July 17, 1996: New York City, Upper West Side
February 8, 2012 § 3 Comments
These are the first pages of a story I’ve been working on for quite some time. The larger working title is THE DOUBLE HELIX. The first third is called BENDING. The second and third parts are titled TWISTING and COMPRESSION.
Please feel free to comment. Your comments will definitely help me. Where do you think it’s going? What’s happening here? Who are these people? This is fiction that grows from history. The major event, here, which happens on July 17, 1996, is true.
“Providence sometimes foreshadows the future of men in dreams, not so that they may be able to avoid the sufferings fated for them, for they can never get the better of destiny, but in order that they may bear them with the more patience when those sufferings come; for when disasters come all together and unexpectedly, they strike the spirit with so severe and sudden a blow that they overwhelm it; while if they are anticipated, the mind, by dwelling on them beforehand, is able little by little to turn the edge of sorrow.”
Achilles Tatius in The Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon
PART ONE: BENDING
July 17, 1996: New York City, Upper West Side
Life’s din diminished some in that small moment when he pulled open his apartment window with such expectation that the last few inches the window flew up knew only his eagerness.
With his palms on the coarse sill, he ducked under the window’s frame and leaned into the horizon – the Hudson River and the Jersey Palisades across the way and the George Washington bridge just north beaming a dull evening gray.
He waited all day to tilt into the serenity that arrived with the humidity and pressed him to push away his day. He arched his back and stretched and took it in.
He panned down six stories and set his eyes on an incongruous dance of Poodles and Labradoodles and French Bulldogs and a Great Dane and a German Shepherd and a Chihuahua and a couple of Golden Retrievers held easily by a dog walker in a weathered Yankee cap, a danseur never entangled in the leashes held to one hand, then the other, the exchanges fluid and experienced.
The dogs sniffed the smells coming from a square earth and lifted their legs to trees and squatted when they recognized something.
The Great Dane and the Chihuahua and the Bulldog dumped together as if responding to some great secret. The rest waited, and the dog walker studied them.
The young Dr. Raúl Sicard was transfixed by the scene. What others might find inconsequential, something to pass by, intrigued him. There was meaning in the seemingly mundane. He was a geneticist and he liked nothing better then to lose himself in thought when he came face-to-face with an adaptation like this. He strayed off to see if he could imagine the adaptations that drove the dog walker and his canis lupus familiaris to this moment, this place, here and now.
The city dog is so different from the country dog that roams unconstrained across a larger earth and squats without fear, he thought, never lifting his leg. Almost nothing separates them – yet everything does.
He stretched further out his window and took a deep breath, even though the air was heavy. Streets lamps came on. The Palisades were lit and reflected off the Hudson River.
Haitian women rushed stately blue strollers with large white wheels around the dog walker scooping up the steamy remains with a hand gloved in a baggie.
Up and down Riverside Drive and across Joan of Arc Park, in the promising glow of summer evening, went these intertwining objects – the dog walkers and the Haitian women and their stately strollers.
This is how the world moved that day, July 17, 1996, before Raúl’s eyes adjusted to the sadness that arrived when the phone rang outside everything familiar to him and stopped him from stretching as far as he could into the picture knocking at him, asking him to leave things behind for a bit.
He held the grainy sill and turned to the ring that tempted the faith he found in his routines.
He felt the weight in the room, a sadness that came out of nowhere – yet it seemed old and familiar, and lodged itself in the pit of his stomach.
Raúl leaned inside and faced the phone. He held the sill with his right hand, not yet giving it up all the way. Not yet.
The knots in his spine that would otherwise crack and unwind the fatigue that amassed from hours curled over a microscope deciphering the nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms tightened.
The sadness multiplied. He had no explanation for it, dumbfounded. He liked knowing where things came from, how they evolved, what changed them, how they appear. How things appear even suddenly like the ring of the phone that hung in the air with the sadness.
He traced his steps for signs. Just a few moments before the first ring he entered his apartment and dropped the keys in the bowl on the table beneath the mirror near the front door and draped his lab coat over the chair meant just for that otherwise it would be useless. Grabbed a beer and turned on the TV for noise. And pulled open his window.
At some point that day, the sadness must have begun to set in unnoticed. Maybe the sadness had been there all along – that was more logical.
The phone rang again.
He could consider the ring’s origin or rather the origin of the intuition he had that came with the ring and told him that something happened and he was involved. But that was too much, too far to go.
Something traveled the distance and found him and opened a black hole and he didn’t want to be present. He didn’t want to be sucked in. Know its spiral history. That’s what humans do, he thought, run for cover – and wait and adapt slowly, hopefully. Those that can’t adapt don’t make it, ever.
He felt bound. In the genetics lab life laid down road signs, roots to instincts that he could quantify. There was nothing to measure here. Nothing at all – but an intuition.
The phone pawed at him trying to get to where the heart is.
There was no way to revise the day, see it fully in memory’s half-light. After working in the lab he and friends sat in a sidewalk café across from Lincoln Center and had a Brooklyn Summer Ale and dreamt of things that may never come to pass. On a cloudless bright day, they descended into the dank and murky subway station on 161st and took the number one, Broadway – Seventh Avenue local to 72nd Street and strolled to Lincoln Center where a Guatemalteco on the corner sold dolls with bouncing heads and a Jamaican next to him hawked antique copies of Paris Match and Look and National Geographic in several languages.
A invisible woman with tattoos of crosses and peace signs on either hand and barely able to stand on the corner waited for pedestrians to push by and she’d mumble spare some change as they forgot her, a picture of an extinction, something that no one wants to see intimately, the end of an adaptation. Soon, she would not be.
It’s all like this – the Guatamalteco, the Jamaican, the invisible end of an adaptation. It all had to be like this, a design, an order. Nothing spoke to him of the sadness he felt – but it had been there, he was sure of it. Had to be.
He tried ignoring the third ring and turned to the hum of the TV.
A voice over a static map of Long Island filled the room with sadness. That’s when the phone rang a fourth time, its red flash igniting the papers on the desk next to it and the bills waiting for another week. An inexorable eye looking back at him.
Nothing mattered now. Except the fifth ring. Its sound hung in the air, hollow. The phone and the TV.
…At 8:45P.M., eleven minutes after take-off from Kennedy International Airport, TWA flight 800, bound for Paris, France, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island. Witnesses say they saw a bright flash in the sky. But nothing is certain. There are no causes known at this time. The Coast Guard responded immediately, dispatching numerous search and rescue vessels. The New York City Police Department, the New York State Police Department, and the Suffolk County Police Department have all responded as well. The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team from New Jersey. And we’ve been informed that numerous private vessels are also involved in this initial search and recovery effort…
The phone rang again.
“Papá,” he whispered. Raúl said it just to hear himself say it, to test its feel and the emptiness that arrives with flashes from a life lived, rattles you and tempts your faith. “Papá,” he said again. It filled the room. “Papá.” It overwhelmed everything. The sanctity of his routine, the lab, the dog walkers and their dogs crapping and the Haitian maids and their Cadillac strollers.
He picked up the phone and staggered.
He felt him there, the ghost of his father standing beside him as still as recollections tend to be where light suddenly is as darkness and the darkness is where we are and where we will be. Where the problems of the heart live just beyond the design, beyond the touch of order. This sadness was new and full.