Why are you wasting your life doing this? Zoya once asked me. Do you enjoy it?
Enjoy it sometimes. When it works. I suppose we all feel. We all need to have our lives validated sometimes.
You shouldn't depend on other people she said. You shouldn't let others tell you how to live – that should be yours and your decision alone. To live?
A building, the tallest one in town. In that other place it stood there, and I passed it every day. On my way to classes and on my way nowhere when I stopped going. It was a common enough thing they said. They didn't think twice if someone mentioned jumping (who could see a building that tall and not think of it?) But if you said you actually went up there, oh three times a week and stood staring off the edge? And decided not to do it of course.
Sometimes they dropped things off there. For a joke say. Pumpkins (once it snowed when they did that) and pianos.
To die. At that point in my life I told myself I didn't care, it wouldn't matter when the time came. Could imagine myself doing something brave even, in some situation, because I just wasn't afraid. I didn't know what it would be like when it happened but it didn't matter; after I died I'd be dead and I wouldn't care any longer. And now?
Yet I used to walk. I'd walk at night walk aimlessly everywhere and now I don't even know how I did it. How I wasn't attacked in those unsafe places. Most likely they thought I was a ghost (it makes sense. Nobody wants to talk to a ghost). Across and back. Back and across. I liked watching the water and the sailboats. Even on cloudy days it was nice (one morning I read someone threw herself off that bridge. 6:00 am, that's why no one saw her.)
Group I lived with used to play. Used to come up the stairs, see them with the board all spread up out there. I didn't realize what it was but now. That's why it gave me such a creepy feeling, when I picked up that book (sometimes I felt like my life had gotten stuck on a strange loop, things from all over leaked over and repeated themselves. How many strange patterns I was missing that I only realized when I dreamed). I hear them before I went to sleep at night. They'd talk like that: you fool, every fool knows if you can't hold Turkey you go for it. Conquer and divide. Liberate. Options of attrition. I wasn't even disturbed. How did I not see it at the time, not see it coming?
There's always a choice. Sure it sounds good, but it's such a simplistic thing to say. Naïve. Yeah there's a choice but so what? That doesn't mean I can take it. The easy way out. Just because I'm imagining it doesn't mean it's not real. It should be your choice and your choice alone. To play? I heard you were asking about me, Zoya. Does anybody know me at home anymore? Hourlong nightly kisses, the seldom seen kid.
Miss you. – A
With some amusement I noticed. At the intersection the fascist cop had become a tourist attraction. He was lifting kids up and letting them take pictures on his motorcycle. That made me think better of him somehow. He didn't even look at me as I passed him to cross (at the light of course. I wouldn't make that same mistake twice.) It was always busy here, this whole place really, at all hours of the day. As late as I dared go out anyway.
The place was swarming with cops, and I had never noticed them before. I think they were stepping up though. Security for the President's coronation. At night when I walked through the building, saw all the rows of chairs through the doors of the main lobby. Surreal. I stood there watching them set it up until they noticed and I turned away.
My shoes are becoming worn. I hadn't gone back to the hotel until that night (almost a week ago) and picked up all my stuff. I mean left most of it. The rest was in my backpack, I had to make sure not to overload it or it'd break (it's also pretty old; three years old at least). Probably the favorite thing I own – the straps are fraying. I'm just making it harder for myself. When I'll have to replace it eventually.
I'm not afraid of them. How am I supposed to be afraid of them if they're all fat? (Well so is everybody nowadays says my brother. When we watched that movie. Who's that jerk with the yellow coat? Oh wait. He had a red cross instead of that on his arm). I don't know it's the skinny ones you have to be afraid of I feel. Whenever I see one I want to sneak up behind him and try to steal his gun. I wonder what would happen if I did; maybe I would just become a cop myself. More likely get shot. They're so trigger happy these guys, just yesterday I read. Once I was sitting in the square and I saw him roar up on his motorcycle. Wondered what crime I'd have to commit to get him to chase after me on that.
I looked up – with sadness I noticed they were doing some kind of construction on the Dome. So that's why they hadn't decorated it recently. I'd been up there once, and wanted to go there again. Watch the skyline, that red triangular sign on the horizon. Thinking. But I couldn't find my way, couldn't get anybody to show me. Aren't most parts of life like that?
Past the construction sites, hunched over the metal scaffolding like a vulture. The loneliness of a crane tower driver.
(Goodbye) At the sign I descended. Down the stairs, where the roof could collapse down on us any minute now. Past the map on the wall, faded, colored lines throughout the city. Red I used to take with my brother. Through the turnstile but no fire on the platform. I waited faceless in a crowd.
On the subway. Alone for a while. Then some army brat sat next to me. No –
"Why is your camouflage blue?"
He looked confused, like he wasn't sure where the voice came from (so I am becoming invisible).
"Does it help you blend in with the sky?"
One I knew somebody in the Navy. He said they were piloting some ghetto warship and they ran it aground. The people we're trusting these things with. Why do they insist on wearing these uniforms? Is there a war on or something that I don't know about. Maybe they think they look cool.
"Have you ever killed anybody?"
A couple people looked at me at that but not him. Probably not. He's probably in officer school or something like that. They had that back there too. I wonder what's the use of training all these people and if they'll ever end up doing anything.
"With your bare hands?"
He changed seats even though we were moving. I didn't mean to; I was genuinely curious. If feelings like that can ever be genuine.
(I bet if I'd done that to a Marine he would've punched me out)
I wonder if it's harder. More difficult I mean. And not just physically. Pull a trigger and it's almost like a game isn't it? You would think it'd make it harder. Does it really matter since there's nothing afterward? Makes it worse for them I mean but better for you maybe. It's frightening. Am I slipping? Like one of those heroes in a Russian novel.
The subway came to a stop and I decided not to get off. A conscious decision; you have to make it every time. Even now.
Hero of our time. Lucien. Academic fencing, he announced. What the hell? It's like fight club. Except with swords. I though the first rule was – I know, I know. But I want you to come along, to see, okay Drei?
Speaking of dueling. After I got off at that stop I walked somewhere, around the trainyards. All those metal corrugated boxes. Above me, the bridge that carried the streetcars thundered over (sometimes I take it on the loop – around and around, sleeping even, until it stops or someone kicks me off. I like looking out the window). Half the time you couldn't hear your own thought for all the noise. And the streets leading off the mainway were crammed – with Korean characters, with autoshops (why so many? They all seemed to be doing quite well. People messing around in trunks, outfitting wheels, skateboarding. Houses under the bridge, an entire city. I'd like to live there maybe).
The address appeared to be in some deserted warehouse (art gallery, Lucien informed me. Between shows so it's okay.) And all the rest appeared as shadows to me. Next to me. Nobody introduced themselves but nobody knew each other either. A bloodthirsty crowd in short.
Are they illegal? Lucien's a big proponent of bringing them back. I can understand why – such a way to settle disputes. Barbaric too. Setting oneself on fire, a bright way to go out. Once we were discussing the best ways to go. Sleep would be nice. But boring. Fire or ice would be the worst. Drowning psychologically speaking (you'd know what was happening). Guillotine quick – but the walk. The death of Kings. Same with firing squad. The worst walk ever, to see that. They think blindfolding makes it better? Tying you down? Drugging you? There's no way to do it humanely. You either shoot him you heartless bastard – or you don't do it. Sword fighting, they didn't understand me. It'd be painful, they kept saying, bleeding your guts out like that. Trial by combat, trial by fire. At least you go out fighting.
I was no good at it. Fencing, sabre. The second I went against another person, all those drills, all that everything went out of my head. Don't go for the blade you idiot, Jarek told me. No Zorro stuff. No movie crap, no sparks go in for the kill (symbolically speaking), the guy. I'd be dead in two seconds flat in any real war.
(It's like Mafia, he whispered to me. Have you played that? Or Werewolves. In real time.)
In a real city. I don't know how I get into these situations. Boxed into things I don't want to do. I'm sleeping under a bridge with white geese – take a guess. On a tarp. Homeless or student. It's not like I have a choice.
"It's all right." Lucien said. "You'll pick it up eventually, soon enough." I couldn't tell if he was joking. "It's easier to play than to explain. Don't worry – I'll watch out for you." He handed me the sword (I mean blade, sabre) "Want to give it a try?"
I shook my head. "I thought they were supposed to be sharp."
Lucien laughed. "No armor either." He waved around. "But could you imagine this lot?"
"Maybe in time."
He grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "That guy, Reinhard. He's a real pro."
I narrowed my eyes. "Is he – here?"
"He really knows what he's doing. You can tell."
I looked around.
"Who knows? Looks like you'll have to train up."
"Why not you?" I handed it back. "You're pretty good."
He wouldn't take it. "It's not mine. It's yours."
"I don't – "
But with a wave and without an answer he disappeared. With his helmet under his arm to referee the next match.
"I choose death."
That elaborate salute.
"And with it – immortality."
The sword was heavy in my hand as I watched.
(Is it just my imagination? Or did I see those two fighting there.)
For now it seems safe, hidden in plain site. The colder wind under a concrete sky. After all without a door – how can there be anything? To wit, notes. Crosses.
Knock on metal, knock on wood.