The Purgatory of Tardy Islanders

Part 20 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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Never had Staten Island seemed so bitterly distant from Manhattan. The sluggish train seemed to be sliding backward in time. In such circumstances, all rules of subway decorum were nullified and I shared panic-stricken gazes with the other Island-bound passengers.

When the doors finally opened the sprint began.  I darted around the slow moving pedestrians and took the stairs three at a time.  I could hear the sneakers slapping behind me. I squeezed around the woman pulling the baby carriage up the stairs and nearly collided with a young man who had stopped to tie his shoe. The cool air flooded over me as I escaped the subterranean realm and closed the breach between the subway and the ferry terminal. From the top of the stairs, I could see the doors close in the distance.

Sweat poured from my face as I fought to catch my breath. There was no fate crueler than missing the 1:30 AM boat.

My pain was echoed in the curses of the other runners coming to the same sad realization. An entire hour of our lives gone, offered up in sacrifice to this purgatory for tardy Islanders. Why tonight of all nights? I could sense the tormenting thoughts gathering ominously at the edges of my mind.

I moved reluctantly towards the paltry seating area. The drunks seemed unconcerned that they had missed the boat.  One kid my age, seated at the end of a bench, was unabashedly crying. Someone nearby was screaming into a payphone. I felt utterly defeated. Maybe I deserved this. No. That was not true. This was far more rejection than I could possibly deserve.

In one fell swoop, I had lost everything. It was checkmate. I had lost Rally—how could I ever trust her again? I had lost Alanna. But those were losses I had prepared for. After all, I had been willing to part with Rally just hours before, and Alanna was never a certainty. But Zee? I worshiped him. He was everything I hoped to be. He was the center of the BAC and by extension of my whole world. I was trying desperately not to imagine what he and Alanna were doing at this very moment. For years, the existential dread that came with being a college student had been dulled.  Zee would shepherd me into my future. But how would that work if the very thought of him made me want to beat myself senseless with the receiver of a pay phone?

“Isn’t he fucking married?” I said aloud.

‘Even if he’s not,’ the moral voice responded, ‘She’s his student.’  I could craft a fairly damning case against him.  No sooner than he lets a woman into his kingdom than he takes her for his prize. How could he do this? How could he endanger his career—and by extension the whole existence of the BAC?

As righteous as my anger was, I knew that wasn’t the true source of my distress. I was the one who created this with my cowardice—my need to ensure that Alanna would be my safe harbor if I broke up with Rally.

When it seemed an hour had passed I looked at the clock and it was only 1:47 AM. I walked out of the terminal to the ramp beside it. It was a cold March night. I leaned against the barricade and looked out over the Manhattan scene before me. The lights of two police cars were spinning on State Street.  I watched a girl with blue hair roller-blading under the street lamps of Battery Park.

Back inside, I looked around hoping to see anyone I knew—desperate to pass the time. But no familiar faces appeared.

But there was someone. I pulled a folded stack of paper from the inside of my coat. It was Christopher Carpentieri’s poetry. These were recent discoveries. One of his programs could access an encrypted on-line database. There, even more resources were waiting: poems, songs, and images. I had printed all the new poems and stowed them in my coat’s inner pocket. Now they seemed a godsend. I leaned against a bare patch of wall and unfolded them.

Christopher Carpentieri was walking down Arthur Avenue, his favorite songs alive in his step. He was shaking the familiar hands of his neighborhood. He was happy, and well, and looking forward to a bright future.

His words held my splintering pieces together as the hour waned. They kept me sane as the floating orange dump truck carried me across the harbor. His words were with me as I waited in line for the bus. He sat next to me as the S48 rattled up Victory Boulevard.

As I walked up City Boulevard I was never so grateful to have known anyone as I was to have known Christopher Carpentieri.

“But you’ve never even met him.”

What did that matter? If I had his words, his notes in my calendar, his music in my ears, and his face on my screen, he was alive. Yes.

And then I understood what he had been trying to do.

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