June 22, 2007

The Dark Wheel

Dark Wheel


If there are ghosts, we meet them long before their earthly personages have departed. We sense a wrongness, a strangeness, but play along, waiting for the moment to right itself. Meanwhile minutes creep by, the train takes us farther and farther from home, underground and then aboveground, not slowing as our doubts grow like a car might if we were driving. We fly down the tracks through cemeteries that we can't see but know are there, we've seen them before, during day trips. We don't know what is worse: to see them, or to not see them. At least when you can see them, you know when you have finally passed through. In our minds the spectral real estate is endless.

I was taught there was magic in being able to do the exact opposite of whatever it is you normally think or do. Whether an individual capitalizes on this ability is beside the point; up until the second you act, your brain should be a chamber of exquisite ambivalent potential, so full of perfectly crystallized silence that all your true will has to summon is a whisper in order to initiate the chain reaction that will make your destiny. Swipe your Metrocard instead of turning back. Choose one platform over the other. Come together instead of alone. Go at night instead of during the day, in January instead of June, go on an empty stomach. The mere ability to do these things will suss out your intentions; actually doing them will part the veil.

Coney Island has been a corpse for decades, which explains the crowds it draws. We decide to take this trip long before we learn that this is the last year it will teem and seethe, long before we learn that this is our last year to go anywhere together. It is so many lasts, an unfair amount of final experiences for such a dark ride into the sibylline winter fog. A scrapbook of our trip would be full of captions like "Last trip to the beach" and "Last hotdog at Nathan's", but all the pictures would be glossy black. We decide on the spur of the moment to go-- which is to say, I decide and then compel you to call my bluff. I arrive home in the evening and tell you what I want, and dare you not to give it to me. You offer it to me and then dare me to accept. I accept and then dare you to get your coat. We are on the subway before we can quite figure out who the history books will declare as the winner. I want to know what is there in the winter, I say. I have to see it. More than anything I'm afraid that all I will find there are people who want to know what's there in the winter.

The ghost-moment comes when we arrive at Stillwell Avenue Station to dead cold and utter anticlimax, with full bladders and minds tired from riding in silence. Coney Island is filthy even at freezing temperatures. We aim for the boardwalk knowing that the slick wood knocking under our feet will conjure the correct spirits and imbue our visitation with purpose, flavor it with adventure. But we do not hold hands like children or lovers would. We are there but not drawn together, our bodies and thoughts drifting many feet apart, muffled by howling wind. The planks are dead underfoot, a flat blank surface; the ocean is as black as the sky, the sand is as grey as the Astroland concrete, and whichever way I turn, I can not see your face as you talk. I sense a wrongness, a strangeness, but I play along, waiting for the moment to right itself. It is suddenly clear that I am in the company of something which has died but does not yet know it; I am devastated, but not afraid, and I hide behind my camera hoping you will bleed red or kiss me in the cold dunes and take us the rest of the way. The gentle spheres of light in the fog promise warmth that they can't deliver. I brought us here, I think, to prove a point. But in the shadow of the dark wheel, I can't remember what it was.

We argue all the way home.



Stranger

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