4A – Vanishing Point

Outside, the air is cool, and the night offers a beige cameo of a moon. Eric props Anja up like a rag doll.  Curious witnesses from the audience, including the photographer, tail them into the street, gawking at Anja, anxious for complete collapse.  To calm her and keep her from fainting, Eric and Danny lift her beneath her arms and convey her quickly down Avenue A, her toes trailing on the pavement.  They stop to rest in front of a Korean deli, and Danny rushes in to buy Anja water.  She, burying her face in her hands, now weeping, now lashing out at the specter of Evelyn, the hostile crowd, and the photographer, suddenly, deliriously, exclaims; “Hey, now I really put myself down.”  She drinks deep of the water Eric guides to her palm, shuts her eyes, feels too haunted by humiliation to face her defeat, then guzzles the whole bottle down her slender throat, frightened eyes glistening.

“Slow down, Anja.  Are you O.K.?”

“Yeah, just listing. No?  Leaning, leaning Tower of Pizza!”  She looks up with a rolling eye.  “Am I still your woman on the raft?”

“Of course you are, Anja.”  As Eric steers her slowly along the sidewalk Danny, just ahead, cleaves a path for them.  As the bar recedes in the chill night mist, as they pass homeless drunks camped on blankets and nursing cheap wine, Eric reproaches himself for exposing Anja to a crowd.  The first Anja, triumphant, strong, sexy, singing, sassily challenging the world, battles in his memory with the second, half Edith Piaf, half aging Antonin Artaud, now, a wreck.  Danny, confused, drags his amp and guitar along after reveling in, then frying under, the light and heat of the best and worst two songs he ever accompanied.  Fearing Anja has ruined the one social group which respected him for his talent, he is also dismayed over the effect it might have on his long-time, unrequited crush on Evelyn.  For Anja, she just needs a perch, craves her vertical advantage and now she cowers, supported by Eric, crumbling, beaten, shamed, down.

Eric guides her to Fifth Street across from a cheap bar he frequents with Danny, eases her to a stairwell stoop and lets Danny decamp for a pint of dark ale.  Anja’s chin leans on her shoulder, breathing hard, pulse racing, pale, sandy hair swamping her eyes.  Eric, sweating, peels off his shirt and wraps it around Anja to warm her and begins to muse on her behavior and to doubt whether he can responsibly care for her.  Why has he fallen for a damaged angel?  Is he like Danny, so eager not to be alone that psychosis and violence count for nothing if they mean warmth and a body with which to share a bed?  Is it really all sex, again?  Sex is always a heartache and heartbreak for Eric.  Yet the night, unseasonably cool for springtime, gently belies their squalid doorstoop retreat, and he wonders if Anja might thrive far from this or any city, if ocean wave, or swaying forest or snowy mountain peaks, crag, meadow — just an unsmogged sky and privacy — might heal her psyche and restore her spirit.  Anja, like a thin wafer of lake ice, seems brittle but reflective, gleaming, able to support a stray pine cone or a dusting of snow but shattering underfoot when socially tested.  If she cannot heal, she’ll entertain suicide every day and finally succeed.  It’s amazingly easy to kill oneself if one is fearless and feels trapped.  If he could wrap a forest around her or hold her warm to his chest in a wild surf!  If he wants to save her he must drag her from New York and New York from her.  She’s delicate, feminine, like a blue iris, and stunning when her guard is down — perhaps, he shudders, because he’s on top? Maybe he needs also to be down?  To taste her despair?  Yet she was drowning up there from her past not from a jealous rival.  Who is Evelyn but a mask for the man who raped her?  Who the crowd but the Dresden citizenry who Anja thought blamed her for her father’s crimes just when she was burning up with adolescent self-consciousness?  Is not New York a hornet’s nest of ambition and vanity, with no rest if you do not win.  Miscreants from every hovel on the globe know they’ll find it hot here. Crime might be down but it’s still here where you make it in anything.  No.  It’s not New York’s fault.  New York is as neutral as energy, power, or technology.  It’s Anja’s experience here.  How nice it would be to kill that coward whose knife alone gave him the power to shatter a life probably on the mend.  Isn’t it perfectly fine to kill rapists, molesters, parasites?  Wouldn’t it be just dandy to stomp his throat and kick his ribs till they cracked, to hear the coward groan?  Eric stops himself: what am I thinking?  How did my thoughts travel from the wilderness to meditating murder or torture?  I’m thinking Anja-thought.

Eric strokes Anja’s hair away from her eyes.

“Yes, I’m still alive.  And no better for it.”

“I love you, Anja.  Let me care for you now.”  Eric speaks hesitantly, but  with the woodwind resonance Anja now listens for with all her heart.

“No, save your gentle hand.  I tell you Eric, I will commit suicide someday.  Anja will never fit, and no matter how long or how many King’s men you never put Anja together again.  It is my fate.  The nontransference of fate.  Right?  You cannot save me.”

“You remembered something I said?  Anja, shush, here comes Danny.”

Danny walks across from the bar. “Anja, can I give you my hat?  Look, I had an Om symbol embroidered inside the lining, just above what the Hindus call the Crown Chakra.  See, when you put it on the Om meets the top of your head.”

“Danny, you sweet duck, what are you quacking about?  You know that is all hokus pokus, uh, for religious locusts, no?  Ha, ha, ha?  No, you keep it.  Thank you.  Om.  Abba … cadaver!”

“You seem all right.  Do you want a beer, Eric?  Should I grab one for you from the deli?”

“Yes indeed, make it a forty ouncer, but where’s your stuff?  You going to leave your amp and guitar in there?”

“My friend Ed’s watching it.  My old roommate?  He’s in there with Paul and Bettina, Sammy, Robert and Gwendolyn, Mindy.  They’re smart and nice.  You might like that Anja.  Do you want to get off the sidewalk, warm up inside, meet them?”

“No, thanks Danny, I don’t want to meet anybody right now.  Shit! What?  I left my keys and money in your apartment.”

“That’s no problem.”

“What a night!”

“I’ll get the beer.  You can pay me back.”

“I’m good for it.”

While Danny walks to the deli, Anja kisses Eric and looks at him knowingly.

“You know what?”

“What?”

“Did you like my first song?”

“It was most incredible performance I ever saw anywhere, Anja.”

“What about my second performance?”

“Let’s not think about it.  You were going to say something else.”

“Yes, I think I look the wrong way.”

“Yes?”

“I should look up, at real stars. I want to study astronomy.  I always loved it.  It is … real.”

“How’s your math?”

“Not bad.  It was safe to study, you know.  Physics, geometry, astronomy.  Big Science.  My father hated my interest in English, language of the enemy … “

“My math was terrible. I started out fine, then I couldn’t cut it in college.  That’s why I’m a student of the history of architecture.  I get off on the poetry of buildings because I cannot build them.  Yes, that would be wonderful.  Why not turn your head up, to the universe?  Do you read the science section on Tuesday in the New York Times?  They’re discovering planets in other solar systems.  Galaxies eleven, twelve billion light years away, mysterious cosmic explosions, approaching the age or origin of the universe.”

“New York is no place to see the stars. I could see only a few at times from my tower …  “

“We’ll go to some island, far from the lights.”

“Yes, that I would love.” Anja nestles close to Eric and feels his warmth, as if a sun dwelt in his chest, as if she could become a rose and violet planet in another solar system rather than this one which seems to draw energy from her.  She could be a planet like earth, not Venus, swept by wild, hot lethal storms, not cold like Mars, and not a gas nightmare like Jupiter or Saturn — but a nascent first earth, before history, violence, ideas, corruption, her father, before Anja, before Paris, New York, before she felt so down.

Danny rolls back, carrying the beers, when Anja straightens, erect, like a pointing dog, jumps up, stumbles to the middle of Fifth Street, her body stiffening, her fingers clenching into a fist, staring at a lone man crossing fifth street down Avenue A.  She faintly pleads with her judgment, “No!” tries to examine and doubt the appearance of the stranger, seems to follow closely the deliberate gate, notes his pockets, his tall, wiry, head held high, walking deliberately but unhurried. She wishes to speak but cannot, then whimpers, “Eric” as Danny walks by, invisible to her.  Danny tries to smile and passes a face utterly frozen with a blood-curdling fixation and paralysis, as if she has spotted the devil himself, fastening onto the stranger.  She wheels around without seeing Eric or Danny, and, as if hypnotized, finds she is striding closer to her mark as both Danny and Eric follow until they are trotting down the street.  Anja, impervious to Eric’s demands that she snap out of it, stops short, points her finger, and shouts.

“It’s him!”

“Who?”

“Fuck you!”  She screams bending from the waist, “Rapist!”.

“Anja, stop!”  Eric, beside himself, grabs Anja hard around the wrist, “Have you gone mad?”

“I know him!  I know! It’s him!” she shouts, writhing to free herself from Eric. “You are not getting away this time! It’s me or you!”

“Anja!” Eric calls, but she breaks away, and begins to sprint down the street.  The accused man, frightened by three people plunging toward him from a darkened street, by a woman screaming her lungs out with murderous intent distorting her face, starts back, turns on his heel, and breaks into a run crossing Avenue A, then downtown toward Houston St. and Chinatown.  Danny pulls up behind, anxious to avoid more craziness but Anja seems convinced in her identification, and could care less what Danny thinks, or Eric for that matter.  Eric shadows Anja as she pumps her arms and he strides just behind, dodging cars and pedestrians, as Anja screams, “Crawl, mole!  Run to your hiding place, monster!” Indeed, the man is running up Houston toward the F train subway station, looking back with a seemingly guilty expression on his face when suddenly it occurs to Eric that this may indeed be the man who assaulted Anja, crippled her life, and this is his chance, even if that bastard does have a knife.  The transition is made.  Now it is Eric who’s chasing the man, passing up Anja, he rounds the burning trashcans and homeless who stand at night reflecting wavering flames, rounds the corner, jumps down the subway stairs and watches his man jump the turnstile.  Anja is now crying out for Eric.  Danny is a half block back.  Then the target jumps the subway turnstile and Eric follows, pushing away several people on the platform, leaps down onto the tracks, avoiding the live rail and a switching circuit, and plunges into the darkness of the tunnel.  An ominous green light alone flashes in the black filth of wires, rats and decades old mud. Eric almost slips into an oily puddle near the live rail, stomps through the filth, and he too rounds the corner, gone.

“Eric!” Anja screams a dozen times, on her knees at the platform edge, pounding the filthy cement floor with her fist.  Danny, finally down to the platform, also shouts for Eric, then, determined not to let Anja climb down onto the tracks and lose her way and perhaps her life to a train, to the labyrinth of tunnels and hellish darkness, wraps his arms around her and holds her back.

Three separate people waiting on the platform witness the chase and disappearance, then the guy with a camera at the open mike shows up winded, and takes a picture of Anja, before she can scream at him. Ominously, from the opposite direction, first with a stale rush of wind through the station and a dim light which grows far down the tracks, an unmistakable roar of a train begins to rattle closer, builds, the wind mounts, and now the train thunders around the corner, brakes with a shriek, and stops.  The same witnesses, as the doors slides open, hurry into different cars.  As the doors slide shut Anja decides to stop the train, runs back from the peak of the platform and tries to stick an arm in the closing door only to get Eric’s shirt caught fast as the door shuts tight.  She’s dragged along a few yards with the train as it pulls out.  Danny, with manic energy, rips the shirt off Anja’s back.  Only one witness looks up and none pull the emergency lever, all retiring to their seats, while the tinted glass of the conductor cabin remains shut.  The train roars away, toward Eric.

“IT’LL KILL HIM!” Anja screams, beside herself with horror.

“No, he will hear it coming!”  Danny grabs and holds Anja with his arms around her stomach, as afraid for Eric as Anja.  “He can find a niche, there are places, uh, indentations, oh shit!  He’ll survive, Eric can!”

“I killed him! Eric!” Anja screams a number of times, uselessly.

“He can’t hear us!” Danny holds her back with all his might in his arms. “You wanna die?  Wanna ruin my life?  Eric did it on his own.  He chose!  I’ve know him five years.  He did a goddamn crazy thing but you didn’t make him!”

“Yes, I did!  I did!  Did I ever see his face?”

Anja meant the man she ran after and the doubt suddenly demoralizes Danny, but since he cannot also panic, he acts steadfast.  “I must call the cops!”

“What if Eric does kill him?”  Anja’s face turns to stone.

“My god, you’re right!  But what, no … “  Danny will not say it, but both of them think, “What if the guy kills Eric?” and fall silent as if crushed by a thousand atmospheres.  If Eric is retrieved by the cops, he will be jailed.  Anja and Danny could do time too if they do not report it, and he never returns. Worse, the train could strike Eric.  If he gets lost, he could rot, or, perhaps days from now, their only hope, find his way out. They imagine Eric lost in darkness, in hell.  If he falls on a live rail, electrocutes, decays in some crevice, his body food for rats or dismembered by a train, it would be Anja’s fault.   Eric could lose the chase yet be assaulted or killed after questioning other people.  Or he might intentionally disappear, so angry at Anja as to pretend he is dead.  He could avoid his sublet, and Danny, and at least let her stew or commit suicide.  Ah, suicide!  They sift every possibility, staring at that dreadful hole, trying to constitute the image of a vanished man and his prey.  Five hours later, still staring, perhaps at Eric’s grave, a dozen cars have passed.  Danny, though ashamed, begins to worry about Eric’s guitar and his amp.  Anja, paralyzed by guilt, recalls Eric’s keys and pocket money in Danny’s apartment — as if ivy is already growing on Eric’s tomb — yet knows she has access.  At seven o’ clock, after watching commuters board or walk off for hours, huddled together, ignoring everything but the tunnel hole, fantasizing that Eric will reappear with a laugh, they leave the station.