UNITED STATES—There was a mute hum, outside the closed liquor store and the falafel joint. The brick facade of an apartment building confronted me with a riddle in its unyielding silent night, any cue of lives dwelling within absent. Something was different: the peace signs and hearts were gone from the windows, and the curtains were gone, along with the books jumbled along the window sill. A greenish streetlight. Where a refrigerator should have been, there was nothing. The place was vacated.
This had happened behind my back. It was a dizzying thing that occurred with greater frequency as the special period lengthened and intensified. The sequence of events tended to jumble, and most troubling of all, there were hints that I was blacking out. In the relentless tedium of the special period, the timeline dismembered as vertebrae of a shattered spine.
I turned the brick corner and a woman, walking a dog turned the corner. The hound started barking. The woman tensely reined him in. I resisted the urge to pass by in sullen silence and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not a thief.” It was a lame joke, meant to recharge the dimming pulse of our humanity.
A grin came over her face, “It’s a blooming miracle!” she said. “You can speak!” Then as quickly as she smiled, she soured, “Get away from me, you liar. My boyfriend said not to give you any money. You’re all fakes.”
With a defiant yank of the leash, that caused the dog to yelp, she pulled away and plunged into the night.
I was left there, before my tongue could speak any of the questions that surged. Suddenly, as the woman and her dog were around the next corner, I was racked by remorse for not seizing the moment to ask, “Where do I know you from? How do you know me?” As the torment over this memory lapse lingered and gouged my wellbeing, even as the muscles in my face forced a smile, I was a slave to an urge to sprint after the woman and her dog, before it was too late.
I tried not to let this obvious disintegration get me down and started to walk down the side street again. Hopscotching through delirium was the soup du jour of special period, and broke into an open chuckle, albeit a bitter one. I took consolation in the knowledge that soon—very soon—there’s be something new to absorb me. I was the young-old man on the flying trapeze and my arm was sailing through the rancid air of doubt and despair toward the certainty of the next ring to grip.
On that side street, I came up to the Russian from the smoke shop. At least it seemed to be him: the figure had his slouching gait and listless stringy hair, showing around the edges of his hoodie, I had to roll the dice and say, “Yoo-hoo, hey!” I am not crazy, do not think I am crazy, though I think it myself at times.
He kept walking and staring straight ahead, taking steps like boulders. He was wearing a hoodie like me. In the raw dark, I could not tell if it was black or burgundy.
”YOO-HOO! Listen to me, you stuck-up cretin! Stop. Turn around when I speak to you. You don’t keep walking when I speak!”
There welled up all this animosity that had been hovering around flashpoint at nearly every encounter for the last week, or weeks, who could say? But there it was. I swung the hammer. There is anger in the word danger. I was deaf to the alarm. The hammer touched the back of the hoodie and squished in where the brain was. Nothing that an unreliable narrator and two brain surgeons couldn’t handle.
The knees hinged under him. Then the cards spilled out, from hands asking for alms: “I am deaf. Can you help me out with something however small?” The card was ringed by sign language symbols for love, thanks, sleep.