This is the third story in this summer’s Flash Fiction series. You can read the entire series, and last summer’s Flash Fiction stories, here.
Two young people, different colors, my color, passed me, crown of her topknot, edges of his fro glow softly above their heads when I first glanced down the street and noticed the couple busy with each other, strides synched, not hurrying, not strolling either, about half a block away walking towards me on Grand, the glow hovered, visible against early-morning light of a clear spring day framing the figures as they approached closer, pavement shadowy under their feet, sky behind them stretching up and up into bluish, then pale cloudless distance, a sky finally no color, all colors, same, different as the glow I’d seen floating atop their heads.
Stories are graves. Empty. Nothing there. All living and dying in them fake. Pretend. No story unless someone reads, tells it. Empty. No one’s time inside a story. Time needed to live and die, to tell stories. But stories not time. Stories graves. No entering or leaving them without time. Nothing breathing inside them. Lost nor found. No time. Only stories. Only words. Pretend words. Pretend time.
Pretend to enter, to leave, to begin. Make yourself believe you create time, are time. Contained by time. Contain time. As if time not a story you make up. Believe. As if time not a word like others you make up to tell a story . . . Once upon a time . . . as if time might end or begin, as if time waits in a story or is something like stories. As if a story contains time, or is contained by time. As if time stops or leaves or catches up or begins in stories. As if words tell time and time listens or reads. As if stories are not graves. Where we play dead. Play with the dead.
As if the something words make of nothing is time. More time. Somewhere. Time and not a story. Not fiction. Not a grave. Make believe somewhere, something saved by telling, listening, reading. A tangible somewhere and time something that might accumulate, count. More time. More than time. Not nothing. Words. Stories. More.
Perhaps, I tell myself, I have one to tell. To listen to. To read. A story does not become something until it ends, until I pretend it’s over and that I am no longer experiencing a walk on Grand Street early in the morning, pretend these words, one after the other, are something like steps, mine, yours, anybody’s, anyone who listens, reads for some reason and perhaps may remember steps, streets, and revisits how a morning materializes from nothing but step after step taken while darkness, brightness unfold and enfold, nothing until you are feeling, speaking one instant, one word after another, the next seeming to follow from the one before, no beginning or end, more steps, more street seeming maybe never to stop, materializing as fast and as solid as missing things suddenly recalled, things striking you as happy, painful, familiar, odd, urgent, though soon enough you also recall that nothing’s there, you are alone as always with your thoughts, always alone even with a busy headful of them, including anybody else’s thoughts, aches, telling stories, pretending time at your fingertips, time ahead as you take step after step along Grand, and where oh where else could you be, where are you headed this morning if not to a physical-therapy appointment at 450 Grand Street and two young people appear together, content, focussed enough on each other to match strides, colored teen-agers or very young adults coming toward you, crowns of soft light outlining hair rising above their skulls, light visible against morning’s brightness, a shimmering that perhaps is source or end or both of vast brightness above them, surrounding them, but when I glance up and notice them, the word mourning somehow came to mind. Mourning’s sadness, and that mourning word mine, yours, the morning mine, yours, but only one. Only once, and anyway, belongs to no one, belongs, fits nowhere, is nothing except word, story, nothing, nowhere, only a story beginning you might find yourself in the midst of unexpectedly, but of course an empty story, over and dead, a true story since they all are true and are not when you tell, listen, read.
Listen. I want to pretend, to believe the glow, the auras seeping from or hovering above the heads of two young people on a Lower East Side street in New York City, U.S.A., April 29, 2018, signify hope eternal, and that light above them is the same immense light I saw framing serried row after row of people not stretching to the horizon, but rows backed up at least as far as where towers, stores, windows and walls of city resumed, even the last row of shimmering crowns ablaze, maybe about to ignite the square and monumental buildings of stone enclosing them, tops of heads glowing, perhaps ready to explode and incinerate the million or so fuzzy bodies indistinguishable one from another of a crowd that had gathered to greet Nelson Mandela coming home after twenty-seven years of imprisonment, crowd whose size, whose hope ungraspable though my visitor’s eyes were present, hungry witnesses peering down from Cape Castle’s balcony on February 11, 1990, in Cape Town, Republic of South Africa. Inextinguishable hope one story I can imagine, maybe tell, even if a different story narrated by helicopter gunships stitching a dark net in air above the square, barricades fortified by tanks and steel rhinos packed with shock troops in camouflage that secured all streets, every entrance and exit from the space of welcoming.
Time unruffled by stops and starts. Entrances, exits. Stories. Two young people pass me. Grand Street unruffled as time. Going nowhere. My steps one after another. Vanishing. Pass two young colored strangers. Remember the square in Cape Town, the teeming, excited crowd in which maybe I last saw them.
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