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George Cartwright The Memphis Years



 

Jeremy slung his book bag past the doorman and crossed the marble lobby to the elevator.
and a lovely afternoon to you too, thought the doorman. Poxy little bleeder.
Readjusting his cap, he moved out and lit a cigarette below the awning. He stood at the curb, scanning the grey October sky above the park.
Twenty years he'd worked for the rich in London and ten more in New York.
What's it add up to? An overcast afternoon. He had a wife, an eleven-year-old son, and a mortgage in the Bronx. But none of that was apparent. He was out on the pavement, below the clouds, in the same glacial light as usual. Jeremy rode the elevator, itching to get free of his school uniform. The maid let him in. He went straight to his room, dropped his bag on the rug and squirmed out of his blazer. When his parents moved in they had the whole place re-done. A crew of painters worked for three months to finish this room, skimming prepping and priming the walls, painting them white and sanding the brush marks and painting and wet-sanding with ever-finer grades of paper until they shone like white glass, and then chalk-lining and painting one-inch stripes of flat casein white from floor to ceiling. Like the Hoover Dam, the room swallowed several good men. Two resigned, one returned to Ireland, another took up the bagpipes. One went mad. But the finished room war perfection. The Swiss designer declared it "one of the truly great things" and compared it to the St. Louis Arch.
Jeremy threw himself backward on the bed and lay beside his basketball in boredom's sudden death. Boredom waited for him here. Every day, after school. There was no avoiding it. He turned on the radio and listened for a while, staring at the ceiling; turned it off.
He picked up the basketball and bounced it off the wall, caught it. He did it again.
He kept that up till dinnertime, enjoying the dirty halfmoons that appeared on the wall.
The doorman saw Jeremy at the glass and got up from his stool. His Royal Effulgence came through without a word and the doorman went out for a smoke. Workers were coming tomorrow to replace the awning and his son would graduate this year. As a senior in high school, Jeremy's afternoons were free. He get home around noon and kept to his room there was nothing to do.
There was an ocean of time with nothing to do but think about girls and the future and the value, to him, of his life. He couldn't come up with much. He was drowning in time. So he decided to kill himself. He thought about it for weeks and months. He imagined the shock among the maids and his parents and schoolmates and teachers. But those people, always, were far from the truth of his moment right now
Finally, and a little soon, came the chosen day. He'd left a note by the bed.
It said "The wide scarred smooth chest of the sky, pearly white pearly bluish grey, all day."
During the last period of school the big wall clock kept his attention. When the noon bell rang he cleared off his desk and moved through the halls with other kids flowing past him. From the outside steps, a grey afternoon opened in every direction. He was free. Step by step he followed himself down, and across Fifth Avenue, and into the park.
He crossed the park and the avenues and continued toward the Hudson. On a steep tangled slop he slipped and scraped and regained himself, tunneled through a drainage pipe, and picked way downhill to a rusted fence.
A fence hole opened onto broken concrete and a factory that he and his friends had once explored.
He moved among oil stains and disused machinery and chemical drums. Stairs let to a frosted-glass door. Inside, he wheeled an old swivel chair from behind a desk and removed his belt. One of his father's belts was coiled in this bag and he buckled the two belts together.
Cautiously, with his hands on both the arms, he stepped onto the creaky chair.
He looked around the room from up there. Immediately he stepped back down.
The office was hallowed with a pale afternoon light. It filtered through he glass brick windows, calm and indirect. The light was everywhere and nowhere at all.
Jeremy sat at the corner of the desk. His gaze landed on a scatter of papers, a dusty typewriter, the dark wooden chair arm. Nothing had happened in years, on one had been here. He sat in the unmoving light, staring at the file cabinets, the floorboards, a coffee cup…
Back at the building the doorman said "Where you been?"
Jeremy took a look at him for once.
"Yes?" the doorman said.
Jeremy said, "Where you been?"

*

Tonight Jeremy drops off a friend and drives away. It's late, the streets are deserted. A song from sixth grade is on the radio. He watches himself from then. What if someone showed you a movie dot the future? Would you be happy to see you're still around? At a red light he lights a cigarette. He lays a wrist on the wheel, puts a leather elbow out the window and blows smoke toward the night.
The signal changes; he moves on. The song means nothing to him except him watching himself from then. He tries to feel cool, savoring and inflating the kids' impression, but all he can come up with is that he smokes and drives a car and lives in a strange city and he's made it to adulthood. He's a big deal to the little guy, he surpassed his worries and self-suspicions and thought of What next? But to himself he's nothing. He wishes the kid could see all the places and times and a situation between him and himself, but none of that is visible as he steers the Oldsmobile toward home.
Impossibly, those empty high school afternoons led to others that led to others that led to others that dr4opped him here. There's so much more to time than what you expect! Imperceptibly, the glacier got him this far and then melted away. And here he is. Dumped on a pile of debris at the end of time. With a view.

-Michael DeCapite