By Will Bellamy
Image: “Ladder to Heaven,” by Julian Johnson.
They were packed together. In the row ahead of them two people were smoking and talking and the smoke kept slipping between the seats and coming into their own row and Mary Meyers hated that. She hated that they’d gotten these seats and she hated that her husband, Gary Cleveland Meyers, could sleep through the smell and all the talk. Well, no: she didn’t hate that. Hate was no good. Yes, come to think of it, she did not hate that both she and her husband were accountants, or that their boss had sent them in prime Christmas season to New York for a week-long conference at Navistar International’s prissy HQ on the company’s upcoming budget for 1961. Not her. She just knew that this is how it always was—certain events and things just had to be endured, thought about. And suddenly she remembered that they would need a cab when they landed, and she tensed up at the thought of waiting outside of the United terminal in the rain in the line for one of the yellows. Add it to the list, she thought. And in the warm and dimly lit cabin she sighed, thinking that she should, for maybe just the last time, get up to stretch in the aisle.
I have never ever seen Dad’s face go so frozen but as the sky screams and we look up and see the UNITED sign out the window, it goes that way, like a mask. At the sound of the crash Dad clamps down on my arm and leads me out of Loonies Ice Cream and we run, and of all times I remember Tony telling me that running in rain actually gets you wetter, but I don’t dare tell Dad this as we round the corner to Sterling Place and 7th, where the church and the laundromat and the deli and Joseph’s apartment building are all on fire, and the white triangle tail of the plane is broken off and pointed sideways, and the school kids from Saint Augustine are shuffling away from the crash and Dad says My God. He says My God and looks at the kids then me then tells me to stay, no, come, and we go toward it, past a fireman saying They collided is what happened. No clue where the other one ended up. You got all the space in the whole sky and decide to go to the same point at the same time, insanity isn’t it, which I know Dad hears but we just keep going toward it, toward the street corner where Joseph almost got hit by a car that one time last year but now the place just has people walking aimlessly or sitting still—it’s one way or the other. Dad runs over rubble and hoses across the street to where the laundromat used to be, and behind smoke clouds he shouts something at a fireman and the fireman nods and Dad looks back at me and takes an axe and puts his head down and runs like a bull into the building and disappears. Like that. And the intersection of Sterling and 7th keeps moving and I want it to stop for just one moment but it doesn’t. And the smoke keeps moving up from different places and the rain keeps coming down everywhere. And come to think about it Dad used to bring me to J&K Laundry right here in the summer with big bags of clothes and talk weather with the Chinese family who owned it, used to talk radio with the mother with the bowl of Black Jack Taffy who said once Your father is a nice man but he thinks too fast for his own good, his body can’t keep up, and the building’s fourth-floor windows explode out. If you asked me what was happening I couldn’t say. But I’ll say it’s something that’s hard to take in no matter which way it’s going to go, and all I feel I can do now is hope for time to pass with nothing extra bad in it, stand there and cough a few times and wait for Dad to come back across the street to say: It’s too hot, couldn’t get no closer, and walk the few blocks home to the cat and the rug and the rocking horse swinging back and forth, swinging back and forth and the cold bathroom and kitchen where the turkey’s been thawing all day, sitting there like a dog in the sun in the pot between the cutting board and fruit bowl.
In the days before Eliza graduated Mount Saint Vincent U ‘59, everyone told her to Expect Anything; but it turns out that the phenomenon of saying a word over and over again until you hear nothing but meaningless sounds applies to phrases, too. And how can you expect it all in the first place anyway, all that is possible or necessary within the confines of a hospital? For example: Standing up anytime a doctor came into the nurse’s station. Cleaning bedpans over and over. These things mentors never mention. And today, December 16th, 1960: the constant flow of stretchers. All coming in like driftwood heading down a river. Most might as well bypass the emergency room and go straight to the morgue and just get filed away, is what she thinks, standing in the bathroom, not wanting to go back out. Inside here next to the toilet she can extend her arms out long enough and touch both walls of the bathroom, and perhaps she can climb the walls too if she does the same with her legs. Up near the ceiling window is a cobweb loosely held together. She attempts to blow it away, but the strands keep. She thinks about her job, her money, her obligation. She looks into the mirror steely-eyed: You can do this, and turns off the light.
Morris My God I don’t care what’s happening in Park Slope or Paris or Sygeria I’m trying to tell a story. Fires happen all the time. Christ. So yes me and Dick we were out by the pier facing out on the city and this young girl who lives in the neighborhood comes up to us running in the rain crying real bad and says lost my dog. She says My God I lost my dog I lost my dog and I look at Dick like well it’s lunch break we’ll help out maybe just for a bit and Dick looks at me says to her where did you lose it and she says right around here by the pier I live just a couple blocks away across Atlantic and I done let him off the leash and a car horn went off and he dashed. Nothing been the same and now Mama’s gonna be so mad at me please help. All that. So me and Dick we start looking around for the dog and just kind of searching around the block. Because I mean even hyperthetically speaking if the dog’s not dead by now it’s not gonna cross the street with all the cars—insanity that’d just be insanity. There’s no dog in sight and the kid’s standing still but still crying just crying her eyes out. Lunch break is almost over so we just decide to walk the girl back to her building across Atlantic and two other streets and tell her it’s okay maybe somebody’ll find it and then we get to the stoop of her building and get this seriously get this the dog is right there on the stoop. It’s right there. I mean just think about this. The dog had to cross three avenues by itself to get there if the girl said that she lost it by the pier. Three. Avenues. You think the dog knew when to cross or just got lucky and crossed at the right time? As in it looked both ways or just went when it felt like it and there just happened to be no cars crossing? I mean can you ever know if you weren’t there yourself because I have no idea. A whole lots of ways it could’ve gone but it goes the right way. Luck Morris that’s what it is. Crazy to think about.
Sit down now. Stay still. My angel, my Ana. Let me put this on. Why do you squirm and look at your mother like that? What do you want to say? Yes now Ana what we must do here you must stay still for: do not go anywhere. You must stay still here we go open up there we good. Good. Up and down. Hmm hmm. Hmm. What is—oh my. Alyosha, come. Look out here. Yes, now. Out the window. Looks so far away. You think I know how it happened? Not me. But Alyosha it does not matter how. Oh no no you my angel don’t worry keep the food inside. Yes Alyosha go see what it is why not. No no do not make a mess yes chew. Chew.
Read an interview with Will Bellamy here.