[Editor's Note: The following is Part VII of an unfinished short story that the author and BlockRadius have chosen to publish in serial form, until its expected completion in Fall 2019].
PART I - Click here
PART II - Click here
PART III - Click here
PART IV - Click here
PART V - Click here
PART VI - Click here
Back in Philly, back on the porch. My roommate had just gotten married and was moving out tomorrow, to a new apartment in New York, with his new wife, a longtime girlfriend. She was living with us now and sleeping in the other room, resting up for the long day ahead.
They had gotten married in Nicaragua and I had flown down with my other roommate to contribute what we could to the celebration of true eternal love. Within minutes of our arrival, we had been handed Tequila shots and were being directed to the top of a water slide. The water slide lasted for four days, and the Spanish birdsong of its final splash – the laughter of the women, so high-pitched and full of excitement, that one is born into when one emerges from underwater – had been echoing on indefinitely in my memory. And now, my good friend, my roommate of three years, now married, was moving out.
The ice in our whiskeys had melted and we refilled without ice, the kitchen so far from the porch, all the way down the hall. We talked about technology, the future, the prospect of children, immortality. I wanted to live forever, I said. My roommate was not convinced he wanted the same, but he was open to hearing my argument. I want to find out what happens, I said. Want to see how this movie plays out.
Talk veered, time passed.
At some point, he said: “What are you looking forward to?”
It was not clear to me if this was a change of subject or not, or if it was a callback to the topic of immortality. The only clue was that he had emphasized forward.
“This year, that I have planned?” I said. “Or in life?”
He did not answer right away.
“In life,” he said finally.
I did not have a readymade answer. Unable to imagine the future on command, my thoughts landed on the previous midnight, when I had taken the last subway home. The car was almost full. The man on the seat in front of me had his legs out in the aisle, his head hunched down over his phone. I looked at his phone, looked away, and back again. Something about the shape and tone on that enormous iPhone 10 screen. Was he watching pornography? Away and back. He was watching pornography! Away and back. Shamelessly, in the middle of the aisle in a crowded subway car, bright as day. The woman on his screen was stripteasing. Away and back. Was this pornography, or was this his girlfriend, livestreaming? Either way, it was shameless.
As I pondered all of this, a young girl, maybe 16 years old, walked up in the aisle from behind where I sat. Since the man watching porn was hunched over and out into the middle of the aisle, the young girl had to stop before him; there, she turned, standing between him and me, facing me and the rest of the subway car, her back to the man watching porn on his phone. “Excuse me, everyone,” she began. She did not seem to be on drugs, did not smell strongly of anything. “I’m sorry to bother you this evening, but I was hoping that maybe one of you might be able to help me get something to eat, spare some change or a little bit of food, anything. I’m really hungry. Anything would help. Again, I am sorry to bother you, I’m just really, really hungry. Please...” Behind her, the man hunched over his phone did not stir, eyes fixed on the ass and vagina of the woman now bent over on his screen. “Anything would be a blessing.” The woman on the man’s phone had turned around and was now massaging her own breasts, her face off-screen. “I have not had a meal… Anything would help. I would be really, very thankful. So thankful.” And then, suddenly, as if in true fairy tale fashion, by the grace of God, a young man walked up to the young girl and handed her an aluminum plastic-sealed platter. He asked, would she take a chicken parm dinner? “Oh my gosh. Really? You really don’t have to. Are you sure? All of it? Okay, thank you! Wow, thank you so much!” And then, since the second miracle always comes easier, as the young girl turned around to put the hot meal into her backpack, the man watching porn on his phone on the subway looked up and met her eyes.
Hope, I thought. Hope.
“In life?” I said, thinking. The tree across the street looked different tonight. Gone was the profile of a face that I had become used to seeing in its leaves and branches, deformed beyond recognition, the branches grown, the leaves multiplied, the eye of the face having closed and canceled the whole face with it. “I think... I am looking forward to being hopeful again. Like I was before grad school, or when I was younger. Having that same kind of hope again. Being optimistic about the way things might play out. I’m not optimistic right now, but I’m optimistic about one day, once again, being optimistic. If that makes sense.”
My roommate smiled.
“How about you?” I said.
He said he was looking forward to being married, to be living in New York, being a New York architect, his dream since he was a kid, being married it bears repeating again, and one day maybe having kids. In short, he was looking forward to all the good things in life there was to look forward to. He fidgeted with one hand with the empty whiskey glass on the table. Here was a man with his head screwed on straight, I thought. And tomorrow he’d be gone.
PART VIII - Click here