Two men who stand in the middle of the hallway for minutes talking. For hours, talking. The drink. It’s incredibly bitter, you almost can’t get it down. Now you want more. And more. And more. Stairs. More stairs. It smells like food, like whatever people are eating where you can’t see them, a kind of familiar otherness; you wish them ill. You wish them well.
The doors. The same doors. They are strange and unheimlich even after all of these weeks. There is a small crowd. There has been a speaker. The tile floor. The flags. The carpet. A strange man that you used to know, now dressed in traditional Pakistani garb. You don’t speak to him. You don’t know what to say. You’re self-conscious even though you know it’s insulting to be so.
A shaky table, no leg, with a checkers board on top. No-one has played checkers on it in years. It shakes and shakes. It’s not 1850; you can’t bring the bitter drink with you. “The common people,” she says, as though you care what she thinks, sitting across the room like she is. Swimming lights. The bitter drink begins to take hold. You want more of it.
The future. The near future, at first. In it, there is a car. You don’t know what it looks like yet; you haven’t seen it. It may be a mirage, you can’t quite tell. But you cling to it like it was a raft, like it was your keeper. The others. You know they’re out there, but they may as well not be; it’s quiet here even though people are speaking. The man in Pakistani garb laughs. He’s suddenly very foreign. His smile isn’t friendly; it’s menacing. You hate him, not because he’s Pakistani, but because you’re not.
Hollowness. Apprehension. Uncertainty. All of the things that are your friends when you are alone, when you are on the road with yourself and yourself. But you are not on the road and you are not with yourself. You can’t revel in your hate or in your loneliness. You have allowed yourself to care and now you are like the others.
Like “the common people” that she talks about, from across the room. She is speaking to her friend. She made fun of you, not too long ago. She has always made fun of you. You wonder if she makes fun of the man in Pakistani garb, but you don’t much care. You begin to thirst for the bitter drink once again. You begin to thirst for the past.
You begin to thirst for once, when you were a small boy holding a red ball. You begin to thirst for umbrellas in the rain in the city in the seventies, before there were strip malls, before there was an Elmo. You have been around for too long. It has been too long since the rain. It has been too long since Sugarhouse. It has been too long. You are ready for something. Not for this. Not for what you have.
You are ready for what you are sure must someday come.
But someday is still such a long way off that you can’t fathom it. You want more of the bitter drink yet again. You imagine New Orleans. You wonder if you will get there. You wonder about everything. You remember something about a race, something you didn’t think about earlier, when you heard it for the first time. You remember your grandfather, surrounded by smoke, serene, wise. You remember the leaves. You remember the apricots. You remember everything you have ever known, but you forget yourself.
You know that you are not who you were yesterday, and that you are not who you will be tomorrow. The table shakes. The checkerboard is full of your thoughts and no pieces. The light is full of the shadows of darkness chased away, like a bedtime story written by an eleven-year old boy long, long ago, when three buildings were the world and nobody was in danger. Like a small dog alone in a big world, but for the coat that surrounds him and the owner who carries him. Like yesterday. Like love.
There is nothing. There is nothing. Tobacco and Absinthe and the wood from which the table is made, like a Camus novel, like a gas station dream. You are ready to leave.
You stand up and leave.