It’s going to pour down any minute. I could head back to the Metropolitan right now, but on a whim I consider: how often do I sit outside, in what I know is going to be a warm rain, with no particular place to go, just getting soaked for the sheer hell of it? Not enough! Neither law nor regulation requires dryness. So I walk back down Wesley Lake to the very same secluded nook I occupied before on the ledge between the ruined Casino and the beach. The afternoon light dims to grey, the gulls fall silent and the wind picks up more, rippling the Atlantic; till here the rain comes indeed, growing quickly in strength, pelting my head with tepid drops and splattering down onto the sand-blown ledge beside me.
I conjure up my hostess this afternoon, lob her outwards and send my attention after her, to see just what she’s doing, up there in her high-rise, now that Kim and I have left … and I find you, Pippa, descending the building’s concrete stairwell, where the wind pushes in through the cracks around a rusty window frame beside you. You peer out and down into a small garden that no one ever visits, where a few tired leaves flap limply on stunted shrubs. You emerge from your tower through the back door and drift down the empty street, without an umbrella: glazed dim sky, grey rain.
A woman and a small child are coming down the pavement towards you. You could say hallo when she reaches you—but she would either just look at you funnily or, if she were polite enough to greet you in return, she would still think there was something odd about you and would want to hurry on, and what would be the point of that? So you don’t meet her eyes and she doesn’t meet yours, while the rain streams down over your furious blushing and the child stares at you rudely; and you never liked children (even and especially when you were one in Arverne) but you manage a weak half-grin at it, like thin porridge, and of course then the idiot child looks frightened and stares all the harder and more rudely, and they both scurry on, away down Sewall Avenue. Then a curtain twitches in a window, of course, and you know that there too will be a hard, curious stare at you, cutting through the thin rain sliding down the air on its way to the gutter. You look through the sad scene ahead of you, which might as well be behind you, and you move your legs forward—left foot, right foot, left foot. Yes, you’re one of the lonely girls.
A small strangled screech wriggles out through your windpipe by force and stabs up Cookman Avenue, unheard.
At the end of Wesley Lake, behind the boarded-up Carousel, you stumble round the colonnade beneath the tall chimney of the little dead power station. “Hail Satan,” says a graffito on one of the pillars, scrawled in unSatanic felt-tip pen. You wander down the Boardwalk to the old Howard Johnson’s diner, closed and dark today as it almost always is nowadays, where a wall-mounted radio has nevertheless been left on, aiming a small tinny music out across the ocean.
You drift onwards, anti-clockwise around the edges of the entire town, with wastes of empty space to your right and cars hissing away through the slosh to somewhere else. Grey sky hangs over wire-netting alley-ways around a corner shop, where the wind blows litter along. You come to a bus-stop where an old man sits talking to himself, a beer in his hand and his face full of fear and endless loss.
By the time you’ve wandered inland and some way out of town to a highway intersection where only cars move, the light is dimming into evening. In among the slip-roads you find a slip of grass, and there you sit and smoke, where nobody has ever sat and smoked before—and nobody will ever sit and smoke again, most likely.
This is the last game of all, Pippa, here among the slip-roads. The rain upon a bandstand that only you can see thaws out a music that was played here and frozen in a silent ring, awaiting your arrival now—notes rubbed thin by the ghosts of many tears. “What a nice day,” you say, and wish that it were so.
Here is the border of reality, the boundary fence, before you reach the rest outside. The fence is broken, here and there, where other lone wolves have pushed holes through it, setting off on journeys where the rest of us can’t follow. The air above the highway becomes arched over like a tunnel ceiling, with the wider environment merely an optical effect projected onto the tunnel walls—and this is when I know that you are really in trouble.
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