Friday, April 29, 2011

Doesn't Seem Real

We once sat in an old row boat on Lake Placid, waiting for fish to bite. It was five of us at the time.

“This doesn’t seem real.” Jeff said as his beer bottle rolled from the kitchen table. Jeff had been shot in a spot just above his hip and we couldn’t take him to the hospital. The streets weren’t safe for us, weren’t safe for anyone. Jeff’s head rolled on his shoulders and flop-sweat made his dark hair cling to the side of his head. Jeff was pale. His skin was very near paper white and looked waxy. None of us had medical training, but we knew that the red stuff was supposed to stay on the inside. We wrapped his wound as best we could with a flower print sheet I found in an upstairs closet. I wanted Jeff to lie down in a bed or on the worn leather sofa, but he’d insisted on sitting at the table. He sat close to steady in the small, unclean kitchen, peering around stacks of dirty dishes. The beer came from the refrigerator, though the electricity was out. The beer bottles were warm to the touch and flat on the tongue. The four of us drank it anyway.

Jeff rocked the boat when he decided to piss off the side. The five of us roared with mock-anger.

Bert had been racing around the house, looking through the window and making himself sick with concern. His eyes were puffy with the understanding he was trying to refuse. Ralph and I got frustrated with him wrenching the window shades open and threw him into one of the kitchen chairs. He attempted to stand up again, insisting that Rebecca, his wife, could still be coming. He hadn’t accepted that she was dead. Her blood was speckled on all of our clothing. She’d been shot in front of us and we all scattered, Ralph holding Jeff in his arms. Bert fought hard to keep by her side and I dragged him away.
“She could be okay?” Bert made the statement sound like a question. The uncertainty in his voice suggested that he was expecting her death. I looked at him with miserable eyes and shook my head. Bert began to cry. He dropped his head onto the table with a soft thud and then his shoulders convulsed in time with his sobbing.

Rebecca dropped her head on Bert’s shoulder. She had never been much for sitting in a boat for hours on end, but the look on her face suggested that there was nowhere else in the world she’d rather be.

Ralph had found the house, had broke the door open. We were terrified that we wouldn’t be able to barricade the doors, but Ralph reminded us that it was just the streets that were unsafe. Ralph wrenched the refrigerator open and dropped a beer in front of Jeff and me. Later, he did the same for Bert. He cracked a beer for himself lastly and guzzled it. We all stayed silent, sick with the thought of Rebecca’s death and Bert’s sorrow. Ralph broke the silent with a loud grunt. He pounded his fist on the tabletop,
“This is terrible.” Ralph said, putting his bottle down on the floor.
“This doesn’t seem real.” Jeff said. His beer bottle fell off the table and smashed on the ground. In the distance, gunfire crackled. The air filled with the smell of sour beer.
“It seems like a dream. Like I should be hearing my alarm clock any minute now.” Jeff said. Jeff was horribly pale now and he shivered like the world was 20 degrees cooler for him. There was an explosion that rattled the windows. There was a sudden flash of orange that was quickly consumed by the black of the night. Women were screaming and there was another round of gunfire.
“Is this hell?” Bert asked, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Probably.” Jeff answered.
“Don’t say that.” I told him.
“Jeff, are you okay?” Ralph asked. It was a stupid question, but it was a better line of conversation than the one that we were on.
“I feel sick.” Jeff said. “Forgive me, if I throw up.”
“It won’t be a problem. Throw up, if you have to.” I told him. Ralph started to laugh at that.
“Spew as much as you need to.” Ralph said. I wasn’t as funny when Jeff actually vomited. The kitchen filled with the acrid smell of bile.
“Sorry.” Jeff said. None of us tried to move.
“It’s fine.”
“Will it ever be daylight again?” Bert asked. Bert was pale as well. He rested his hands on the table with his beer bottle in the middle. He hadn’t attempted to drink.
“Just give it time, Bert. Day comes right after this part.” I assured him.

Ralph had chucked another beer can into the water. He’d been scolded about doing that. They slowly gravitated back toward the boat.

“How do you know that? It feels like this night has lasted for years. One thing after another.”
“It just feels that way.” I said.
“But how do you know that. Jeff’s dying…”
“Hey!” Jeff interrupted. His voice was slow and sleepy.
“ Rebecca’s dead. Some many others are dead. I could see children in the street. They want the children. They’re shackled…” Bert said.
“That’s enough.” Ralph said. Ralph got up and opened the refrigerator. He brought four more beers to the table. Bert had two untouched beers between his hands now. Jeff brought the beer to his lips and grimaced at the taste. He swished the fluid around in his mouth and then spat it out onto the floor.
“I don’t think we should die in here.” Bert said.
“We won’t die at all.” I told him.
“Jeff will.” Bert said.
“Hey!” Jeff said.
“You will.” Bert said, looking directly at his old friend.
“You can go back to looking for Rebecca, Bert.” Ralph said.
“She’s dead. They killed her.” Bert reminded him.
“You can leave the table all the same.” Ralph said firmly. Bert looked to me, but I kept my face stony.
“You need a minute. Just go take it.” Bullets rattled in the distance. They were closer now. Bert didn’t stand up and it was forgotten that he was asked to leave. There was another explosion. The window rattled again and harder than before. The flash of orange rushed in through the window and was followed by a vague heat. Men were screaming out orders. There was a round of machinegun fire.
“There was a woman playing a violin on the street corner…” Jeff started and then paused to suck down some of his beer.
“She was dressed in rags and her eyes were closed. She looked like she was deep into her music.”
“Do you hear that?” Bert said. Indeed, something was happening outside.
“I wasn’t sure what she was playing, but she was playing her heart out.”
“I think that they’re breaking down doors.” Bert said. There was the sound of wood breaking.
“It was the first time I’d seen it. She began to cry. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She’d moved herself with her music.” Bert got up and started looking out the windows.
“ I think that she’s dead now. I don’t think that she would have any place to hide.”
“God, they’re going into houses.”
“Get away from the windows.” I told Bert. Bert stayed by the windows, anyway. The sounds of booted feet came to our ears and Bert was advertising our presence. Ralph and I went to him without a word and we forced him away from the window. I caught a glance out onto the street. They were breaking down doors. Four of them were dragging a large man into the street. The man was fighting hard and he was only subdued when one of them got fed up and brought his rifle stock down on the man’s face. He went limp after that.

Rebecca had fallen asleep, her fishing pole had gone abandoned . None of them had got a single bit, what with the tomfoolery that was going on in the boat.

Ralph threw Bert into his abandoned chair and Bert stood back up. Ralph slammed a fist into his stomach to sit him back down. I put myself between the two of them after that, though I doubted that Bert would seek revenge or that Ralph would seek further violence. Bert puffed in his seat and Ralph took his.
“What does it mean that they’re going into people’s houses?” Bert asked when he caught up with his breath.
“Nothing…I don’t know… Nothing we need to concern ourselves as long as we stay quiet and stay still.” Ralph told him.
“Yeah.” I wasn’t sure about that.
“What do they do with the children?” Bert asked.
“I don’t know.” Ralph said. Ralph had his hands clasped together and his muscles were twitching under his flesh.
Sweat beaded on Bert’s brow. It rolled down to his cheek and his head dropped between his knees. He began to sob softly.
Jeff had his head lolled back and he was terribly still. His beer bottle sat, abandoned on the tabletop.
“Jeff?” I asked. My skin prickled in the silence. Ralph’s eyes moved to Jeff.
“Is he breathing?” Ralph asked.
“Jeff?” I called to him again.
“Shit.” Ralph said aloud, standing and moving to Jeff’s still body. He put his hand on Jeff’s shoulder and shook him. Jeff kicked up his head and gasped deeply. His eyes were wild and laced with little red capillaries.
“I’m sorry, I got tired.” He said, bringing his hand to his face.
“You want another beer?” Ralph asked. I didn’t mention that Jeff hadn’t finished his current beer.
“Sure.” Jeff said. Ralph went to the refrigerator and dropped a bottle in front of Jeff. He took sleepy sip at the new beer once and attempted to put it on the tabletop and missed. The bottle smashed on the floor. He jerked forward from the shock of it.
“Shit.” Jeff said, leaning over to see the mess on the floor.
“We should move down into the basement or something.” I said. Gunfire perforated through my thoughts. There was a long silence and Ralph moved to help Jeff up. Jeff put his arm around his Ralph’s shoulder. I patted Bert on the shoulder, but he didn’t respond.
“Bert, we need to move.” Bert raised his head and looked at me. He was still for a moment and then he was pushing me over. I fell on my back, felling Jeff’s lukewarm sick and lukewarm beer and broken bits of glass. Then Bert burst a bottle on the kitchen table. The table shifted and whined before beer flavored glass showered down near me. I threw my arms over my head to avoid the worst of the shower. Then he was gone. He was out the door and he was screaming curses at them. There was gunfire and I knew he was dead. They must have seen where he came from because lights were bobbing in the windows.

The thin, translucent chord of Rebecca’s fishing pole twitched. Had it happened a moment before, it would have gone unnoticed, but their conversation had gone back to fishing.

I scrambled across the kitchen floor to where the basement door hung open. Ralph and Jeff were already halfway down when I spilled down the stairs. I reached up, through the darkness and gripped the doorknob. I pulled it shut as quietly as possible as footsteps crested the threshold. I could see the lights sway lazily from under the door frame. Jeff and Ralph were stock-still and I followed their example. I didn’t dare breath, being as close to them as I was.
“Four.” A crackling voice announced through static. Even when they were in the same room, they spoke to each other over the radio.
“There’s a track.” Another voice said. I felt cold wash over me as I realized that I had fallen into a puddle of beer, vomit and most likely blood. I had given us all away.
“Run.” I said in a breathless whisper. Ralph and Jeff hadn’t understood what I had said and I heard them approach the basement door, their boots crunching though glass. I decided to forgo caution.
“Run!” I yelled and Ralph hurried down the stairs with Jeff hanging on his shoulder for dear life. I followed down the stairs as the basement door burst open and a metal canister bounced after me.

Bert was the one to grab her pole. He’d done it with enough zeal, that Rebecca woke up. Her jaw dropped in excitement, as she realized that it was her fishing pole.

At the bottom of the stairs was a bulkhead, which Ralph was slamming his shoulder into. I didn’t think it wise to leave out that way, but it was too late. White gas spewed up into the air and I threw my shirt up over my nose and mouth. I moved deeper into the basement, my heart sinking as boots pounded on the wooden stairs. I had to run. Call me a coward, but there was no time. I saw an exit, a window that led into the black of night. I fumbled with the rusted latch and loosed it. I wrenched the window up and left Ralph and Jeff. A hand gripped my foot, but my shoe slipped off and I broke free. I was running down across the lawn when the gunfire sounded. I knew Ralph and Jeff were dead. I kept running, although I had no idea where I was running to. Bullets whizzed passed me and again and again, I thought I had died. The only thing that convinced me that I was still breathing was the fact that I was still running. I cut off of my suburban street into a wooded area. The bundle of trees was thin, but thick enough that I could hide from the lights they held. The lights stabbed the air as I crouched down by the side of an overturned tree. There was too many of them, too little space to hide.

She was screaming in excitement, bouncing in her seat. Bert transferred the fishing pole back to her. Bert cheered her on as she reeled in whatever was on the end of her twine.

There was gunfire in the distance. It wasn’t meant for me, but it was startling all the same. Bombs burst and shook the ground. They were descending down toward me, their guns drawn and their boots crunching the undergrowth. I wanted to run, but the noose was closing around my neck. They were coming. They were going to kill me.

The five of them laughed as a boot spun slowly on the end of Rebecca’s fishing pole. Bert and Rebecca kept the boot as a meager souvenir. Bert jokingly planted it on the mantle of their home. Rebecca didn’t find it as funny.

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