Friday, December 17, 2010


by Dustin J Monk

A blast-pistol fired.
            I saw the waitress fall forward.
            She hit the floor.  It was worst sound ever.
            Her silver nose ring shined.
            Dark red blood covered the back of her head.  A cavern in the back of her head—the shifting of plates—the earth opened up.
            I waited for the second shot.  (Every moment of all of my life, I realized then, I’d waited, never choosing a course, never moving forward in any direction.  And the waitress, dead on the Hubcap Tap’s dirty floor, had tried to save my life, the life of a man she did know or had any interest in before the goons came in shooting.  She made a choice and it got her killed.  What did I do?  I cowered behind the counter.  I was a coward.  According to the Judiciary Hearing that convicted me and put me in this tulip-shaped ship, I still am.  Perhaps they are not wrong, but I can say I have made choices since that moment in the Hubcap Tap.  I have not remained a passive actor in my life.)
            I didn’t know what to expect of death.  Would I feel the laser-bullet enter the back of my head?  Would I feel my skin part and my skull crack?  Would my brain register an enemy breaching its walls?  How long would I remain conscious, half-alive, after the shot?  Would I die instantly?  Would I even hear the shot that killed me?
            I watched the waitress from my periphery.  Her head was twisted in a most awkward way.  Her eyes stared emptily at the leg of a barstool.  Blood spackled her cheek like city lights seen from space. I wanted to cry, seeing her like that, but no tears would come.  I squeezed my eyes shut, uncomprehending my final moments.
            Then, the sound of gunfire and the tap exploded in white light.  I saw it behind my closed eyelids: white light—the flash of a camera, of lightning.  A rumble of thunder sent me to the floor.  I fell hard, scraping my face, tearing open my lip.  Was this death, I wondered?  This is how it feels?
            But, no: I hadn’t died.  I opened my eyes.  The shooters were down; their blank faces blanker in death.  I didn’t move; I couldn’t.  The Hubcap Tap was quiet.  The waitress, I surmised, must’ve switched on the tap’s internal security system during the original firefight.  The weapons would’ve identified the threat and promptly set off a blinding flash and then, using lasers, zapped the threat.  (This kind of security system was, of course, illegal.  I was surprised the tap had it: it certainly didn’t look like the kind of place able to afford such high-tech weaponry. Part of the problem with this kind of technology was that it didn’t always perceive the threat correctly and, when it was first on the market, many innocent people were killed.)  I didn’t know if I could move or if I was also perceived as a threat.  I’d have to wait until the police arrived and shut the security system off.


(Lying on a dirty taproom floor next to the waitress who tried to save you and the goons who tried to kill you and several dead strangers is not particularly heartening.  I remember making a vow to find out who the waitress was: her name, her age, if she had a lover, a husband or a wife, or children, what sort of things she liked to do outside of work, where and why and when she got her silver nose ring.  It was the only thing keeping me from going completely bonkers in that room.  Thinking of the waitress kept me from noticing the bits of her brain on my forehead and in my hair, and the blood all around me.  It kept from dying.
            In this tulip-shaped ship, my prison cell, I do have access to many things.  I’ve found the waitress in the archives.  Her name was Lena Sanders.  She was twenty-two; she had four brothers; her father was a bricklayer and died nine years ago from a heart attack.  Lena’d been sent to a juvenile detention center when she was twelve after running away from home and helping rob a grocery store.  She was a suspected trafficker for the Soldiers of Orange, which may be the reason for the shooters in the Hubcap Tap.  I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.  The SofO is a small organization dedicated to helping refugees from the devastation of the Koreas into the United States.  For all I know, though, the shooters could’ve been looking to kill someone for the sheer fun of it.
               Anyway, it was because of Lena I had an epiphany.
            Let me impart this story to you so that you might, in some way, understand my actions from this point on: when I was nine years old I was walking home from school when I saw two dogs wandering in the street.  One was bean brown and one was wheat yellow.  A car came fast around a curve in the street.  The bean brown dog looked up for a moment, its tongue lolling.  It tried to run, to get out of the way, but it wasn’t fast enough. The dog was hit by the car.  The wheat yellow dog did nothing and was, of course, hit a second later.  The car skidded to a halt and a distraught man got out.  He was saying, “No, no, no,” over and over again.  I watched this happen from the sidewalk.  First, the man checked the bean brown dog: it was dead.  Then the man checked the wheat yellow dog.  The wheat yellow dog was injured and bloodied, but it was alive.  It barked and scrabbled to its feet and tried to limp away.  The man caught it, picked it up, and carried the dog to his car and put it in the backseat and drove, I presume, to the nearest veterinarian’s office.  What I saw that day may have affected my life without my knowledge until that moment in the Hubcap Tap when I was lying on the floor next to the waitress and the shooters and the strangers, waiting for the police and that understanding is this: the bean brown dog made a choice to run, to escape its fate, and was killed anyway; whereas the wheat yellow dog did nothing and was hit head-on by its fate and lived, at least for a little while. Perhaps my subconscious interpreted the incident thusly: No matter what you do, you'll end up exactly how you were meant to be.  That moment may have made me passive, but the moment in the tap—my survival—remade me.  What I realized lying on the floor was the bean brown dog had been right: it was better to move forward and fail than to remain motionless and still be injured.
            The epiphany on the floor of the Hubcap Tap was a metaphorical rebirth, but I do not consider it a true rebirth.  Not when I’ve actually been reborn in a readingtube and then in this tulip-shaped ship.  If anything, the epiphany was like waking up from a deep sleep.  I had the waitress to thank for it.  Lena was the first person to save my life, and if I admit it, the only person who ever did without a vested interest.)
            The police came and shut the illegal security system off.  I was questioned at length and then taken to the hospital for evaluation.  I spent the night on a hospital bed beneath heavy yellow lights feeling like the holographic programs I worked on.  The next morning I exited through the hospital’s double glass doors and, though the sky was still blue and most of the buildings downtown still in disrepair, I knew everything had changed.

1 comment: