“Thank You, Robert Walser”/ A story by Tom Evans

Bad start to the day today, 4 train was running on the 6 train track and like the mole I can be I didn’t look closer at the train number as I’d never had reason to before, the commute had become so routine, Metro North to GCS, catch the aforementioned 6 train uptown, but I’d forgotten that just when you thought you had it down pat things could change, emergencies, contingencies and such could happen at a moment’s notice, and then, literally, where were you? Further, the normal station stop announcements were being made right up until my stop at Astor Place, but in the meantime trying to decide whether something was amiss and whether to get off at the stop before it, 14th Street and Union Square, as people usually did when they knew something I didn’t (experienced travelers they were), but I didn’t see anyone rush out the doors en masse like you normally would in these situations, and when I heard the canned “the next stop is Astor Place” announcement very clearly even though the neon crawler was saying something different I felt somewhat relieved except that when it reached Astor Place it went right on by and I felt the usual sinking feeling I got whenever this happened, cursing my commute this time audibly not in the silent way I did on a daily basis, as even on a good day I doubted the train was going where it said because I’d been duped too many times before.

You had to be vigilant at all times and I assure you most times I was, even hypervigilant, but this particular time I wasn’t and it cost me. As a consequence I finally ended up at the end of the line for this particular train, which was the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Station, somewhere I’d never been before and wouldn’t have ever gone if I’d been in my right mind. After several missteps in which I walked the wrong way on the wrong platform and, as it turned out, the wrong side of the tracks, I turned around, only reversing my course when I saw it was ending. Again, as I normally would I watched to see in which direction people were going but the track was mainly deserted yet despite that I felt fairly confident that if I continued in the opposite direction I would eventually find my way, and, sure enough, I came to a passageway that said both “Exit” and “6” and figured the 6 must be going uptown on the other side of the tracks so I took the ramp then the stairs and ended up finally on the right platform, although I wouldn’t be sure until I saw the actual train pull into the station.

I finally caught the Bronx bound (which meant nothing to me) 6 train when it arrived, already late for work, when a young woman got on the train and took out a sheaf of papers which she began perusing. I was sitting directly across the aisle from her and something about her or what she was doing, or the fact that she had a sheaf of paper in her hands instead of the omnipresent iphone everyone her age seemingly was glued to 24/7, piqued my interest. She was by turns frowning, smiling, and crossing things out as she read. I happen to be adept at reading upside down, in fact practiced it many times not thinking it would ever do me any good, so I took a chance to see if I could do it this time and realized, with the help of the bolded title, she was reading my very own story, one I had submitted not long ago to a literary journal located in Brooklyn, a story I thought was my one of my better ones called “A Quick Death,” but having had it rejected 42 times wasn’t so certain. I couldn’t believe my eyes of course, the first thing I thought was the same thing I thought each time I sent a story out, that it only takes one journal to like it and why not this one, which then coalesced into how dare she cross something out and why was she frowning, and what she thought was funny as I hadn’t intended any humor, then I wanted to jump up and ask her what she thought and tell her that I was the author but decided I’d better not or rather that I could never do that. Besides, I really didn’t want to know anyway, I could wait until I got the usual rejection via email.

She was an attractive young woman in her late twenties, perhaps from the Middle East, with long straight black hair, knee-length black boots, brown eyes with heavy lashes and crimson lips, slender and well-dressed. The fact that she was heading uptown made me think she was going to work but I wondered why at this hour until I remembered so was I, and thought momentarily about following her, not that I’m in any way a stalker or at all aggressive, but how many times do you get this opportunity, there are no longer any more slush piles after all, no way to get your foot in the door, so to speak, and maybe I could somehow ingratiate myself to her if I played it carefully. I’d always thought your work should speak for itself but that’s not the way it works, or so I’m told, although we’re supposed to pretend everything is on the up and up, professional, objective etc. And I’d always thought the hardest thing would be the writing part but have discovered that’s only the tip of the iceberg, that it’s oftentimes your query letter that opens the door, so how naïve was I, and how unsuited to traverse that gauntlet? But there was work and other obligations to meet, and I certainly didn’t want to get lost in the unfamiliar territory she was headed toward, and ultimately I was too shy to go through with it anyhow. When it was apparent she was going past my stop I quickly decided what the heck I had to try, when else would I ever get a chance like this. After some time had passed we reached Grand Central and she got off as did I and caught another Bronx-bound 4 train as did I, which we stayed on for quite a while until she got up, jammed my story back into her purse, and got off at a stop I didn’t even notice the name of. I did too, following her at a circumspect distance unlikely to arouse suspicion, thinking all the while what to say to her: perhaps how long and hard I’d toiled over the story, what the real life events behind it were, the emotional toll it took on me, what hopes I had for becoming a published author: you know, the human interest angle.

She was walking at a leisurely pace on the as usual annoyingly crowded sidewalks, but with her weaving in and out among fellow pedestrians as well as being in unfamiliar territory I had all I could do to keep up, and almost lost her several times. Panicking when I did I just kept going straight, hoping she had too and hadn’t turned down a side street to grab a bite or get some coffee, and eventually I’d spot her again. The weather on the late fall day was turning from bright sunshine to increasingly overcast which didn’t help my mood and I began to worry about missing work and my life in general, especially how this monolithic city could eat you alive with stone cold imperviousness. I noticed we’d reached an area surrounded by many tall buildings, most of which, if the names emblazoned on the front of them were any indication, were apartment buildings. As the street I was on didn’t seem to lead much further I deduced that she must live in one of them and, sure enough, I spotted her just as she was entering one of them. As I was deciding what to do next I noticed a wooded area had suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere and my gaze was drawn to the black and gold sign affixed to a huge oak standing sentinel to the park entrance that read POE PARK. Poe Park I thought to myself, I’d been meaning to see it (well Poe Cottage actually) since I first arrived here, it was the only thing I’d wanted to see in the city but as usual had put it off and now here it was right in front of me! Poe Poe Poe Poe, the archetypal artist in all his inebriated, possibly illegitimate, incestuous, insane glory, one of the most misunderstood, polarizing, and unfortunate figures in all of literature. The cottage, with the no longer rural aspect on the edge of the city where they’d been sent in the hopes of a cure for his Virginia, where she’d died, and her Eddy grieved her ever after in two great poems written there, had been restored at great cost and, while I was somewhat grateful for that and upon entering hoped I would find that it felt like holy ground, instead could not help but be bitter that instead it felt like a mausoleum, missing only the life-size wax replicas of its three former denizens, calling to mind Fortunato’s fate in the story Poe might have written there (foretelling his own?) and a futile gesture no doubt intended to atone for the utter misery and neglect he’d suffered in his brief lifetime.

I got out of there as fast as I could, still feeling somewhat under its spell once outside, where the weather had turned even gloomier. I suddenly thought of the story I had written, the story whose fate might be in the young girls’ hands at that very moment, and wished I could run inside her apartment and snatch it from her, realizing it was a paltry effort, that it had no import whatsoever, that that was what it was lacking, and maybe I could re-write it, realizing what I hadn’t realized before entering Poe’s cottage, at least making it satisfactory in my eyes even though it might never again see the light of day. But I did nothing, knowing I had enough to think about just trying to find my way out of this godforsaken city before darkness fell, and thankfully I did.

 

THE END

©Tom Evans, 2016

 

 

Advertisements