Thursday, November 11, 2004

Downtown

Author's Note: Now years away from the trauma of 9/11 as a metamorphic moment, we are left pondering how we live in the shadow of such trauma. This story juxtaposes the enormity of the immediacy of the event, with how to deal with and live in the mundane that makes up most of our lives. This is what art has to deal with now, as it relates to this event.

We are done with the analyis, the grief, the denial. All that is left is to explore how this event compares with the trivial in our lives - where does it fit in with the rest of our lives as it slowly becomes a backdrop to new generations yet to come.


After the event, I was unable to comprehend what this event meant to me let alone try to express this in my writing. This story is an attempt to have that conversation with myself that makes it now something worth exploring.

- M C B

*--------------------------------------------------------------------------------*


His hands were like broken concrete yet they wrapped the pole of the subway car tightly.

It was almost a year ago that the towers fell; when the plume shuttled uptown and the dust tossed itself willy-nilly over lower Manhattan. It was almost a year ago, when shards of paper representing lives flew like souls across the Hudson into Brooklyn, signifying all that was left.

McNab took the “F” train downtown every day to get to his job. He got on at Kew Gardens and he always wore his construction helmet backwards. After the collapse, they slapped one of those American flags on the backs of all the guys’ helmets. McNab wore his so the flag faced forward.

McNab was a rigger and had been for years. He’d been working downtown since the collapse. He was a slight man, but wore his work belt, heavy boots and thick gloves which gave him monstrous girth.

At Jackson Heights the crowds in the train pushed out against the bodies lined up waiting to board; there was a panicked effort to catch the number 7 train to Flushing. McNab pulled back in the car. He never sat. He always preferred to give up his seat.

After all these trips riding the “F”, there were no strangers. The school kids piling in at Forrest Hills – weighed down by back-packs, bodies in a droopy slouch; the midtown Manhattan bound – women working in Fortune 100 companies wearing Anne Taylor and Nikes; men trying to sleep, occupied with a calculus of the day to come; everyone shaking gently in the car. They were al lsquatters eyeing patches of subway seat naugahyde like prime Manhattan real estate.

At the Roosevelt Avenue station the train performed its purge and binge of riders. Marisol always stepped on here. Same spot on the platform. Same car. McNab always instinctively turned his head discreetly toward his outstretched arm, trying to catch his own body odor. Marisol was a slight pretty Puerto Rican woman with thick red lips who wore too much makeup. She rode until Rockefeller Center where she always smoothed her pants or skirt, gathered her things, just before she would rise and stand by the train door. As Marisol went by she always brushed against McNab’s gruff toil smeared body. He breathed in her perfume, and marveled at her rich black hair.

Marisol always read; her dark almond eyes peered over her newspaper appeared like question marks to McNab. If she ever suspected that McNab watched her, she never let on. These were two dancers among many on all the cars that hurtled through the tunnels under New York.

When the train descended under the East River, McNab felt his ears “pop”. The lights would go out momentarily and he could only see the shadow of Marisol’s head against the tunnel lights through the car window. Together they rocked and lurched, evident for that half hour that they were subject to the same laws of physics.

When Marisol’s stop arrived, McNab made a deal with himself to follow her out, to talk to her and strike up a conversation. He planned it from Roosevelt Island. When the door opened, he saw himself follow her. He felt his body want to move. As the doors closed, the chimes seemed to berate his lack of initiative. “Tomorrow”, he would mutter and then begin the negotiations all over again.

The doors closed, as the great beast dumped McNab off at West 4th Street where he would walk the rest of the way.

There was still rubble to clear.


M C Biegner 2004

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