DISCLAIMER: So not mine. None
of them except the boys on the balcony.
DISCLAIMER: So not mine. None
of them except the boys on the balcony.
THE TRAIN THAT TAKES YOU AWAY.
Now you don't have to stand up tall. But, baby, you must stand up. - Jakob Dylan
In the land of plenty, where Casey was 92 and Dan was not even on the list, on a fire escape at a party where he knew no one at all, Dan started thinking of a murder mystery he'd read on a plane to somewhere. A typically garish cover with a skull floating above a stylized river, and he'd thought it would be another typical genre book. But it had been bleak and scarring, and he could still remember how it ended. A lonely old woman, made even lonelier, deserted by even her own faith, and her priest told her to keep pretending to have faith until it returned to her.
The music sounded clear even on the fire escape. Dan wasn't really paying attention to the words while he fumbled with the bummed cigarette and the childproof lighter, but he liked the voice of the woman singing. It sounded friendly and worn. Like someone he would like if he met. Perfect pitch and honeyed voices were over-rated. He'd take a whiskey soaked croak any day; one that had something to say even in mumbles and moans.
Dan surveyed the other buildings and the slightly dingy street that he could see from up where he was. He had gotten the cigarette lit, and inhaled deeply. He licked his lips after his first drag to taste it again. He looked down and took another long drag.
He reviewed how he had gotten here. Townes Van Zandt had said that where you've been is good and gone, all you keep is getting there. There had been Anthony's, and Jeremy leaving quickly for his porn star followed by Natalie's withering stare. And Dana's about to crack up from everything smile. And then there had been a girl and two boys. The boys were boring, with stupid facial hair and one had shoulders like a linebacker. But the girl loved basketball and spoke to him with enthusiasm about the Sixers. She touched his forearm twice, and said she watched the show and thought he was great. The threesome had invited him to a party and now here he was. He was pretty sure it was the girl's apartment. He was almost positive he wasn't in Manhattan.
He hadn't had that much to drink, so he wasn't sure what made the drive seem so much like a hallucination. Lights, a bridge, water, storefronts already gated and foreboding. He had sat in the front seat, telling salacious and slanderous stories about a certain Chicago Bull's wandering eye. The girl had laughed appreciatively but Dan had noticed a certain worry. Or maybe he hadn't, maybe he imagined it. Maybe he imagined a lot of things.
The two boys from the bar lurched out onto the fire escape, the one with the shoulders already tugging up the other one's shirt. One of them disengaged from the playful, drunken necking and turned to Dan, offering, "Sorry. We can go." He leered at Dan, but in a friendly way and said, "Unless you want to join us." Dan said no, but -- polite to the end -- added a warm thanks as he climbed back into the apartment and let them have the fire escape.
The girl was talking and gesturing to another girl but she turned and saw him come back in. She wanted to talk about Larry Bird now. He didn't but he smiled at the appropriate places, threw in a stat or two. She kept touching him to emphasize her points, and he knew she would sleep with him if he asked. He imagined waking up tomorrow in this apartment that wasn't in Manhattan or even close. He made his apologies and walked out of the party.
He wasn't drunk anymore, if he ever had been. If he could get to his car, back in Manhattan; if he could get back to Manhattan, he would be more than safe to drive. He hadn't really been drunk all night. He had last got good and stinking drunk the night they all played Celebrities. The next day, after Dan woke up on the couch in his office, hung over and cranky, Casey had said something in passing about having wanted to celebrate and seemed a bit peeved that Dan hadn't wanted to go out after the game. Dan couldn't think of what to say to that.
He had been walking for a bit and had not seen a taxi. He opened his cell phone and looked at the LCD to see the time: 3:23 am. He could call for a taxi. He could call someone to pick him up. He could call Casey, but Casey didn't have a car. He could call Jeremy, who did have a car, but was probably occupied with someone much prettier than Dan. He could call Natalie, who also had a car, but then it would be one more thing for Natalie to hold over him. He didn't think of calling Dana, as he'd always feared her driving. He wondered why his list of people to call when stranded at 3:24 am was so short.
He was still walking and he saw a diner. He went in and sat down. He ordered a big hearty breakfast, eggs and hash browns and evil-looking coffee. He stared at the food when it first came, but after one tentative bite, he decided he was hungry and this was good.
His phone rang and he stared at that, too, wonderingly, before opening it. It was Casey, and all he said first was "Dan."
Casey sighed. He said, "Danny. Whatcha doing?"
"Eating," Dan said. He didn't care about anything his mother had ever said because he started eating again, holding the phone slightly away from his mouth so Casey wasn't listening to him chew.
"Okay. You're up now. You're still up - you haven't gone home and gone out again?" Dan kept eating. He was suddenly ravenous, and Casey hadn't said anything interesting yet. Dan stopped, and remembered he had a question.
"Casey. Superman or Batman?"
Casey sighed again. He said, "Like, what? Superman or Batman? You mean like the movies? Which had a better sequel? Do I prefer Christopher Reeve to Michael Keaton? Or Val Kilmer? Which would I rather be? What's the question, here, Danny."
Dan had heard Casey's frustrated tone and responded in his own cranky one. "How hard is this? Didn't you have to answer on the playground at some point in your childhood? Superman or Batman, Casey. Just tell me."
Casey was silent for a few moments. He said Superman, and then said, angrily, that he expected Dan had chosen Batman. Dan ate more of his eggs.
"Casey. Why did you call me," Dan pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the LCD and put the phone back near his ear, "at 3:56 am?"
"I wanted to see if you were up. You - you've looked tired lately."
Dan finished off his eggs and moved on to the hash browns. Casey said his name, calling him Danny, in a tone Dan couldn't place. It was the first thing he had cared about all night - he wondered in what way Casey was saying his name. It could have been affection, exasperation, boredom, fatigue, desperation or maybe just anger again. He mulled over the two familiar syllables in his head. Casey started talking again.
"I woke up. I came home after the show, and went to sleep and I woke up." Casey sounded tired. "I woke up 'cause there was this loud crash from the apartment below me. A woman screaming. A man yelling. That woke me up."
"Did you call the cops?"
"No. No, but you're exactly right," Casey said, and Dan wondered what he was right about. Casey kept talking, saying, "I lay in bed and thought I should call the cops. I thought about Kitty Genovese and all those other crimes you hear about it."
"But you didn't call the cops." Dan said between bites of his hash browns. The white plastic plate shined with the grease from his demolished meal, except one small part of the dish that was chipped along the edge.
"I went down to their apartment," Casey said, and he sounded surprised with himself.
"That was a bad idea. That could have been really dangerous, Casey, what were you thinking? You know, cops hate domestic abuse calls - they're more likely to be injured on those calls than any other, I think. You shouldn't have gone down there."
"It was okay. The cat - they have a cat and it knocked some stuff over and surprised the woman. The man yelled at the cat. It was a false alarm. I felt sort of stupid standing there, seeing if everything was okay, but it was okay. And I came back up here and..." Casey stopped talking. Dan had finished his breakfast and looked at the check jammed under his plate. He sipped his coffee, and suppressed his gag reflex at how bitter it was. He waited for Casey.
Casey sighed, for the third time. He said, "Damn it. Danny - you know, it's not some sign of who we really are, Superman vs. Batman. You shouldn't read so much into it. It's like astrology or something else that doesn't mean anything."
"I wasn't thinking anything," Dan said quietly. He pulled out his wallet and left the money and tip on the table. He walked out of the diner, still on the phone with Casey, neither of them saying anything.
Casey made a noise. He said Dan should go home and sleep; and he would see him tomorrow. Dan said, "Goodbye, Superman."
He stood outside the diner, and finally saw a taxi. The first in the last hour and he flagged it down. It was late, or too early for decent people to be about. He had been hungry all day, even now, after everything he'd eaten; he felt an ache in his stomach. He wondered what Casey had been saying, when he had said Danny, before his story. In every conversation they had had in the last 2 weeks, he heard behind the words: it's all in your head, get over it, get back to being Danny.
The taxi ride was expensive - he had been farther out than he thought. He wandered around his living room, touching the framed pictures on the bookshelves, running his fingers over his CD cases, and then resting his forehead against the cold TV. For the first time that night, he stopped hearing in his head the stats for the Austrian jumper that defeated Oscar Parrish. Instead, he heard Casey screwing up at Celebrities. Just a game, he thought. Casey had said that choosing Superman didn't mean anything, and Casey's inability to name celebrities wasn't a metaphor for anything either.
The people of Metropolis relied on Superman, that he would save the world over and over again. Law abiding citizens were uniformly happy to see the red cape and blue tights. Batman skulked in the night, and never got a parade. Dan wondered how much noise he would need to make before Casey came down to check on him. He used to think he knew. He was faking his faith in Casey, waiting for it to come back after all the killings.
He leaned back. He was sitting on his heels in his living room, face to face with a cold, blank screen. He could see the grease from his forehead on the TV, and he wiped it off with his shirt. He stood up and walked to his bedroom. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, counting races lost. He named all the losers from the World Series for the past fifteen years, whispering the teams' names.
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