IV. 9/11/01

 

“I’m so glad you’re okay” she said.

And she embraced him for the first time.

 

Today

Flight won over fight

People were their best selves

People were their worst selves

Posters heralding some hot band

At some local dive

Stared indifferently at the chalk covered hordes marching by.

 

And he thought to himself

“What day is it today? What’s the date?”

Tomorrow no one would ever forget.

 

Her hug was warm and slight

Her weight around his shoulders barely registered

But for one second she chased away the bad dreams.

 

In the years ahead she would chase them away again

Though she never knew that was what she was doing.

 

She was barely conscious.

 

He woke up sweating…

… and he called her name until she woke up, too.

 

“What?” she mumbled, not pleased at the interruption.

“I had a bad dream.

I was playing with a dog. It was aggressively friendly

then it attacked me.”

 

Her eyes narrowed, then shut.

She rolled away from him.

“Okay. Go back to sleep.”

 

But in his dreams he had fallen

Fallen out of the window and into clouds

Or into a plume of smoke

Pouring from a gaping hole in the building’s side

Before he saw the stone tiles of the mall rushing up.

 

“Someone’s jumping!” A woman screamed

And what he had never told her

What he’d never said to anyone

Was that he wanted to see someone fall.

 

That tiny x plummeting from above the building

And disappearing a moment before life was extinguished

Would haunt him for the rest of his days.

 

He wanted to see someone fall.

Had he wanted to see someone die?

What kind of person did that make him?

 

During the impromptu bible study that night

(there were very few atheists left in New York that day)

He was grateful for the company

But he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

It was the first time she had held him.

 

He called friends and family when he could

The phone lines were jammed, much like the city streets

In New York, children can go to school in three feet of snow

But the city isn’t prepared for a mass exodus

 

The subways stopped

There were no cabs to be had

And those who had them went nowhere

New York City was a parking lot now.

 

Later, when all those Xeroxed pictures

Of all those happy faces gone missing

Cried out in desperation to the millions of passers-by

“Have you seen me? Have you seen me?”

The parking lots in Jersey City were filled with cars

That would never be claimed by their owners.

 

He had been on his way to work

Getting out on the Cortlandt Street stop

Everyone felt the shudder and paused

But dismissed it as the subway’s escape

As it rumbled and shrieked off into the darkness

 

On his way to work he passed a Banana Republic

In the Mall under the World Trade Center…

He skirted under the building

then continued to the custom house

But not today

 

Everyone stood frozen, and he thought

(where did these thoughts come from)

Did an epileptic have a seizure?

 

That was before they started running

And he looked past the crowd

and thought he saw a white wall sliding down

A yellow bulb flashing

 

In restrospect it could have been smoke

But he didn’t wait to see

“A bomb!” he panicked, and ran back the other way

Trying to outpace the bomber he imagined was behind him

 

That night, walking on a basketball court with a friend

In the cool of the evening

With her hug still on his mind

(He could still feel her arms round his neck –

That balm that soothed the terror)

He heard the other say “How’re you doing with all this?”

 

“I can’t really talk…” he started, “I mean, okay. Scared

But I’m more afraid of…”

And he paused while his friend waited patiently.

 

Earlier he had tried to meet this friend at the Bowery mission

He sprinted across the city but Ryan had gone

Before the parking lot took affect.

From there he heard, then saw the Towers fall.

 

Fortunately Ryan called his parents

(upon his request)

They hadn’t heard the news

So they knew he was okay

Before they knew he was in danger.

Before the phones went down

And the phone lines out of the city

Turned to spaghetti.

 

He tried to take a bus

But it only made it two blocks

Before the driver let everybody out

 

James got off the bus, too.

A friend from a former job

They walked together from Chambers Street

To 21st Street in Queens.

 

Like so many others

James was covered from head to toe

In that white chalky powder.

 

Just like the person walking past the parking garage

Barely aware of who she was or where she was going

Clearly stunned, displaced in time.

 

Fortunately, some thoughtful New Yorker

Driving her black SUV out of the parking garage

Reminded the ghost colored woman of exactly where she was

 

With an angry,

extended,

insistent

blare of her horn.

 

The ghost looked up at the enraged face inside the SUV

Gave a slight nod

And stepped aside so the other could tear out of the garage

And into the parking lot that was Manhattan.

 

Then there was the boy on the third floor balcony

maybe of middle eastern descent

No more than ten

Flipping the bird at the crowds walking by.

 

As he  and James walked past the U.N.

He worried that it might be the next target

 

It was a scene out of a World War II film

With all the refugees trudging to… where, exactly?

 

Cars on the street opened their doors

Bars on the street opened their doors

radios and TVs on either side of the sidewalk

announced the news

Tom Brokaw told them it was an act of terrorism

That someone had done this on purpose

But he knew that when the second plane hit.

 

He ran to the subway stairs and knew he’d gone the wrong way.

The steps were covered with debris

Chalky powder

And paper…

 

So much paper.

 

It was a beautiful day.

The first brisk morning of September

Cool enough that he wished he’d worn a jacket

Though by mid day there was no need

 

As he looked up out of the square opening

Where the subway steps led out

He noticed fluttering objects

Blocking a cloudless blue sky

 

It took him a moment to realize

that the dreamlike, fluttering objects

were sheets of common office paper

the kind you buy in bulk at Staples.

 

And his eyes followed that paper trail

Back

Back

Back

Up

Up

Up

 

To the smoke and flames

pouring from the puncture in the building

 

It was a plane, someone said

And he imagined a private plane had careened out of control

Though the hole was so huge

And the steel seemed to bend outward at its borders

 

“Someone’s jumping!” She screamed.

And he looked.

Because he wanted to see.

 

“What?” She grumbled,

pulling the covers over the little ones in between

who had freed themselves from the sheets.

“I had a bad dream. A man was outside the window.

He was watching Amelia.”

 

Her tired eyes widened slightly,

Maybe slightly alarmed.

She put an arm over the sleeping babe

turned to the window,

Then twisted back…

 

And for a second,

When their eyes locked,

hers were laced with care

And her voice was almost soothing.

 

“Go back to sleep”, she muttered

And she turned away from him.

 

“BOOM!”

 

He heard it hit.

He saw the tongue of flame

lick outward at the neighboring buildings

 

And everyone ran.

 

One woman tripped,

But before she hit the pavement

He had one arm

A stranger had another

 

“Are you ok?” the stranger asked her,

and nodded acknowledgement to him.

She nodded as well, offering thanks

And three strangers parted, never to see one another again.

 

Walking up Lexington Avenue

The rumors started

“Did you hear they hit Harlem?”

“Do you know the Washington Mall’s on fire?”

“They said five planes rained down uptown!”

 

Oh… a side note:

he noticed a difference in attitudes from Chambers to 57th

 

Below Union Square the crowd was silent

Defeated Soldiers marching home after the war

 

On 34th Street people watched from a distance with terror

“Would there be more?” and “What will they do next?”

 

Uptown, curiosity won the day.

“Did you see it?” They asked. “What was it like?”

 

He was most terrified crossing the 57th Street Bridge

Worried from one end to the other that a plane would strike

And he would burst into flames

Doused only by the river far below.

 

 

He and James stepped off the bridge into Queens.

Into a different world.

 

On the evening of the attack

a fledgling church gathered together

Including the woman who would one day be his bride

And who, after she could put up with it no longer,

Would one day leave him with nothing but his thoughts.

 

Two days after she left

On the 16th Anniversary

for first time since it had happened

They weren’t together.

 

Now he was alone

With the memory of a hug.

The balm that soothed the terror.

 

He heard Ryan say “How’re you doing with all this?”

 

“I can’t really talk…” he started, “I mean, okay. Scared

But I’m more afraid of…”

 

He paused while his friend waited patiently.

 

“What I’m most afraid of is…”

 

He stared into the sky,

Shut his eyes

But he still saw the tiny x falling out of the sky

 

“Today I escaped. At least, I think I did. But I know that one day…”

 

And then… an irrational thought….

Had he fallen, he wondered?

Was this all a dream?

 

But no. She had embraced him. For the first time.

 

“I’m scared that one day…” he trembled,

“One day, this is just going to be some simpleton’s anecdote.”

Published by

blaine

BLAINE HICKLIN, originally a South Carolina native, moved to New York to find himself. After 20 something years he achieved some measure of success in that endeavor by trapping said self in a job and a one room apartment in Astoria, Queens. He also found a wife (Laurel), 2 small children (James and Amelia) and God along the way. After wrestling this new found identity back to Laurens SC the cheeky bugger slipped away and now Blaine hopes to corner himself somewhere in the pages of rawfiction.com. If you or anyone you know comes into contact with the above mentioned character please do not attempt to apprehend him but instead contact your local authorities.

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