A Tribute

Submitted into Contest #47 in response to: Suitcase in hand, you head to the station.... view prompt



You are a miserable wretch. You are a wounded scoundrel. You are a vile insect, creature of the underground. You walk with a sloping gait. You dress in tattered black. You reek of sweat and cigarettes. You speak in a garbled rasp. You are a spiteful thing.

No one understands you. No one wishes to. No one deigns to look at you. No one gives you a second thought. You have no friends, no family, no hopes for the future. This, you tell yourself. You are lying of course.

You see the worst in people. You wish for the misery of everyone, not for the satisfaction of your own malice (you couldn’t care less about your own self-satisfaction) but so that everyone should know pain, for its own sake and no other. 

Please, do not be mistaken. You are not a devil or madman. You are a humanitarian and idealist at heart, educated and rather intelligent. But, really, it would be truer to say you are a veritable fiend, afraid and superstitious.

You live alone in your corner of the world, in a studio apartment in a city of no repute, paid for by a meager sum inherited. You cling to life. You have no idea how long the sum will last.

Dust piles up on your thin shelves. Smoke stains your papered walls. Roaches scuttle across your soiled floor. Your kitchen light bulb flickers. Your mirrors are broken.

You lie awake on your spring bed in the dead of night, unable to sleep, thinking about nothing in particular, though you toss and turn. You feel enormous dread and terrible shame creeping over your mind, the source of which you cannot (but, more truthfully, will not) identify. 

You fear you’re approaching lunacy before you decide to leave your apartment. You cast on your ragged overcoat and head to the subway station.

You hop the turnstile and move down the platform while you wait for the next train, any train. You pass a homeless man lolled in wooden bench, snoring and reeking of shit. You pass garbage cans filled to the brim and littered about. You pass sewer rats, plump and ponderous, skulking on the platform edge and rails below.

You reach the end of the platform, and there you see a girl, no more than 17 perhaps, wearing a flimsy dress. She solicits you, and you stare back in disbelief. You wring your hands together and pretend not to understand. A glint of innocence plays in her eyes, and she seems to you an angel lost in hell. You see her sallow skin, her careworn expression, her proffering hand, and pity seizes your heart.

You resolve to pay her at once, no strings attached. But, when you open your wallet, you recall that you don’t have any cash. Still, you take her hand and plead with her to go away, to never return, to forget her way of life, to begin a second time. You become emotional.

A look of disgust tears across her face, and she recoils from you as if from a loathsome snake. You beg her again, tell her that she has only misunderstood. You throw out your arms to soothe her, when a monster of a man steps out from the shadows and threatens you in incoherent words.

You stumble away and board the first train to stop on the platform. You sit in the unforgiving light of the empty and grimy subway car and watch as the station disappears out the window and darkness swallows the tunnel.

The train rolls aboveground. You intend to ride it until the last stop. Why, you don’t know. You pass power plants and junkyards, transmission towers and abandoned brick buildings, polluted tributaries and windblown wild grasses, all stark and lifeless against the ashen sky. You brood over the girl, her own stubborn willfulness, her look of repulsion. You feel indignant. You curse her before you reach the ocean.

You walk along the beach, weedy and shingly, and look out over the bitter seascape. Cloudy waves lap against the deserted shore, and not even the moon shows its face. You kick up the sand with your shoe. What sense is there in misery, you ask yourself. What infinite hope is there, if not for us?

Your thoughts return to the girl. What if you came to her again? What would you do? Fling money at her? Spit at her? Curse her? Dishonor her? No! You are a scoundrel, yes, but not a sadist, you assure yourself.

You curl up into a ball and fall into a shivering sleep. You dream of ridiculous things. You remember scenes of your childhood, green grass on a cool summer’s day, blue skies flown with mourning doves. You feel the warmth of someone’s touch and hear a silvery voice. You see, if only for a glimpse, another world, a former one, forgotten, where kindness and innocence, truth and beauty, warmth and simplicity were the stuff of everything. 

You meet a child, wrapped in white, on a golden shore, and you fall at his sandaled feet. He hunkers down, picks up your chin, and takes your cheek in his hand. You haven’t the courage to raise your eyes to him, but you can sense that he’s smiling. You can feel it in your soul. But should a child so lovely smile upon even you?

He holds you for a moment, and a wave of tenderness fills your heart. You weep tears of joy, and the child fades away. You grope after an impossible light.

You wake.

You find an ATM and max out the withdrawal limit. You go home. You fish out a small suitcase from your closet. You feel euphoric. You fill it with cash and canned goods and a handwritten letter, telling the girl to come visit you if she likes. Maybe you can help her in some way, any way, you say.

You resolve to find her, to give her the bag in secret, to even risk death for the purpose. You decide you’ll wait for her, hours, days, or weeks if you must. You’ll go on, even if you fail. That, in truth, you expect. Still, you’ll go on.

You’ll recognize the glint of humanity in everyone. You’ll change! You’ll strive for a paradise on earth, among us, the living kingdom, even when it never comes to pass. You cannot believe the inherent condition of man is misery. You’ll go! And you’ll go! 

Suitcase in hand, you head to the station.

June 23, 2020 18:18

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