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Страница 1

Peter Landesman

Blood Acre

© 1998

Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.

Matthew 27: 3-8

THE NIGHT BEFORE

A night dark beyond emergency. The waves, rising skyward, have begun to tear at the beach, carrying away trash cans and blankets and here and there a door. Wood skids float off, riderless life rafts wheeling in the boll. The checkerboard of houselights in the Luna Park projects dims, flickers off, then back on. Sparks rain from the elevated tracks where the F train has stopped, stranded between stations. On the boardwalk lies a lone figure, limbs outflung. Her dress is split in two, some floral print, once red, once pretty, twine-or is it seaweed-wraps her neck. The gun-metal staring eyes. A frozen gasp. She is dragged from the boardwalk across the sand to the water's slushy edge, dragged past the lips of frozen foam, and, bobbing in the lee of a wave-break, shoved off, like a rowboat or a canoe, riding the swells up then down, flexing to the form of the water. Behind the boardwalk an engine coughs to life. A car pulls away, the long rip of tires on the wet pavement carried another direction by the wind. In the lightless slur of ocean and air a hundred feet from shore there is no one to see two waves collide and collapse, shooting under the body, heaving, pulling it in, spinning it, and spinning it, and spinning it-

SUNDAY

2 P.M.

Can it be-the sun and moon occupying the same piece of sky?

Above Coney Island the momentary overcast has pulled apart like cotton batting, but it has only confused matters. Dry snow whirlpools on the boardwalk into narrow cyclones, weaving between the rails. Below, strung along the frozen beach, a highwatermark of harbor refuse, clothes, bottles, the skeletons of household appliances thrown from the piers, unnameable mounds shrouded in frozen seaweed and foam snaking out of sight past Brighton Beach. Past the blackened ruins of the wood rollercoaster banking and rolling above an empty lot, the tarred lattice threatening collapse. Past the Wonderwheel and its love seats rocking out of sync, squealing in the wind. Past other rides, the giant octopus, the skeet shoots, the basketball throw, seven blocks of tarpaulined cotton-candy stands, the Sea Land clam bar, a large brick building bearing the legend ORIENTAL HOT BATHs barricaded by plywood sheets and wrapped in ribbons of graffiti. A pair of sneakers dangling from a telephone line kicking like amputated feet toward the backside dumpsters of Famous's where red paint spells FUCK WHITIE.

At the boardwalk rail, Nathan Stein sips at his cold coffee. He peers nervously across the peeled lip of plastic lid at the motionless harbor but doesn't see a thing. The oily slush is much higher now, these few hours later, hovering like ground fog rather than sitting on actual land. His cashmere coat billows around the middle; signs of heavier times. His eyes, luminous, green and clear, follow a white bloom of gulls attending a garbage barge right to left, out to sea. He contemplates a storm front moving in from open water, a solid line of the high purple thunderheads that usually mean summer, now covering the breadth of the horizon, billowing toward land.

His eyes are bad. That might explain things. They are worse now without his glasses. She'd knocked them away last night, he doesn't know where. He lifts his head up the beach, as though to see again the little scene, but finds only a galloping posse of stray dogs, adjusting their direction in small increments en masse across the ice, like a flock of birds.

But here, this cold offering no hope of thaw, these days in early December. A forty days and forty nights arrested in perpetual winter, as if someone had opened the door to the true outdoors. The papers say the face of weather everywhere seems to have been radically altered. In New York this past summer damp, sooty days were followed by sweeps of ovenheat. Since then there has been, amid other confusions, disarray amongst the trees. Two months ago, while the leaves of some had been singed at the edges, others were at the height of their promiscuity, continuing to flower and bud and discharge lurid fragrances that had a somnolent, hypnotizing effect. The old and new piers in Brooklyn and the Seaport and up and down the Hudson have been taking water.

Mercifully, the wind has dropped. At the bleating of his watch alarm Nathan's hand motions over his right coat pocket, then roots to the bottom there for the plastic vials. His fingers ache, the tips are raw. His wrist stings against the lining, the blood clotted by the cold. Other scratches have surfaced. Here and there the impressions of teeth.

But some kind of bird is rustling in the trash under the boardwalk, chirping away. Nervously rolling the vials in his fingers, Nathan looks not down but up, for the sun, and finds instead sun and moon like dim bulbs hanging vague and cold in opposite corners. The sky smolders with winter light, a football sky, once a blank scoreboard waiting to chronicle an afternoon of mud and scraped knees, of Nathan uncoiling like a human spring, running for the cheap seats beyond a fortress school and its squinty windows. Soon, though, the air will take him in. And he'll be gone, backing out of the gate, lifting slowly away from JFK, the craggy Manhattan skyline grabbing up at him and the surrounding stews of filth and monotony that are the outer boroughs twirling below him down and down and down, the cobalt swimming pools of Forest Hills and Great Neck scattering like gems. Then one last flush, and nothing but the drone of jet engines, that lush cottony sea of cloud and the hushed subservience of a stewardess. The plane south to Tegucigalpa, a jittery puddle-jumper over the straits to that island Roatan. The sliver of white beach, water the color of lapis stone, the thick trees murmur behind him-

But for now this strange bird and its ceaseless chirping. And the sun, like everything else, has snuck up on him. He raises his hand, inadvertently saluting the Statue of Liberty where she stands on the water from this distance like a curlicue of smoke. Wherever he looks these days he shields his eyes, as though from an eclipse. All week he's had this feeling of calamity. Somewhere Christmas is lurking, sometime soon. And Hanukkah. The commercials on the TV are growing urgent. It all seems to mean something, but he can't bring himself to care. Like the legions of shoppers he no longer lives in weeks or even days. He is down to hours. Sometimes it feels like minutes.

The bird, he finally realizes, is inside his blazer, his Twentyfirst-Century Message Center/Beeper. He clutches his side, as if shot, and peers in: Doctor E-urgent-call immediately. And he'd managed to forget. Though of course now Nathan replays that time he sat in the doctor's office with Maria holding his hand so tightly she was cutting off the blood. "I'm sorry, Nathan," the doctor was saying, looking out his picture window with its view of Park Avenue. "I can t tell you how sorry I am.”

Nathan had merely nodded, peeling Maria's fingers away, a small smile creeping across his face. It isn't me. It wasn't him. It was Maria, sobbing, hysterical, "I didn't know. How could I have known? It's not my fault my god please forgive me hailmaryfullofgrace."

Nathan had looked casually over the doctor's shoulder, at the assemblage of framed family faces that lined his sill. He looked past the windblown hair and the smiles and boat decks and through the window down Park Avenue, wanting to bring himself to some sort of conclusion, to achieve, even, some state of grace; knowing he should; that he would, he believed, his gaze plunging into a yellow river of taxicabs, if given time, he would actually feel something.

A violent burst of shivering rips through, and Nathan, reaching for the railing to steady himself, tips back his head and blinks. Though still he feels no cold. It stays vague and somewhere far 'de him, weather beyond the window, something he can go out in if he wants. Doctor E had forgotten to warn him about that, this numb impenetrability, so easily mistaken for perfection, for immortality. He tries and fails to laugh at himself, at the cruel swindle, opening his mouth to release the laughter but releasing instead dry breath, staccato pants. So tasting the sea air on his tongue he puts there a pill or two, he doesn't know which ones, he didn't see the colors, or the time-is it even time? And another for good luck. Why not still another? Why not, feeling little, stretch out in a rented room, turn on the oven, open his lips, pour in the whole vial, and truly feel-finally-nothing at all?

His eyes swim. Pinching them shut, his throat-as always these days-raw, the pills click inside his mouth like subway tokens.

Upwind, blue smoke and sparks flush through the boardwalk slats. Squinting unhappily without his glasses, Nathan spots movement below. Quickly he looks left and right up the beach and

. . .
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