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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Two

Part one here

Part 2: Sugar

“Mrs. Guzman!,” Elena called out. “Hello! Can I borrow some sugar?”

Elena faced down the tunnel of light, her left hand braced against the door jamb. She took a step forward.

“Mrs. Guzman?”

Elena hated the sound of her own voice. I wouldn’t answer me either, she thought.

And she was not answered. It was so quiet Elena could hear the pulse of her blood darting through her ears.

At the end of the Guzman’s hall, the sunlight through the living room window faded then intensified as clouds passed the sun. Elena stared at the window, framed by the walls of the hallway, framed by the dull ceiling and the varnished wood floor that glowed like hot coals when the sunlight hit it, or was as dark as dead coals when the sunlight disappeared.

She took another step forward, her left hand still on the door jamb. Her hip creaked. Her knee clicked. She reached forward with her right hand and pushed at the half-open door and her fingers slipped against the red paint, which smeared across the door’s surface.

Then: “Are you home?”

The sunlight slid away from the window. Elena’s blood began to dart through her ears more quickly--she thought of hummingbirds and mosquitoes, of cars passing by and--


The sound took a moment to register. A ‘thump.’ Elena heard the sound as if it had been wrapped in gauze. The sound, the thump, a liquid but distinct sound, sensed more than heard.

She removed her left hand from the door jamb, took yet another step forward, pushed against the door. Slid her fingers along its surface. The red smear had been a defined slash but now it had tendrils reaching towards the light of the living room window as her fingers slipped through it.

Another thump. In her joints or in her ears?

Elena looked away from the window, which was now glowing white with sunlight. She stepped back, sliding her fingers along the same paths they had traced in the red smear on the door, and again took hold of the door jamb with her left hand.

She realized it was rude to ask for a cup of sugar without bringing an actual cup for the sugar. She imagined herself begging for a cup of sugar. She then imagined begging for a cup and sugar to fill it.


She returned, with effort, to her own apartment, leaving red dots where her fingers touched the landing’s walls like a broken Morse code. She passed the stairs leading down to the fourth floor, relying on the wall to keep her steady, the obnoxious pattern of the stair landing’s carpet making her disoriented. Things were spinning. Things were thumping. Broken Morse code and tunnels of light.

Her robe rustled as she moved. Her house shoes shuffled as she stepped. Each joint--the hip, the knee, the ankle, wrist, elbow, shoulder--groaned.

Elena thought of her sugarless cup of coffee sitting on her kitchen counter, cooling in the terrible florescent light of the windowless room, and of how nice it would be to sit with that coffee, foul as it was, and lift her magnifying glass up to her nose and read for the thousandth time about Pip and Estella. She thought about her chair near the only window in her apartment, and the light spilling over her, spilling over the pages of her book. She thought of sitting. She thought of relaxing.

(Elena didn’t know Mrs. Guzman was just behind her, following the Morse code fingerprints and thinking to herself: God, I hate this woman’s voice. Something else Mrs. Guzman was thinking: I could rip that voice from her throat, and people would thank me.)

Elena put one hand against her own door jamb, one hand on the door knob, and opened her apartment door. She was again presented with a tunnel of sunlight from a living room window.


Cobble rushed along the Hudson Parkway, a grown man in bloody clothes on a 10-speed bike. Not cool.

He’d been in the Cloisters when his grandmother called. Going to the Cloisters had been his boyfriend’s idea: We’ll go to the Cloisters today, James had said. So Cobble went. Thought, ‘This place is like a tomb.’

Cobble and James hadn’t been dating a month. Cobble loved James already, which was surprising. Cobble loved James’s voice, loved James’s touch, loved the way James goaded him--constantly goaded him--to do touristy things. Broadway shows. The Met. Washington Square Park. A carriage ride--seriously!--through Central Park.

So Cobble was surprised when James was ripped apart in front of the Unicorn tapestries, trying to take a picture of him.

Cobble had been surprised to find himself running as fast as he could to the main hall of the Cloisters, up some stairs, ending up in a tower overlooking Manhattan. With tourists. With James in pieces.

He’d been surprised his cell phone still worked, even more surprised that his grandmother had called him. “Grandma, you’re alive,” he’d said. Might as well say, ‘Grandma, you’re still able to dial a phone.”

Cobble used a cord to lower himself out of the Cloisters museum, and was amazed even as he did it. Every time one hand released from the cord and came back beneath the other hand, causing his body to drop one more hand-length, Cobble thought ‘Holy christ, she’s still alive and I’ve got to get to her and I’m actually doing this,' and then the other hand released the cord, moved, grasped again. Beneath. Lower.

The cord was made up of several cords used to suspend things from the walls and ceilings of the Cloisters.

Most of the things the cord once supported were smashed against the floor or ripped from the walls. The cross of the Fuentiduena Chapel. The Unicorn tapestries. A belt from a pope’s ceremonial--

Hand under hand.

To the ground. To his bike. To the Hudson Parkway. To his grandmother.

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