Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Theoharides On Fiction

I've got a special treat for you today, my Puddlers.  I mentioned last Wednesday that our new columnist, Alex Theoharides would be presenting some of his fiction on the blog in the near future. Well, that future has come a little sooner than I had originally imagined. Mr. Theoharides has bestowed a short story on us for today's post. This is a direction the blog will be shifting towards more and more as we move forward so if you enjoy this story or have any interest in submitting a story of any kind, please feel free to reach out to me and I will consider any ideas or submissions that you may have.

I encourage you to read Alex's story and post any comments on the blog. My stupid posts don't matter, its the fiction that ultimately matters.

Without further ado, here is Alex Theoharides.

Powderhorn Park

Alexander J. Theoharides

It really should be here by now … it says 7:15 sharp … well maybe not sharp but...what do people say?…be there or…but who knows these things…someone should really… no, I shouldn’t worry about it…Thomas says all I ever do is worry…he thinks I like to worry…I don’t know any more…

“Excuse me, excuse me, Ma’am, do you have the time?”

“Five after seven.”

“Thank you.”

Em shivered slightly and turned to look down Chicago Avenue. Everything was covered in a drab layer of snow and salt and dirt. The bus was nowhere to be seen and the street was empty except for a rust-colored car that had been abandoned under a pile of snow. Em heard the fizzling sound of the streetlight above her head. It blinked off for a second, then turned back on. “This city,” she muttered, “I just don’t know.” Then she turned and stared down Chicago again. There was still no sign of the bus, but she noticed an old Hmong man standing outside the laundromat, smoking a cigarette. For second, the man almost seemed to notice Em watching him. She leaned toward him. Is that his arm? I don’t like the…is he waving? She glanced up at the streetlight, accusingly. “It’s so dark out,” she said in a low voice. “These damn streetlights. I just can’t tell.” Thomas had told her that the streetlights were brighter now then they used to be. “They’re a waste of electricity,” he’d told her. “You can see their glow from outer space.”

“I have no intention of going to outer space.”

“That’s not my point. All I’m saying, is that it’s not the lights that are the problem.”

Em took a step toward the curb and placed her left hand on her forehead.

The Hmong man stared at her a moment longer, then he lazily flicked his cigarette onto the sidewalk and walked back inside the laundromat.

When he was gone, Em hugged her arms across her chest and rubbed her shoulders, trying to warm herself up. It was so cold…you can never trust these buses to come on time… the only people who ever take them are perverts…they stare at you when you walk down the aisle. Em stared suspiciously at the woman who’d told her the time. Women could be just as bad as men. People didn’t like to admit it, but it was true. Sometimes they were even worse. Em turned and looked behind her. She could just make out a group of schoolchildren ice skating under the lights in Powderhorn Park. Their movements were familiar and, for a moment, she tried to remember how to skate. What had Thomas told her? Balance is the key, you have to remember to keep your balance at all times … but there was something else too, something important. Em pictured Thomas lacing up her skates by the Lake Harriet bandshell. What was it? What did he say? She couldn’t remember; she could never remember anything anymore. Em shuddered slightly and turned away from the park. It’s a terrible place, she thought. I’m surprised mothers let their children skate there. After what happened with those two boys. She shuddered again. It’s horrible to think about. Those little monsters. Where did they even get the gun in the first place? And no one had caught them? The police probably watched them do it. I wouldn’t put it past them. They probably took pictures.

The woman standing next to Em cleared her throat and leaned toward her. “Are you from here? You don’t look familiar.”

Em started to nod, then changed her mind. She didn’t like the way the woman had asked the question. She knew the type. First they pretend to be friendly, then they follow you home and steal your television. Not that she had one. Thomas had taken it away from her because he said watching television made her nervous. All that talk of the president.

“It’s not my fault if he wants us all to become Muslims,” she’d told him.

“That’s not true.”

“Of course it is. Did you know that he’s not even from here?”

“Where are you from?” the woman asked, smiling at her.

Em studied the woman. She was African—I guess they’re called black now—and she had a yellow shawl wrapped around her head. She had probably voted for that Obama. Of course, so had Thomas. She couldn’t tell him anything anymore. All those classes at the University…it’s brainwash, that what it is…first they take your money, then they…of course, he’s not such a bad boy…I just wish he’d stop…his friends waste all their time in coffee shops, they want to be writers…I just don’t understand…he was always such a nice boy and so handsome…Em trembled suddenly. She could hear the sound of footsteps crunching through the snow, footsteps coming toward her. She turned slowly and peered over her shoulder. No one was there.

“Did you hear me?” the woman asked. “I said, where are you from?”

“I’m not from here,” Em said. “I’m taking the bus to go see my Thomas.”

The woman smiled at her. “Is he your boy? Well, isn’t that nice?”

Em nodded and opened her purse, pretending to look for something. Then she noticed the woman watching her and she quickly closed it again. If the woman had wanted to, all she’d have to do was reach out and snatch her purse. It wouldn’t be difficult at all. They were the only two people outside. Everyone else was hiding in their apartments, watching television. There was no one who could help her. Em stood up on her tiptoes, shivering slightly. A white van drove toward them and slowed to a stop. The driver rolled down his window. The sound reminded Em of something. What was it Thomas used to play? The oboe? The bassoon? Yes, that was it. She smiled. When he came home from school, Thomas used to spend hours locked in his room practicing.  One time, when he was sleeping, she’d slipped into his room and picked up the bassoon and started to play. The sound she’d made had been all wrong, she didn’t know what it was, the bassoon sounded just like it did when he played, but somehow she knew it was wrong. He’d told her as much when he woke up.  

“You’re not doing it right.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. It just doesn’t feel right.”

“How do I get to Portland and 43rd?” the driver of the white van asked, leaning out of his window.

Em glanced at the black woman, who shrugged her shoulders. Dark gray exhaust was pouring out from the back of the van. Em coughed into her hands. “Portland and 43rd?” the man repeated.

Em looked down at her feet, pretending she couldn’t hear him.

“Thanks, thanks for your time.”

As Em watched the van drive away, she squinted into the distant streetlights, the way she used to stare at the nightlight in the upstairs hallway when she was a little girl and her father was carrying her up the stairs, right before he would…and suddenly the street began to shimmer and dance almost as if it were alive and Em closed her eyes and let herself begin to slip. It was almost true, she thought, what they say about falling. But it wasn’t really. Something didn’t quite…She opened her eyes and turned to look for the bus again. It would never come. She should just go home. Her apartment was only a five minute walk away. The heat was still on. She could lie down on the couch and maybe have a cup of tea with some whisky in it. But it was Thomas’ birthday and he hadn’t even invited her this year. “After what happened, I didn’t think you’d be up to it,” he’d said.

“Of course I am. I come every year.”

Thomas didn’t want her to go anywhere anymore. This was the first time she’d left the apartment in three weeks. There was a Mexican boy, a real pervert, who delivered her groceries and her medicine and anything else she needed. She’d tried to tell Thomas about what the boy did, but Thomas never listened to her anymore. “I don’t like the way he looks at me,” she’d said, “he makes me nervous.”

“Everything makes you nervous.”

“He just stares for so long.”

“I’ll talk to him.

“Don’t you dare say a word, it’ll just make it worse.”

Thomas didn’t believe her, but it was true. She’d seen the Mexican boy looking at her. He probably knew those two other boys. He might have even helped them. They were all the same, they really were. Em nodded firmly. She’d have to keep her eyes on him. Again she heard the sound of footsteps walking toward her. She turned, then startled.

There were two boys standing right behind her.

One of them looked just like Thomas and the other looked just like the Mexican boy who delivered her groceries. But Em was wrong. The first boy wasn’t even really a boy, but me dressed in sheep’s clothing and the second boy wasn’t Mexican but Greek and, not that it mattered, but he didn’t really exist and never had. If anything he was a figment, you know what they say, a wandering poet can become anything at all. And in any case, we didn’t want to scare her. All we wanted to do was sit on the benches next to the lake and watch the kids slipping across the ice and pretend that we could still…not that she’d believe us…but we didn’t want to… not anymore. My friend said he recognized Em from somewhere, another lifetime perhaps? And, of course, I knew her well but I didn’t say that. Yes, that’s it, my friend said, I’ve seen her dancing alone in her apartment, two blocks south of Powderhorn.

Dancing? I asked

Well, really she was pretending to ice skate, you know, gliding on slippers across her hardwood floor, I saw her there the night those two boys…

I shuddered because of course I remembered that night. Were you there? I asked, knowing full well that he was.

My friend shook his head but I didn’t believe him…he could go anywhere, be everywhere, not that it mattered, he didn’t exist, never had. Suddenly, Em looked up at me…blue eyes, half open…she was older than I remembered…how are you? I asked…but I didn’t say that, not really, she wouldn’t have understood…instead I nodded at my friend, then turned toward her, spreading my lips apart in what felt like a smile but wasn’t. “Do you have the time?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” Em said, turning away from us and looking for help from the black woman. But, just like my friend, the woman wasn’t really there, she didn’t exist, never had, and it was just the two of us standing under the dim street light, which flickered sometimes and made it seem like there were more than two of us there, as if she were there waiting for the bus and I was there too, waiting for God knows what, and at some point there had been an old Hmong man, leaning against the laundromat, smoking a cigarette and a black woman in a yellow shawl who knew the time and a boy who looked like a Mexican errand boy but was really a Greek poet who didn’t exist and never had, yet still managed to be everywhere at once. He was always there, he really was. Even on that night, with those two boys. Em looked back at me. Do you have to stay here for so long?…Where else would I go?…I’m not even from here, she said…That’s not true, I’ve seen you in your apartment…I just wish you wouldn’t stare…I can’t help myself…It’s my Thomas’ birthday, you see, and I promised I’d go…You can see the park from your window, you can see everything…He’s turning 26…It’s all lit up at night…This bus will never come…It’s a magical place…They tell you 7:15 sharp but…The city is reclaiming the space, making up for lost time, taking back the streets…Those boys, it was terrible, I could see everything…“I know you could,” I said, “I was there too.”

Em looked down at her feet. “It think its almost 7:15,” she said.

“Thank you,” I told her. Then my friend drifted back through the stillness and placed his hand on my back. “Let’s go man,” he said. Then we turned away from Em and walked in the direction of Powderhorn Park.

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