"Never again. Take chances with my job, my life, for God's sake, for a night out with this crazy barmaid? Never again."
That was after the first trip around town in her car. Natural enough. Yet here he was again. Yeah, here he was again, watching her fling her cursing wrist and hand at her windshield. On Holy Thursday, no less. At 2 AM. In the backseat of her car that is not yellow, strangely enough, and has no meter.
"I can’t see where I’m goin’. And this street takes forever.”
The wipers had ceased to move about halfway up the arcs they had scythed through the field of raindrops. The real rain had stopped, but a few drops had reappeared in the cleared area since the wipers had stopped working. And the heavy rain would come back. It rained every Thursday lately. Followed by cloudy mornings at work every Friday, mixed with heavy downpours of coffee.
Stephanie hunched her shoulders and laughed, her head lolling drunkenly. Some of her hair was still wet around the crown of her head and the ends fanned out wildly around her shoulders and shoulderblades. For a moment she looked like a giant child, an oversized blonde brat. But cute enough to be forgiven patricide.
And here he was again in her backseat, once more heading uptown. Instead of just getting a cab, he took her up on her offer, even if it made no sense. Probably just because she’d offered, he’d followed her and the English kid to her spot across from old St. Peter’s Church and gotten into her car. Against his reason. Like a man entranced. Like a man on the trail of a miracle. Or stricken by a curse. He didn’t know which.
We're on the road to God knows where
We're on the one road
It may be the wrong road
But we're together now – who cares?
"I'm not goin' uptown on this street. It takes forever. Plus, too many cops around. I don’t need to draw attention to this."
“This” was an old BMW in which nothing worked. Except the engine. Most of the time. The windshield wipers were the latest casualties but they had many comrades who had fallen before them: the handles on three of the doors (May they rest in peace), the radio (God rest its soul), the turn signals (Such a lovely corpse, did you eve see?)and the cigarette lighter (Offer it up, now, for poor souls in Purgatory).
"How 'bout the West Side Highway?" Paul asked from the backseat.
“I'm not takin' the West Side Highway either. It sucks!” she responded grouchily. “It totally sucks!”
Stephanie flicked the back of her hand at the windshield again. The flesh of her wrist flowed evenly and softly into a hand small and pretty but not dainty or frail, just young. It was a hand the old men at the bar liked to take and kiss. Tir na Nog.
“That kid’s got a good heart,” one of them had told him. “A real good heart.”
A good heart. When he’d met her, she’d been wearing a rainbow-colored tie-dyed shirt with a heart in the center of its chest. Too much to be believed, he knew, but there it had been: a colorburst heart dyed into the cotton that had stretched over her girlish breasts, her Wonderbra like a platter proferring the vibrant symbol on cushions of swelling softness, for the hungry eyes of her customers.
“How ’bout the FDR?” Paul suggested.
“Yeah, the FDR!”
She turned to the English kid.
“How do I get to the FDR?”
“I have no idea,” he answered, the accent sounding like a put-on: I haaaahhhhve nooo ideeeeahh.... . C’mon, do yih really talk that way? Those Oxford European long “A”s? Earlier at Wild West: “I told you before: I cahhhn't dahhhnce!” I mean, “Is he for real? Does he have to talk that way? In public?
That first night. How she bent down and a little sideways to wash the glasses: the curve of her flank in the tie-dyed t-shirt, the blue jeans, the long blonde hair falling around her oval face and contrasting with those whiskey-brown eyes, which her high cheek bones made to seem slanted.
Broadway and Park Place. Right by the front of his building! The other two didn't know or seem to care. Even if he had told them. Anyway, those people shouldn’t be working at this hour. Burning the candle at both ends and so forth.
"Try over by the South Street Seaport."
She hesitated. The English guy was now asleep,
"Take a right here," Paul said.
A couple of green lights in a row welcomed them to Lower Broadway. The teeming daylight avenue was now a canyon of darkness and mystery. It's wet asphalt hissed under them. Snaking them toward the harbor. The English guy’s chin was bobbing on his chest. Paul’s’ neck hurt just looking at him. …not much of a conversationalist – is he? Maybe I should suggest we all tell two stories on the way uptown, as we wend oure waye to Helles Kychene. In April with shoures soote!
A slepey youth ther was from Engelond
Who got to ryde up front ther with the blond.
With venerie this night he’d have no dalliaunce
For with tavern’s sweete licour he could not daunce.
Through the back window. St. Paul’s. My namesake. Conversion! From its windows, Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton checked out St. Peter’s. Said, “Hmmm, I like that better!” Grass is greener on the other side of the graveyard fence. The keys to the other world! … The dead of St. Paul’s cemetery: “As you are now so once were we.” Wake them! Let’s have a little sorcery on Lower Broadway! Samhain! Dia de los muertos! Come all ye rubes! Come on down and take a gander! See the dead promenade on old Broad Way!
There they go! The walking dead, the dying living, the living dead. The Otherworld beautiful and scattered unto itself. Over there! Over there! Ta Tir na Nog ar chul an ti, Tir alainn, trina cheile. O, how the other half lives! They walk and you see, you hear, you feel. They brush up against you. You step on a ghostbaby in a dark hall.
They finish their work or take a break or continue without acknowledging you their laying of brick and mortar, brick and mortar. Brick and mortar in your face and in your fingertips and in your palms. Brick and mortar stacked upon brick and mortar as if a monument to the souls who laid them, some preparation for a metropolitan Egyptian after life, with half the straw but twice the uisce beatha. The Ka of the workers housed in the bricks and mortar though the workers have passed away. And where is the portal to the Otherworld? Nathan Hale, posed like a dancer on Broadway, can tell you. Dead man walking. Sure, he’d say, a bus could run you down on Church Street but I regret that, unlike me, you will not know it's coming.
But where is the way from one world to the other? From shore to Stygian shore? Where is the portal? Up on the platform. Under the Bridge of Sighs. Within the Tombs, shaped of ancient Egypt. Shade of Eastern ends. Staring stubborn doom. At multitudes unruly. Mulberry Bend. Its courtyard colored. Full of freckled faces. Hardened as Bowery brick and mortar. Let my people go.
They lead him forward. Hands tied. Priests and sacrificial victim. To the portal they erected. For the time being. For the time passing. For the time escaping. (Heavier for him than anything borne.) To stand on the portal. To drop.
An exemplary end. Purposeful, punitive. A rite of man, mandated, marked. The time chosen. The time arriving.
He kisses the cross. Blest portal of the Christ condemned. Asphyxiated at the Skull, giving weight to Seven Last Words.
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Grand and generous to lose a life he never had. Grave words. Weighted enough to etch in granite.
And over there at St. Paul’s in this busiest thoroughfare of this greatest city there tower over the heads of the passers by two monuments to the dead: Thomas Addis Emmet and Robert M’neven, United Irishmen:
The deathright his brother never got:
“When my country takes her place among the nations of the world, then, and not ‘til then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.”
Magnanimous silent stone! Pass the fight with fools from Fenian dead to Fenian living. Faugh a ballagh! Fog of valor!
Time comes, trap falls. Through the portal he passes. Kicking like a kid newborn, held high.