By Aydin Behnam and John Casquarelli
You must believe me. I had never done anything like this before. Yes, it was his first time coming to my unit. It was my fault. I started it all. I read it in an old book I found in the attic and I mentioned it to him. The book said that it used to be an old custom. I’m so stupid! I should have known better. He had a way of obsessing over things. Of course, he took the idea and ran with it. Yes, of course I regret it. I’m sorry I ever put the idea in his head. Now I realize it was not a responsible thing to do. Yes, I regret what we did.
Regret is an old brownstone on Bleecker Street,
rent past due, wiping the stale beer from my chin
with the same arm that I damaged in an old rugby match
when I believed competition was a noble act.
What I remember from my childhood are
whispers between raindrops, voices once believed
to be tornadoes, spiraling from notebooks to typewriters
to an unknown technology in an unknown corner
of someone else’s universe.
He said he ordered it off the Internet. There we were, facing each other, standing under the parasitic plant that hung from the ceiling. The silence between us made my ears ring. I could hear myself swallowing my warm saliva. I ran my tongue along the inside of my teeth, then my lips. They felt scorching hot. Outside, the snow landed slowly on the windowsill. He turned up the volume on the live stream of the countdown. The presenter’s jubilant tone made me even more nervous. The ball was about to drop.
Cousin Ray lost his light on East 17thStreet
after coughing in staccato. Ambulances whiz by
in a music of fireworks and denials.
What you once were, you’ll be again.
This is our great lie, our nostalgic slideshow
amid the great boom of our collected ignorance.
I thought I heard a humming outside the window. I jumped. He noticed me eyeing the windows and the door. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. He said he had hacked the Proximity Protocol partition of his subdermal microchip implant and compromised its frequency with a VPN jamming signal. He also said he had paid off a third-party cross-sectional data dumper to breach the Ministry’s surveillance network and fill out a phantom Mobility Transparency Permit Form. He said we had at least a thirty-minute window.
“Nothing sits on nothing in a nothing of
many nothings a nothing king.” Corso’s vision
in the silent, dark night of his mindfield.
The embodiment of a tangerine kleptocrat who likely
never read a stanza or an obituary.
I often refer to the U.S. as a perilous miasma
I trusted him. He was my first. . . the first guy to see me. . . to see me without my PPE. I felt naked without my mask on, but he knew how to make me feel safe, you know. I covered my mouth with my hands, but he held my fingers and pulled them off my face. . . and I let him. The countdown had started: Nine, Eight, Seven, I felt a tingle enter through my shoulder and travel down to my belly button as he brushed my skin with his fingers. Six, Five, Four, I never knew I could smell someone’s scent through my mouth. Does that even make sense? Three, his lips were about to touch mine. Would they be as soft as I imagined them? Two, my whole body twitched and then eased up again. I felt like a jumpy kitten. . . One, Happy New Year. The soundbite of a pre-recorded cheer poured out of the speakers.
Hunger and filtered masks replace side-glances,
laughter, maraschino cherry, velvet allegories,
and Keats’s beauty obliterating all consideration.
Times Square, glitter of consumerism, midnight song
in the year of contamination, when our faces become weapons.
The doorway pours secrecy on the dying page.
The doorway is a makeshift field hospital in Central Park.
The doorway leads to tossed latex gloves and cotton swabs
on the BMT Broadway Line. The doorway is the final
snowfall on my fleeting youth, the chill that embraces me
under the waxing crescent moon.
The last thing I remember is seeing a flashing LED light past his face, behind him, outside the window and recognizing the hum of the surveillance drone. The P-SWAT team kicked the door off its hinges. There was a flash and a bang. My ears whistled painfully. I held my head in my hands and squatted. I couldn’t breathe. The room filled with smoke. I saw the shadows of masked men sweep me onto the ground. “On your knees,” they shouted. “Show me your hands, your hands!” I heard a pop, pop, pop. Everything slowed down. I saw the beer can flatten with a crunch under a shiny boot and sputter yellow froth onto the carpet. As the intruder drove his knee to the back of my head, slapped the handcuffs on my wrists, and led me to the door, the ringing in my ears died down. Auld Lang Syne blared out of the speakers, bathing the boot-trodden room and the swinging mistletoe in red and blue light.