While wandering around the neighborhood before dusk one day, Isaac, Ameri*, and I found a dilapidated old shack. I was pretty drunk at the time, and Ameri was, too, as I remember it. Isaac didn't drink though so he was more or less babysitting and keeping us from getting lost. The shack was the final house on the farthest cul-de-sac in our neighborhood. (*The name's pronounced aw-muh-ree, "Not like America, goddamnit, not like America," shfe would reproach in contemptuous exasperation. It was a mistake that particularly haunted her, and she was particularly vengeful against it.)
Evidently the degraded home had been vacant for years. We went in to explore and found that time had faded & stripped everything inside to dust. An odor of dank moisture rose from the carpet and saturated the air. On a crumbling wooden table beside an old mattress I found a cookbook lying open, yellowed & stiff, once touched by the fingers of some crazy old ghost who must have gone off to wander elsewhere.
Isaac had apparently found the rear entrance and was calling to us from a distance. Ameri & I stumbled around in the musty darkness trying to fight our stupor and follow his ecstatic cries. She tripped over the threshold and down the front stairs.
She laid there and said, “Isaac! I need you to come carry me.”
“Would you just get over here?” he said.
We hiked across the tall grass of the backyard. Isaac was at the end of a little dirt path that led into the forest.
He was standing with his arms folded across his chest, appraising what looked like an abandoned dirt road. The surface was pockmarked & ribbed. It wound away from the neighborhood between the dense packed woods.
We followed it for a couple miles. The dirt gave way to a rickety wooden bridge that overstepped a marsh. The low pool was hidden under bouquets of golden swamp-grass and a film of duckweed; the chirps of frogs & birds rose from it into the falling night like the notes of a wild chorus. Soon after that it ended in a pristine stretch of empty meadow that was bordered round by the forest. That natural wall was impenetrable, entangled in the darkness of its own roots & vines. You didn't find things like that inside the city.
I had lived with Isaac & Ameri in their shabby little apartment since the previous autumn. It sat in a suburb on the periphery of Charleston, eleven or twelve miles out from the city-center.
We often made what you might call suburban expeditions. At the time I thought that, however mundane the urbane was, there were always abandoned treasures around to explore, buried deep in the chaos of houses, stores, and street grids.
We searched our neighborhood for new things simply out of boredom. It was either that or get drunk, or both. We'd hunt out old bum-huts in the forests, or poke around for snakes, or take tents & bags and go camping in those meadows past the little chirping marsh. Anyway things like that were happening all the time.
That's what kept me in Charleston as long as I was there. I'd always been one to move about the country, going city-to-city. My friend Hector said he liked that about me. But my way from one place to another had always been transportation, not like the travel he always talked about. Never anything authentic or intentional. I'd grown to like his ideas about those things, though. He became poetic when he talked about his dreams to leave.
Hector was a frequent visitor, who usually came over unannounced. He had a habit of only knocking before he came in if and only if he found the front door & window were locked. There had been a few times when Ameri, screaming & thrashing, chased him away because he'd broken in and unintentionally terrified her. One such time they nearly shattered the window. Ameri was throwing books, ashtrays, and really whatever stray objects were within reach at Hector who was stuck halfway through the open window-frame, unable to escape or proceed. He didn't mind the treatment though. He said it was justified.
The cool spring sun rose & woke me up from my sleep on the couch. Hector was sprawled out on the floor, sleeping under a blanket with his mouth hanging wide open. I supposed at some time during the night Ameri must have laid the blanket over him and snuck the pillow under his head. She was upstairs, in bed with Isaac.
I got up and stuffed a backpack with some things for the day's trek downtown. Hector was the only one who had agreed to go with me. It would be a day-long walk.
I woke him up once I had everything prepared. The instant he saw the backpack on me his dark sleepy eyes grew wide. You could see his memory spark & rush through his nerves and push out all the tiredness.
When we got to the street it was pluming with color & vibrance. It was one of those ripe mornings with the dogwoods coming into bloom. The white florals shuttered in the chill and loose pedals drifted across the sidewalks with the breeze. All the flowers and high trees were just then baring infant buds to the waking year.
Hector took long strides out ahead of me. His black tuft of hair waved back & forth with each step. He was wearing his dull leather shoes and a blue flannel shirt with the sleeves unbuttoned and scrunched up to his pale knobby elbows. His eyes darted around, trying to take in everything at once.
“What is this nugget here?” he said as he strode up to a bus-stop bench and picked up a pack of playing cards that had been forgotten by somebody. He stuffed it into a back pocket of his jeans, grinning like he really had just found gold.
We stepped into the diner at the corner. It was one of those twenty-four hour diners with a jukebox, black & white tiled walls, and chrome trim around everything. The day was Sunday and the churches hadn't let out yet so we were the only ones in there.
In the autumn, when I had first gotten to Charleston, I went a while to the Presbyterian church. It had a big beautiful white steeple that topped a block about two miles from our apartment. Fresh days like this one, when the sun was out and everything was quiet, made me remember those early morning walks to church. I could just be alone while I walked and could think to myself. All the people, the sounds and the whole town would just melt away and I'd forget where I was. I'd pretend that I was going some place holy like I was a sadhu in India looking for god in the wilderness or like Moses wandering around, trying to find Jerusalem. And I'd imagine in my head that when I got there I'd see the shafts of early light angling in through the church's arched windows just like honey. I probably liked those walks to the church even more than I liked the church itself. But it never matched up to what I imagined it should be so I stopped going.
The waitresses inside knew Hector (from a class they'd taken together or something). As we came through the door, she instinctively re-tucked-in the bottom of her shirt and smoothed it out. She set an ashtray on our table and poured two steaming cups of coffee.
“Emma, dear, if I could have some pancakes you would be my heart and soul,” Hector said to her with a bashful grin. “Hey, don't laugh. I mean it,” He wasn't really shy. It was all a game.
Hector pulled out the pack of cards and shuffled it once. Then he held out his finger, suspended in the air before him, like he needed all the world to cease its orbit while he shuffled through his mind for a trick to dazzle Emma with. He managed to look simultaneously pensive & lost, with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. She leaned forward expectantly smiling at him with her hands on her chin.
Their play went to & fro as they each took their turns. She followed him with an ecstatic spotlight eye, laughing with her soft dalliance laugh. I sat across the table feeling kind of awkward, like I should contribute something. But I didn't want to intrude. Things went on like that till we left.
As the sun approached its peak overhead Hector & I followed the fragmentary sidewalks & paths through more neighborhoods and further streets. Eventually we came out onto Rivers Avenue, a broad road which led straight downtown if you didn't mind walking with the traffic fume & noise. We crossed over at an intersection to walk along a thinner road.
Backyards stood on one side of us, behind a long line of white wooden fences. Pink and white flower-hanging vines spilled over the tops, reaching toward the sidewalk. On the other side of the street was a chain-link fence with barbed-wire at the top, running along for blocks. Behind it stood groups of dark old industrial storehouses with dusty broken windowpanes. The pungent stink of a paper mill hung in the noon air.
Between the high fences of two dark buildings was a grassy opening. It was dwarfed in shadows with big wily oak trees arching over it. A dim blue house crouched there, a few leaps back from the road. Growing at the edge of this yard was a tree with its branches outstretched over the sidewalk. Each of its various fingers held a little flower, a white star-spiral of pedals.
I took out my camera to photograph it.
A call came from the porch. “You 'err! Whrnch ya crmher?”
I hadn't noticed the little old black lady shrouded in the shade. She was huddled in a rocking chair, her lap covered up with two tattered blankets.
“What?” I cupped my ear and then, wearing a stupid smile, I lifted my camera and pointed to the tree. Her eyes grew wide and her brow forceful over a thinly curled, foreboding smile. She gestured me in so I reluctantly approached the porch.
A blue wool hat covered her head down to the ears, where short peppery hair scattered down from the rim. Her arms were covered up with the sleeves of a sweater and her hands lay folded in her lap, their skin remarkably soft & brown like a young woman's. Her stern face was freckled by age.
Light sifted over the porch through the branches above. The outside of the house was grimed with soot. There were words scrawled onto the wall behind her in tall print with a permanent pen:
“I am of a sound mind
TRUTH can never change”
“Nothing is Between Me and the Man
but the Word of GOD in TRUTH amen”
“Whatta you doin up there, boy?” she asked me, her eyes on the tree.
“I was just taking a picture. It's a pretty tree you have there.”
Her voice was deep, slow, and crisp. “Oh, yes, I do see you got a camera there.” Her eyes narrowed, “You a Mormon?”
“Oh. I thought you might be. They come round sometimes - young men like yourself. They come stridin through ever once in a while.”
Hector had been a short distance behind me, investigating some other mystery of the neighborhood. He came trotting up into the yard and the woman's eyes lit up and then grew doubtful again. She scrutinized him seriously as he came forward, “You a Mormon?” she asked, sticking her face toward him, then toward me: “He a Mormon?”
Hector looked around, confused & excited by this turn that he didn't comprehend. He shook his head vigorously wearing a wide grin.
“Oh,” she said, sounding slightly disappointed. Her face became meditative & ponderous again. She stared into empty space and began to wonder about something. “They come round here teachin. The blind teachin the blind. You boys know the Wert?” After a moment of us staring blankly at her she became incredulous. “The Bible, boy! I'm talkin 'bout the Bible!”
I nodded my head, but Hector, in his bare honesty, just kept staring.
“He don't know the Wert? Well, must be for the best. All things in due time.”
Her eyes moved skyward. Gradually, they grew wide as she was stricken with awe at something she saw above. Her lips parted slowly, “Well, this can't be chance.”
I followed her gaze to a seagull that was floating overhead. She lifted her finger to it and traced its flight in a reverent silence until it had passed.
“Now that's a good thing he came by,” she said. “That white birt's what they call the Spirit, boys. You two are bless on this day. You come wanderin to my porch lost as lambs and I gotta take what I'm given.”
When she noticed me looking at the words on her wall her face grew intensely serious.
“Now that ain't just some gibberish by some crazy old broad, boy. Busybodies be comin round, thinkin they all big, sayin I loss my brain just cause they ain't understandin what I say. And really you get to thinkin 'bout things long enough, maybe it do turn ya a little bit crazy.” Her impenetrably dark eyes grew hauntingly huge and bored down on us like a couple of bottomless tunnels.
“Maybe that's the best way to be,” said Hector as he gaped at her.
“Boy, in the end that's the only way to be. The flock don't use the brains God gave them. And then they say the ones who use them are the ones who've lost them. Now you tell me how that make sense. They don't think 'bout things! They just pretend everthin'll right itself. I see it everday. Like this big man over here” - she gestured across the street - “comin round makin trouble and wreckin things up for his woman and his little ch'ren.” She was really getting worked up. “It's the blind, boy! That's what people do when they can't see what they really are. And that's the truth with a capital t!”
She fell quiet and perfectly still for a moment. Her eyes closed and she breathed deeply a few times before she opened her eyes again and looked us over, nodding like she'd just decided something.
“Now what I'm talkin 'bout is our sin. They say the fall happened when Eve bit the apple. Well that ain't true. No, boy. She fell when she forgot she was the same as God - when she forgot she was holy and got to thinkin that she could sin against God.
“Now we got all these werts we use to dee-vide the world up into parts so we can understand the whole thing, but it don't work. We just understand the parts. Now the Bible say all things consist in the wert. Imagine that! All God's creation, made by a little wert. But you just think 'bout it now: when you take one and divide it up into two, well, that's creation, innit? The brain uses werts and chops the world up like a potato for french fries. But boy, I tell you: there ain't nothin but God. Knowin that'll save ya heaps of trouble. But you both young yet. Either of ya got ch'ren?”
“No, ma'am,” answered Hector.
She looked at me severely and I immediately started shaking my head.
“Well, that's a'right then. You boys keep away from the women a while. Now I wonder what you,” she indicated me, “must think of what John the disciple means when he say that the wert was with God and the wert was God. What you make of that?” Her eyes narrowed.
I liked to think I knew quite a bit about the Bible, but right then I found I'd practically forgotten all of it. I mean, I still didn't even know how I'd ended up here, how we'd both been hooked into listening to all of this. And I swear, those dark narrow eyes poured over me with as much pressure as the whole ocean.
“It's God? No, I mean it's Jesus,” I said tentatively.
She frowned & nodded. “It's actually a Greek wert: Logos. Means 'reasonin'. It's what our brains use to know. It's a gift of God, but it's the curse, too. Makes you think you're somethin different from what's round ya. You see what I'm sayin?”
Hector was nodding like a blissful bobble-head. Then a few laughs burst out of him, probably from pure joy, knowing him. Sometimes he overwhelmed himself with his excitement.
“What's so funny, boy?” she asked harshly.
“I'm so sorry. It's just - everything you're saying - it's so great. Please just keep going. Don't worry about me.” He stared down at the ground to keep from laughing again. He was the most plainly honest kid I knew.
She eyed him suspiciously for a few seconds not knowing what to make of him, but then she went on.
“You just try to listen now. The truth never changes, boy.” She sighed heavily. “But - people on the other hand - they come and they go. We see everthin round us change cause that's how the brain works. But the A'mighty One? It don't never change. If you know there ain't no sin that's freedom from change, innit. And if you ain't got change then you ain't got time neither and that's eternity. We're there right now - just forgot, that's all. You understand me boys?”
I did not understand her. It's hard to say exactly where she had lost me, but she had. Hector nodded emphatically at everything she said.
She went on like this for an hour or so, seeming at times to forget we were there. We both watched her in wonder. Even if I didn't know what it all meant she was still fascinating. Her smooth shining hands seemed to follow her every word. She was animated, engrossed in an effort to express her obscure thoughts that laid at the faraway depths of her dark tunnel-eyes. She was something special.
Somewhere in the middle of her speech I hesitantly asked her, “Would you mind if I took a picture of you?” I always hated asking people that, though. I had to wrestle hard against all my instincts to actually get the question out. I'd always been pretty shy.
Her face became almost angry and I got a little scared at first. “Don't you go askin me what you gonna do,” she said. “You just do. I ain't in control of you, boy.”
I probably took twenty or thirty pictures of her after that, till I was happy with one of them. And she went on the whole time.
“There's Moses, standin by a rock, and he say 'God, I beseech thee, shew-me-thy-glory!' Then God say unto him, 'No man can see my face and live,' - because the face of God is the light behind all us ch'ren remember. God is the glory we die into.
“And Elijah see God too. But God wasn't in the earthquake, oh no, boy. Not in the wind that tore up the mountainside. Not even in the fire that burns but yet does not consume!” She was becoming almost prophetic with her arms flailing above her. She reduced to a whisper and leaned forward, her intense gaze bouncing between the two of us. “But he come down in the sound-of-soft-stillness. Now I know that sound ain't no wert! That's God himself unspeakable!”
When she finished she seemed content even though it was perfectly obvious (at least on my part) that she hadn't been followed wherever she'd led.
“I got a good faith things'll yet come outta you two.” She smiled with sweet pity at us both. “Now go on as he leads. All of the men must go. All of the men must leave the women! Oh, yes. Now go, but don't be busybodyin round. And don't forget: 'the wert's made flesh!'”
She shooed us away with both of her young hands and we walked away from the little drooping house.
“She was a regular Socrates,” I said to Hector.
He nodded, “Yeah. I've got a name for her: the modern Socratic prophetess of the Word! Do you have any idea what she was on about?”
I laughed. “I certainly don't know. But seems like she knew whatever she meant.”
“Yeah, sure was great though, huh? There's so many things I wanted to ask her, but it was like if I said anything, if I stopped the flow, I woulda been tarnishing the silver.”
I felt a sort of elevation after that. Probably more because of her happy craziness than what she had said. There was something unrecognizable about her. It had made her beautiful because it showed that she hid a mystery, like an unbloomed flower bud encased in green.
Hector's head was bowed, watching the panels of the sidewalk pass under him.
“You want to stop and eat something?” he asked me.
“Yeah, for sure. I bet we're about halfway now.”
“Oh, we gotta be closer than that. You see that tower there? That's where King Street starts, so we're getting close.”
Hector & Isaac had lived in Charleston all their lives. Hector knew everything about the town. Sometimes just for kicks he drove aimlessly around looking for any nooks he'd never seen. I didn't know any single place like he knew that town. Even when I was a kid I was never in one place for long.
“How about here? This'd be fine,” he said, as we came under a bridge that spread out shade below it like a blanket. It looked like a ruin with its broad concrete pillars climbing up to the roof, each one wrapped in a green vine garnish. I took the food & water out of my pack and spread it out almost like a fellowship meal after a service.
“Okey-dokey,” I said, sitting cross-legged on the concrete. “I brought a stack of saltines, and a - let's see - some graham crackers, and here's a couple fruit snacks.”
Hector was poking around the pillars. He found a pair of defunct rail lines nearby that ran along under the bridge.
“Did I tell you about those kids I met?” he asked me.
“Oh, it musta been a couple weeks ago. There was four, maybe five kids. Said they were from” - he squinted at the sky with his mouth open - “where was it? Oregon? No, it was a bunch of different places, that's right. Two of them were boxcar kids. The other ones hitched here. They were all trying to find some ganj and wanted to get to the beach. I found them standin outside the pawn shop on Murray after it rained. One of them had sold his GPS so they could afford a bus to the beach and get high.”
Every once in a while one of us would find traveling kids coming through. If it was one or two of them we'd pick them up and take them where they could catch a ride easiest or even feed & bed them if they wanted. They always wrecked the shower, though, and if they had dogs that was an issue. Ameri's old cantankerous cat absolutely loathed dogs. The thing would turn into a bristling black puffball, hissing and spitting and clawing until somebody finally got the courage to throw it outside. Then Ameri would storm upstairs in a fit of protest. For some reason she loved that cat. Maybe more than she loved anything else.
Hector hopped onto the old tracks and walked along a beam, balancing on it with his arms out like a little kid. One of his leather-shoed feet slipped off the smooth metal. He stood still with his feet on the rocks, looking ahead with his hands clenching the fronts of his jeans.
“These tracks have gotta run somewhere,” he said. “They all mix together, you know. Just think: one day way back when, somebody musta taken this line outta here, not even knowing where they were going, and that mighta been just why they went.”
A hunger shone from every particle of his tall ravenous body. I knew that one day soon, it would all mount and he'd join the ranks, emancipated to some inarticulable adventure. In fact, in his excitement & preparation for that moment, he had already printed & bound-up a book of every rail-line that girded the country.
His eyes followed the tracks in front of him to their distance where they faded into the grass. He walked again along the beam and softly began singing, exhaling all his longing for the world to the world:
“But when that open road, starts a-callin me,
There's somethin o'er the hill I just gotta see.”
Our road ended and we were finally forced to walk the main on Rivers Avenue. The hiss of automobiles went by, puffing spats of heat at us. I could see the tall buildings in the distance up ahead. All sorts of cheap shops abounded on the roadsides around us: nail salons and beauty parlors in squat tan buildings, dollar stores, and brusque pawn shops or car lots. It was a desert of markets. People wandered in the parking lots, getting out of cars, into cars, going in & out of buildings, crying out to one another. To me they all looked confused. But then I remembered how we must look to them: a couple of sweaty kids walking through the middle of town with a backpack, going nowhere apparent. This was the reality of the city, the part that the tourists ignored. It was all forgotten between the city's better edges and its spectral carousel middle with the prodigal monoliths of commerce.
After walking on Rivers a couple minutes we came upon a man, underneath the lengthening shadow of a palm. He was seated low on the curb, his back resting on a big black duffel bag. A jar of wine was next to him, its glistening scarlet outline cast on the sidewalk. The palm leaf-branches bowed above him.
Tendrils of long gray hair rippled down from his ruddy cap. The top buttons of his denim shirt were undone and a sprig of white hair stuck out. His face was long & drawn with the weariness of the lost. He held a cardboard sign for “Charleston.”
The unique mixture of pleasure & embarrassment, that comes upon seeing your passion exemplified in a person, spread over Hector's face. I tried to look indifferent (for appearances, I suppose).
Hector didn't restrain himself at all. He took rapid steps out ahead of me, strutting with his arms out and hollering: “Hey, man! You know Charleston's right down the road? It's walkable. Right down there.”
The man's voice was somber & low, run down under the noise of the road. “Yep. I know it's there, sir. Walked all day toward it. Just want to sit a while, though, if it's all the same to you.”
“Oh, we don't mind,” laughed Hector. “Do you need anything? We've got a little bit of food if you want it.”
“No thank you.”
“Oh, well, no problem. How about a pack of cards?” said Hector.
“Yeah. It's somethin to do. They're good as new, I promise. Not a one missing.”
“I suppose,” he said, probably just to satisfy Hector. He took the pack quietly and slid it into his breast pocket.
“So what's in Charleston for ya?” I asked him.
“Not sure. A port, I was hoping. Want to ship off of the continent if they'll let me. Been pushed on for too long.” His sunken gaze rested blankly on the road, moved by neither us nor the bustling cars. His voice barely reached our height from his seat on the curb. “You know if there's a port I can ship out from?”
“I don't really know anything about that,” said Hector. “I can tell you most of the ports are on the river, though, so you want to go more or less that a-way.” He pointed northeast. “How long ya been travelin for?”
The man thought for a moment then said, “Few years.”
“Wow!” Hector said. “Where from?”
The man looked reluctant to answer but then, upon seeing Hector's face, he seemed to realize that it was inevitable. “Got chased out of the west - New Mexico. Cops out there broke my back.”
Hector's face underwent an abrupt change. “Holy cow. How'd that happen?”
“Well, sir, when a car plows you down, it puts you out for a while.” His voice was unaffected, not angry, not sad - just blank. “Went to Panama after that. Couldn't ship out there. Then Louisiana. Then got here. Be better off in Europe; maybe Scandinavia. Want to ship out from here if they'll let me. This country only makes me sick anymore.” The man fell silent.
None of this was what I had expected to hear. I think Hector felt the same way.
“What? Why?” he asked almost pleadingly.
The man stared at Hector for a moment then shrugged wordlessly and ceased trying to explain himself. He seemed to cower into himself like a wounded animal. His body drooped in the loose folds of his clothes, as if his soul were right then languishing against this world, shrinking into oblivion.
His eyes became further removed from us, probably watching the past flit over his mind. Then I was struck for the first time by their darkness. In a way they were like the Socratic lady's: they had the same receding depth. But there was also an unsettling difference: while her's had been active, his were so somber & still that they could've been a dead man's.
All the elevation I'd felt before was sucked away and left in its place was a gully. I didn't understand what consumed him. I couldn't know such a thing before coming to my own end in that inescapable craze - and inescapable it was.
“Well, you're almost there. One last shore and one last water,” said Hector.
It was obvious that the conversation was over. The man had fled inside himself or gone on to some other unintelligible place.
“Guess we'd better get going,” Hector said once he saw there would be no more real answers. “Been making you look like a party of three.”
“Don't think it matters. Been here a couple hours.” He nodded indifferently to us as we left him to his haunt under the palm tree.
We walked on next to each other. Hector's face was resolutely bent ahead. Both of us were silent & brooded in our tiny footprints. I didn't have anything to say, and I guess he didn't either, but the road kept going.
I couldn't help but think about that man's dwarfing sorrow; about how stupidly naive I was in all my expectations; about how ignorance easily leads a person to glorify a thing before they even understand it. I thought about how ignorance makes a dream out of something real, and how in the end ignorance can only glorify itself. I was a marauding fool.
After a few more miles we'd come to the town's bustling hub, up to where the streets flowed with the smell of gasoline & asphalt and the people strutted on the sidewalks in stiff-necked crowds.
We crossed into the first bar we knew of and ordered some beer & chips. Hector eyed the waitresses.
“Did I tell you I'm gonna transfer to the school downtown? Maybe I'll get a job here,” he said.
“But I thought you were gonna travel next summer.” He'd just talked about it recently. “What happened to all that?”
“Still so many classes to take. I mean, the world doesn't go anywhere. There's time. And just being down here's great enough. There's always a promise of something happening.”
I could never pin Hector down. He seemed rearing to hop on a train at any second, but then he went said things like this. I'm not saying that was a bad thing necessarily - it's just the way he was. Sometimes it did frustrate me, though. But I guess that was just because I had some kind of notion of what he was supposed to be.
The beer came and we gulped it all down pretty fast. I had four glasses and I started feeling a little steeped.
The sun was setting as we stepped out; every buildings' westward face was gilt in orange. We walked by the high ritz hotels and the broad lines of gaudy shops. I picked up some tobacco & papers from a bottom-story corner store that had bars on its windows.
“Can't smoke them right now though. We gotta wait until we get to the Battery. How about that?” I said to Hector. He nodded happily.
We went out into the backstreets and ancient neighborhoods from the reconstruction days. The historic houses had gables high up, hanging over the cobblestone road. Aged cemeteries filled up the blocks beside big chapels, wreathed in wrought iron fence and all overgrown. The dark weathered tombstones were degraded & moist in the damp air. They leaned toward one another under the oaks & ivy.
The city finally came to an end where the Battery park met the waterside. A walkway was traced along the land's last edge where the town collapsed precariously into the stony sea.
I rolled two cigarettes for us and gave one to Hector. He stood firm-planted on the edge before the great water, puffing smoke, his nostrils stealing all the air he could pull from the dusk. He was looking out to the obscure distance where the ocean met with the darkening sky.
“So that's that, huh? Here it is. The foot of the whole country.” He spun his body around. “And it pours out forever - on that a-way.” He grinned significantly as he lifted his chin to the west.
A briny wind floated in, spreading an Atlantic musk in the air. The green waves pulled and turned and shattered on the Battery's cold concrete barrier. Stars began to pop & sparkle in fine points as the sky lost its last colors. There was all the sea, turning & restless, and laid bare above was the harrowing bowl of unfathomable space with all its bleak darkness blazing unabashed.
I saw the city around me, naked in its own feeble little lights. I watched as its reflected image was broken in the ocean's churn. I knew then what it was: a harbor of lost men, torn apart from themselves by the undertow of their inherited ways, and I knew that I had to leave.