A Song of the Past: Twenty-four

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Friday, Oct. 24, 9:30 AM
Deirdre fought wakefulness for several minutes after her alarm sounded. To wake was to remember, and to remember was to be pierced anew. Before she rolled over to bring her legs to the floor, she instinctively felt for Ariel under the covers. She stopped herself, and laid back and cried for a minute. Her allotted time of grieving having been taken, she forced herself up, grabbed a cigarette from her dresser, and lit it. She moved to the window and stared out into a swirling fog while she smoked. Occasionally a car crept by—the headlights, rather than illuminating the street, simply thickened the fog. The stone blocks of St. Aedan’s seemed as insubstantial as human kindness.
How could these savages have ended the life of an innocent animal to deliver their message? Were they human beings, or some sort of monsters? Humans are the best and the worst of the beasts, Deirdre thought, the setters of limits, the definers of extremes. In lands of the spirit where we do not tread, there are no footprints at all, being realms foreign to even demons and angels.

Had the person who had killed Ben Moore, she wondered, looked into Ben’s eyes when he shot him? Did he now regret having applied that last bit of pressure on the trigger; indeed, had he wished to summon that first bullet back into its chamber, even as it flew irreversibly from the barrel of his gun? Or had he exulted in his deed; had he felt the animal jubilation of a tiger downing a deer? Was he now haunted by the fear of his crime being discovered, or had the act been just another chance to feel the rush of living beyond good and evil, a rush that sustained him in the face of the void at the core of his existence?
She vaguely felt the furtive tugs of an unseen hand leading her through the fog. Phantom murmurs in the mist, whispers of words undecipherable, ever receding before her advance. Ben’s murder would never again be as close to her in time as it was today, but even today the lingering signs of its occurrence were mere echoes of the event itself. Drops of blood in a sea of milk, merging into the paleness. Before entropy triumphed, Deirdre had to find the blood’s hidden source.
She wandered out of her apartment and stood on the sidewalk, wondering where she wanted to go and what she would do once she was there. She looked up at the great chestnut rising before her. In dozens of places, it had been limbed-up, its low-growing branches cut off, mostly to pre-empt their endangering the utility lines that brought the nearby residents their daily fix of cheap power and packaged entertainment. Around each wound, the tree had grown hard and knobby. Deirdre suddenly saw herself as having been similarly limbed-up; last night, yet another branch had been cut off. She had tried to resist submitting to the claim of the past to have marked out firm boundaries that her life choices ought not contemplate crossing—her assumed duty to live up to her family’s expectations for her; the moral strictures she had internalized through her Catholic upbringing; the provincial assumptions about what constituted proper behavior that she had breathed in from the air of her hometown—but her rebellion only had traced a new, more arbitrary set of boundary lines. Do trees still feel the weight of their phantom limbs, she wondered?
In a febrile state, somewhere between wakefulness and dreaming, she wandered down to Whalley Avenue to catch a bus. Everything she passed en route seemed to be swollen by the pressure of containing its hidden meanings—the Masonic symbols on the building now housing the Church of Scientology across the street from the bus stop, the patterns of the traffic flow, the icon of a pie above Westville Pizza. Her ears were filled with the chaotic buzzing of a thousand signs esoteric, whispered conversations. She looked at a cat lying on the sidewalk and the blinks of its lime-colored eyes flashed an ancient, occult message to her; in the sour odor of a drunk she passed she sniffed the scent of a cipher; the face of a pretty girl teased her to explain its import. She boarded her bus in a trance. Graffiti barely glimpsed through the haze of dirt coating the bus windows drew her mind through dark, spiraling tunnels letting out onto eldritch landscapes. She left the bus at the stop in front of Trinity Church. Perched uneasily on the edge of the bench beneath the bus shelter, a girl with Downs Syndrome scratched, with a pen that was out of ink, at a backpack, which wouldn’t have been a suitable writing surface even for a functioning stylus. By the side of the shelter, one homeless man offered another some green, red and yellow slop he was wrestling to contain within a piece of wax paper. The offeree, after abjuring the bounty proffered him, turned his wandering gaze in the direction of Deirdre and proclaimed, “They should have planted a tree here. Could have used it to make a new leg for me.” He knocked on his leg with a closed fist, producing a wooden sound. “The VA’s gonna get me a new leg. Ha!” He then spit on the ground. Had some furtive author plotted that this efflorescence of obscure tropes should bloom before Deirdre at this time? If so, she mused, then perhaps his lair was located in the Instant Sign Center she had passed earlier along Whalley Avenue.

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