By William Cody Maher
To go out with me for fresh air or for some sun and to listen to the birds. . . to go out with me is to watch behind my back to be anticipating what is ahead to look for kids suddenly lurching out of the bushes out of my mind. . . to be out with me is not to be out with me and I don’t know how I can change that unless all the stop lights remain green and no one waits at the stop lights and no one stands before us or alongside of us or behind us or anywhere near us and it is not two meters says the expert it is four meters when the jogger or the bicyclist is exhaling depending on the wind factor the velocity. . . so how can we go out together with the masks that are of little value but of some value to someone but not for us here in Schloss Park. . . no longer the park that I knew or Tarkovsky knew. . . who hated Berlin to death he hated it and the only place he loved was Schloss Park where the herons stand and the turtles sun themselves and the Japanese tourists who are no longer in Berlin who are back in Japan and the handful of people I would see in the park during the week are not mouthfuls of people hundreds of mouthfuls of people that remain silent in my eyes because they cannot speak and should not speak so it has become a silent world a world that is kept silent through the use of masks or no masks and the sense of neighbors when they are potential carriers and no longer identified in any other context despite all efforts to the contrary or why when K who is a hairdresser abruptly approached my wife and I unconscious of my or her reaction or he, negligent of the meaning of his drawing within the three meter radius or was it two meters and the sirens go off and the pulse rate quickens and the baby fortunately I noticed the baby who was in its cradle directly in front of me and it was munching on a postcard and it had become very cute though initially it had no features that you could attribute to cuteness so noticing the baby I turned my attention to it as K then retreated into his hair salon and his young wife continued talking with us and so I felt I had overcome the initial fear but that was some time after we had returned from the park where the crowds of joggers and bicyclists and the groups of kids grouping or groping together and that awareness of these groups nearby and then the shock of the ball suddenly in our midst can you imagine a ball kicked in our midst and the little boy running to it and my abrupt standing and kicking the ball well I could have missed the ball and kicked the kid and the young father fortunately not seeing the frightened face of the old man who kicked the ball and the stadium of fear in my head with everyone rising to exclaim that it is a crime and not allowed to kick the ball anywhere near a moving or still target which any old person is and that the police where are the police I thought and told my wife who has had enough of the police and my hands up in the air at the infractions of the rules but what were the rules were the rules four meters today and six meters tomorrow or no meters in the nightmare when dreaming a life of normal perceptions or meters apart the lovers holding hands with no meters between them where is the measuring stick to take my tantrum I mean take my temperature my stick where is my stick to walk the straight and narrow sidewalk. . . where is the logic and the madness of language not even that can straighten this out if it were simply the madness of consciousness that would have the ability to reflect and to upstage the madness of reality there would be the beginning of hope but no. . . no madness can outdistance the social distancing not respected by the joggers whose breath is eternity if they be the ones or the bicyclists if they be the ones and the police must enforce and practice social distancing and have no idea where to draw the line and now the mind is left on its own and has decided it has no place to jog and no escape and now after everything has been considered and that day has passed. . . that day in the park where I was unable to find any peace and afterwards perhaps just for a moment only the baby who was playing with the postcard in her mouth from some distant location from some sweet dream of eternal innocence and my hands with the white gloves still with the key in the door head half turned and then seeking shelter with the door closed behind me as if I had really lived as if it had made any sense to go out as if I had actually heard the birds as if I had actually understood what is happening here and left the rest to. . . to what. . . to go out with me out the door at the wooden shack in Hunter’s Point greet the dogs still alive that have not been poisoned past the old man lying on the kitchen floor or digging in the garden for his bottle to the front gate to go out with me down Kant St. on my bike. . . proud like a boy bringing the groceries home up the hill but now on Kant St. . . passing the movie house marquee. . . a double feature “Bleibt Gesund” and “Achtet Aufeinander” starring. . . starring who. . . who are playing the leading roles. . . I turn to the street and see the face mask. . . the leading man. . . the leading lady. . . the straps like arms. . . and legs could be an animal decades ago. . . I’m driving a nursery school bus full of kids and suddenly a cat darts out from behind a parked car. . . I slam on the brakes and hit the cat and drive a few yards and look back in the mirror I see blood gushing out of the cat’s neck. . . there is an animal shelter not far away. . . my father worked there years ago. . . he brought animals home trying to save them. . . I drove around the block. . . returned to the cat. . . jumped out of the van. . . took a T-shirt I had in the back. . . I had been sleeping in the van. . . grabbed the cat and wrapped the T-shirt around it. . . hurried it into the van. . . the kids began crying out. . . the cat bleeding and moving toward the back. . . I raced the van running stoplights and arrived at the entrance to the animal shelter. . . fell to my knees at the front desk with the cat in the T-shirt now completely soaked in blood. . . the kids I heard them screaming and I grabbed the cat and turned once again to the double feature and walked out the front gate to the car and locked the door you don’t want to be sitting in a car when the door is not locked our neighbor was washing his light blue Mustang and those guys that had been drinking and had a knife. . . it was in all the papers. . . never saw him or his wife again get the rifle said my father and where are my bullets and my mother hid the bullets but it is the first day at school and nothing but nightmares wake up and it is just a science fiction movie and now I am ten or eleven years old again and I reach for my school clothes still wrapped in plastic that my mother and my brothers and I got at the Emporium downtown Market Street. . . and take the pins out of the shirt and wake up in the old wooden shack for the first day at Pelton Junior High School. . . and the auditorium is full of black children and just a handful of white children from the shipyards. . . the kids whose parents are in the military. . . the barracks up on the hills where the Japanese were forced to leave and the black families came from the Deep South. . . the rocks thrown through the windows and the kids jumping the fence or circling me on my way back from school. . . I know what I have to do. . . I have to avoid the joggers I have to avoid breathing that is what I will do I will not breathe a word to anyone I will keep to myself I will observe life through the peephole in our apartment and now we have a system with twine to lower and raise items from the open window and my wife creates nature images outside our door where there is only a wall to project our nightmares and dreams. . . to be out with me is not to be out to be out with me is to be inside the beat-up Rambler station wagon I bought from my friend for 50 dollars and with my books and the key in the ignition because at any moment I may have to start the car and go where I can be left alone and where can I be left alone when I have no place to live if I am not living in a cheap hotel room and wait ’til there are no sounds in the hallway because you don’t want to meet your fellow residents and they don’t want to meet you. . . but if you go out with me then come with me into the past or walk up or down the steps did you hear something get back in the apartment did you see something but I have found the best route to take that the kids don’t know about. . . I go past the wrecking yard to the train tracks and place Lincoln pennies on the rails and watch the train roar out of the tunnel and then I go past the pie factory and look for pies they toss in the garbage can and then up the hill to Pelton Junior High School and the kids walking together in the Schloss Park count them. . . four of them. . . what are they doing? Call the police. . . my hands behind my back. . . fists in my face. . . a swarm of bodies in front of me stay away from them kids stay away from the school yard get into the library where I repaired the binding on books and where I discovered new worlds where I could be alone so go out with me for fresh air or for some sun or to listen to the birds. . .