Lost and Found in New York
by Julia Noël Goldman, copyright 2011
John grabs his sweatshirt and wipes blood off his temple with a sleeve. He reaches for his sneakers but his mother gets to them first.
“I don’t care where you go!” she screams through tangled hair and wild tears. “And don’t touch my car!” She throws his sneakers through the open window, two flights down to the concrete.
John grabs his keys and runs.
He gets off the subway at the end of the line in Queens and watches as the men clean the cars. He gets back on. Two teenage girls enter, laughing. One prods the other, points at John. They walk to the far end of the car. He pulls the hood of his sweatshirt down, leaving his face in shadow, and closes his eyes. When he opens them again, he’s in Brooklyn.
The elevated train grinds to a halt between stops, level with the roof of an abandoned building. A brick structure with baseball-shattered windows houses the rooftop exit–the door is wide open, and a twenty-foot peace sign is painted in black on the white wall alongside it. John gazes down, through the train tracks to the street, at the shredded white canopy.
He gets off the train at the next stop and doubles back. The main entrance is boarded up, the faded sign reads Borough Park Pavilion. John locates the fire escape and climbs two flights up to the roof.
Sunset flushes the wall pink. John touches the smooth paint of the giant peace sign, the rough bricks. Sections are crumbling, paint cracks. John turns–a train is approaching. He slips through the open door into darkness.
A dog growls. The floor squeaks with pressure. A circle of light lands on John’s face–big brown eyes, a bruise on his cheek, dried blood smeared at his hairline. The light leaves him, travels to the dog’s face. Big brown eyes, drool. John lets out a long breath.
“His name’s Thoreau. Your head okay?” The light falls on a woman’s face: curly brown hair with strands of silver, green eyes.
The dog licks John’s hand in the dark, and he pulls it back.
“Can you speak?” She aims the flashlight at his face again and he closes his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“I was just riding the trains.” John cleared his throat. “I saw the peace sign.”
“I painted that.” She shines the light on her smile. “I’m glad it brought you here. What’s your name?”
“You wanna come in?”
“You look like you need someone to talk to. And the dog likes you. My name’s Alice. Follow me.”
“I figure that’s your call.”
They move slowly in the dark. Through a door, down a flight of metal stairs, the flashlight bobbing along ahead of them. The key ring hanging from his belt-hoop catches on the railing and the keys clatter down the stairs. The flashlight shines around his feet.
“Don’t bother. I won’t need them in Wonderland.”
Alice unlocks a series of doors, and they pass through. There’s a dim light at the end of a hallway. She pushes the door open and John shields his eyes.
The ceiling is two stories high, peeling white and gold paint. Can lights reflect off chandeliers and mobiles, framed posters line the walls. Thoreau runs around the space, claws clicking on wood, under tables piled with legal pads and newspapers, landing softly on the bed at the other end of the room.
John strokes the leaves of a bamboo tree. “Was this the ballroom?”
“One of them. I chose it ’cause it’s dry, and so deep within the building no one can tell we’re here.”
“Thanks. I’ve lived here since I dropped off the grid five years ago.”
“I used to be a social worker, but the system was broken and I couldn’t live with what my tax dollars were doing. I didn’t give up trying to help people though, I just do it differently now.”
“You’re sweet. How’d you hurt your head?”
John touches the hair at his temple, hard with dried blood. He looks down at the floor.
“You’ll feel better if you tell me.”
“I’ve never told anyone, Alice.” He looks her in the eye and says, “I live with my mom. She hits me when she gets upset.”
“That’s fucked up.”
“I know. I should get away from her. It’s just I’ve always taken care of her, and it never seems to be the right time to leave.”
“The words ‘always’ and ‘never’ have you trapped.”
Alice hands him an 8×10 flyer. “I’ve been passing these out.”
“The ninety-nine percent,” says John, taking a seat on a threadbare silk couch. “I’ve seen the protests on TV.”
“The movement’s grown so quickly–everyone’s sick of this culture of greed. If things don’t change soon, it’s gonna be really ugly for all of us, rich and poor alike.”
“I know. I’ve been trying to get work for months now. I’d be on the street if I didn’t live with my mom. I’m so tired of feeling hopeless.”
“Actively trying to make things better really helps with that, you know? Half my friends have been sleeping in Zuccotti Park for weeks. You been down there yet, to Wall Street?”
Alice takes a seat next to John. The dog jumps up on his other side and licks his face. He laughs.
“No. But I want to.”
“What else do you want?”
“I want to get away from my mom. I don’t care anymore if they lock her up.”
“You think that’s likely?”
“Depends how long she can keep her crazy under wraps.”
Alice laughs. “Spend the night here and come to Wall Street with me tomorrow. We’ll make brownies and bring them to the protesters. You’ll see the hope.”
“I’d like that, Alice. Thank you.”
“Power to the people,” she says.
John laughs and they bump fists.
~~This piece won the silver prize in the fall 2011 Scribophile flash fiction contest.