” he said, dismissing the incident. He segued to a science fiction marathon from one of his streaming channels, which claimed back five to twelve dimensions of time, and space actually existed; it was what he recalled, but if it was true, his viewpoints would truly have to be impeccable. He related, “Someone told me this one about Sir Isaac Newton. He said it attributed to Lardner, but I could have been someone else. Newton, he was supposedly enthralled by the idea of other dimensions, beyond the usual length, width, and depth. He said Newton’s apple, the one that landed on his head, wasn’t an accident, that it arose from time, and space. The apple was a reaction to Newton’s study, he said. And he claimed Newton ultimately had to move along to other theories, because trees kept falling on him. He said Newton actually had three or five accidents involving trees.”
“They friended him,” Joe chuckled. “Nah, I doubt it. Got to go.”
His meandering counsels on this Friday were not winning over any takers, and he ended paraphrasing Mariya, his long-term partner, “Anything can happen in the rain.” He glimpsed at the screen of his phone read, however, which read “Call ended,” and remarked, “So much for that.”
The college instructor resisted the equivocal, as a general rule, but mulled the words of another academic, tempted to discern them, safely at home. Nature knows man’s memory is flawed, but it never reminds him of anything. He decided this was untrue; it always reminded him, and in a lot ways, thinking about global warming.
He used a plastic knife to divide the hoagie into two parts, and wrapped half to save for Claire, a Marsh College student, who was due to visit him around lunch time. He was required to review her application for a city massage license, to provide a reference. Claire was completing a work-study practicum to qualify for a permanent license, and her first “paying” appointment was scheduled for later in the day. He tapped his cell screen for text messages. Milt, another Marsh College mentor, had called him. He scrolled for any texts from Claire, saying the time of her visit, and tapped the icon. He had volunteered to be “a massage victim”; it would contribute to his “Friday,” and the burden of his avoir dupois. Friday had always been a half-day. He began to wash the dishes in the sink, considering Claire. The co-ed was no more than twenty, still idealistic, and somewhat impressionable. He dried his hands with a dish towel, hung it on the faucet. He removed cold cuts, and vegetables from the counter to the refigerator, poured, and gulped a shot of mild whiskey. He set open the door to the curtain to take a shower, which would take ten minutes or so, after shaving, which took five. He grabbed a robe, which snagged on the plastic hooks over the top of the door, and heard the television, the cartoon channel, in the living room.
“Claire?” he called.
He didn’t recall switching on the television. He took four steps from the bathroom door, and he was going to jest about the TV, and Buddha’s Hand, on the counter; the aromatic was inedible, but it looked like a lemon, and he meant to show it to Red. Toweling off, he committed to memory, how the citron is a yellowed “fruit,” fragmented into sections of curved stalks resembling “fingers.” He had found one the night before with Kapitolina, Mariya’s friend, at a Farmers’ Market in Brooklyn, remarking it would “amuse Milt,” and be “good for his heart.” The television was off, he was sure. He joked – aloud? to himself? – “It must have been Buddha’s Hand.”
Then he fell, tumbled sideways, to his knees, and the living room floor, like a gunslinger suddenly wounded. He could not stop coughing, or continue breathing. His eyes rolled urgently. He was going to have to breathe. His muscles tightened, with a touch of anger. The culprit was a clot. A nurse would tell him there was a series of blood clots, going forward, from his lungs to his heart.
As a rule, Claire was intimidated by uniform personnel, the New York Police (NYPD), and Fire Department (NYFD), and emergency technicians (EMT’s). Her boyfriend in high school in Des Moines was a fireman, and a bully. She scuttled the memory. The ambulance was here, she could hear outside, and they arrived, and the professor was revived, however groggily, in and out of consciousness. Frowning, she left the premises in Coney Island quickly, she had a tight schedule for Friday; she left in a retro automobile; a vintage rattletrap 1975 Chevy Nova, which everyone said they loved, but didn’t have to drive; it had the original “slant-six” engine, and had been restored by her Iowan boyfriend. Her college instructor joked the Nova’s age had persisted “year after year,” which was more annoying, and amusing. The color of the Nova was originally bright yellow; today, the passenger and rear doors, and trunk were primer gray, and the rest a drab green. The Nova shivered and wheezed about ignition, and then shivered, and wheezed into gear; it didn’t idle very well, and it stalled; it stalled at two traffic lights, which she took in stride, and it stalled again at the railroad tracks; the warning arms had dropped, fortunately, and it spared her some embarrassment. The passing train allowed her a moment to release the stress, and clamor from her system, — the medical emergency; as the red arm lights flashed on the railroad warning arms, Claire smiled, and turned the ignition key to off, suspending the Nova’s miseries. She stepped from the vehicle for a Marlboro Light. “No money!” she exclaimed, shouting into the air, a general mea culpa.
Puffing smoke into the cooler air, Claire eventually noticed an ambulance. It was waiting interminably, and somewhat surreally, with its lights flashing, on the other side of the track, the other side of the railroad arms, heading the opposite way. Another one, she thought, sure it wasn’t the same ambulance with the college mentor. “They have to stop?” she murmured. The NYFD would never stop at a railroad track. “Huh.”
A man in Knicks’ basketball gear emerged from a metallic green Buick, parked behind her Nova, checked the cars behind him, and was ready to holler to Claire, reiterating what everyone said about the intersection, — “Weren’t all the railroad tracks raised by the city a long time ago?” — but stopped, whirled around, and instead asked Claire, who standing beside the road, in a huff of smoke, “Hey, where’s your car?”
Claire blinked her eyes, and nodded repeatedly, content to answer only, “Mmm.”
The medic admonished, “Wake up! Wake up!”
The instructor could see, through with one dizzy, and watering eye, normally, really, as if it was any other afternoon, the amount of fear in the brown, rounded eyes of the EMT. He saw the gurney wheeled into his apartment, wondering for whom. It was his open door. The Coney Island man was troubled by the commotion. The EMT gave him baby aspirin. He asked if it was “imperative.” The EMT didn’t answer, which meant probably. The EMT gave him nitroglycerin; despite its general acclaim, the lecturer noticed it had little affect; but affect for what? Another baby aspirin. His ECG showed one of his blood pressures dropping into the thirties. Thirty-nine, thirty-eight. Neither should be that low. He glanced at the EMT, with concern for him, but he showed no humor, or real emotion.
He asked to the man, the EMT, about the aspirin, “Don’t you have anything a little stronger?”
There was a billow of cloud gathering from the Marlboro Lights. Claire didn’t care; she would take it all, pack it in, and play it for Des Moines. Claire replayed her day in her mind, like a silent film, and waited with frustration for the train to pass. It gathered the cold air, and brushed her like a gust, or gale. Claire had parked in the lot outside the Coney Island apartment at eleven, an hour early, but unable to reach him on his cell. She had sent a text. She climbed the stairs, she hustled down the hall carrying the light, aluminum massage table, saw Red, and cheered Krakow, the macaw. Red had offered her a strawberry bakery muffin, but Krakow shook his head, and said, “No dice. No dice.”
“Never mind,” Claire laughed, and knocked animatedly on the door. She entered the apartment, pushing open the door with her table. The college instructor was on the floor. She was dazed, found her cell in her purse, in an instant, and dialed 9-1-1; on auto-pilot, she kneeled, and began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, CPR. And once the EMT’s arrived, helped corral a minister from the apartment building to administer last rights. But, as it was, as it always seemed to be for her in New York, none of this garnered her any good fortune. Claire needed the signature of the instructor, or someone from Marsh, to certify her license application; but the professor had beencarted away by the ambulance, down the stairs, and into the city, leaving her with nothing. She called her first client, an elderly man in the Bronx, and cancelled their appointment. Claire told him she could not legally practice without a certificate. She scheduled another time, Tuesday, three days later. Claire watched the television later that evening on the edge of her bed, garnished by Fritos, with a Dr. Pepper, to see if the incident had made the news.
This part was hard to explain, however. Maybe if it had not been a Florida hotel room, the two-story, stucco Mom & Pop kind, with broad railings, soaring heat, receding in the sun, and bold pink colours; which is to say, possibly, a New York hotel; that said, she reached for knob of the TV set, which was, too, problematic; because the television, with the glossy gray tube, and boxy, mahogany trim, was much further away from Claire than it seemed; which is to say, television was more than a decade from her reach.
Nonetheless, Claire crawled to the edge of the Florida bed, and watched the late news. In fact, she was about to phone the telephone operator to order pizza delivery when her slight whispers became a shriek: “No! No way!” The television evening news presented a Bronx man, who was wearing a white, stained t-shirt, rust-hewn jeans, and a ruddy beard. He bore handcuffs in the custody of NYPD, and was taking steps towards a cruiser. He had been arrested, no more than an hour ago, for the “alleged murder” of a massage therapist. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “The Fuse,” Bruce Springsteen | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-,” a myopic vaile (No. 56)
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom,
[Complete Works, No. 01]. Copyright (C) 2017-20, ff.
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