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Chapter Seventeen

Kids dance, pliant as boiled pasta. The whole building shudders, heaves, trying to digest.

Sigh and Larry have disappeared, like sight in a snowstorm.

My little linear Red Sea of urgency, biblical with purpose, banks against the crowd’s crush, fails to subjugate the sovereign surge, thicker now that the night rubs its black palms together in vigorous good-riddance, dusting off the yellow surplus of day. I no doubt look the part, dreadlocks matted and crawling with locusts of vexation, Moses returning weary from arduous desert wayfarings. The difference is that I lack the power the prophet commanded with celestial poise, leaning on my twig of sleep deprivation instead of a mighty staff, muttering a useless “excuse me” for every inch I move in lieu of fiery imprecations, the forces of nature withholding compliance like a Pharisee without an alm to spare for a beggar.

The corridor I’m trying to reach on the other side of the room sees me, leans back against its black maw as if bracing itself comfortably against an arm rail at a neighborhood bar to watch a low-budget cable expose called “Mo, The Man Behind The Myth: The Untold Red Sea Debacle.”

What we have in common, this crowd and I, is that we’re all looking for something that had been given to us, a treasure we forgot was never ours in the first place, a borrowed gold coin that was the currency of grace deposited in the heart’s purse, filling the space to hold the shallowness of future misguided transactions at bay. For them, east-side dwellers with an unmistakable aura of entitlement, the many here whose hunger for material things had been long ago met, that lost treasure might be childhood, a world that bared its soul with every blink of the eye, a world as close and pure as an innocent fringe of eyelash, clean and Edenic, supple as May-green PlayDoh, a place so warm and wondrous and susceptible to shaping that it hurts to remember it. And for me, the borrowed treasure lost is Sage, a woman so deeply implanted beneath my skin that I feel the weight of her footsteps ringing across the surface of my cells as she walks the water within me. When I think of it this way, the Dervish whirl all around me almost makes sense. They’re dancing on Ecstasy to break through memory, to feel the things they touch again, to hear the city of sounds closed off in quarantine, to strip away nerve-ending’s insulation and plug into the wall socket of the senses. But although we share the precious lost treasure in common we’re not united, for superficial and deeper reasons, and as though sensing where our roads diverge, that intersection where the memory of having-had and the memory of never-had must pull away and fork to separate paths, the crowd works against me, penning me in.

We’re all outsiders looking for a way in, but that’s never enough, is it?

There are those who would see me here tonight and embrace me – for there is much hugging and embracing amid the dancing – and who, sitting behind a desk tomorrow, would take my resume and shake my hand. Then once I stepped outside the door, the history I’d so meticulously arranged on paper would be flipped in the trash, for reasons they felt compelled to enact, even if tonight they reject those reasons.

Across the room, near the corridor I covet, is a space occupied by a little booth with a hand-painted Red Cross placard placed on a pole in front.

I fall to the ground, thrashing. I’ll get there faster this way.

My limbs flipper as I lay in my spilled shell, a tortoise rowing toward right side up in an overturned terrarium of gravity. Concern combs through the people around me, parting the crowd like hair complying with comb’s command.

A kid whose warring teenaged years have planted and detonated sebaceous landmines in his face yells, “Dude down! Possible hydration casualty!” and throws himself on the floor next to me.

A ring of faces looks down and arms reach in. A stretcher of palms slides under my back. Not one of these kids could singly lift me, the girls mere starvelings as they swivel hipless hips inside hula hoops of music, the boys casting themselves across the floor like light-gauge fishing line into a sea of thinness, hoping to lure, hook and subsist on bones. But together they possess the strength of vaulting ivory columns, and now I’m the roof above their heads, my limbs a splay of precarious shingles. As such, they seem to demonstrate the allure and esoteric meaning of this place. I am, sadly, in the crowd but not of it.

I move, flow forward smoothly on the gurney of hands, reading the sliding ceiling’s ticker tape.

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