Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Empty Streets (pt. 2)

Here's the second part of what I started a couple days ago. I'm posting slowly 'cause I'm trying to stay ahead. Part One can be found here.

            One morning, I eyed the Navy Pier’s Ferris Wheel, and wondered if I could turn in on but still get into a cab before it rotated too far. I never rode the damn thing before: it always seemed like a tourist trap to me. I was an immigrant to the Chicago area fresh out of college, and the last thing I wanted to do was look like I didn’t belong. My Southern accent gave me away often enough, when there was still anyone around to hear it.
            A control panel was in front of me. Where I hoped would be two buttons, one green and one red, was a myriad of levers, lights, and knobs. I poked and prodded at the panel, moved a lever back and forth, but nothing happened. I looked around sheepishly, like an employee was going to come chastise me at any time, but of course that employee was long gone. I slid my pack off of my back, and dug out my water bottle. July in Chicago was hot and humid, even on the pier. I sat and tipped the bottle to my mouth, almost laying down in order to catch the top of the wheel in my sight. Birds alighted upon it, probably building nests on the now dormant structure. I sighed and rethought my plan, not wanting to disturb their hard work. After all, it was more their world than mine now.

            As I wiped my mouth, the cell in my pocket buzzed. I audibly swore and jumped three feet. It had been months since there was anyone to call me. I almost left it at home that morning, seeing as my active Twitter follows had slimmed to nothing. I’m sure Erin was glad I decided against it as I slid my finger across the screen to answer her call.
            “Hello?” I’d like to tell you that my voice was dry and crackly from not having talked to anyone in weeks, but I sang loudly to myself the whole bike ride down to the Pier. I woke up with “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson stuck in my head, and my falsetto had rung off of the glass skyscraper faces as I pedaled past.
            “Hi, it’s Erin, but… But I suppose you knew that.” I smiled on my end of the phone, reclining against the operator’s console, taking in the sun. Erin spoke on the phone with the casual sort of anxiety that was fitting for her sixteen years. If she wasn’t texting me, it must be important. I’d never gotten a call from any of the Loopers before, so a teenage girl calling me out of the blue meant a lot.
            “Yeah I did. Now, what can I do for ya?” I asked, absentmindedly scratching off the console’s labeling behind my left ear.
            “Well, me and Marilyn were talking and, well, we think we should all get together. I have an idea that I want to tell you in person, plus Marilyn thinks that it’s just time to finally meet everyone, is all.” Erin rushed through the part about her having an idea to share, unconfident in creativity.
            I wasn’t thrilled by having to meet all the others. I was happy to keep them at a distance, taking refuge in their digital presence when Chicago loomed large on the nights when I felt very alone. To meet them face-to-face would commit me to their existence, and we all know how it went last time I was committed to someone’s survival. But I had to admit, this idea of hers had me intrigued.
            “Okay, you’ve got one RSVP,” I said, sitting up a little straighter. “Where are we meeting, then?”
            “I was thinking about in about two hours around Navy Pier? I- Marilyn always loved it as a girl, I mean. That’s what- that’s what she said.” I could almost picture her, pacing nervously around her apartment, rolling her eyes at every stupid thing she thought she said.
            I smiled. “That sounds perfect. I’m thinking I can make it right on time. Who else is coming?”
            “Well, you were the last I’m going to call. I had to have Marilyn call Han, I can’t understand him on the phone well enough. D.J. and Marcus are already coming, she’s still talking with Han on the phone in the other room-”
            Now that she mentioned it, I could make out an older voice speaking loudly and slowly in the background, mentioning Navy Pier.
            “-but it looks like we’re going to have a Looper reunion.”
            I laughed. “I’m not sure you could call it that, but I will be there with all the rest of you. See you soon.”
            I hung up then checked my reflection in my phone’s rear-facing camera. I paid three hundred bucks for a mirror, but any mirror is worth a lot more than those three hundred bucks now. More than the hundreds of dollars in cash registers I pass by every time I go scrounging around a store, more than the jewelry that lies on top of dressers, and definitely more than the piece of plastic that I still carry in my wallet.
            The reflection wasn’t pretty: I had stopped shaving after a month, and I wasn’t what you would call a “beard guy”. A middle school mustache had sprouted over my lip and the hair on my neck was in full sprout, but nothing else seemed to grow. Twenty seven years old, one of the last humans alive on Earth, and I couldn’t grow a beard. I didn’t have enough time to run home and shave it before Erin expected me back at the Pier, so I shrugged and put my phone back in my pocket. I dug out the stick of deodorant from by bag and gave myself a once over.

            First impressions were everything, after all.

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