by Erik Raschke
Her clothes were almost entirely soaked in blood and she could feel her own life draining away. The pain had subsided. Her body was numb.
She found herself thinking about swimming in the lake behind their house, her brother swimming far past the boundary. She remembered shouting to her brother repeatedly as he became smaller and smaller and how silly she felt when he returned, breathing hard, physically exhausted, but beaming and proud.
Now, in her half-consciousness, she heard someone calling her name, softly, soothingly. She must have fallen asleep, because when she opened her eyes a man was standing in front of her.
He was a tall man, about the height of her brother, but had none of the strength nor poise. He was a bit frumpy, his posture loose.
The man had a kind face, soft cheeks, strong chin and nose, brown, compassionate eyes and she found him surprisingly handsome given his lack of masculinity. He bent down, his knees cracking.
“I told you I would come for you,” he said, touching his hand to her face.
He was so familiar, yet Allison could not recall where she knew him from and this scared her. However, her intuition told her that she somehow knew this man, almost intimately.
“The glass is everywhere.”
“Come,” he said, extending his hand. “This place is not for us.”
“Reason and logic are the foundations of any enlightened civilization.”
Allison’s father was an angular Irish man who wore bulky mother-of-pearl glasses that were perhaps once expensive, but now just seem outmoded. He was not the kind of man who prompted a second glance, nor was he one to be easily ignored, but was somewhere in between, gentle eyes with a voice so direct that his words fell victim to its tone.
Allison’s father had just returned from a river cruise on the Nile and had been talking about Islam and oppression and backward religions. He hadn’t stopped talking. Ten days on the move, in a foreign land, had filled him with opinions.
“You know why we’re finished with religion?” he said. “Because every question, everything we are curious about, every conceivable mystery in this universe, it can all be answered through either,” he ticked his fingers, “A. Data, or, I suppose, technology or B. Science. The Egyptians used to have that with their pyramids. That was science! But they lost their brains somewhere along the way.”
The restaurant where they were eating was just below the clouds and William and Allison and her father were protected by a glass ceiling, wrought iron honey-comb framing clouds. A rain storm, billions of droplets, bounced above, hitting hard, and William though that the very foundation of Manhattan must be rupturing.
Allison’s father was sweating and under the halogens, the creases in his brow almost shimmered. He looked at Allison, but directed his speech toward William.
“Did you know my sweet daughter wanted to go to church when she was fifteen? Do you believe it? I, of course, put my foot down.”
“Because all my friends at the Catholic school where you sent me all went to church.”
“Church is where we pray to ignorance.”
“Come on dad.”
“My childhood,” he said. “The whole Irish West Coast. Half the Catholic kids in my class were dead or had emigrated or were pregnant by the time they were eighteen. Then you have these guys going to the mosque five times a day then strapping on suicide vests. You tell me what kind of sense that makes? I’m not the only one who thinks we’re going to look back at religion someday and shake our heads.”
William nodded once, a nod of recognition more than agreement, sipped what was left of his scotch, salty with sea mist, compressed peat. He had ordered a scallop appetizer, but it was only a single, seared scallop with a flittering of red-sauce around the edges.
“Please tell me you didn’t talk about Richard Dawkins the whole time you were in Egypt.”
"You're a smart guy,” her father continued, ignoring Allison. “But this is my question. What has all that classical education gotten you? Look at those billion-dollar companies in California. They're not sitting around over espressos discussing literature or some obscure Latin theory. They’re sifting through the data with these mind-boggling algorithms. You know there’s this Silicon Valley billionaire who’s actually paying people not to go to the universities? And what do you have on the other side of the world? You have all these orphans in the Middle east who can’t read or write, but are sent to mosques to memorize some book written in a cave, centuries ago, by some nomad with eight wives? It’s bananas!”
“I’m not entirely getting your point,” Allison said.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, listen, I’m sorry, but classical thought is dead. Religion should be abolished, wiped away. Everything should be tested empirically. Reason. Logic. That’s all we need. Science is its own best truth.”
“Who’s the religious one here?”
Her father glanced away as if dodging his daughter’s words. Then he leaned back in his chair and searched the room for the waiter.
Allison was in the bathroom, so William lay in bed, listening to the hum of millions of noises permeating their apartment. Wind, boat horns, cars with their multitude of expulsions.
The street light, rising from hundreds of feet below had that same muffled, scattered presence. And the fluorescents coming from the adjacent World Trade Center cast a cold white light into their gray space.
A 747 drifted overhead, so close that William could see the rivets on the belly. The engines squalled. They seemed to pass within inches of the World Trade Center. He often had dreams where the bottom of one of these planes was ripped open by the television spire on Tower One, gutting it like a fish, the passengers spilling out onto his roof-deck.
“Men his age are passionate about their pretensions,” Allison said, coming out from the bathroom. “It’s all about feeling relevant before death.”
William couldn’t help, but smirk. When you were on her good side, Allison was funny, lovely.
She went and stood in front of the mirror, turning from side to side, examining her belly. The designer lingerie was only two strips of lace costing hundreds.
“My dad’s got the ‘King Midas syndrome,’” she added, pulling an old white tee-shirt over her head. She crossed the room, climbed into bed, then reached for a pillow that had fallen to the side. “We fired a guy last week for exactly this. Just because you performed well in derivatives doesn’t mean you’ll master futures. So many men can’t compartmentalize success. ”
She wedged her shoulder between his elbow and armpit, put her smooth legs on his.
“My father did really well selling dentures, but still… One Richard Dawkins book later he’s lecturing everybody. You know, he once invested in this company, BooBin.com after reading an article about Steve Jobs? Every dinner party, there he was, the internet expert. But then, I don’t know, three years ago... BooBin came to us on the verge of bankruptcy. We did an asset check and found a mini-golf course. Go-carts. Bowling lanes. Antique Skeeball, and yes, seriously, kegs of beer. The crazy thing is that when I hinted to my dad that BooBin had spent all their capital on toys, you know what he said? He quoted something he had read on some poster, about ‘transforming inspiration into perspiration.’”
Allison kissed William on his stubble, stopped, squeezed one eye shut as if looking through a kaleidoscope. He ran his fingers through her hair, over her scalp, feeling that strange warmth of skin stretched tight over bone.
“But he’s still your dad,” William said, “and I’m still your suitor.”
“I like the word, ‘suitor.’ Technically, ‘suitor’ gives me leverage.”
Allison leaned over and kissed his neck. Then his lips. Tongues moved slowly. Her hands slid downward, under his waistband. Their dog, King Louis XIV, shook his slim Basenji torso, loosing stalks of thick, russet hair. They kissed, tongues no longer curious, but still tentative, teasing. Her hand went lower. King Louis XIV, recognizing the sounds, the movements, extended his curled tail, stretched, and clicked, almost haughtily, out of the room.
In the morning, William awoke from a dream that he could no longer remember, but had left his body aching.
He got out of bed and wandered into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of orange juice. Their apartment was relatively big for Manhattan, and even though it was a modern building, in the end, it was no luxury tower, the sound of hot water expanding cold pipes penetrated even the best ear-plugs.
Allison had left her stock portfolio open on the counter. While he drank his juice, William flipped through the rows and rows of numbers. Numbers that represented other numbers. Numbers with footnoted numbers. This stock portfolio was a complex language and a secret vocabulary, not unlike his mother’s notes, boxes and boxes of theorems and calculations. He was always amazed at how Allison had an uncanny ability to choose which company would perform for it seemed as if every month her stocks doubled.
It was almost nine. Allison must have just left. William put his glass in the washer and debated about whether to go back to bed. His body was still thick, his thoughts lumpy.
Instead, William sat down in the middle of the living room floor and began to stretch. When he finished, he laid on his back, feeling too tired to go for a run, but knowing that if he went for a run he wouldn’t be tired anymore.
As he stood and walked over to the refrigerator, something half metallic and half white slammed against the kitchen window. The crash was tremendous.
William crouched, covering his head, then, after a few seconds, gazed up at the spider-web formation silhouetting the breakfast nook. The shock was paralyzing and his heart was vibrating through his whole body.
The glass continued to crack even after the piece had fallen away. William started to stand, but just as he was getting to his feet, something massive and mechanical roared past by the window. A few seconds later, a whirling oblong missile cast a shadow then dropped out of sight.
In the hallway a door slammed. There was rumbling.
Outside, he saw chunks of glass hurling furiously downward… a body… a man in a gray suit… the body passing by so close that his head was snapped way back, the man’s Adam’s apple threatening to puncture skin.
William tried to breath, gasping, looking away then looking back again at the blizzard of composites. Large pieces, then smaller pieces, the storm shrinking until it became a blizzard of synthetic fiber.
One summer, Allison’s brother, Andrew, had been visiting and was sitting on the couch while William had been talking to Allison on the phone. Andrew had laughed and asked, since they were so close, why William didn’t just open the window and shout to her.
That Christmas, Andrew bought them a set of walkie-talkies. Since they had opened the presents after dinner and were a little drunk, they ran around Allison’s parent’s massive estate, shouting into the walkie-talkies, playing hide-and-seek.
After that, the walkie-talkies became their secret. Allison would go into the bathroom at work, in the World Trade Center, and while William was practicing his violin, he’d hear her voice, “Breaker Breaker, Ball-Breaker here.”
The walkie-talkies were where their chat became a current, the crackling power of a signal transmitted through the air. Even the, “heading home now sweetie,” took on a wonderful, electric majesty.
Now, William rushed to the closet where his jacket and shoes were and took the walkie-talkie out of drawer. The minute he turned it on, he heard Allison screaming.
Her scream dropped when she heard his voice.
“Are you O.K.?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“There’s glass all over me!”
William rushed back to the window. The bodies. One after another. Falling… Falling fire. More metal. These pieces… fractured…
William tucked the walkie-talkie between his ear and with his free hand, dialed 911. The line was dead.
“Listen to me baby,” he said. “Get to the elevator.”
“There is no elevator,” she told him. “Some people are going to the roof.
“Can’t you go with them?”
She groaned in a way he had never heard before, a way that made him more concerned than before.
“I’m coming,” he said.
“You do not come here!”
William had gone outside and stood with Gene, the doorman, but the sounds of the police and the fire-engines had made it nearly impossible to hear Allison.
“They’ll get her out,” Gene had assured William.
It was then that a plane hit the second tower.
As hot shards of metal rained down, everyone ran inside. William also returned to the silence of their apartment, where he could focus on Allison’s voice.
“It’s so hot,” she kept saying.
Her words stretched, vowels elongated.
“Where are they now?”
“The firemen? They’re coming back.”
“Did you tell them you were pregnant?”
“Is there smoke?”
He could only think about going to her. He could only consider reacting physically.
“What’s that sound?”
He was kicking the wall until he could no longer feel his foot.
“Sorry,” William mumbled, stopped.
“You still there?”
Her voice was fading. William tried to speak and instead squeaked.
The buildings were smoking, torches, the trail moving southwest. Allison was up there somewhere. Where the smoke originated. He pressed his head against the cracked window.
“There are firemen everywhere…”
Allison coughed. Spit. There was more shouting in the background.
“What did your mom always say?” she asked.
“When you were hurt. She said… About dimensions.”
There was renewed shouting on Allison’s end. A man spoke briefly to her, his voice compassionate and authoritative.
“Let me talk to him!” William demanded.
“He’s coming back.”
“There are so many firemen,” William said again, looking out the window. “Why aren’t they doing something?”
He didn’t remember. He couldn’t think. Why was she asking him this?
“Listen,” he said. “If the fireman don’t get you in five minutes, I’ll come for you. I promise.”
He couldn’t tell if Allison sighed or was breathing heavily, but after a second she spoke in a tone just above a whisper. She said that she loved him.
When the buildings fell, a white storm, a hot, gaseous cloud, gathered then rolled, enveloping the sky and the earth.
William was standing by the windows of his apartment and, as floor after floor, human being after human being was swallowed, he thought not of himself and his own impending death, but of Allison and their unborn, nameless child, who, if it was a boy they would name him Jean after the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, a man who considered the ideas behind music connected by a deeper, secret logic. If it was a girl they’d name her Vera, after Vera Rubin, the astronomer whose galaxy rotation problem theorized that galaxies were spinning so fast that, since there was not enough mass contained there within, they should be splitting apart… unless there was some unseen force holding it together.
And as the windows exploded and the white scorching wind engulfed him and took William and his dog’s physical bodies from their apartment and they joined the cloud, along with the thousands of others, he called out to Allison. However, because he was diffuse and no longer whole, William had no voice to call out and she had no ears in which to hear. Yet, he was entirely conscious and she was conscious and their consciousness was becoming one.
It was then, in that shattered, atomized state, that William remembered what it was his mother had said… what Allison had been referring to.