by Ryan Sparks
I woke up to news reports but somehow didn’t understand them until I’d come back from the shower. The force of the fuselage of a giant airplane knocking out major support beams and the ensuing explosion had caused a building to fall. Odd. Then the same thing happened again. Then I knew. We were all fucked.
I figured classes were canceled, so I left the dorm and started walking towards Leonine’s apartment, which was in a brownstone building behind the bars on Franklin. It wasn’t cold out yet, and the sun was shining. On the sidewalk I ran into HD, his skinny body walking in a skinny gait.
‘Did you hear?’ I asked.
His face lit up. He was expecting a drunk story. I realized that I was about to become a very important memory: the Guy that Told Me. I wish I could’ve told a drunk story instead, prolonged his innocence, but the words came out automatically: ‘They killed the Twin Towers. They stabbed them with planes.’
‘Sorry,’ I said.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Does she know?’ he asked.
‘Sorry,’ I said again and left him. I didn’t know what else to say.
I knocked on Leonine’s first floor window and she peeled back the African Savannah Scene sheet she used as a curtain. She acknowledged me then left to go let me into the building. At the door we didn’t hug or kiss. She walked ahead of me down the hallway, her fingers tying and untying her pajama bottoms. Her head turned back towards me with new facts.
‘They say it’s the Saudis. Or the Iranians. Iranians and Saudis, maybe.’
‘They say people are jumping out of the building. Fifty stories up.’
‘Dan Rather is crying.’
She unlocked her door, and we stepped inside her efficiency apartment. Everything in her apartment told you she was a fun-loving and messy girl, but the moving picture square of the TV cast a neat, serious glow on every stuffed animal and party favor. Leonine flipped through the channels to see if there were different camera angles.
‘God. God God God,’ she said. Her hair was losing its dye and her curls had sagged in the night. Her eyes reflected the pillars of smoke, but retained their ideal qualities. I wanted to get naked.
‘I thought you’d be crying,’ I said.
‘No. I mean, I don’t know anyone there. And it’s good in a way.’
‘America finally has something we can all watch together. Just like in the fifties.’
‘I guess so.’
‘They’ve finally made their mark. They’ve finally ripped the evil mastermind plan out of the hands of our imaginations and made it a reality.’
On the television people were running away, Godzilla style. Everyone was covered in dust and blood, mouths open, eating up nothing. ‘Let me touch your breasts,’ I said. I just wanted to feel something full.
She leaned back and pushed her chest up. ‘No. This is the most historic day of all time.’
‘More than Normandy?’
‘More than Normandy.’
I rolled away and watched people swarm out of a subway entrance like ants out of a hill.
‘All books after today will be cursed,’ Leonine said. She wrapped a blanket around herself, hiding her body in flannel.
‘The American novelist’s role has been hijacked by the advent of the terrorist. Novelists have been becoming more and more impotent and this is just going to castrate them. They can’t bring about social change with his words alone anymore. That’s being done more and more often by terrorists: the bomb-builders, cell leaders, propagandists, and ideological fund-raisers.’
‘They know the score,’ I said. ‘Social change occurs more often through violence and force rather than impassioned persuasion.’
‘They can do this now,’ she said, pointing with the remote. ‘They can do this now. It’s incredible. They’ve outdone themselves, they really have. It’s perfect, really. All the networks are in New York. Whoever did this just turned Manhattan into a soundstage.’
‘Maybe it’s a hoax. Maybe Ted Koppel has gone too far in planting evidence.’
‘Stop touching me. Look at the screen.’
‘Look at the screen. That’s all we’re doing. That’s all anyone is doing right now. Let’s do something else.’ I touched her foot, squeezed her toes like I was popping grapes to get the seeds out.
She sighed. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum, and human nature abhors a lack of adamant public passion. This is passion we’re watching. They cared enough to kill themselves. This is it. The international bestseller. Right now, hundreds of other factions are lined up like unpublished hopefuls, waiting to make their first big splash. The result of our fascination with catastrophe, disaster, and the gruesome is that they have become the only prods that move us to emotion and action”
‘What about thought?’ I asked.
‘I wouldn’t get your hopes up.’ She swatted at my hand. ‘When the novel slipped farther down the list of Influential Media, the big houses began to choose novels for their style and structure over their substance, unless that substance fit a demographic, you know? No one believes anymore in an overarching demographic, that a work could reach everyone who has cared enough to teach himself how to read, and read intelligently. Anything that has been approved for a wide audiences’King, Koontz, Higgins Clark’might shock with gore or thrills, but it will not motivate us out of our easy chairs. The subject may be something relevant, and the author may strike while the iron is hot, but the sparks and cinders cool before they can reach and burn our hearts. These novels we have’they’re book-shaped time-wasters and delivery devices for small amounts of imagination; they become mere decorations for our homes.’
‘You’re so serious today.’ I made a funny face, but it faded as the latest death toll estimate was read. We sat in silence for a while, but it was getting unbearable for me. I wanted to argue just to get her attention.
‘But novelists, especially idealistic ones, are a stubborn sort, and they don’t like having their material and methods lifted. They can be every bit as fundamental and cunning as your average terrorist. Doesn’t a novelist steal life like a suicide bomber? Doesn’t he destroy his own community and tear apart lives to transform their disjointed reality into a coherent message? Doesn’t he calculate and wait and prepare until he can enact his plan: detonate the verbal bombs, claim responsibility, then retreat into hiding, leaving the public hints and acknowledgements? Don’t we anticipate, either with fear or excitement what is next, what will follow?’
‘I guess so.’
‘Not all of them are political or even as fervent as some groups, but they write with the intensity that most best-sellers lack, they form worlds of emotional or physical violence, but their purpose is not to harm or even intimidate’only to take a stand, make the world take notice, and give voice to ideas that have long been mute. And after the last page, after the blast, we can only thank them and turn to sort through the smoking craters of our minds and hearts, searching for surviving truth and meaning under the rubble of so much erected shit.’
She breathed cool air.
‘Just a kiss, that’s all I want,’ I said.
‘Do you remember when we first started going out?’ she asked, eyes still on the collapsed towers, corporate sculpture on a massive scale.
‘You said you’d write me a poem every day.’
‘I did for a while.’
‘But you stopped.’
‘I was 16. Poems were easy to come by.’
‘I didn’t really expect a poem every day, but I expected something every day. Something meaningful. And you usually delivered. But now’would you fly a plane into a building for me?’
‘But that’s your favorite building,’ I said.
‘I know.’ Her eyes would not leave the screen.
‘Do I live afterward?’
‘No. You’re in the cockpit for God’s sake.’
There was no way I would fly a plane into a building for her, four years of love or not, but I pretended to think.
‘Yes,’ I lied.
I did and I did.