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part 1 . . .

I wake up reluctantly. I am still tired. It is the sort of fatigue that sleep does not remedy—
not that I am sleeping well anymore. For sixty days I have held on restlessly to an idea
that will not take shape. Each time i put my hand out to touch, it melts away through my
fingers in a flutter, like a breeze through late summer leaves.

From my bed I hear the sound of my super, dragging garbage from the basement onto to
the sticky sidewalk. I am fully awake now, and conscious of a decision that I have made
the night before. As I drag myself out of bed I realize that I have let too much time pass,
and that I will have to push to get the gears back in motion. The thought does not
discourage. What else is there anyway, but the endless struggle to capture pleasant bits of
time and stretch them as far as possible, knowing that the inevitable snap will again tear
the respite apart, but resigned to the effort all the same.

I leave the apartment with a purpose, thinking of a face that exists no where in this world.
I have to get downtown to meet the guy.

part 2 . . .

The 4 train is running slow, some kind of long needed rehab is finally taking place. I stare
at the people on the train, catching some staring back at me in turn. I compulsively order
each of them in my mind according to career and relevant details.

The guy in the bland suit, with the the too short pants works for a hedge fund. He is
unhappy that morning because his wife forgot to wake him up when she left for work.
The other guy has a nicer suit and a good tie. He's in sales. He is separated and has a
girlfriend who lives out of town. The woman across from me is a student at Pace. She is
worried about a test she has later that day. I go on until everyone has been neatly put into
place. It's a mental exercise that distracts me from thinking about other, less pleasant

As the train pulls toward 14th street a man in the station removes his Breguet watch,
places it carefully on the the nearest bench, and walks slowly toward the edge of the

part 3 . . .

It happens too fast for anyone to react. He just walks to the edge of the track and takes
another step. Whatever sound his body makes on impact is inaudible, buried beneath
high-pitched grind of the brakes as the train shudders to a stop. If there is blood no one
sees any, nor is there a mark where the body hits.

The people on the platform look at each other as if to confirm that what they have just
witnessed has actually happened. A woman holds her hand over her mouth. Some kids
dance around in excitement. The subway attendant hardly looks up from the pile of ones
she is counting. "Stupid people." she thinks, "Everyone's gotta be inconvenienced now."

I fall into the guy next to me when the train stops short. We don't know what is
happening, just that something is wrong. By the time they get us off the train the police
are already there. There must be a mess somewhere but none of us see anything. The guy
just sort of vanished from sight—like some tired magic trick. The watch is already gone,
probably before the body hit the train: In some kid's pocket out on the street by now.

I am going to be late now . . .

part 4 . . .

It's hot outside: The kind of heat that can only build up in New York City in mid-summer.
Air conditioners drip endlessly and push stuffy air into the streets. Men in expensive dark
suits pull sticky collars off of their necks and think wistfully of their younger days on
beaches along the Jersey Shore. Everything comes with a price, even success, and every
trade wears our sharp edges down a little more until we can no longer cut through the life
around us and escape through the hole we've made.

I am pressed for time, but only as far as a kid from Nebraska can feel pressed. The guy
will still be there, even if he is a little annoyed that I am late. Most of us wait our entire
lives for people who never show up anyway.

I think about the subway conductor, and what sort of look flashed across his face when he
saw the guy walk off the platform. Maybe he didn't even see him, perhaps he was looking
down at his own watch and just heard the sound of steel and flesh coming together. When
I read about the whole thing in the paper later I note that no one had seen the man's face.

I hop in a cab and read the address to the driver . . .

part 5 . . .

The cab inches its way downtown in a typical glut of city traffic. I stare out the window at
the sweaty peds. Most of them looked pressed, as if they are running late for some
appointment or other.

I read the driver's license posted on the plexiglass divider in front of me. Last name first,
Pascal Manuel. Manuel is listening to some sort of French talk show on the radio. The
host sounds irritated by something, or maybe that's just how he always sounds. It's hard to
tell when you can't understand the language. I decide to go with the assumption that he is
irritated. It seems a safe bet: If he had no conflict there would be little reason for him to
pontificate over the airwaves.

I came to the conclusion, years ago, that communication is nothing but a series of little
conflicts that can only hope to be resolved by the conscious goodwill of the involved
parties. Even then, with the best of intentions and a practiced patience, resolution is a
tough go: Entropy is always present, ready to bring down a house over the most irrelevant
misunderstanding. Without a good deal of luck, we don't stand a chance.

As I listen to the driver mutter endlessly into his cell phone, I become conscious of an
erratic movement on the sidewalk to my right. It has been bobbling in the corner of my
eye for a moment. I turn my head to see a woman with a shopping cart ramming a path
through the crowd. She is not of this world, and therefore does not feel obliged to follow
its social customs. She bullies her way along the sidewalk leaving a bruised and irritated
public in her wake. I do not have a chance to see her eyes before she turns a corner, so I
am left wanting. The eyes are everything in trying to figure out motive.

"This is good, I'll get out here," the cab driver pulls to the corner still muttering into his
phone and I push a ten into his palm. I figure I can walk about as fast as the cab is
moving and I am beginning to get impatient with the traffic. I open the door at the same
moment that a bike messenger decides to take a shortcut between my cab and the


I'm not in the mood to bite . . .

part 6 . . .

I stare at the messenger for a calculated moment before responding. "That's not even a
lane man." His response seems to indicate that he disagrees with my assessment . . .
"Fuck you bitch. I should kick your ass."

I look at him a little sideways and can't help but smile, not because I don't think he has a
chance of said asskicking, but because I really don't believe it is in his best interest to
bother. I step over the back wheel of his bike onto the sidewalk and leave him with a
"You'll live."

I make my way south down Bowery, weaving around slower peds, and try to guess how
irritated the guy will be when I finally arrive. I would call at this point had I bothered to
save his number: It was a careless of me not to bother, but I am careless sometimes.

Canal street—time to head west. I plan on grabbing the W. It will get me there sooner
than walking. I make it about two blocks when I notice the woman with the shopping cart
pushing her way through traffic on Canal.

part 7 . . .

I stop and stare at shopping cart lady. Angry drivers are leaning out windows and
screaming at her. If she had waited another 5 seconds she would have gotten the walk
sign, but in her mind she must figure that she has earned the right of way indefinitely.

I wait for the light to change and cross over to her side. She has pushed her way across
Canal and is back on the sidewalk now—plowing a jagged path through the sweaty
crowd. Shopping cart lady is tricky to follow—I slip into her broken wake and try to keep
pace. I really just want one good look at her face. Everyone comes from somewhere and I
am curious. She has obviously gone too far and I want to know what has freed her, or
expelled her as the case may be.

Going too far in life is the biggest gamble. You might be rewarded for your honesty and
insight, or you might find yourself an exile, packing bags in the middle of the night. I
have gone too far on more than one occasion, and I am still uncertain as to whether I have
gained or lost for my efforts. At this point I would have to call it a draw, but of course I
am not done. There is hidden treasure out there and I have every intention of unearthing it
even if I have to break some irrelevant set of rules.

Shopping cart lady doesn't see the truck, or perhaps she figures it will give way: She is
jammed under the front bumper when I catch up to her. Her cart has rattled off into the
intersection and flipped over onto its side. The driver jumps out of the truck looking more
pissed off than worried. He has the green light, but running over pedestrians is always a
touchy legal affair.

He and a few of us stand over the lady to assess the situation. If she is in pain she makes
no indication. She just stares blankly at us as we stare at her. I dial 911 and tell them the
situation and intersection. They try to keep me on the phone but I hang up, I want to
focus on the lady.

She is young, maybe 30, and not unattractive—dirty, yes. I stare at her eyes, they are of
the palest blue—eerie, threatening, cold eyes. I want to reach down and touch her hand
but there is a loud guy yelling at us to keep back: The old "give her air" theory that no
one can prove works, but that we follow on social custom.

Her mouth is moving, but she makes no sound. Her teeth are nice, straight. Most likely
she has worn braces as a kid. I pull my eyes away from hers and look over at the cart. It is
lying on canal with it's contents half spilled out. I go over and gather her things, put the
cart upright, and roll it near her. She points to the cart and her mouth moves. I can hear
the sirens now . . . I point at different items in the cart, hoping that she will nod when I
find what she is looking for—if she is looking for anything at all. No luck, she just stares
blankly at each item as I hold it up.

I'm not sure what I expect to find, something a little magical; something that might
comfort her; or something that will help explain why this woman exists as she does . . .
The cops are here now—the sirens and the noise. I wander away from the scene with less
information than I had hoped to get.

Part 8 . . .
I walk west, lost in thoughts of shopping cart lady and her cold blue eyes.

So many people come in and out of our lives, thousands of them, and yet so few leave
any sort of impression. In the most rare and special cases they collide into us with such
force that they leave a part of themselves with us, ingrained. We hope that what is left
benefits us, some learned knowledge or acquired trait that gets us one step closer to
where we want to be. Sometimes though the collision leaves nothing but a jagged hole—
a painful setback and a reminder that people are not as generous or kind as we had hoped.

I have recently experienced a different kind of collision, one that fell in to neither
category. Nothing of value left behind, and no gaping puncture to nurse. Just a slow
draining of vitality and muddling of instincts. The touch of cold words, exchanged in
hollow breaths of a long-stoked malice and practiced self-loathing. Eyes grown wide,
slowly focusing on the physical presence of hate hovering between us. Too far gone, this
is a dangerous mistake, I thought to myself as it came to an end. Something from nothing
leaves nothing.

What sort of collisions has shopping cart lady endured in her life, I wonder. She seems so
removed from this world. Perhaps people have just bounced off her, leaving no trace, and
she has gone through life untouched, a closed circuit.

part 9 . . .

I walk down the steps into the blistering heat of the subway hoping that the train will be
waiting for me. I get lucky, it's pulling up as I pass through the turnstile. I sit down across
from a businessman who looks as if he is about to have a heart attack. His face is flushed
purple and he is sweating profusely through his shirt. I nod at him and make a comment
about the heat. He wipes his face nods back in agreement.

I get off at Whitehall and pull the guy's business card out of my pocket. One Whitehall
street. I make my way north looking for the address and wonder what the guy looks like.
He sounded a little squeaky on the phone, I picture him on the short side, probably in
good shape for his age, and probably balding. One Whitehall Street: It is a short glass
building, one of those types you find in the city that look as if they were designed to be
taller than they ended up—a skyscraper with a thyroid condition.

"Hi, I'm here to see Ken Birkman." The security guard looks up from his magazine and
points toward the elevator. "Fourteenth floor, right hand elevator." His eyes drop quickly
back to his magazine, something about cars, Motor Trend perhaps—Sleek expensive toys
that rich men play with and poor men daydream about. "Thanks."

As I ride the elevator I notice that there is no thirteenth floor. I smile. I am not a
superstitious person, but I find it charming how many others are. I am the person in the
car who says "it's great that we haven't seen any cops out here," when the driver is doing
85 with a beer in his lap. At some point I think I just started saying things like that to get
a reaction out of people. I don't believe in jinxes. I believe that you should assume you
are going to win the race before it starts and you should say it out loud to anyone within

Fourteenth floor, it's a nice office, tasteful. There are real plants in the corners of the
reception area and real art hanging on the walls.

Once I'm done looking around I begin to notice that there is something strange
happening. There is no one at the reception desk and I can hear a panicked sounding
conversation coming from somewhere down the hall. I sit down and flip through a
magazine, trying to make out the conversation. In about five minutes the receptionist
comes out. She doesn't notice me at first. She heads to her phone and starts dialing before
she sees me.

"Hi. I'm here to see Ken Birkman. I'm a little late, had some trouble with the subway."
She is distracted, she looks back down the hallway before responding. "Mr. Birkman isn't
in . . . something happened."

My first reaction is relief, I figure I've gotten lucky, it doesn't matter that I'm late. "Oh,
sorry to hear that," I get up from the chair, "I can reschedule with him."

She looks exasperated. "No. You can't. There was an accident . . . He's dead." She turns
away and walks back down the hallway. I stare at her back until she disappears through a
doorway. I turn and walk slowly toward the elevator. The doors open right away—the car
has not moved since I got off. As I ride down to the lobby, I wonder who will take the
guy's place.