A WINDOW WITH SHADES
by Hernaldo Bernardo
Ambient chatter tumbled in from the far end of the ballroom. This is what happens when you stack too many speakers in a row, he thought. He made a mental note to never schedule so many sequential speakers should he ever host a similar event. He made a second mental note about human behavior, and decided he’d write a story about what he’d just learned. Someday.
The next morning he walked to the subway knowing with a sort of surrender that he wouldn’t get a seat, but it angered him nonetheless when he saw how crowded the train was. A moment of relief swelled up as more people than he’d anticipated exited the car he was about to enter. Don’t step on any feet as you maneuver into position. Don’t even let the tip of the toe of your shoes make contact with the backpack strap lying on the ground. Bend your elbow as you clutch the handrail, it will make you look taller. Don’t let your feet slide should the train take a turn too sharply. If you can’t help but let your feet slide, only let them move slowly. Slow movements translate as deliberate movements. Cool guys are deliberate. Losers trip over their own feet. He wondered this and wondered if the difference between cool and uncool had to do with temporal relationships. Cool people live life with a confident anticipation, a relationship with the future begun with a handshake; uncool people meet their futures each new moment, as the future becomes the present in an instant, and such chance encounters are always awkward.
A garbage truck coughed up dust smoke into the new crisp morning sun. His bottom lip had a crack in it. A tiny woman walked sadly and a young man in a hoodie barked curse words into or because of his headphones. The sudden disruption of the morning quiet gave him a start and he dissolved his surprise into his scarf with a quick clutch. The dust smoke from the garbage truck didn’t move. It looked stuck. Maybe it was stuck. As he moved past it in a brisk walk down Central Park West, he noticed the sidewalk sparkling. Psychedelic drugs like to make a morning sidewalk glitter. This was a fine morning and the sun felt nice enough. Nevertheless, the edges of his contentment had a sear on them, a little something that made him squint and lament the straightness of the avenue.
It was an unnecessary scarf. But it served the purpose of making him appear prepared for the news’ promise of a cold night, and creating the illusion of a long neck. Christmas red hatched with cerulean blue, and a little bit of gold, it smoothed the edges of his morning anger. He examined it in the mirror and was satisfied. Then he left the apartment. He would do something bad someday soon, but not today. The cheerful thing around his neck contained the discontent in his heart.
Because of an appointment, he had left the house early the previous morning, the morning during which he couldn’t get a seat on the train. This morning he’d left late. This created an opposite expectation of the train. Everybody should be at work already, he thought, so I really shouldn’t have an issue getting a seat; or at least I should be able to avoid getting touched. Soon I’m going to start hearing that Fleet Foxes song each time I pass by Barney’s, and I’m going to be conflicted about whether or not I like it while wishing I had written it. There was a man asleep on the subway with a plastic bag from The Strand, but it wasn’t full of books. It was overflowing instead with what were probably all of the man’s possessions. As he looked at the sleeping man he envisioned a future where all bags from The Strand held books only, before they were discarded to the cell beneath the sink to get hot and wet in the dark. Could a future ensure goodness for more people than is currently ensured now? Or, are we endlessly staring down the barrel of the law of conservation? Does anyone really ever accomplish anything before dying? When he felt happiness he asked questions. When he felt dissatisfied he made judgments. He emerged from the subway humming lightly.
The homeless man who looked like Jerry Garcia continued out loud the conversation he’d been having in his head for at least as long as he’d been passing by him. Is the newspaper irritated at his misinterpretations? Mom always said that newspapers don’t say things; you read things in them. Inference not implication. Paul Simon lyrics. Scenes from Seinfeld. Life distilled. Am I a victim of jealousy or does it enflame me? Choices in the atmosphere.
“Protection.” He heard someone on the street say it. He couldn’t tell who it was, which of the myriad heads atop black or tan pea-coats, but he could tell that it wasn’t said into a cell phone; it was one person walking and talking with another. He had trouble getting his head around why someone would be talking about protection so early in the morning. When was the last time I heard that word, “protection?” Who needs protecting? From whom? What if I was dangerous? Maybe today is the day! I’ve been feeling far less saccharine lately. And maybe it was the unseasonably generous weather, or maybe it was the smiling and chipper homeless man holding the door at Starbucks open as people came and went, but somehow he knew that today was not the day he would do something bad. I want to, he thought, but he knew that he wouldn’t. Parallel thinking. Something computers can’t do. Asynchronous dual narration.
A window without shades is always a window. A window with shades is sometimes a door… or a wall. Suns don’t actually set. Their light and heat go every which way but also point at us. We are not special but we are particular. Clever. Wicked. Brutal. Small and slow. Brimming with passion. Cars take us where we tell them to take us because everything is a fucking circle. Entropy, enthalpy, whatever they are, whatever they were in 7th grade at a quarter-after-one in the afternoon. Will there be time for revision?
There are too many stops in lower Manhattan. It negates the train’s express-ness. Bowling Green is useless. No one gets on and no one gets off. Did you know that Bowling Green used to actually be a bowling green? I did know that, yes. Talking to yourself? That should make this easier. “Next stop will be 42nd St. For those customers traveling to 14th St. Union Sq., take a downtown 4, 5 or 6 train at Grand Central. Again, because of an investigation this train will not be stopping at 14th St. Union Sq. If you need to get to 14th St. Union Sq. this morning you need to transfer to a downtown 4, 5 or 6 train at Grand Central. Please stand clear of the closing doors.”
They’re on the prowl, on the lookout; I can’t do this today. No, they’re distracted, you’ll slip under the radar. You’ll? Are we- am I really talking like this? My god. His right armpit began to sweat and he could feel the moisture cool and spread. His breaths deepened as he inhaled but exhaling was difficult. Dirt smoke stuck. Committed but unfocused he imagined vignettes, not visual but emotional. Excitement, release and fear coalesced into a tumbling handful of marble. Thought marbles. Thought marbles spilled on a marble floor, full of noise and chaos. He’d nearly missed his stop, but he didn’t. A flash of genius. A sign of certainty. Today was the day. Victory was at hand. A decade of growing up; a decade of shaving his face; a decade of haircuts and throwing out shirts that no longer fit; a decade of decreasing drug use, bills paid almost on time and 300 days a year of exercise; a decade without academic and disciplinary probation rendered his current desire for criminal activity insatiable. Alms and mitzvahs were for any day but today. There would be more of them, in fact! The next decade would be a decade of atonement. No. A decade of thanks. Air brakes and the sound of air brakes. The fruit stand he always passed, there it stood. I can never walk down this street ever again. Ever. I can live with that, he thought and was excited by it. The man has always been so kind to me. He must have children who make him smile. His wife, I’m sure they smile together, and laugh together. What am I taking from him? What am I… what am I taking this from him? Because today there are no mitzvahs. Today is your day. The first in a long time. The last for a long time afterward. Ten feet away. His daughter, the thought, I can tell he has a daughter. Fathers love their daughters. Five feet away. He pulled both hands out of his pockets. The cold morning seemed to slap them with a chill but the course of event, the momentum of a decade of thought marbles no longer tumbled but stampeded. Eye contact. A bitter mistake. He persevered, he overcame. Reaching up with his right hand, heeling the heat of emotional release, he did it.
He grabbed the apple nearest him. Then he grabbed a batch of bananas with his other hand. He turned down Park Avenue in a sprint. A dead sprint. A small wide woman with a big purse changed direction abruptly in front of him. Momentum wouldn’t let him stop, so his strong shoulder hit her weak shoulder and spun her around. She collapsed not with a scream but with a bewildered gasp. He sprinted, sprinted down Park Avenue. The don’t cross sign across 58th St. didn’t mean shit to him now. He might have hurdled a car. A wild turn on 57th St. He noticed two stunned faces. He hadn’t noticed any faces previously, but the two stunned and confused faces struck him and evoked just the sort of happiness he was hoping for. The home stretch. The was only wind in his ears now. He reached his office doors. Open. Slow. Second door. In the building. Slower. He waved at the familiar security guard, still holding the apple in his hand, and smiled. He felt pride that the familiar security guard assumed nothing, here was just another rushing man with a healthy breakfast in his hands.
There was no wait for the elevator, no one exiting and no one waiting to get in. There is a first time for everything, he thought. Circle split. Chain undone. Evolution. A wrinkle in time. The end.
Examining himself in the elevator mirror he first noticed his eyes. They were wide open. Beneath them ran a pink smear of excited flesh. The bones of his cheeks cast a distinct shadow. Everything looks angular: his chin cutting a straight line across the upper part of his neck. His neck appeared to him to as a stalk that emerges rather than like a pole that’s been beat into the ground. And as he drew his gaze backward to observe the entirety of his gladness, he noticed his scarf was missing. The elevators door opened. Broken concentration. A DHL deliveryman apologized for standing in his way. “Sorry, brother. My bad! Is this going up?” Whatever startled answer he gave wasn’t a good one. Ambient chatter tumbled through the office door. •••