[Hope you enjoy L.E. Leone's latest!]
The Doors Are Closing, Please Stand Clear Of The Doors
I called it a mouse, but the truth was . . . rat. Almost stepped on a pigeon, dead, on my way to the train.
At the Fruitvale Station there were cops everywhere, helicopters circling, and a bright, crescent moon. As I sat there on the platform, admiring it all, and the chill of November in general, the oldest man in the world came shuffling over with a cane and a hat.
I made room for him on the bench. How old are you? I asked.
You see those hills? He said.
They were purple in the slivery moonlight, and there was of course water between us and them, the bay.
I’m the oldest man in the world, my old man said. Oh, I could have hugged him alright. I’m a hundred and fifty, he said. Let’s level the playing field, he said. How old are you, he said, young lady?
How to say? How to say? You see those helicopters? I said.
He seemed surprised, or maybe just being polite. Are you as old as helicopters? he said.
No, I said. I’m going home from work. I’m a nanny. Chop chop chop, went the helicopters. I said, I’m 47, and I’m ten. Older than you. Newborn. I’m working on omniscience.
What are the cops about? I said. Do you know?
He shook his head. No.
It was a trick question. I knew, I was just curious if he did. The white cop who had shot the young black man at this very station a New Years or so ago had been sentenced finally. Leniently. Two years, versus a lost life. An unarmed, face-down, already restrained life.
I could see what they were afraid of, the city of Oakland. And why the news vans were all so terribly excited. It was there! It was real! Riot, mayhem, even a peaceful protest. Even if, within my limited field of ocular vision people were, like me, just heading home from work.
The old guy …
He didn’t get on the train, damn it, I would have liked to have sat with him, more poetry, more brain teasers. But he wasn’t going, like me, to San Francisco, so I would have to settle for someone else’s half-finished New York Times crossword puzzle. Fell asleep under the bay. Under the weight of all that water, I dreamed a puddle of blood, the puddle, which I slipped on, fell in, skated over, cooked with, took a bath, and missed my stop.
At the end of the line I woke up, got off, rode the escalator, stepped over a sandwich, up the opposite platform, and boarded a train going the other way. For a while I looked out the window at Daly City, then I fell asleep again and didn’t wake up until the other end of the line. Dublin. Just one of the hazards of my profession! You fall asleep on BART, change sides, fall asleep again, and then the next thing you know you are homeless, huddled under a big coat in the last seat of the car, impossibly old. Day after day, this is all that you have: your coat, your years, your dream, the fluorescent light, the rumble of the track and the crackly voice of a driver. Except between midnight and five, when you sit outside with the pigeons and watch the sky, waiting to eventually be recognized. One of the babies you used to sing to sleep. Drunk but okay, walking home from the bar.