Tuesday 10:30 AM
Copyright © 2006 by Don Traverso. All rights reserved.
The sky’s gone out. We stumble through the field, six of us, our knees and shins hitting and scraping the jagged chunks of air lying on the ground. Days pass quickly, though we cannot tell by clocks, sun or stars anymore. Of the six of us, only I remember the moon, but only vaguely. I can no longer describe it to the other five.
Once in a while, once in a long while, we hear a wail, a mournful siren in the darkness. We cannot tell from what direction it comes from. Whenever we hear it, we know what time and day it is: 10:30 AM, Tuesday. It is the only moment we know. It is the only moment we will know.
That wail used to sing terror into my skull, vibrating down my spine to settle like rotten meat in my stomach. It promised death and horror. After years of unfulfilled warfare and nuclear attacks, I began, like everyone else, to tune it out, to ignore it as one ignores a gentle breeze. We felt safe. Our enemies were our friends. We were invincible. We were secure. We were blind to the unraveling of our delusions. When the sky fell, it was too late to do anything.
I stagger and fall against one of the others. The woman helps me to my feet, then stumbles, falling somewhere out of my reach. I feel around but can’t touch her. I want to help her, to call out and locate her. My words won’t come forth; my vocal cords are thick with phlegm and disuse. The other four, pressed as close to me as I was to her, stop walking, as if sensing the loss. Our skins are slick with sweat. Fever blurs the darkness. We wait. The siren wails, louder, fading, louder, fading…. We wait. She does not return. If she’s close, she hasn’t made a sound. We wait. The mournful siren swirls around us again. Stops. She does not return. We move on.
I have not slept since the sky was extinguished. I don’t know if anyone else in the group has ever slept either. At times it would feel as if one of them is slowing down or staggering. At first I’d thought that someone had dozed off, but now I think it is probably weakness from lack of nourishment that causes this. The fact that we can still move without having eaten or drank anything for so long is nothing short of miraculous. I chew my fingernails, and the skin around my fingernails, and suck my cheeks until my mouth is full of saliva and then swallow. I especially do this when a slowdown occurs. he group tugs and pulls as if tied to cement blocks until whoever is the cause regains his or her strength and matches our pace.
I may be dozing off. I can’t tell. In the darkness, I can’t tell if my eyes are open or not. Or maybe it isn’t dark at all, and we are all blind and faltering through the wasteland. Maybe I sleepwalk. Maybe I have waking dreams. I do dream. I know I do because that is when my sight returns, and I’m not with the anonymous others of my group, and I’m somewhere else. Like right now, I’m waiting in a subway station for a train. The station is predominantly blue and gray: painted blue iron beams between gray floor and ceiling; rails shimmering gray or blue, depending on your angle of sight; gray cement blocks bordered by a column of blue blocks which border a flight of blue and gray steps leading up to more grayness. Clothed in darkness, I paced among the gray and blue, a black note dancing back and forth between blue and gray staves.
Walking on the platform also is a man. His coat is gray-brown, like his skin and eyes, with torn pockets housing his skinny hands. Chapped lips spit incoherence as he walks this way and that, a blind man in an open field. Descending the gray-blue stairs comes a woman in a dark navy-blue coat. She clutches a worn brown leather purse to her stomach. Her blond hair crash in waves as her head darts from side to side, her wide eyes searching every corner, every entrance and exit. The babbler stops, stares at her in silence. She stares back, then walks away quickly toward the far end of the station, where the lights flicker dimly. Transfixed, the gray-brown man follows. Their footsteps echo in ringlets, drops of sound upon still air, fading, fading, farther and farther away into the artificial twilight.
The walls erupt with a long sustained scream. It rings through my skull from all around, drilling terror into my brain. I run to the far end of the platform. I find them there. The woman is splattered with blood. She looks at me with those wide eyes and screams more. At her feet, the gray-brown man lies like a fallen rag doll. A splash of angry scarlet pulses out of his torn ravaged throat. With frightened eyes, the woman reaches out her stained hand, offering me the still-dripping knife….
I stumble again and fall away from the others. The siren sounds near, far, near, as I bump and crawl among the shards of sky, hands feeling out for them. The ground is coarse and hard under my fingers. My knees burn with scrapes. I crawl until I have heard the siren six times. I am pushed by gentle waves onto the black shore, my limbs limp with death. My soul is calm. Quiet. Asleep. I feel a hand on my shoulder. My body is twisted around. The afternoon sun sears my dead eyes. Then, it is eclipsed by a shadow, dark blonde hair ablaze about soft shoulders. Her right hand reaches forward, fingers pushing darkness into my vision. It caresses the side of my face. My hand darts out, touches soft skin, feels the ridges of a ribcage, the curves of a woman’s breast. I recognize her immediately.
Lost, she has found me. Now we are both lost, but we are together. I pull her closer. She clings to me and pulls me down, down into the earth. I sink with her into the thick dark, through currents of pain that lifts us to joy, never letting go of each other, our mouths open, our screams intertwining with the siren, now never ceasing, filling the shattered atmosphere until they become one. And become Silence.