a reaction in short story form
edited: Thursday, September 20, 2001
By joshua m davis
Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2001
Become a Fan
my reactions, speculations, and ensuing affirmations of patriotism in a prose format
“I ran away from my own telephone
it rings to tell you what the future holds in store”
-Idlewild, “Little Discourage”
My head hurts, pulses in that sort of dull morning-after throb. My neck is stiff and the rest of my body is utterly uninclined to motion. Last night I cleaned for four hours. Wiped a year of dust away from the bookshelves and stereo cabinets. Cleaned under couches and over sinks. Threw out the rotten fruit and swept the sugar. Sorted spices and tore down the old beer effigies in favor of Eve’s black and white photographs and Michael’s solemn paintings.
And Tim and Abel came home after midnight. And with them came the smoke. And with the smoke came the lemon-scented stereo and microwave pizzas. And after indulging, we sat like basket cases awaiting sleep.
And I slept the sleep of good fortune and soft responsibility. And I wake only now, nearing noon, to get ready for a girl and a cheeseburger and a class on experimental music.
The shower turns on in the next room. Through the wall I can hear Tim singing random parts from old U2 songs in a cracking voice two octaves above his normal speech. I turn on comedy central and languidly fall back into bed.
A minute later the phone chirps intrusively. I groan and get up after six rings to answer the frenzied voice of my father
“Charlie—are you watching TV?”
“Yeah…bad British improv…I think it’s…”
“Charlie—turn on the news.” I follow. Twin
towers are on fire. “Charlie,” he says in a low, solemn voice like Orson Welles in War of the Worlds, “we’re under attack.”
Immediately the hair on the back of my neck stands up. And shivers are sent like so many soldiers everywhere else. And air in already abused lungs stops. And head hungover shakes awake.
“Fuck!” is all I can manage. “Fuck!” I gasp heavily, realizing the room is becoming smaller. I throw open the door, disoriented, and stumble into the living room.
“The world trade center is gone Charlie. Both buildings. Gone. The Pentagon is on fire. Watch for a while. Catch up. I’ll call later.” Silence—
Tim shuffles, unaware in the bathroom. “Tim! Jesus! Tim—get out here man. Fuck! We’re under attack!” He throws open the door and runs into the living room. “The world trade center is gone man. The Pentagon…on fire…”
We are transfixed to the television. Newscasters are biting back disbelief. But the images on the screen aren’t real. They can’t be. Two buildings tunnel easily into the ground like cement earthworms. Soon some action hero will appear and he’ll fly out the injured, and he’ll bomb the bad guy, and he’ll get the girl. And the credits will give way to the houselights, and the lanes of popcorn and cola covered floors. And the double doors opening up hills of red checkered carpet. And the quarter cranes and water fountains in the lobby. And the attached food courts and discount clothing stores. Vibrating sofas, and cupholders kiosks. Beaded teenagers and lipstick-laden business women in power suits carrying gourmet coffee in sad Styrofoam containers, marching to their safe corner cubicles, in a safe world that worries about tax refunds and charter schools. That argues not for freedom, but rather for their 401ks, their retirement homes and eventual prescription drug programs. That grows old easily and quietly against the southern seas and panhandles in island homes. That drink margaritas in canvas folding chairs, their cell phones tucked away in closets in four-star hotels.
This isn’t real. This can’t be. Tim and I are shaking our heads. There is no other response. Our people are being used as bullets. Our security is shattered. There are no more oceans. There is no more need for missile defense. They’ll crawl into our beds at night, and use the very ginsui knives that came with the new refrigerator bought on credit cards to cut the freedom from our hearts. They’ll chain us to our ergonomic office chairs and throw us into our kidney-shaped swimming pools. They’ll drown us in the very ease to which we’ve become so accustomed.
Tim and I are shaking our heads. There is no other response. We belong to that nameless generation that has only seen war through the eyes of old movies, and through the forgotten prophesies of poets long passed. Like Yeats saw a century ago:
Somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with a lion’s body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of indignant birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?*
And America is Bethlehem. And the setup is apathy. Twenty centuries of stony sleep. Or the ease at which we live. Tim and I are shaking our heads. There is no other response. The ease that looked like hedonism is being bombed. Our people are being used at bullets. I woke up an hour ago, and all I wanted was a girl and cheeseburger. But if this is a wake up call—then I am awake. Freedom was bombed. Bombs end lives. But bombs cannot extinguish ideas. For now, we are shaking our heads. But tomorrow, those embers left under concrete and steel will be the first flame of freedom fighting back. If this is a wakeup call—then I am—then America is—awake.
*from W.B. Yeats
“The Second Coming”