Desmond Lu was heading home for Thanksgiving dinner, when an SUV swerved around the corner and plowed down Fifth Avenue at the teenager in front of him. As if for the thousandth time, he leaped off the evening sidewalk and pushed the dazed boy away but slipped on the photo of a blonde girl that the boy had dropped onto the crosswalk.
In the middle of the gusts, the screams, and the headlights, his mind projected kaleidoscopic scenes onto a dark screen¾this afternoon at a sushi bar eating nigiri, this morning arresting a minister’s wife for murdering her husband, last night convincing Simone to move to London together and five years ago meeting her near the Seine while staring at a painting and pretending to admire it.
But against the headlights, all scents faded into ashen specters.
In a single instant, an instant as fleeting as eternity, to reflect on a lifetime, a lifetime as permanent as a flash. Somewhere between an instant and eternity, somewhere between a lifetime and a flash, a lily blossomed and withered, a lake froze and melted, a business rose and fell and a society emerged and collapsed but time’s current flowed toward another lily, another lake, another business and another society.
The streetlights, the jingling bells, the pretzel-scented air, perhaps from a past evening, stung his senses and awakened him to the carbon molecules oxidizing in his cells, the photons plunging from the neon signs into his pupils, the two men arguing about Sunday night’s football game and the stock prices rising and falling according to stochastic greed and fear.
Crossing the street, listening to the jingles, nabbing crooks and murderers, rushing home to celebrate Thanksgiving: just distractions on the way.
At the crosswalk a homeless man beckoned Desmond to dodge the SUV. Across the street a restaurant’s display enticed him to try the Memphis barbecue ribs. But as the chasm under his feet opened its void, he smiled and looked up at a star. As peaceful as Lake Louise’s blue surface, the Mount Fuji snowcaps or the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms. In the peaceful inferno the years, the days, the hours, the seconds decomposed from its continuous stream and disintegrated into jumbled stills.
As expected, the tires screeched and the SUV swerved, flipped and, decapitating the hydrant and releasing a water plume, slammed sideways into the lamppost.
As the SUV burst into flames, the fear prowling in Desmond’s guts surged onto his bosom, the tingle cruising through the spine and spreading throughout the rigid limbs. Again he felt death caressing his cheek and blowing into his nostrils. Only five feet further and he would have missed the murder investigations, the Manhattan skyline, the Broadway musicals, and Simone’s sensitive but determined lips. And yet, he could taste in the air a different flavor. Above Fifth Avenue the mistletoes seemed fresher and at the corner the jingles sounded more melodious but above all his heart beat more joyfully.
The handsome teenager had been covering his face and sobbing. As the homeless man helped him to his feet, the boy grabbed the soggy photo from the puddle and spitted into the Good Samaritan’s face. He sidestepped the plume’s drizzle and in the middle of sirens and screams crossed Fifth Avenue.
After witnessing the expected frames of the event, Desmond chased after the boy but after crossing the street lost him. Turning around, he could see the firemen jumping off the fire engine and rushing toward the burning SUV while cars and pedestrians converged upon fire and plume. The SUV’s drunk driver suffered third-degree burns and while the paramedics revived him, Desmond reported the incident to Dmitri and requested the sergeant examine a nearby surveillance camera to identify the teenager.
At the coffeehouse on Forty-Seventh Street, Desmond had cappuccino to steady his nerves and mull over the incident images and notes. Across the aisle two teenagers were holding hands and discussing about running away from home. At the counter a young banker was persuading a client to put fifty thousand dollars into a pharmaceutical stock. In the corner a software contractor was consulting his lawyer on a lawsuit against a client. At the door, a young boy was demanding the latest smart-phone for Christmas. Desmond watched the moving lips and listened to the accented words until snow began to pave the sidewalk.
Looking forward to candlelight dinner with Simone but expecting otherwise, he rang her twice but couldn’t reach her and was about to try again when Dmitri called.
"Bad news, man."
"Always ready for bad news, especially during Thanksgiving."
"Very bad news."
"On second thought, maybe I’ll pass."
"Simone’s dead. Shot in the head just ten to fifteen minutes ago."
Desmond dropped the phone as his ear continued to ring and a white flash flickered above his eyes. The noises faded while the waitress dragged her feet down the aisle. He pinched his lap to awaken from the nightmare. But Dmitri’s voice echoed in the vacuum as he recalled Simone’s serene eyes and gentle smile. A new season, where the snow had melted and the larks began singing to earth’s fragrance, awaited them in London but outside the café the flurries danced to a silent tune.
Though he shuddered at her death, he dreaded more forgetting her warm touch and harp-like voice, which already had begun to fade. He dreaded relegating this day among the other twenty-thousand sunrises and sunsets into his memory’s vault and in thirty years, waking up and strolling along the Seine as indifferent to today’s holiday lights and snowy sidewalk as toward a childhood dream’s rainbow.
As expected, Dmitri arrived at 7:28 PM and showed him a photo found next to Simone’s body, "Apparently, she was helping this pregnant girl leave her abusive boyfriend but he tracked her all the way here from Atlanta." The same soggy photo, the same blonde girl in blue dress, only now stained with Simone’s blood.
Desmond dashed out of the coffeehouse past the lame beggar and ran down the street until the snow had stopped. As he reached Fifth Avenue, the SUV raced around the corner toward the boy and the jingles mingled with the screeches. Having seen the incident perhaps a thousand times and knowing that Simone’s silent forgiveness and unfulfilled dreams could ease the numbing pain only as vinegar a cut, he wanted to fold his arms and salute the drunk driver.
The teenager dropped onto the crosswalk a photo, not of the blonde girl, but of Simone.