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Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt.

8 Brooklyn NY 11215

The September 12th Mindset

In the summer of 2002, Rudy returned to New York from his first year at SUNY Binghamton. Right away he went to work at his father’s souvenir storefront downtown near the Fulton Mall, the same thing he done most holidays and weekends he could remember since his teens. He had not worked Christmas or Spring Break that year—his father had said that business was so good, Rudy didn’t need to give up his vacations—so this was his first time since the summer before. He hadn’t realized, therefore, that the brisk business was almost entirely thanks to the new September 11 memorabilia: flags printed with the names of all four hundred and eleven firefighters, cops, and paramedics who’d died; FDNY hats, T-shirts, and key rings; and Twin Towers–emblazoned versions of every other product one could imagine, from decorative plates to mirrors, lighters to ashtrays (both in poor taste, Rudy thought), calendars to clocks to snow globes. Their storefront was only a few blocks from Ground Zero, and that put them square in the path of Ground Zero tourists. These were just like all the other goggle-eyed, faintly lost white people he’d served over the years, with two differences: First, they were all solemn, pretending deep emotional solidarity with New Yorkers. Second, and far more annoyingly, many now took their whiteness and Rudy’s brownness to mean that they belonged and he didn’t. Before, Americans vacationed in New York as a semiforeign place, taking an Indian boy like Rudy as part of the exotic appeal. Now they’d all discovered New York as part of America, and their image of America was white. They stopped under the awning and glared at Rudy, not even trying to hide their mistrust. Not all of them, not even most of them. At least one a day, though, and that was more than enough to piss him off, especially given that he’d lived his entire life in New York and certainly belonged more than they did.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Two weeks of that and Rudy hated the stand like never before. He tried to ignore the customers most of the time, paying attention to their existence only when they asked to buy something. Otherwise he turned off his brain as much as possible.

One evening, shortly before 7 pm, he got out the gaff as usual and drew the metal shutter down far enough to pull it the rest of the way by hand, then went back inside to return the gaff and fetch the keys. A man ducked under the half-drawn shutter and took two steps past Rudy, putting him at the rear of the tiny shop. It was still daylight but the sun had fallen below the roofs of the skyscrapers hours before, leaving the streets in gray shadow, and the awning and shutter cut the light even more. All Rudy could tell at first glance was that the man, dressed in a stockbroker’s dark suit and French cuffs, was no tourist. “We’re closed,” Rudy said. “I know you are.” The man’s voice confirmed he was no tourist at all. He had half a Queens accent, once very heavy, probably, but effaced through years of effort so it only now fell on parts of certain phrases. “I waited for you to close. I wanted time to talk.” That sounded like the kind of thing a movie gangster would say before demanding his protection money. “Let me finish up. I’m hungry, you can walk me to the Burger King.” There were still people on the street and would be many more at a fast food place, and while he wasn’t terribly afraid, since a man in French cuffs could only be so threatening, he was a little unnerved. The man shrugged and ducked back outside. Rudy followed, rattled the shutter the rest of the way down, and locked it. “I’ve been waiting for someone like you to come along,” the man said. Rudy started walking and the man fell in beside him. “I’ve been watching and I can sense you’re not like the others.” That was reassuring. It sounded less like a threat and more like a con man’s hustle, dingy and insistent. His guard stayed up, but he stopped being even a little scared. “The other who?” “The other souvenir guys. They’re just out to make a buck but you’ve got a real mind. Am I right?” 2

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

“I guess so.” Rudy did have an honors scholarship to Binghamton, but he doubted that’s what the guy meant. He turned north on Broadway. They were scarcely a block from Ground Zero here and the street crawled with cops, which made him worry about the guy that much less. “What are you selling?” “Nothing,” said the man. “I want you to help me write my screenplay.” That halted Rudy dead in the middle of the sidewalk. He looked at it a few seconds but couldn’t figure it out. “Why do you need a souvenir salesman for that?” “You guys are the only ones who can see me Probably because you’re such ghouls, you deserve to be haunted.” “You’re a ghost.” The man nodded. “I was in the North Tower.” Rudy extended a finger and prodded the man’s shoulder. He was perfectly solid. “Fuck off,” he said, and walked away fast, heading for the nearest subway entrance. After half a block he glanced back and saw the guy wasn’t following.

At home he asked his dad if he’d gotten any visits from ghosts recently. “So you met Doyle Arvel,” his father said. “Don’t worry about him. He’s just some crazy who’s been going around telling people he’s a nine-eleven ghost. If he’s really bothering you or the customers, call the police and he’ll run away. But he’s harmless and he doesn’t smell bad like the regular homeless. Did he ask you to help with his screenplay?”

Doyle showed up again just before noon the following day. An older couple had come in a few moments before, fat Midwesterners stretching the seams on their Yellow Taxi T-shirts. The woman wore an NYPD hat, the man belted khaki shorts, and they were keeping a suspicious eye on Rudy as they browsed. He’d been fed up with them right from the start. So when he saw Doyle on the sidewalk outside he beckoned to him. “You folks want to meet someone who was actually in the World Trade Center?” he asked.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

The tourists were at once all solicitousness and concern. “Is that true?” the woman asked Doyle. “Did you lose people?” Doyle nodded gravely. “The plane hit below our office,” he said. “We couldn’t get down the stairs.” “How did you get out?” It wasn’t just concern. There was an undercurrent of excitement: they wanted to hear the adventure story. “I didn’t,” Doyle said. “None of us could.” They gazed at him blankly. “I died,” Doyle explained. They scowled at Rudy, as if Doyle’s lunacy were his fault, and stalked away. “Wait!” Rudy called after them. “He’ll do autographs!” “You don’t believe me either, do you?” Doyle asked. “Nope. But you can stick around as long as you scare off the ones like them.”

Doyle started coming to the store regularly when Rudy was in the shop alone (not when his father was around, naturally—his father wouldn’t have tolerated the idea of driving off customers no matter how awful). Rudy brought in a notebook and pens. As a ghost, Doyle couldn’t hold a pen, so he dictated and Rudy wrote. The movie was to start in a rock concert. A man in his early 30s stands on stage in a packed club, playing his fingers raw on an electric guitar, the crowd screaming for him. The camera skims over the fans’ heads, from the rear of the club to the edge of the stage, focused the whole time on the guitar player. He finishes the solo and his backing band finishes the tune, and the club fills with the sound of his name: “Am-brose! Am-brose! Am-brose!” Then the camera draws back swiftly from his forehead to show him asleep in bed, his wife calling him awake: “Ambrose!” His eyes snap open, he picks up his watch from the nightstand, checks it, and bolts upright. He’s wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. He throws on a suit and runs downstairs, where he sees his four-year-old son has dumped the alarm clock into a fish tank and is now watching cartoons. He registers incredulity for a moment and then rushes out the door. Cut to his car pulling into the Metro-North parking lot just as the train leaves the station; he slams the door in frustration. Then he settles on 4

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

a bench on the platform to read his Wall Street Journal. He is still reading it in the next shot, on the train, and has it under his arm in the next after that, in a crowded subway car. The audience sees him leaving the subway by an exit in a mall, and an exterior establishing shot tells us that he’s in the World Trade Center. He boards an elevator and rides up. They reach a floor below his and someone gets off. There’s a tremendous explosion and everything shakes; the doors stay open and the protagonist goes to see what’s going on. People are running across an open cubicled space to press against the windows, and the audience sees smoke pouring from the other tower. Cut to the fire stairs, people trooping down them endlessly, floor upon floor filled with people. No music, just panicked crowd noise. Then ten seconds of black screen. Ambrose wakes up in a tiny apartment, a single small room with a Pullman kitchen. His hair is cut more youthfully and he now has a spider web tattoo on the side of his neck. He gets out of bed wearing only a pair of briefs. He doesn’t see his own clothes so he goes into the dresser and takes a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. On top of the dresser, mixed with some other clutter, he finds a wallet. He flips it open and pulls out the driver’s license—it’s his picture, but not his name. A further investigation of the apartment reveals several pictures of himself with people he doesn’t know, doing things he doesn’t remember doing. In one, he sits on a stool in a coffee shop, playing an acoustic guitar. The same guitar leans against a corner of this apartment. He turns on the TV to find out what day it is. Could something have made him lose his memory? But no, it’s September 12, and the news is still full of the attack from the day before. First is Giuliani, who has apparently named himself dictator-for-life of New York and found a World War II–vintage colonel’s uniform to wear. Then comes the president, who’s gone a different direction and dressed up like spaghetti-western Clint Eastwood, serape and all. He keeps slitting his eyes and growling terse warnings. Ambrose finds a ring of keys and a cell phone on the dresser also, and tries calling home. A strange woman answers. When he asks for his wife she says he has the wrong number. He tries calls to a few friends, all with the same kind of result.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

The phone rings in his hand. He answers and a man tells him to come right away. Ambrose says he’s sorry but he was in the Towers yesterday and somehow ended up with someone else’s phone, and something must be wrong with the phones today anyway, since none of his calls are going through either. In any case he’s not who the person is trying to reach. The caller hangs up. Ambrose pockets the wallet, cell phone, and keys, pulls on a pair of sneakers, and leaves the apartment. He is in the East Village within sight of Tompkins Square Park. The air is full of drifting ash and the streets are full of soldiers. Before he travels a block a group of them stop him and compel him to play a short game of Simon Says, which they take absolutely seriously. They wave him on and then a few blocks later, as he’s trying to cross 14th Street, another patrol stops him and makes him dance the HokeyPokey. After 14th he walks all the way to Grand Central Station, which is nearly deserted except for a few more soldiers, its marble hall echoing. He buys a ticket and rides the train back to the same station he left yesterday. His car is gone from the lot, so he hails a cab. Back home at last, he knocks on his front door and a short, plump woman ten years older than him opens it. She asks him what he wants and he recognizes her voice from the phone. He demands to know where his wife is and orders her out of the house. She claims that she and her family have lived there for years. He starts yelling and her short, plump husband comes to the door to join her, phone in hand, calling the police. Ambrose forces his way into the house and at once sees that the design is totally different from the way his house appeared in the opening scenes. Even the kitchen has been remodeled. He sprints to the neighbor’s house, rings the doorbell. His real neighbor does answer but doesn’t know Ambrose, and insists that yes, the couple next door have been there a long time. With increasing frenzy he bangs on door after door, and is met with a series of shaking heads. Finally he sits down on a lawn and the camera holds his face as comprehension seeps into it: his family has disappeared so thoroughly that no one even remembers them. He can’t even call friends for advice or help. He is alone. He returns to the city. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Sad music plays over him walking through the East Village, doing a brief square dance in slo-mo with a soldier 6

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

calling the steps. He reaches the apartment building and a guy in a track suit is on the front stoop waiting for him. He seems to recognize Ambrose and he’s angry. Ambrose quickly gathers that he’s been mistaken for one of this guy’s drug couriers, and tries to explain that he’s actually someone else. The dealer soon settles on his own explanation: Ambrose does have amnesia after all. He says he won’t hold it against him for not remembering anything if that’s the case, and hands him a backpack. “It’s fifty an eighth,” he says. “It’s been quiet today but in another day or two we’ll be ringing off the hook.” When he gets inside, Ambrose discovers that the backpack is full of little plastic jewel boxes, each with a few buds of pot inside.

Another musical montage follows: scenes of Ambrose making pot sales in apartments all over Manhattan, intercut with snippets of his search for his wife and child. He pins notes to every message board he sees, outside firehouses and on the walls of buildings still standing near Ground Zero, amid the jumble of other notes and photos from families seeking lost members, and he writes posts on the online message board devoted to the same. The montage ends with him watching TV as the music ends. The camera zooms toward the TV screen and then enters it to show a gaggle of Republican Senators and Representatives on the steps of the Capitol, wearing plastic fire helmets and declaring that all victims of the attacks have been honorarily inducted into the Republican Party and designated Republican Heroes. In the following scene Ambrose sells to a wiry little Russian chess hustler in Washington Square Park. They sit together on a park bench. “I don’t know, Dmitri,” Rudy says. “Maybe it is some weird kind of amnesia. Maybe I never did have a different life.” “Hey, what can you do about it anyway?” Dmitri asks. “Sometimes life goes horribly bad for no good reason and you cannot fix it.”

Rudy and Doyle got that much down on paper in less than a week, Doyle talking and Rudy taking notes. Doyle asked Rudy to type it and Rudy did and printed it out at home.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Doyle read the twenty-five or so pages sitting on a stool at the front of the shop, in the light from the street, and when he was done he asked Rudy what he thought of it. “I don’t know,” Rudy said. “It seems like a good start.” Doyle’s brow twitched in confusion. “A start? No, this is it, it’s all I wanted to say. Do you think anyone will make it?” “A half-hour movie where some horrible thing happens for no reason and that’s the whole moral of the story?” Somehow the naïve sincerity behind Doyle’s question struck him as even less sane than his belief that he was a ghost. “Never mind I don’t know any movie producers anyway. No, I doubt anyone would make it. People want a happy ending.” “But that’s not the real truth in life,” Doyle protested. “I died. Lots of people died. There’s no happy ending to that. The world goes nuts and you can’t put it back the way it was.” “You didn’t really die, you dumb-ass.” Rudy smacked his hand on the counter. “You’re the one who went nuts.” Doyle set the manuscript on his chair and left.

He was back the next day, though, and must have had a change of heart because he picked up dictating the movie where he’d left off. The door buzzer in Ambrose’s little apartment sounds. He presses the button to let whoever it is into the building, and soon opens the door to a pretty young white woman with dreadlocks. She asks if he’d be willing to play the benefit show she’s organizing for the firefighters, acting as if she knows him well. When he hesitates she says, “Good, then,” in prototypical sassy-neighbor fashion and hands him a leaflet with the concert information. When she leaves he goes to the corner and picks up the guitar, turns it over in his hands. He sits on the bed and test-strums a chord. In the next scene he’s seated on a stool in a coffee shop, guitar balanced on his knees, singing Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate”: He woke up, the room was bare He didn't see her anywhere.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

He told himself he didn't care, pushed the window open wide, Felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate Brought on by a simple twist of fate. Afterwards, as he makes his way through the crowd to the door, a small scruffy man lays a hand on his forearm. “Nobody wants to come down by me,” he says. “Can you do me a delivery tomorrow?” Ambrose considers him. “Remind me where you live.” “See, it’s like a block away from the … the site. Eight John Street.” Ambrose nods. Cut to Ambrose emerging from a building with a brass numeral “8” above the door. It is dusk. He unlocks his bike from a lamppost and is wheeling it down the sidewalk when he sees what he believes to be his wife and son walking in a line of other people, directed by four soldiers. He can’t tell for certain because all the people in that line are wearing surgical masks. He calls out: “Sarah! Ethan!” Neither reacts. So he follows the group, not wanting to lose them but also not wanting to approach the soldiers with a backpack full of pot. He lags half a block behind until they descend into a subway station. As quick as he can he chains the bike to the iron fence around the staircase and goes down after them. He passes the turnstiles and sees only a few of the people, all the way at the uptown end of the platform; he soon realizes that they’re just the tail of the line and the others have already gone down the service steps to the tracks themselves. The platform is empty— trains still aren’t running this far downtown—so he hangs back until the soldier bringing up the rear climbs down to the track. Ambrose runs up the platform on tiptoes and sees flashlights ahead on the tracks, hears footsteps. Again he follows, into the tunnel. Very soon he realizes they’re directly beneath Ground Zero. The air is thick with dust and reeks of burning plastic, and he can barely see. There are no lights. He falls farther behind but doesn’t dare move any faster for fear of stumbling onto the third rail. Up ahead he sees faint light at last. It’s the next station. Since its power is dead it’s lit with drop lights, hanging in their plastic cages from and between the support columns.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Many of these steel columns have buckled partway, and there are great piles of rubble covering the platform and burying the stairwells. He doesn’t see the group he’s been following. He rushes ahead, looking for an unblocked exit they might have taken, and eventually, in the tunnel past the far end of the station, he finds a door with the words “Undisclosed Location” freshly stenciled in red on its gray steel. He tries it. It’s unlocked. He goes through. Now he’s on a staircase heading down. Again he hears footsteps below, and again he follows. The stairs double back on themselves again and again, story after story, and he flashes back to the World Trade Center fire stairs. He’s so caught in that memory he doesn’t notice when the black metal steps are replaced by simple wood planks with no banister. The walls aren’t concrete anymore, either, they’re Manhattan’s own bedrock. Stuck directly to that schist every ten feet is one of those cheap, battery-powered plastic dome lights sold in home-improvement stores for use on garden paths. The staircase ends beside a ragged opening like a cave mouth. He steps through cautiously and finds himself on the bank of a body of water. He can’t tell how big it is because the light from the plastic domes behind him only extends thirty feet or so, but he can see another light moving somewhere ahead, and hears the sound of a boat engine. Then another sound joins that one, the higher-pitched whine of an outdoor motor. It gets louder and louder until a skiff surges from the darkness and fetches up on the bank beside him. Piloting it is a close-cropped, severe man in his mid-fifties, wearing a plain blue hooded sweatshirt. “I need to follow them,” Ambrose says. “You’re not supposed to come this way, though,” counters the man. “What will you pay me?” Ambrose says he has some weed and the boatman agrees to ferry him for a couple of eighths. He climbs into the skiff, the boatman pushes them off the shore, and they are soon flying through the dark at full throttle. Ambrose cannot see the water, the boat, his own hands; all he can see is the light up ahead. Then he realizes the light has stopped moving, and soon afterward they beach themselves next to it: it’s a searchlight facing forward from the bow of a Coast Guard boat. 10

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

It illuminates a solid granite hill that rises gently from the water for thirty or forty feet before it crests. Ambrose asks to borrow a flashlight and the boatman gives him a fluorescent-bulb camp lantern. He hears people coming before he can test it, so he grabs it and clambers upslope, diagonally away from the searchlight beam. He can’t find anything to hide behind, he just runs as deep into the gloom as possible and then when the soldiers appear over the hill flattens himself on his belly. They do not see him. Ambrose checks the shore, worried they will see the skiff, but it has disappeared noiselessly. The four are returning alone. One by one they climb a rope ladder near the bow of their boat and when all are on deck they back into deeper water and then swing away until the cabin comes between Ambrose and the searchlight, eclipsing it. He switches on the lantern and mounts the hill. On the other side the slope descends just as gently as it rose but for a much greater distance, still bare granite underfoot. A chain-link fence stops him. He looks up to measure it, thinking he might climb it, and sees that it rises higher than the lantern illuminates. He walks along it instead until he finds a gate, which is merely latched, not locked. He lets himself in. He lifts the lantern over his head to send its light farther, revealing the forms of two people standing twenty feet or so inside the gate, facing away from him. He moves closer, circles around: a man in his forties and a woman about the same. They turn their heads as he approaches but display no more interest than that. Once past them he sees dozens more, some standing, some sitting crosslegged, some lying flat on their backs. All react about the same way, without affect. There is no indication of how big the enclosure might be nor how many people it might hold. He assumes that if his wife and son are in here they’ll have been sedated like the others and won’t answer if he calls them, so he has no choice but to begin searching at random, walking here and there in the loose crowd. The bare rock makes his footsteps echo. He begins to discern movement at the edge of his lanternlight. Is someone following him in the dark? The next time he senses it behind him he backtracks to catch whoever it is; he sees nothing, except that some of the people who were standing a moment before are now sitting, and some who were sitting are supine. 11

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

He takes a deep breath and turns off the lantern. The screen goes black and he mutters, “One thousand one, one thousand two,” up to fifteen. Then the screen flickers like a fluorescent bulb coming to life, and the audience sees Dick Cheney standing behind a much younger man. The shot is from three-quarters, so the audience can see that Cheney has stuck a plastic novelty straw, the kind with unnecessary loops, into the nape of the man’s neck and is sucking at it busily. Or he does for a second—as soon as he realizes he’s in the light he turns and flees, running like any ungainly sixty-year-old. The young victim sinks to his knees. Ambrose runs after Cheney. Awkward as the older man looked, Ambrose isn’t able to close the distance to him, maybe because Cheney slips through the gaps in the crowd easily while Ambrose, lantern-light swinging crazily, can’t see the people sitting or lying down until the last moment, and keeps having to brake or swerve to avoid them. Suddenly he pulls up short, turns, checks again the people he’s just sprinted past. It’s his wife and son, both on their feet. He sets down the lantern and hugs them both to him tightly, murmuring “ThankGodThankGodThankGod.” Then he backs up, gives a short, businesslike nod, and picks up the lantern again. He hangs it from his wrist, takes them both by the hand, and leads them back to the gate, navigating by the people he passed on the way in. The dory has returned to the shore. The boatman sits in the stern with his elbows hooked over the gunwales, smoking a joint. The clouds of weed smoke around him do not disperse, as there isn’t the slightest current of air in this place. Ambrose guides his wife to sit on the bow, lifts her feet, swivels her, and puts them back down inside the hull, then slides her the rest of the way forward into the boat. He lifts his son and sets him next to her, and climbs in last. The boatman takes back the lantern and extinguishes it. Over a black screen the audience hears the outboard motor come to life. It putters for a few moments and then climbs to and holds a full-throated whine. Eventually a glow comes to the middle of the screen and expands until all at once they’re in the open, on the Hudson River under the stars. Ambrose looks back: they’ve just emerged from the rotting hulk of a riverfront warehouse, barely uptown from the sterile highrises of Battery Park City.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Cut: they draw near the 79th Street Boat Basin, three piers of houseboats and yachts. The boatman edges them close behind one of the latter, hops across, and ties his skiff to a rail on its deck. He helps Ambrose transfer his wife and son, gets back in the dory, prepares to cast off. “Wait!” Ambrose says. “They’ll be all right, won’t they? When the drugs wear off?” “Of course not,” the boatman says. “They’re dead.” “They’re going to die?” Ambrose whispers in fear. “No,” the boatman explains. “They’re already dead.” Cut to the little apartment in the East Village. Ambrose leads the pair inside and shuts the door, then kisses his wife on the mouth, wrapping his arms around her tightly. She doesn’t respond. He lets her go, sits on the bed, and weeps softly.

Doyle didn’t come up with anything new for a week after dictating that scene. He still came in every day, though. He and Rudy always ate their lunches together now, and at first Rudy was astonished at the widely varied foods Doyle brought, all apparently homemade since they came in cling wrap, aluminum foil, or at best disposable Tupperware: xiu mai, palak paneer, hummus with pickles and sliced hard-boiled egg, goat curry, kasha varnishkes. Eventually Rudy’s father explained to him that Doyle collected his lunch from a different souvenir seller each day. They didn’t take him seriously and didn’t much want him around, but they also felt a certain amount of affection for the guy. Or some did, anyway, the ones who took to heart Doyle’s reproach about making money off the dead. They weren’t about to stop, but feeding a victim made them feel better about themselves, and then they felt subtly grateful to him for giving them that chance. Of course guilt didn’t work that way for all of them. With many, including Rudy’s own father, even if Doyle didn’t say a word he leveled an accusation merely by haunting them, and that made them defensive and angry. One day Doyle was eating a peanut-butter sandwich and Rudy was eating a slice he’d gotten around the corner, and Rudy, flipping through the Daily News while he ate, made a comment about the stock market and how at the least Doyle should pay him back for his stenography with some free investment advice. 13

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Doyle looked confused. “Why would I?” “Because you were a stockbroker or something like that before you died. Weren’t you?” Rudy had gotten used to referring to Doyle’s “death” as if it had really happened. It was easiest that way. “I was a TV writer. My girlfriend was the I-banker.” This was the first Rudy had heard about any girlfriend. “Do you still see her?” Doyle furrowed his brow like he was about to say something, but in the end simply shook his head.

The next scene opened with Ambrose at the front desk of a doctor’s waiting room. His wife and son sit in chairs against the wall. The receptionist asks him for his insurance card and he says he’s going to have to pay in cash. Cut to a young Indian doctor with a faint British accent, who tells Ambrose that there’s nothing obviously wrong with either his wife or his son. “I can’t believe it’s psychological because it’s gotten both of them, so it must be some kind of brain damage,” he says, “and since I can’t find any sign of infection, I would guess it’s a poison. Perhaps they were exposed to some gas from the explosion or the fire, or perhaps some chemical deposited from the ash. You need to take them away somewhere, out of the city, away from whatever might be making them sick.” Back at the apartment the wife and son sit at the edge of the bed and Ambrose stands before them like a scolding teacher. “It doesn’t add up, Sarah,” he says. “What happened to our life in Westchester? Doctor can’t explain that. Hell, if I’d even mentioned it he’d think I was crazy too.” He takes a step toward her and puts his hand in her hair. After a few moments he lets go and hoists his son into his arms instead; the boy’s head flops onto Ambrose’s shoulder and his arms dangle, as if he were merely asleep. The next shot is of a phone book opening to the heading “Boat Rentals.” Then Ambrose in a minivan drives away from a car rental agency, and a moment later pulls to the curb in the East Village. The camera stays on the van; night falls and in its darkest, quietest early-morning hour Ambrose returns and starts the engine. He crosses the Brooklyn Bridge and in a blink is on the Belt Parkway, dawn just starting to lighten the 14

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

sky, the ocean on his right. He leaves the highway in Howard Beach and drives the Cross-Bay Bridge to the little island of Broad Channel. The houses are small and simple here with small yards, like an old suburb, but the subway rumbles by to remind the audience that this too is part of New York City. He parks at the end of a side street, in front of a few houses with private docks just visible on the bayside behind them. He fetches a rod and a big tackle box from the back of the van. Next he’s walking into a trailer office on a marina. He signs something, walks down the pier, and climbs into a rowboat with an outboard motor. He brings it to life and buzzes into open water, arcing through Jamaica Bay. The audience sees him cruising past the tall steel mushroom of the Coney Island Parachute Drop, bouncing dangerously over the ocean waves. Then he’s at the mouth of New York Harbor, and the camera draws back to reveal the lower Manhattan skyline, the World Trade towers conspicuously absent. He reaches the tumbledown warehouse, cuts his speed, and eases inside. He takes a two-foot Maglite from the tackle box and switches on the beam, plays it over rotting wood pilings and the twisted terminus of a narrow-gauge railroad gantry, partly collapsed into the water. He creeps in farther and farther until he spies the low, arched mouth of a storm drain or underground canal and enters it. For a few seconds he’s in an ancient, massive pipe, the beam reflecting off the rounded walls and roof. Then he emerges onto an immeasurable lake of black water. Cut. He drags his boat onto the granite bank, outboard motor tipped up horizontal. He opens the tackle box again and gets a coil of clothesline. He climbs the hill with rope in one hand, flashlight in the other. The camera focuses on the rock hilltop. There’s a heavy thud off screen. Ambrose reappears, dragging a heavily trussed Dick Cheney. He lifts Cheney’s torso and flops him into the boat. Cut. Ambrose hauls Cheney, wriggling in his bonds, along a pier. He emerges from behind one of the bayside houses shown earlier, opens the back hatch of the minivan, and forces Cheney inside. The audience sees him return the boat at the marina and then he’s driving on the Belt Parkway again. The sun is setting and the ocean is to his left.


Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

He opens the door of his apartment. His wife and son sit naked on lawn chairs set inside a plastic kiddie pool. He peers into the pool and then at each of them in turn. He crouches on his heels next to his son. “Nobody goes twelve hours without peeing, Ethan. What did you do?” He speaks as if he’s trying to coax the boy into confessing where he hid something. “Did you get up and go pottie while I was gone?” The boy doesn’t move an inch. Cut: Ambrose climbs into the driver’s seat of the van and pulls the door shut. His wife is in the passenger seat, his son in the middle seat behind them. Both are fully clothed and belted in. He starts the engine. They cross the Tappan Zee Bridge. They’re on the Thruway beside the Hudson for a moment, then on a rural road winding through forested mountains, then crunching to a stop on the gravel driveway of a lakeside cabin. Ambrose feels along the lintel for a key, unlocks the door, pushes it open. He returns to the minivan, opens the side door and lifts out his son, opens the passenger door and takes his wife’s hand. Ethan on his hip, he leads her inside. He comes back a second time, opens the rear door, and shovels out empty cardboard boxes and wadded newspapers, revealing Cheney. He drags the man inside and dumps him on the floor of a pinewood box room nearly filled by a single ratty couch, a few Shaker chairs, and a wood-burning stove. This is the first long look the audience gets at the vice president in the light: he is filthy, shrunken, and old, his suit is rumpled, and he wears an animal scowl. “We used to come here every summer, but even if they figure out who I am I doubt anyone will know to look for you here, since apparently I’m not me anymore,” Ambrose tells him. He points to his family, seated side by side on the couch. “You don’t get to leave until you make them better.” Cheney takes in the pair and then closes his eyes for several beats. When he reopens them the bestial glare is gone. “Get me in a chair,” he says. Ambrose muscles him into one of the chairs. Cheney cocks his head a little to the side. “The first thing you have to understand,” he says, “is that the world is not as predictable as we all thought it was.” His tone is soothing but at the same time patronizing. You may not have known this about the world, 16

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

it suggests, but Richard Cheney always did, though for now he won’t rub your nose in it. “We thought all sorts of systems were guided by laws, everything from basic physics to international relations. But we know that’s not the case now. The world is far more dangerous than it ever was. We were attacked. We were attacked, and that can mean reacting in ways that might seem irrational when viewed from the perspective of old rules, if you’re still stuck in the September 10th mindset.” He contemplates Sarah and Ethan again and takes a deep breath. “In this new order we make our own rules, if we have the will to do it, and the world follows along. When we act in the right way, at the right moment, we can accomplish what a so-called rational person might have once dismissed as insane.” The camera has been revolving around him as he speaks and now settles straight on, so he addresses the lens directly. “What’s important now, what we have to do now, is take the reins of public opinion. What people want to be true, that’s what will ultimately make the difference. If you people in the theater and at home want these two to come back to life, they will. But what if I offer you a choice? What if I say that if they live, then the people who did this to them, the hijackers and their accomplices across the Middle East, will go unpunished? What is more important to you: on the one hand these people you don’t know, or on the other the need to hit back for an attack on all of us? Think of the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center used to be and let that tell you where your priorities are. Do you really want to rebuild more than anything else? Of course you all say you want to look ahead to life, but you can’t help yourselves, the draw of what’s behind you is too strong. We’re counting on it.”

“So that’s the end now?” Rudy asked. “Tinkerbell?” “But for real.” Doyle sat in his customary spot near the entrance, one foot propped on a cardboard box of miniature Statues of Liberty that had yet to be unpacked. “It’s a Tinkerbell spell for real life, for all the people who died.” It took a second or two for Rudy to get it. “You think that if everyone across America claps their hands, 3,000 people will magically come back to life.” “You say it that way because you think I’m crazy, right? But thoughts can change reality. If you change people’s thoughts with a movie, that’s your fantasy of the world 17

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

reaching out to affect the real world. Look at the terrorists: someone’s crazy fantasy about the world got to them. So maybe this is how I make a world where we’re all alive and together again.” Rudy leaned his forearms on the counter. “Doyle. Let me help you get some counseling for your girlfriend or whoever it was.” “Wouldn’t work on a dead man,” Doyle said brightly. “We’ll send the script to my old agent and just say it’s from me, since he doesn’t know you.” So Rudy went out and bought a heavy manila envelope and mailed the screenplay to the address Doyle gave him. By then summer was almost done. Doyle hung around the last couple of weeks, waiting to hear back from his agent, but then Rudy had to go back to Binghamton. He described to his friends there the movie he’d written over the last few months with this mentally ill guy in the neighborhood, and they all wanted to see it. He told them sure, sure, he’d email it to them, but he didn’t. It would have felt too much like he was offering his new friend to be mocked. In October, Congress said the President could go ahead and start a war with Iraq if he wanted to. Rudy went to a protest about it and came back to his dorm more depressed than when he went. If the only people in the country who agreed with him about the war were like the ones protesting it, he must be even more marginalized and powerless than he’d suspected. He saw Doyle again when he came home for Christmas. Nothing had changed in Doyle’s life during the intervening months except that he’d put on a hat and coat against the winter. He still haunted the souvenir sellers and came to Rudy’s father’s place every few days to see if his agent had replied. Rudy could tell, though, that that same old life was wearing him out. He’d gained twenty pounds in four months and couldn’t fit into his suit properly anymore, and his eye sockets were dark like a raccoon’s. Where before Rudy had been intrigued by him as an otherwise normal guy convinced of something crazy—that he was dead—now he seemed a lot closer to simply crazy. He spoke too quickly and intently in telling Rudy the details of his daily wanderings and then asked a great many questions about Rudy’s time at school. He was trying to reignite their friendship in a clingy, pathetic way that made Rudy recoil against his will. Though his 18

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

better self wanted to be kind to Doyle, he couldn’t manage to hide his lack of interest in Doyle’s stories or his reluctance to answer Doyle’s questions. He knew he hadn’t hidden it well enough because Doyle never came back to the shop for the rest of Rudy’s break. On New Year’s Eve Rudy met a few high school friends and they drank in the bitter cold. Just before midnight they agreed to make secret wishes instead of resolutions, and Rudy looked up at the twin beams of light piercing the sky where the Towers should have been and wished for Doyle to come back to life.