Prosper, crash, lane, notice
The city is performing a disturbingly accurate impression of a ghost town and I am trying to impersonate a dead virus particle haunting it, infecting it; like pneumonia in the lungs of the city, when the ghost of a city has no physical lungs. I walk, there are barely cars moving, there is barely any air to fill my lungs, there are definitely no people. I wonder what has happened this time, what news I have missed with no credit on my phone.
A siren passes, chased by the ambulance it was emitted from. After the violent noise’s passing the silence feels deeper, unnaturally profound. There’s a scream somewhere but I don’t know where. I don’t like that lack of knowledge.
I have a hangover. I don’t remember how I earned it; I don’t remember what I did the night before to deserve it but obviously I did; obviously I deserve how my head and gut feel.
I check my pockets; I have more money than I remember having had in the entirety of my life but less than I had possessed the night before. How much I had spent, I can’t remember; nor can I remember sleeping, alone or with someone else; or how I got to the city centre; the fog had raised from my head as I was eating bacon and eggs at an all-night cafe.
It’s not been long that I have been able to afford breakfast in an all-night cafe.
The binge last night was a mistake. The city is empty, and I am scared; or the city is scared, and I am empty.
There’s a car on its roof in the road and nobody to clean it up, to check if there’s anybody dead or dying in it, nobody to clear it from the road that apparently nobody else wants to use. I want to help but don’t want to be the one to check that nobody is dead or dying because there are no police and the ambulance I had heard is not coming this way.
I fear there is someone hurt in there; I fear what I might find.
I feel my gorge rising. My eyes are misting with tears of fear and something.
I walk over to the car and crouch in the diamond-dust glitter of shattered glass. The roof is buckled in. There’s nobody in there, no proof there ever has been save for a couple of hairs on the roof lining. Not even blood; the seatbelt on the driver side is hanging like a lock of hair, cut through with a blade.
Standing, I feel sick, I check my cash again and there is plenty there to get a bottle of something if I can find an open liquor store or, even better, an open bar; plenty to buy more to eat if I want to be sober. I am starting to sober up; I had thought I was finished. There’s a bar down the road that I might be able to drink in, up a staircase behind an anonymous door, but I don’t know if I’ve just staggered from there.
I don’t know why the city is so empty.
“Stay in your lane” were the last words I remember hearing last night when I tried to give my opinion, on some topic on which my opinion was not much respected, but reasonably should have been.
I can’t even remember what it was, but I remember I knew something, at least as much as the person I argued with, if not more. It’s my job to know a bit about everything; I don’t have a lane.
But being in the middle of the road gets you run over.
A white car storms angrily down the road – right in the middle – straddling the line markers like inevitability. The driver, who I cannot see through the flare of sunlight on the window, is leaning on the horn to emit a deafening blast. I dive out of the way of the car, screaming a curse not even I can hear.
They barely miss an ambulance’s flashing lights and a sudden siren in a red-lit intersection.
There’s an aura imprisoning my eyes, from a migraine or a hangover or an extra-special awesome hangover migraine, like lane markings on a highway but bent and discombobulated.
I have a home now; why I am here, drunk in the city on Sunday morning?
I can’t remember if I ever knew why the city is so empty, my phone is dead, and my heart is drumming.
“Return to your homes / Return to your homes and stay there / Return to your homes” reads a notice on a power pole. No more explanation is carried with it.
“If you notice this notice,” I think, “you would notice this notice is not worth noticing.”
Too late, I have seen it, I have read it. I cannot delete it, though it has penetrated my thoughts and revealed it is indeed of no worth. Too late to pretend I have not seen it.
I remember the 2020 pandemic, when the notices came to stay home, stay safe – this is not like that, they want us to go home without telling us what to fear; or if they told us I missed it. In 2020, we knew what we faced, something that could kill the world. This time what I feared was the notice itself, and the police and the silence.
I vomit in a gutter; what if it is not just the ghost of alcohol that was making me empty my guts into a pit? What if there’s a new pandemic and I am in line for the reaper? What if I am doomed?
I stagger to my feet and there are lights and sirens.
There’s a police car coming down the road and I don’t know if it’s me they are looking for; nor am I willing to take the risk, not with the shit in my head, and the fire in my soul.
I don’t know if I can run. I hope they don’t notice me. Run or not, I need to get home; the trains are not running.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 20, 2020 as "Prosper, crash, lane, notice".
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