Albany17 July 2018
So with the whistling wind ceasing behind him—the door clicking shut behind him—after giving his identification—a driver’s license, naturally—to the guard for what must be assumed to be for keeps, he steps through what should be a turnstile but is disappointingly a perspex gate, one hand in front, one hand behind. The hand behind is slightly cocked, palm face up, the fingers outstretched, the entire arm straight down, the profile of the body thereby having a more dramatic lilt, as six eyes regard him as he passes through the lobby. Viewed from the side, he looks unnatural—viewed from behind, he is the scenery. The hand in front holds another—a second. He walks forward slightly slower than what is realistic. He does not squeeze the second hand, as he is led, through the lobby, past the lobby, down a corridor lined with windows on either side.
Beyond the glass, the Empire State Building stretches above the skyline, joining the rooftops and aerials and various aviation hazards of the other skyscrapers outside the window, due south. The Statue of Liberty, no doubt, is illuminated, to prevent the untimely deaths of scheduled arrivals at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Hudson, where that man once landed a beautiful aircraft, no doubt glimmers at this time of night, the pinpricks of light distorting and shifting and collapsing into the waves, before re-emerging every second thereafter. The current headquarters of the United Nations—the centre of all life, Wall Street—the periphery of all culture, Broadway—the bars, the dives, the speakeasies—there they sit, no doubt, situated so beautifully amongst the great activity and work—the activity of career, the work of adulthood, far beyond collegiate immaturity—that now takes place in the balmy night of the summer, amidst the rattling cups of the homeless and the discarded suit jackets of the businessmen, skolling their drinks—
“—was it cold out?—”
“—I didn’t really notice—”
The corridor, only years from destruction, veers sharply left, and right, and left, and the hand in front stays clasped onto the second hand, never tightening, never loosening. They move deeper, getting lost, exploring the maze, having no clear escape. There is an abrupt stop—the carpeted footsteps cease—as the second hand now lets go, searching for a key. Silence, for a while. The key slips in. The lock turns. The door opens.
The inside of the room is sparsely furnished. There is still silence. A wooden chair is crammed into a small desk on the far end, three feet from a bed on the other side of the room, a window in between on the wall. The colours and décor are all mismatched—stripes here, block colours there, school spirit apparel haphazardly hanging—and soft music is playing from when the desk was abandoned, five minutes ago, to collect a visitor. An airplane distantly roars overhead, the noise of the jet engine barely muffled by the poor insulation of the building at large. The one in front (the second hand, if you recall) sits, a little too firmly, in the chair. The other, the one missing his identification, sits on the bed. The furniture has not changed in twelve years.
There is silence, for a little longer. A mouth shifts.
“What were you doing, before I got here?”
“I have something due. I was doing research.”
The conversation develops, slowly, hesitantly. They talk, first of their immediate past, of their—yes—night, and then of whatever crosses their mind. Neither reaches to grab the other’s hand, again. Neither moves towards the other. The music loops.
The window is slightly ajar. Outside, the rustle of a flammable tree. Small murmurs begin to emerge, before disappearing, the words never quite understandable, the conversation never quite clear. In the distance, a tinny speaker plays a DVD from a television in a nearby room. Elsewhere, no television tunes into a channel. The ABC affiliate is down. The NBC affiliate has poor reception. The CBS affiliate plays CBS shows.
Half an hour passes. The chair’d person turns away, suddenly, looks at their assignment. A soft light from an iPhone reminder illuminates a shelf above, half-filled with dust-covered textbooks. The blue light of a rotating fan blinks. The music loops. The music loops.
“I should get to work on this.”
The bed’d man—not bedded—stands, gathers his composure, moves towards the door. It is wooden, with a crumpled fire escape sheet hastily nailed into the timber. There is no fire escape for several hundred feet. If the building were to burn, they would perish. He opens the door, closes it behind him, not looking back.
He wonders the corridors, unsure of where the carpet ends, where the lobbies begin, where his identification could be. He passes a cabinet in which sits a small trophy, with seven names of men long gone from this place engraved onto the base. He slows—looks around, sees nobody, leans in closer—examines a photograph next to it, taken some time in the seventies, of those same seven men plus an eighth who is not separated from the rest but who appears to simply be missing from the trophy. They are dressed as if for a sport, but it is not clear which sport they played. Behind them, the New York State legislature, in Albany. He reclines back, thinking of nothing particular. He moves on.
In thirty-six years, the trophy would survive a fire in this wing of the building, although sixteen souls would not. Only one handle of the trophy would survive, the other having melted into its composite parts of gold and copper and steel. The photograph would disintegrate, the heat converting every pixel to ash, and every particle to nothing. Only four names on the trophy would survive the flame—some fifty years after, long after the Statue of Liberty is closed and the Hudson is raised, no soul would recall this group, save for their names alone.
He turns a last corner, and recognises the guard with his identification. Four eyes regard him as he steps through the lobby, requests the laminated card. As he grasps it from the guard with one hand, his phone glows in the other, a sickly burnt-orange aura.
The air is fresh but humid, balmy but crisp, as the doors slide shut behind him. In front is a stone staircase, leading down, lined with trees, out of the campus, into the world. The lights of the skyscrapers begin to vanish, one by one. The wind picks up, chopping the Hudson ever so roughly. Due south, a businessman stumbles out of a bar, and pukes. A child wails in the line at JFK, wailing, gripping the finger of their mother. A taxi driver, minutes before a crash, ignores a hail and rushes home. An aircraft flies overhead, partially obscured, engine whining.
He sighs, rolls his neck. His lips pull back. His eyes grimace. He looks up, sees the pulsing red light of the plane’s tail. The leaves rustle around him as he begins to walk down. The broad lakes of Central Park, where the wind is not so strong, continue to lie flat, with only the occasional ripple betraying their vulnerability to the elements and to nature and to the world. The trees rustle less. He crosses the threshold, onto the street, hearing the honk of a car and gripping his phone evertighter, as he contemplates how else to waste his time.