The subway platform was like a mausoleum. Heloise was dead, killed suddenly, without reason, in an accident. He was alone. He would love no one else. Barnett searched for a friendly face but only the dim, yellow light would speak to him. If the train never came, he would spend eternity in the company of minor light. Those dull bulbs would sing cantatas through the grime, even if their only audience was the concrete and the garbage strewn tracks.
The sounds were at first irresistable. the sensuous music seducing him. But soon anticipation gave way to an overwhelming sense of anxiety and terror. With nowhere else to focus his attention, Barnett had no choice but to listen. The beat grew louder and louder, banging around inside his head, like a sonic assault. He closed his eyes, as if to do so would block not only vision, but all sensation.
When he opened his eyes, he was aboard a a subway car, though he couldn’t remember getting on it or where he was going. When he looked around, he realized it was not an ordinary car, but a bar. To his left was Martin Luther King Jr. holding two cocktails. The civil rights hero handed one to Barnett and they regarded each other with great suspicion.
King grinned, but waited a long time before speaking. “There is nothing but darkness,” he said, “You can only see once you have stopped. You can only move forward, once you have listened.” Barnett sipped the drink, and his body immediately went pleasantly numb, The forms of the objects around him–King, the bar, the scratched windows–dissolved into color.
Barnett was imbued with a deep sense of something like confidence, only it felt stronger than that. It was the sensation of utter control over every emotion, he would feel no sadness, no pain, no fear ever again. He knew he could summon whatever reality he wanted. He was invinsible.
One by one, all the things that once antagonized him appeared like targets at a shooting gallery and one by one, he picked them off. A beautiful woman mocking him, boom! She flew off the platform like a tin can. His father, screaming what a loser he was, ping! Gone in an instant. A cop who’d pulled him over, the grocery store clerk that gave him lip, his boss making him work late; one by one he picked off his troubles like a master marksmen.
Soon, there were no more targets left to shoot. Barnett felt an empty sadness creeping over him. Again he closed his eyes to escape the unpleasant feeling, but it was no use. When he opened them again the shooting gallery, the feeling of invinsibility and the bar were gone. Once again he found himself alone on a empty, unfamiliar subway platform. He felt only the bottomless despair of desire for companionship, for the human touch. There was the sick realization that he’d destroyed everything.
He didn’t know where he was, or even who he was. It didn’t matter. He walked up the stairs, expecting the worst terror to manifest itself. When he reached street level, he realized he was in a strange world–a part of the city he’d never seen. Here everything was undamaged, clean and new. Everything seemed in the past. There was nothing to do but build.
A plane landed, using a boulevard in the new world as a runway. Heloise emerged from the cockpit, even more beautiful than Barnett remembered. “You’re alive!” said Barnett in disbelief. She said nothing, but gestured to Dr. King, who waved at Barnett from the cockpit. Barnett was beginning to think that the difference between reality and fantasy was less important than he’d always thought. Reality tended to be more visceral, but the imagination was cozier. It was really a matter personal preference. Barnett took Heloise’s outstretched hand and together they boarded the plane.
The balance between pain and exhilaration was so delicate. Barnett leaned back, breathed deeply and considered the overwhelming beauty that existed in feeling anything at all, whether pain or pleasure. The world was full of things visible and invisible and things you could use to misdirect the senses. There were ways to subvert reality but what did that mean anyway? Barnett flew happily, knowing he’d keep moving as long as he wished.