The streets were lined with screaming fans. They ran back and forth across the parkway, turning over cars, lighting trees on fire. Occasionally they would stop and gather in a circle, singing the Giants’ fight song in solemn voices that sounded like a church group in prayer.
Lenny was annoyed but the scene amused me. As we walked down the parkway, I kept my eyes on passerby, as much out of interest as safety. I knew that stopping was out of the question; if we did they would have surrounded us, angry when we told them we weren’t rooting for one particular team. But there was something about the wanton destruction I didn’t want to miss. “Is it always like this?” Lenny said.
“What’s it like the other times?”
“A bit boring.” Lenny rolled his eyes. I knew I should have said something then, something to the effect of: I’m sorry. He had not wanted to go to the party, let alone watch the game. Earlier that day lying in bed he had listed reasons why it was a bad idea:
1.) It was Sunday, and we had work in the morning.
2.) I would probably have too much to drink.
3.) Football fans usually fought, and I liked to fight while drunk.
4.) Given the state of the world, football fans were not just likely to fight, but riot. 5.) China had threatened that morning to drop a nuclear bomb.
I knew it was a dumb idea to go to the party, let alone watch the game. We should have been at home prepping for the bomb. Or, at the very least, we could have gotten the laundry and dishes done. But that would mean not being out in the bracing, late-winter cold. Or quelling thoughts of nuclear destruction, of burnt bodies bent over the broken shards of Western Civilization, with some cheap hot wings and an ice cold gin.
Ahead of us, a group of people encircled a trash fire. They watched in eerie silence as the yellow-orange flame bloomed, becoming a frighteningly pure white. Sirens howled and candy-colored police lights flashed; two cop cars went racing down each side of the parkway, followed by a feral, jeering crowd.
We stopped and without so much as a word turned a corner. It was one of the things I liked about us, that we could make these sorts of decisions without much thinking. Even if we had only the illusion of choice.
I knew Lenny was mad but I wanted to know about what, exactly. So I asked.
“This all could have been avoided,” he said, rolling his head to acknowledge this meant the problems of the world. “If you had just listened to me.” It was one of his favorite things to say. Since we started dating so many things could have been avoided if I had just taken his advice: the five problems listed previously, but also my estranged relationship with my Mother; the plants I bought and forgot to water; my fluctuating weight.
“You always do this,” he continued, getting into it. “You think you live life playing it by ear, not planning what you’re doing next.”
The streets before us seemed to stretch into the infinite, the lampposts repeating patterns – light, dark, light, dark again – causing everything to grow woozy and indistinct. Suddenly I realized I should have just agreed with him. I didn’t want to be scolded while dying.
“What are we talking about here? Going to the Super Bowl party? Walking through a riot? Being alive at the end of the world?”
“I’m talking about everything, Bill–” Lenny spat my name as though it were a bad taste. I stopped and pretended to find my reflection in his saliva. Maybe he was right. I was thirty-four years old, without a penny to my name. I lived in a ratty apartment with six twenty-something roommates, most of whom acted like they were eighteen. I couldn’t afford to buy Lenny a real gift; the best I could do most of the time was an expensive bottle of wine or something. Mostly we just drank gin and walked around like we were doing now, trying to imagine a better future. Just as I was about to tell him this, there came a crunching sound, and a cry from down the street.
“Jesus Christ!” I pushed Lenny out the way right as a U-Haul truck went up over the curb, and into the apartment building nearest us. It crashed through the door with a loud bang, followed by a horrible sliding sound. Almost brick by brick the front awning began to collapse, the sign above the doorway Elysian Apartments, falling into bushes. The truck went through a wall and sat there for a few moments, before the front engine was lit aflame. Then the driver stumbled out of the car, blood trickling down his forehead. He made it out of the building as the awning finally collapsed. We covered our faces as bricks reigned down from up above, blocking in the front entrance.
“What the fuck are you doing?” said the driver when he saw us. He was a stout Hispanic man of about forty, yet with a teenger’s high squeaky voice.
“We’re fighting,” said Lenny.
“So you’re not going to help me?”
“What would you like us to do?”
The question seemed to stump the driver. He stood there for a moment, hands on hips, while we listened to the frantic shouts from the apartment’s residents.
“What are you fighting about?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Our relationship.”
“At a time like this?”
“Should we talk about it another time?” The driver flinched at Lenny’s tone. Another thing I liked about Lenny was his ability to switch from sweet and docile to commanding. He made other men feel small and subservient and shamed, like a disappointed schoolteacher. Though if you were to ask him he would just say it was our stupidity that made him dramatic.
“I guess you’re right,” said the driver, obviously not wanting to get scolded at the end of the world. “No better time than this.”
“We’ll be leaving then–”
“Wait!” We froze. “Do you have a tissue?”
After Lenny and I were sure the ambulances had arrived, and we in no way would get in any legal trouble for leaving the driver and those trapped in the apartment, we continued walking. By now the streets had cleared to such a degree that it appeared as though everyone had vanished. Overturned cars and shattered glass littered the concrete like forgotten set pieces; through a window we heard the sounds of an overturned record player breathing its last breath. Nat King Cole’s decelerated voice through the night toward us, gradually fading the closer and closer we got home.
Siempre que te pregunto
Que cuándo, cómo y dónde
Tu siempre me respondes
Quizás, quizás, quizás
Y así pasan los días
Y yo desesperando
Y tu, tu contestando
Quizás, quizás, quizás
I suppose at this point I should tell you a little about our relationship: how we met, that sort of thing. I could tell you about the pastries I bought for our first date, the cherry danishes that oozed blood red jelly out their pores, or how Lenny sometimes screamed when he saw a spider. I could tell you about our trip to LA, how we stood atop the Griffith Conservatory and complained about how the fog covered the city. “It’s not like how I imagined,” we kept saying, “It’s not like how I imagined” – though if we were asked how exactly we imagined it, we would have been unable to respond. I could tell you about all the times he smiled at me, his eyes inquiring like a kid about to open a present. Or how often Lenny yelled (though you can probably guess) – or how often he forgave me.
There’s this idea that when you reach a certain point, or the end, you’re supposed to have all the answers. You’re supposed to clearly lay out step by step, image by image, what you’ve done, how you reached a certain place. But if you sat down and tried to think about it, I mean really tried to think about it, what would you say? As you opened out the words would come tumbling out, and be just that: words. Not only devoid of meaning, but without any sort of tangible shape.
If only words could save the world, this city! Yet, the closer we came to home, there was only silence. A silence so thick, I realized, that it had made all the other people – the rioting Giants fans, the Chinese soldiers about to fire the bomb – disappear. Almost as if the world itself had noticed the paradox mentioned previously, and followed through it.
Like in Hamlet when all the other characters die, and only Hamlet and Horatio are left. “I hate that play,” said Lenny.
“It’s a play about inaction.”
“Wrong – it’s about taking action too late.”
“Then who cares?” We stopped in front of our building steps. All the lights were off inside; each window became a tiny stage showing encroaching darkness.
Despite the fact that I was sure we were fighting – even at the end, I couldn’t tell – Lenny and I stood close to each other. It may have been a trick of the eye, but the shape of our bodies in the window reflection made us look like a two-headed creature with angel’s wings. I took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one for the both of us. “You’re right.”
“What?” Lenny cocked an eyebrow at me.
“I said – you’re right! Who cares? Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said: Nothing will come of nothing?”
Lenny thought for a moment, then started laughing. It was a thick, throaty laugh, coming somewhere from deep inside him. It made me smile.
“Who cares?!” he said, laughing so hard he grabbed me by the shoulder. “What does it matter now?”
He was right: it didn’t matter now! The thought was surprising, yet so complete, and so true, that I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. We laughed so hard, we found it difficult to stand. Holding onto each other, both bent so that our faces almost touched the ground, we scooted over to the building’s stoop, falling in a heap on top of one another.
We lay there like that for several moments, Lenny cradled between my legs, looking at the sky. They said the world would either end with a bang or whimper, yet all we could hear was quiet. It seemed – despite all that we had seen earlier – like a normal night. Perhaps the sun would rise again, and things would go back to normal. Perhaps the sun would rise again, and chaos would start anew.
Perhaps the predictions were right and this was the last thing we would ever see: the violet sky, the trees’ imposing shadows. Finally, Lenny spoke. “I’m sorry about earlier.”
“What do you have to be sorry about?”
“For saying I didn’t want to go to the game. I didn’t care, really.”
“What did you care about, then?”
“I wanted you to thank me for being there.”
“Thank you.” Lenny was about to roll his eyes when I took his hand. “No, I mean it. Nothing else matters.”
Above us, a window slid open. An old woman in a gown and nightcap stuck out her head. “‘Ey!,” she cried, in a raspy, nicotine-stained voice. “Who won the game?”
“Who cares?!” I said, trying my best to sound philosophical. “The world’s about to end.” “Fuck you, Hamlet!”
“The Giants won,” Lenny shouted. “It was a great end to the game.”
The old woman was quiet for a moment, perhaps imagining the end to the game. We had left before the end as well, so I couldn’t help but picture it too.
The entire stadium of fans, decked in red, white, and blue, on their feet. Looking for all the world, in their face-paint and tacked-on eye shadow, like ghosts. On the field the teams break from their huddle and walk to the line of scrimmage. Fourth and one.
The quarterback, a young African-American kid in his rookie season, looks down the field. Fifty yards to go and several seconds left. The task seems overwhelming, yet QB 1 feels a sense of peace.
The stadium has this mellow, almost vanilla glow, and a soft breeze tickles his skin. He thinks of late-night touch football games he played with friends, sprinting back and forth across dilapidated, pock-marked fields until their bodies were nothing more than passing shadows. Then, the slow walk home, their mothers’ voices reaching across building tops for them. Everything was easy then; everything could still be easy.
Of course there was so much riding on whether he made this pass. People’s money and futures. Yet those had no bearing on why he played the game. There was no reason to think about them at this moment. No: he thought of his friends, laughing, and his Mother, smoking a cigarette, waiting for him on their apartment steps.
“Yes,” I said, to myself, and Lenny, and the old woman. “It was a great end to the game.”
Jack is a queer writer and visual artist living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a lapsed Catholic, pretentious cinephile, and lover of frozen cocktails. His poems and essays can be found in Yes, Poetry, Ghost City Review, The Lumiere Review, and Thimble Lit.