Esther walked along the bridge. The pink beams, the cage structure. There was the faint spray of lamplight. It was quiet. A bike passed along the other side, and a subway rattled just below her. The cars had thinned out in the night and a couple people crossed her path in the opposite direction, drinking from paper bags with straws.
She started to mumble the lyrics to an old song, remembering more the music video. The actor with the trombone. The feeling of imminent baldness on all fronts. ―A street in a strange world, she said. There was the sound of quick footsteps.
―Hey. Hi. Esther turned. A woman of indeterminate age was behind her. ―I just wanted to say something to you.
―If I ever end up like you… The woman was wearing a yellow blazer and yellow jeans. She caught her breath. ―If I ever end up like you, I want someone to shoot me.
―No, I mean it.
―I just… That’s fine. I’m just, like. I just want to try to walk.
―You just want to? That’s what you want to do?
―Or I’m doing it, okay. I’m just taking a walk.
―What are you saying to yourself?
―I… It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry if I bothered you.
―No, I want to know.
―I was saying the words to You Can Call Me Al.
―I don’t know that one.
―Yes you do. You just need to hear it.
―Well then say it to me.
―It’s the hook that does it. It’s the instrumental hook. You’d, like, recognize it.
―Well I don’t doubt that but if you won’t say it to me…
―I’m very tired, I… Like, I just want to walk across the bridge.
―Well who’s not tired? Who’s not tired in the middle of the night?
―It’s not that late.
―Every second you don’t let me hear the song, I don’t get to know, and it fucks me up, and you don’t get to keep walking, so it’s pretty futile, right?
They were silent. Esther looked at the woman for a moment, then began, ―Da duh-duh dunt. Da duh-duh dahnt… Da duh-duh…
―I can’t understand you.
Louder, she chanted, ―Da duh-duh dunt. Da duh-duh dahnt… Da duh-duh dunt. Da duh-duh dahnt.
―That’s what that is? It’s called "You Can Call Me Al?"
―Yeah… Yeah, it’s a famous song… I don’t know.
―Well it’s a stupid name.
―I mean, I guess so… That’s just its name.
―Well if I’d have written it I would’ve called it something else.
―Yeah… Well, okay. Good night. Esther tried to turn away from the woman.
―Where are you going?
―I’m just walking over the bridge.
―You live over there or something?
―No, I live that way.
―So you’re just going to walk back over when you’re done?
―I guess so.
―Does that make any sense to you? That is so pointless.
―I’m… I’m sorry. It’s fine, I just, like, need a walk.
―When I was a kid, nobody walked on the bridge. It was a way to get raped or abducted or to kill yourself.
―I mean, but it’s not so bad now. Clearly…
―You would get to one of those side things, where it goes out over the highway and then you’d scale the fence and jump off. It was easy. What do you know about it?
―I don’t, I’m sorry. I don’t. I’ve had a very long day. Suddenly I’m very tired. I was, like, awake, that’s why I was walking… But now I’m tired.
―So go home then.
―I think I’ll walk a little more, if that’s okay. I just need to clear my head. Good night, I’m sorry for annoying you or whatever.
―Don’t give me that or whatever. I’m a person. I’m just trying to have a conversation with you. What are you mentally ill or something?
―Maybe… Or something… I don’t want to, like, talk right now really.
―So little of what we do in life is about want. Or even choice. Free will is a fallacy. What is free will?
―You’re right. I don’t know. I agree with you.
―What freedom do you have in that you’re thrown into life and forced to start dying? What freedom is there that you’re confined by gravity, by the fact you need to breathe and eat?
―I said you’re right. I’ve heard the argument, I’m with you. We are chained to certain things. There are things, like, arbitrating everything, so that any choice is, like, predetermined by what is even possible to do, et cetera. I get it.
―Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. You think I’m some retard or something because I talk to you on the bridge. Who are you, why are you on the bridge?
―I’m not anyone. I don’t think you’re stupid. I’m sorry… I’m sorry.
―You’re so special for being alone on a bridge? I’m alone. I live alone. What do you think I do that makes me so retarded or whatever? I’m just another person. I need to be taken care of too. I didn’t think this is what would happen to me. I didn’t spend my life thinking this is what it would be.
―I know… I know.
―What do you know? What are you suffering? I’m suffering. What, you think because I’m out here in the middle of the night on the streets I’m homeless? I’m a junkie? I’m at the end of my little retard rope?
―No. No, I didn’t think that. I was just, I don’t know. I just came from…
―’Cause I am homeless. I am. You think just because I take care of myself I can’t be homeless? Just because I’m not a haggard old freak? Some of us are able to take pride in the little left we have of will. In cleaning our clothes, in brushing our teeth and finding the right foods. Stuff you would throw away, but it’s perfectly healthy!
―I believe you!
―There’s microorganisms in soil, you know. There’s ways of being nutritional, of being dry at night. You think I couldn’t live in a fancy little apartment like you and get a little job like you? I choose to be this way!
―I think. Like, that’s great. I think it’s, like, really important to do what you want to do.
―You do what you want to do?
―I, like. I try to.
―What are you?
―I’m just… I’m nothing. I’m Esther.
―Oh, perfect. I mean what do you do, Esther? For money and things?
―I… I just got out of school. I’m, like, an artist, I guess.
―You make art? What do you make?
―Just stupid things. I made some things with wood. Never mind. I need to go.
―So you do what you want? You’re living the way you want to?
―You always knew it would be this way? That you’d get this way?
―What way? The woman stood, looking at her. ―I don’t… I mean, guess I assumed it could happen. Or that it would, really. That everything would, like, fall into place. If you did the work, made stuff good, you’d get recognized. Rewarded. You could get anything in life just by attempting it… And that’s exactly what did happen! That’s how it went. If I did something, if, I like, tried something on my own, it almost always worked. When I wanted to go to the beach, we went to the beach. If I sat down with something, I could ultimately reach some convivial state with it. People frequently said they saw something in me, but that was on them. It’s in other people that the things get lost. I always wondered, why do they say people settle for something in others? Is that what people are doing? I never felt like I was being forced to do anything. I feel like I know freedom. I feel free.
―So you are happy?
―Okay, I’m happy. Is it a crime?
―It’s unexpected is all… That you would be.
―Well of course I am. I’m very fulfilled. I’m suffering on my own accord. I can see into the core of people. It’s what I do with my day. And I have a P.O. box, and I get checks in the mail from the government.
―How do you vote?
―I can’t! Thank god. It makes life even better. And it doesn’t matter. Either way the checks keep coming in.
―People don’t want you to be happy here. They don’t think you should be able to find satisfaction, but when everything is gone, when you let all the noise slip away and it’s just a blank flat world, and all you can do is think it. Is there anything more to life than having thoughts? You think your own world, like. How could it ever be any better?
―Now you’ve started to lose me.
―I never took any medications. I sold them to people online without insurance. I, like, I wanted to let the world have me, but I feel like I have it. I feel like I can see the patterns changing. I am lifted.
―But that’s limited. That can’t go on forever.
―No. Yes, of course, I mean. You’re lifted, or then you drop right through the ground. That is another thing they make you want to think is bad. It’s not a trap, you’d just, like, fall right into the next thing. It couldn’t take yourself away. This and every world is just an extension of that.
―Why do you think he called it that? That song?
―Who knows. I was just a kid. They played it on the radio. It’s like I just remembered. The walks were very long and different every time. There was a freckled old man who wore all black and you’d pay him to park your car in his driveway. He had large glasses, like, and terrible teeth. And he always held his jaw when he smoked, like it hurt him. But he never stopped smoking. The beach was a half a mile away, but it was different every time. Sometimes you’d walk with your sandals off on the rocks and you’d be, like, jumping. Sometimes you had collected periwinkles or something and you could throw them out behind you as you went. Sometimes it zipped by, the entire thing. But you still, inside of you I mean, like, you always knew the walk was long. I went to sleep on the beach many times. My brother and me. We’d go into the water and stay until our lips were blue and shaking, and talk to the other kids out there. Once my brother said he saw a girl’s boob. We built structures and dug pits and buried each other. And one time I went to sleep and when I woke up everything was different. Like how when you wake up in the afternoon and your face hurts. But this was even more than that. Not different like every time but totally transformed. We could dig much deeper much faster and our lips didn’t get blue, and the walks were quick and even. This is when I started to see things like how they were for only me. My parents don’t have memories of the sound my brother used to make with his tongue against his cheek. He doesn’t remember seeing the boob or being stung by a jellyfish. Nobody did. The sunset, you could, like, pause it or something. It happened so fast before, but then you could control it so the days lasted as long as you wanted.
―What you’re saying is inconsistent with what we were talking about before.
―It doesn’t matter! That’s how it is! You were wrong about everything, you were trying to manipulate me!
―But what about free will? What we agreed on?
―I don’t feel attached to that anymore. I don’t feel interested in your philosophy.
―But do you think I was like I am now then? When you had your memory?
―Maybe. I don’t know how old you are or how it happened.
―I’m going to go home now.
―You should finish your walk. You were holding onto the fence, like, tracing it with your hand.
―I don’t want to anymore.
―Want or need? What’s going on? Where are you going? Did you take something from me, wait a second. But Esther had started to walk away. ―What’s the tune of that song again… You won’t be cute forever, you know. One day you’ll get old and boring and boring looking. We all need to die.
―But I’ll get there on my own. I already told you. In a way, I am. In part of my lifetime, it’s all happened. We get to do it anyway, though.
―But can’t I walk with you?
―I don’t think so.
In the subway station, there was a damp sound. And emptiness. The tunnel was lighted, and it was dark. ―Matt! Damn you, are you down here?
―What are you doing? Where are you?
―Leave me alone.
Tyler walked across the platform, looking for the source of the voice. Then down, at the body lying on the tracks. ―What the fuck, man.
―Why aren’t you with your girlfriend?
―Why are you here?
―I tried to follow you.
―I don’t care.
―I came back for you.
―Esther just doesn’t like you either.
―That’s fine. I’m okay with that. She couldn’t handle me. It’s fine, that was so long ago. I still like her okay, I’m just not into her.
―What’s your plan here exactly?
―I’m killing myself. You think I’m not depressed? How could you do this to me?
―I didn’t do anything.
―This is a classic deceit. I’ve been forsaken. The whole of my life I could’ve done something. It’s like I’m a spectator to my own pointlessness.
―No, no. This isn’t classic. It was just, it was just a thing.
―It was classic and it’s been done. You’re like Judas. Or Iago. Or like a Bret Easton Ellis character. You suck.
―This was like, no. This is my life. It resembles nothing. I’m trying to engage with the world.
―Well have fun with that.
―You know this doesn’t count. You’re not depressed, you’re just being dramatic.
―I am. I am depressed, and I’ve always been, and I’m going to kill myself.
―Letting a subway run over you doesn’t count.
―Sure it does. Why shouldn’t it?
―It’s so passive. You aren’t doing anything. You’re just letting something happen. Plus this way you make the conductor have PTSD. It’s cowardly.
―You’re a coward.
―I know. I’m very scared. I feel very scared of everything that’s happened. I was alone and I was scared. You left me alone.
―I didn’t leave you alone. You just wanted me to do something and I couldn’t do it. I have responsibilities.
―It would’ve been better for everyone involved. It would’ve been, like, you could’ve escaped. You wouldn’t have been a spectator, we’d have been in it together.
―Why would I want to? You don’t take me seriously.
―You’re not a serious person, man. Look at you right now. You can’t even kill yourself right. Buy a gun. Use a kitchen knife. Slice open your milky blond wrists and watch it happen. Don’t just wait for someone else to come along and do your dirty work for you.
―I don’t care about you and Esther. It was her name. It was what it meant, all the things before… You don’t know, man.
―Sure I do.
―Not everything is easy for everyone. Sometimes people’s unhappiness, people’s struggles… They don’t just act on them and show it off to everyone.
―Hey, stop. It’s not my fault. But right after you told me, I had to have her. Didn’t you know I’d have to do that? Don’t you even know me? It was exactly what was always going to happen. I had to track her down…
―No you didn’t.
―You still have photography. I have nothing.
―I don’t like taking pictures anymore!
―I could’ve been somebody. Did I ever tell you I was a high school athlete? I broke half the sprinting records.
―You’ve told me.
―And I quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a strange and beautiful way of seeing things. It’s all gone. I don’t see anything in anything anymore. I was depressed, but now I’m broken. I don’t even exist.
―You’re not the only sad person. You’re not, like, the only person who might’ve been something but actually never was.
―It’s like, everything I found meaningful and touching. A little flutter in the corner of my eye. It used to be anything I saw, I could speak on it forever. Now all I know is that I’m, like, that’s all inaccessible. I’m out of my prime. I’m resigned to this way. And I have to live so much longer. I’m not even drunk right anymore. I sweated it all out looking for you.
―I sit at a desk in university archive all day looking at the records of stuff people did. People who mattered, they made breakthroughs. Downtown New York, the eighties and nineties and everything we loved. How do you think, like… How should I feel? I never did anything.
Some silence. ―Should I get down there with you?
―Come down here.
Matt moved over, and Tyler lay down on the tracks next to him. ―I feel old. Old and used up in this world.
―But we’re still really young.
―I’ve spent so much time finding identity in depression that I can’t even remember why I ever felt depressed. People say they’re just lucky to have their memories. Where are mine, though? All I have is a series of things that happened. I haven’t written them down. I don’t remember my childhood in terms of any real thing at all. It had no effect on me. My parents weren’t schizophrenic or drunk or even mean. They punished me by having me sit quietly in my room with books. They kissed me on the lips until the appropriate age. I was never humiliated, I avoided everything like it was my job. I’m not haunted. I lived normally.
―I was abused as a child.
―Well… Matt looked at the ceiling, where the water swam around the supporting structures and dripped off. ―Not that I can remember… But it would make sense.
―I’m just another person with dreams and love and a slow death inside.
―I already didn’t want to say it as it was coming out.
They didn’t look at each other. ―How long were you waiting down here before I found you.
―A while… Where’s the train?
A voice barrelled down the tunnel. ―What the fuck do you think you’re doing? A body appeared above them. A neon orange vest and hard hat.
―Don’t try to stop us, Tyler said. ―We’re here to end our lives. This doesn’t concern you.
―Damn straight it does. Get the fuck off the tracks, we got a construction team coming through.
―But where’s the train, Matt asked. ―We just want to die passively.
―There’s no trains coming through here this weekend. It’s closed for maintenance. Don’t you read the signs?
―Posted all over the fucking platform. Get your asses up, or should I call the police? I’m sure there’s room in lockup for a couple fairies cruising trying to get their rocks off in the subway on a Thursday night.
―Can we go to a mental hospital maybe, Matt said.
―I’ll put you in some kind of hospital.
Tyler sighed. ―This is hardly how I imagined it would go. Somehow, I don’t even feel like dying anymore.
―In fact, why would I want to die? I have thoughts. I have experiences. Isn’t every thought a worthwhile thing? Isn’t every neuron that fires an event? A creative explosion? I’m, like, maybe I’m just marginal. Maybe I don’t think like how other people do, and they just haven’t caught up with me yet.
―Maybe shut the fuck up and get out of here.
The employee kicked at Tyler, who, helping Matt up, smiled. ―I feel, like, reborn.
―I feel depressed.
―Me too, me too, though! But it means something now. It means something again. We faced death and came out the other side.
―I should quit my job.
―Yes! Right now! Send them an email right now!
―I can’t really do it like that…
―Well another time then. I’m very hungry. And thirsty. Do you think there’s any cute girls at Myrtle? What time is it?
―Maybe you should just go to bed.
―But alone?… Maybe… Maybe… They went to leave. ―Wait, listen. Let me tell you something… There was a band. I always wanted to see them live. Their name slips my mind now. You know, two guys and a girl? They did a lot of heroin and drugs and stuff? It seemed so cool. They came to town a few times, I think they even came through Myrtle once, but I was always busy. I figured there’d always be another chance to see them. But they put out an album and, like, immediately broke up… They had this song I loved. I always messed up the lyrics. I thought they were saying, like, All blurred out hoodie bitch I can’t see ya. Like that he was wasted and his hoodie was falling over his face or something. That’s not the words, though, I got those totally wrong for years. And I think I, like, poisoned myself with that. I can’t remember the real lyrics for shit, but I’ll remember the wrong ones forever… Not so distant sounds of a construction train emanated from the tunnel. ―Look. Tyler picked a magazine up off the ground. ―Sixty-three secrets to better orgasms. I’d actually like you to flip to that while I figure out where to go. Tyler took out at his phone.
Matt looked at the magazine. It was dusty and wet and in his hand. ―But what about your cat?
―What about her?
―You… You wanted to say stuff about your cat to me. You kept saying that there was something you wanted to talk about. Back before… everything.
―Oh, Tyler was looking at his phone. ―I mean, she’s just a cat. I think she might have a tapeworm, but I’d hate to take that away from her.
< Chapters 7 & 8