September 11th, 2003
This was the first year that somebody had fucked up the moment of silence. The year before, the mood was still somber. The days after it had originally happened, the event still seemed inexplicably significant. But two years later, the tide of compulsive patriotism and confused sadness had subsided. In homeroom, on September 11th, 2003 at 8:46 am, while the students were erect in wordless half-prayer, with Madonna-like bowed heads, Jay Rush heard somebody swiftly yell it out in the hallway. It was brief, it was loud, and came without direction as if it organically and crudely materialized out of the vacuum caused by the ticking moments of silence. But somebody with a laughing, deep, and comical voice just shouted and it echoed down the lockers and ajar doors, 'Allāhu Akbar!"
God is great.
Later that day, Jay was walking down the sidewalk to Holly's house. Every other telephone pole had a bloody red, snow white, and sea blue flag, flying half-mast, pointing crookedly toward the sky like a rifle in a 21-gun salute. They gave away the mostly unnoticeable breeze, and when a car passed fast enough, they would flap wildly and wrap around the flagpole. The early-fall sunlight had the insidious undertones of summer, and the stirring leaves cast fragmented shadows on the sidewalk, which was empty except for Jay.
Looking back two years, he didn't remember where he was when he heard the news. At least not in the sense that believing is memory. In school, people were swapping stories about where they were when the planes rammed into the towers, as if these memories had unalienable value. He lied, and said he was in the cafeteria. He said he remembered specifically eating a bagel with strawberry cream cheese, which he couldn't finish.
His shadow leaned onto the emerald grass lining the sidewalk. A school bus roared by in a mechanized thunder. He took his sunglasses from his backpack, and slowly, deliberately put them on. He tilted his head back, and stared at the nude, cloudless sun, beating down onto the concrete and flags and houses that lined the edges of the street. A sprinkler ticked and hissed and spat on him as he walked by it.
Looking down, he saw something, something small, shift almost imperceptibly on the clean slab of sidewalk. A maggot: tooth-white, about the length of his fingernail, was convulsing and squirming, as if it was attempting to stand up. He stopped walking, and bent over it, staring down. There were no other maggots around, and he couldn't imagine anything rotting in this neighborhood. It stopped moving, perhaps calmed by his shadow. Jay felt a little sick, and he looked back up, and continued walking.
On September 11th, the important one, he remembered he was wearing new shoes. The ebony-alabaster immaculate laces glowed at the nadir of his vision for the whole day. He tripped in the hall, and Holly Tuesday laughed at him. He remembered saying "new kicks" to her and she smiled and he thought this was awfully charming. He still found it charming, and smiled these two years later. Sometime around 8:30 a.m. that day he was in her car with her, while she smoked a cigarette. He sat there. It was probably a Parliament. He came because he had a lighter (which turned out to be dead and he took an ancient book matches from his wallet) and he could no longer think of anything clever to say.
September 11th, the second unimportant one, he was walking to her house at 3:00 p.m. He wasn't far, but he was taking his time. Two birds simultaneously lifted from the same branch on one of those faceless sidewalk trees.
None of that mattered, because he was eating a bagel with strawberry cream cheese, and was so shaken up by the ordeal of September 11th that he had to throw it away and go and think somewhere, because he felt like he was in a movie and everyone agreed. It's like the plot of a Superman movie, or Batman movie, and they got there too late. The twin towers aren't in Gotham. You know what I mean.
It can be startling when belief replaces memory. He heard someone mowing their lawn in the distance. It still felt like summer. Was it this nice last 9-11? Sure it was.
He heard a car slow down in back of him, and he turned around. It was the same car he was in it when that picture of the falling man was probably taken.
"Where are you going?" Holly asked, smiling.
"I thought you'd know that." New kicks, he was thinking. Something along those lines. She laughed.
"Get in, I need to go some places. I'm taking the car out so my dad doesn't try to drive somewhere."
On September 11th, the real one, Holly's father, Alec Tuesday, lost an all-too-close companion. A friend of his, with whom Holly firmly believed he maintained a (homo)sexual relationship, was a window washer. They had met "forever ago" in AA, around the time they were both in their early twenties and Alec's friend's alcoholism was the tip of the burgeoning iceberg of his problems. He had begun using heroin in the mid-1990s, along with "everyone else," or so the story is told. The particulars of this relationship is unclear, but when he reached "sobriety" he got a job cleaning bird shit from the eyes of ivory towers. Jay remembered Holly saying, "I know he wasn't sober. I met the man, I was little, and I knew what a junky looked like. Met him right there when ground zero was just normal fucking ground. Must have been a trip 50 stories up, hanging in that little box all fucked up with that squeegee in his hand."
His body was never recovered, and Alec Tuesday quickly relapsed into a rather domestic, suburban form of self-destruction. "Every September, he starts the first of the month. Takes the whole fucking week off. When I pulled out of the driveway he was wearing just a fucking bathrobe, and burning holes into a flag with a cigarette. They're burning all over the house, he just forgets about them." Holly laughed, turning into the gas station. "Let's kill time."
Jay had taken off his sunglasses, and he put them back on. Holly didn't notice him looking at her while she stepped out of the car. The tank-top she was wearing was too big for her, and her bra stuck out of the low-hanging neck. It was blue. Her hair blew, slightly, yet somehow erratically, as if charged by electricity. She pulled it back with the hand she held her keys in, and closed the door with the other. She squinted in the unfiltered and Olympian sunlight, looking at Jay over the hood of the car, while he stood motionless.
"Are you going to close your door?" she asked, smiling. He shut it lightly, and followed the sound of the her flip-flops making their way of the baking concrete to the sliding doors inside the 7-11.
Inside, it was the fourth of July. Ruffled banners bearing blue backgrounds for emblazoned ebony stars and red and white stripes lined the aisles. The cashier, indiscreetly chewing gum, and blowing sad bubbles sat silently at the counter; above her was a sign that said "NEVER FORGET."
It was cold, the air conditioner was unnecessarily high. Jay imagined the temperature of Holly's skin, and he watched her filling the largest possible clear plastic cup with red slushie. She then moved on to blue, and some electric green. After mixing it with the straw, it became a brownish-black, tar colored beverage. She sipped it, walking through the aisles.
"I hope you plan on paying for that." The girl behind the counter said this flatly, and it did not receive a response.
Jay walked over to where Holly was slowly walking, her sandals deliberately smacking on the soles of her feet. "Do you want something to eat?" Jay shook his head. "Well, I'm getting something." Where they stood, the shelves held only trash bags, band-aids, condoms, matches, cans of soup and tuna, toothpicks, and occasional mis-placed and sundry food items. She grabbed one of these: a bag of sunflower seeds.
She turned, and stood facing Jay. The air conditioner made him shiver, and she apparently saw this, because she smiled and walked toward the magazine rack. It had two plastic-poled flags sticking from it's metal skeleton. Every magazine, newspaper, and periodical had a cover shot of the two towers burning like massive cigars. She grabbed one, and opened up to a random page. It had a full-page close-up of three people, falling against a vertically-striped and soot-clouded background, falling like leaves from hundreds of feet.
She stared at it intently for some time, and Jay watched this over her (perfect) shoulders. He tried to look down her shirt, but he couldn't see anything from this angle, so he instead looked at the picture.
"Fucking jumpers." She said this, almost as loudly as possible. "Would you have jumped? I wouldn't have. I would have lived it up. Five minutes of absolute hedonism. And everyone would feel bad for me. I've thought about it a lot." Jay looked around nervously, she was saying this all extremely loud.
"Maybe we should talk about this later."
She didn't listen to him. "I mean, would it be worse to fall all that way, with your Loony Toons tie flapping in the wind, or to die of smoke inhalation while banging some secretary on your desk for your last five minutes of life. These people are retarded." She closed the magazine, and put it back in the wrong spot.
At this point, the manager of the girl behind the counter was standing with her, both of them staring at Jay and Holly. He was a silver fox of a man, perfectly combed and product-laden hair. American Flag tie, and angry eyes. "Do you have any fucking respect?" He asked, with an anger reflected in his Damascus-steel blue eyes.
Jay wished he had never gone in to 7-11 on 9-11. He looked at Holly, with her (perfect) breasts, and (misplaced) rage in her eyes. "My fucking father . . . died. He worked for Lishmoitz and Schmidt Attorneys, on the forty-fucking-third floor, and he's been dead since Nine motherfucking Eleven" She slowly started to approach the counter, and Jay backed up to the far end of the store.
There were two people who he hadn't noticed before arguing in the back. A flabby, blonde-haired woman with massive arms and unidentifiable symbols tattooed onto them. She was yelling at her husband, or boyfriend, or something: an emaciated, dirty looking man.
"Jesus, Rick, I'm fucking sorry. I thought we were getting ripped off."
He didn't answer. His skeletal appearance was apparently maintained by either a steady diet of coffee and nicotine, or a dependence on whatever they were talking about. "HALF OF A FUCK - -" he quieted himself at this point, and moved closer to her, forming a fist with his hand and placing it near his mouth. "Half of a fucking gram, and you think they're god damned police. You dumb bitch."
The fat woman with the tattoos looked into his tiny slits of eyes and the maze of deep wrinkles on his sunburned face. "Why don't you go to hell, Rick, you know what? Go to hell." She turned her massive body and exited the store. He yelled something at her about being a stupid, fat whore.
"Let's go." Holly was standing next to Jay, with her keys still in one hand, fixing her hair with the other. The manager with the American flag tie was talking on the phone now, and the girl was putting a new piece of gum into her mouth.
Once outside, Holly threw away the slushie. "It's just ice half-way down to the bottom." She ripped open the sunflower seeds and scattered them near the doors. A group of little birds materialized around them.
Jay sat down in the car, and put his sunglasses back on. "What the fuck was that about?"
Holly looked back at him, frowning. "This just isn't a good day for me. I doubt it ever will be." The engine turned over, and she looked over her shoulder, backing out of the slanted and cracked parking lot. Driving away, Jay saw the skeletal man consoling the crying behemoth of his wife or whatever.
When Jay and Holly reached the emerald and ivory immaculacy of her suburban home, her father, Alec Tuesday, was sitting on the front porch. He had wrapped a slightly charred American flag around his head, apparently as some type of turban, and wearing only grey sweatpants. He was tilting back an empty bottle toward the heavens.
"Dad, what the fuck are you doing?" He didn't notice them until they were standing around the deck chair he was in. "Is that our flag?"
He laughed, slightly and sadly. He looked up at Jay, and smiled. "Jerry! How the hell have you been?"
"Right, Jay. Holly, did you get me what I asked for?"
"Dad, I'm eighteen. I can't buy alcohol."
"Sure you can't. Like you haven't before, getting all . . ."
Holly unwrapped the flag from around his head and threw it down on the floor of the grey porch. She took the empty bottle from him, and handed it to Jay. She helped him out of the chair and into the house. "I'll be right back" she said, going into the dark-in-the-day house.
Jay looked out across the street. A kid flew down the sloped, even pavement on a longboard, and curved out of sight around the bend that signified the end of Ironsides Drive. Two other kids, younger than the first one, were beating each other with sticks in their front yard. From where he was standing, he could see one of them was bleeding, but laughing.
"I need to go buy him cigarettes." Holly had been standing in back of Jay, watching this with him, he hadn't noticed. She had put her hair up, and found a pair of shades in the house. Jay nodded. "I want you to stay here and make sure he doesn't go inside. He's in the living room. Make sure he doesn't watch the news."
"Are you serious?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"I thought we could do something else." Jay realized he shouldn't have said this.
"My father's best friend died two years ago, and he's currently drinking himself to death and burning American flags in our front yard. But instead of helping him, I guess you'd rather get a blowjob?"
Jay didn't say anything.
"I'll be back in a few minutes. Go inside."
She walked off into the driveway, and he stood, watching her as she walked away, got into the car, and drove off. He waited on the porch for a few minutes before he went inside, hoping Alec might pass out before he got in.
Crossing the threshold of the house, he could tell that not a single window was open. It was one of those new, expensive, factory-built homes that came complete with new-house-smell when purchased. Now, it smelt like cigarettes, vomit, sweat, booze, bile, and like Alec failed miserably at cooking himself lunch.
"JERRY! I want to show you something."
"Where are you?"
Jay walked through the darkened hallways, lined with mirrors, photos, and random paintings. He came down into the garage, which seemed to have been a sanctuary from Alec's destructiveness. It just smelt like unmistakably like garage.
He was sitting at the workbench, with a shirt on now. He was leaned over the scratched wood desk, he looked asleep. Hammers, screwdrivers, nails, pliers, knives, and drill bits surrounded him like scattered pieces of driftwood on a beach.
"Did you know, Jimmy, that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor? And he just let it happen so we had an excuse to fight the Japanese?"
"I'd heard something . . ." Jay trailed off. He saw where this was going.
"This isn't like, JFK assassination, Area 51, bullshit, you know? There is video of the planes blowing up before they hit . . . or is it the building that blows up?" Alec slumped back over as he trailed off. "They just want a fucking excuse. That's what it is. Your government will kill you, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten." He said this last sentence like a question.
Alec seemed like he fell asleep for a little bit. Jay sat down on a plastic deck chair that was inside. Alec vociferously came to, grunting and coughing, and turned and looked at Jay.
"Jason, I'm being eaten alive."
He didn't know what to say.
"I'm sorry, sir."
Jay heard Holly pull into the driveway. They sat in silence, waiting for her to enter. They heard the front door open.
Alec cleared his throat before he yelled: "GARAGE!"
Jay listened to her flip-flops coming closer and closer. "They didn't have Lights." She said, while throwing a pack of cigarettes at her father. He didn't move, they bounced off his arm and dropped to the concrete floor. "Let's go, Jay."
Jay got up and followed her into the kitchen, she stood at the breakfast nook, and began moving the dirty plates into the sink. "Maybe you should go. I have a lot of shit to do."
"I understand. I think you should talk to him."
"Yeah?" "Yes, I do. I'll call you tomorrow, I guess."
He walked off, and heard her sandals smacking the linoleum floor, he heard a flint wheel rolling in the distance, and Alec coughing.
Outside, he stood on the porch, and watched as a man stood in his front yard across the street, lowering a flag to half-mast in the dying sunlight.