|The Gate, Part Twenty-four
||[Dec. 25th, 2014|04:03 am]
A party she’d attended when she was 20.|
On the collapsing front porch rested a rotting burgundy velour couch with woven wicker thatching. A life size Captain Kirk cardboard cutout leaned against a wooden art deco ash tray stand plastered with band stickers. Seated two stoners coughing, debating the merits of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, a reproduction red and black flag from the Spanish Civil War hung in the window behind them.
The dilapidated building, a turn of the century house, stood in an otherwise empty lot sprinkled with needles and wrappers and used condoms and boards barbed with tetanus-tempting nails.
The old house slouched.
There was an almost apocalyptic feel to the proceedings; the house was slated for demolition to make way for a high rise.
From the doorway, drug and alcohol-fueled philosophical discussions in a living room strung with Christmas lights and wallpapered with gig posters. Conversations about music and politics, jokes and the uninhibited laughter of youth. A punk band played in the basement, drum kit set up where the coal chute once ran, bass vibrations traveling through the hard packed dirt floor and weeping tile, rattling the windows, but only at certain resonant frequencies. A bottle of cheap wine thrust into her hand.
Combat boots and Converse trod the liquor sticky surface of recently excavated hardwood flooring that had been concealed beneath ugly lime green carpet.
It felt like home, she thought.
Friends she’d met at shows, formative relationships. Familiar songs sung at the top of their lungs. She wandered through the house grinning.
A game of spin the bottle beneath a dangling, swaying filament light in the crawlspace.
Against her better judgement she joined in. She’d never played.
When her turn finally came the green Rolling Rock bottle came to a stop pointing at a boy with a mohawk. Sans Elmers, perfect bed head, dark roots showing through bleached blonde, the barest hint of faded green dye. Cross-legged he sat across from her smiling warmly, big brown eyes framed by day-old black eyeliner, he wore a loose, two sizes too big frayed charcoal grey sweater. Chipped black nail polish, fingers poking out of long sleeves, his hand lightly caressed her cheek as he leaned in.
Later, on the back deck, overlooking an underpass, the orange glow, the aura of the city at night. Inside someone had appointed themselves DJ, drawing from the vast vinyl collection in the living room, and The Clash and Hüsker Dü provided the soundtrack to fireworks launched from the roof by joking teenagers.
Lips loosed by Lucky, she confessed how difficult it was sometimes, moving to DC, making friends, trying to fit in in the local scene, her frustrations, the discrimination and microaggressions she still experienced from supposedly liberal individuals. The comments, the ignorant, insulting questions, when they would ask if they could touch her hair.
He listened, and nodded, and agreed with her. He asked the right questions, expertly stoking the conversation.
Then he told her about the time he and a couple of friends hopped a freight train in Nebraska.
A train that refused to stop for days. They’d huddled for warmth in a rickety boxcar completely lacking in food or water. Freezing and dehydrated in the December chill they’d finally decided to jump from the still-moving train, spraining his ankle in the process. For miles they walked, fatigued, in pain, along a country road, barbed wire fences, ditches filled with snow, eventually stumbling upon a small house.
The woman who lived there welcomed them in, encouraged them to bathe and clean up while she washed their clothes and made them hot soup. She let them use her phone to call their parents long distance, and let them spend the night in the spare bedroom. She drove them to the Greyhound station the next day and wished them good luck, asking for nothing in return.
Some time later he looked her up online, to thank her, and was informed she died of cancer shortly thereafter. She’d had no family.
He started at the underpass in silence as shiny cars sped past.
She asked him if he was going to the protest the next day, of the invasion of Iraq.
He said yes.
A ghastly placard depicting an aborted fetus, bright crimson against the sterile white of a city lightly dusted with snow that would soon melt. Gathered there a hateful crowd screaming at her, calling her a slut, a whore, promising damnation. She felt his arm tense as he walked her to the main entrance of the clinic. Part of him wanted to punch them she knew, part of her wanted him to, wanted to join him.
But he stayed with her.
Then it was done.
He drove her places when she couldn’t see through the tears.
It wasn’t easy, but she did not regret her decision. And he had made it abundantly clear he would support her no matter what.
Like walking through a dream, past columns of ghostly green flame, reluctantly she followed the others as they entered the wreckage of the plane, hugging tightly to her chest the medical supplies she’d scavenged from the ice.
Inside it was dark, the red sky bled through from the window seats. Row upon row of twisted forms, crumpled, crushed. Rag dolls. The air was thick with the scent of burning plastic and the familiar metallic tang of the scent of blood. Brushing aside dangling oxygen masks, she made her way over to where the others stood.
In front of her caught in the beams of keychain flashlights was a man, bleeding profusely from a deep gash in his forehead, pulsing with every heartbeat, unconscious but still breathing.
She and the woman in front of her exclaimed in unison, “Jacob?!”
The other woman, the Indian woman with the broken arm turned to her, “You know him?”
“I should hope so.” she said as she reluctantly began threading the curved suture needle, hands shaking. “He’s my husband.”