Monday, December 6, 2010

Bethlehem (Part 1 of 3)

The last winter that time recorded started just like today, with a sky so bleak that you couldn’t tell where the earth ended and it began. It was the last winter I spent with my family in this same apartment, staring out this same window watching fat snowflakes fall. The last winter that would ever matter.

But it doesn’t matter today. Today I need food and things to burn. It’s light enough to start looking, but without the sun I can’t even guess the time. The sky is so thick and so gray, the city street so empty and muffled by snow, that it feels like I’m stuck in someplace in between.

My gloves might as well be fingerless, and my sweatshirt needs mended again, but on a day like today, I don’t have time to worry about them. I slide my news-papered feet into my father’s old work boots, tuck what paper I have left inside my shirt, and slip out the back way of our apartment building.

The Regulators set special times for the rest of us to scavenge. But the batteries in my alarm clock died long ago. I can only hope that I’m hitting that time frame. The street is empty, not a good sign, so I stick to the edges, ducking in between rusted cars abandoned on the streets of Manhattan almost a decade ago.

“You never go out after dark, Jonah,” my big brother Sam always said. Sam never could take his own advice, about anything. But he kept me alive for years after our parents died, so I still listen to him.

The bank just up the street was decorated for Christmas that winter. A lot of the houses in our neighborhood were, but the bank always had the best decorations; the gold lighted star on the roof, the giant wreath on the face of the building, and two smaller ones on the doors. The night the lights went out, it was like someone had snuffed the city right off the map. I bet you could see the blackout from outer space. If the Internet didn’t go out with them, Sam and I would’ve checked to see.

Most of the Christmas lights have been stripped off the walls and used for ropes and things over the years, but the gold lighted star on the roof still stands. It’s why Sam called our block Bethlehem.

I squat behind an old Escalade and listen. “Never stop in the same spot twice, if you can help it. Change it up,” Sam had said. And I do. I close my eyes because I can hear better when I can’t see. The wind swirls past me on both sides, and a piece of sheet metal clangs in the distance. I must’ve hit the right time frame. The Regulators don’t even try to be quiet when it’s their turn.

The soft crunch of my own footfalls in the snow is all I hear as I make my way down the sidewalk. I peek inside the cars and busses, but I know there’s nothing to find. They’ve all been picked clean. Even the bus seats have been removed over the years. But there’s still places to look. Places nobody looks because nobody wants to know what’s in there. Basements. Boiler rooms. Places where the sun never shines.

Up ahead I can make out the gray silhouette of the building I’m headed for. I don’t know what it’s called, or what it was. I was too young to know when the city was alive, and after it died, nobody cared to tell me. But it looks like an old storage building. I’ve been in it a few times with Sam, trying to pick or break through locks to get to whatever might be behind the pull-down metal doors. We might’ve had a screw driver and a flashlight at one time, but I don’t have those now. Still if I’m going to survive this winter in Bethlehem, I need to get inside those doors.

The front doors are broken, no glass left in them at all. I step through the frame, hoping for warmth inside, but I’m not so disappointed when I don’t find it. It’s open in the front room with all the windows broken out. The place I need to go has no windows.

I pass rows of looted lockers, stripped bare by scavengers, most likely The Regulators. All the furniture and clothing, toys, anything that would burn is long gone. My footsteps echo down the lonely hall. I try to catch a glimpse of sunlight outside as I pass an open window, but the sky is still gray. The streets are still empty. No Regulators, but no other scavengers either. It’s unusual, but it doesn’t matter. I’m here already and I need heat. I could probably go another two or three days without food if I have to, but not heat.

I make my way to the staircase that leads down to the basement to the more private lockers. Lockers that had probably cost three times as much to rent as the ones already looted. And these lockers are left untouched.

I pull open the door. The screech of the rusted hinges is amplified by the emptiness of the building and I jump back and duck behind a broken metal chair. Nobody comes after me, but my heart beats its self into my throat. I open the door and look down into blackness. No time to chicken out now. I have to go down there.

I take the stairs in twos until I reach the bottom and I stand there in total darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust. I can just make out the outline of a door, like it’s just barely lit from the inside, but I know only more dark awaits. I feel along it for a handle. I keep telling myself there will be nothing down here. This part of the building is practically sealed. Nobody in Bethlehem has been brave enough to try and loot in the dark.

I take a deep breath, shove open the door, and stop dead.

“Turn away, Jonah.” Sam would say. “Turn away and forget you saw it.” I back out the door, turn away and I almost try to forget. But then I remember that my brother Sam is dead.

Come back on Wednesday for part 2 by Valerie!

Photo used with permission by J Moffat of Diamond Art on flickr

  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP