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Coney Island Knock Off

Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone

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At a stoplight she reached into her pocket to find the card had disappeared. It had begun to rain, and the sidewalk was slick. She looked down, backtracked. Nothing. In the depths of an all night automotive shop a man looked out at her from beneath a car. She walked forward again. The block was dark and deserted, how do you ask someone to help you find a credit card anyway? Looking down, she ignored the calls of a man who asked her if she wanted a ride. The lights changed. How much time did she have left? Four minutes, maybe. Something shone, reflecting a bit of yellow light a few feet from her shoes. The card lay on a grate, tottering on the edge about to be swept away by rainwater. Kneeling on the curb Dina stretched her hand and just managed to pull the card out by the tips of her oboist fingers, though it slipped a few times nearly flowing into the drain enroute to the Atlantic Ocean, in danger of drifting out to sea only to wash up on the Canary Islands. She clutched the card, representative of a bank in the midwest, and ran. Ready Check’s lights blinked in the middle of the next block. A tall woman in tight pants, keys swinging from a chain, had begun to reach up in order to pull down the metal security gates, but then turned to look up the street, not at Dina, just to look for a moment, for the last time, before she walked out.

***

“Live for yourself, not women like that. Life may be ugly, but you can find your own corner of paradise,” Zenia said to Burton after hearing the story of Naomi, the cooking school dropout. She offered him a pill saying, you can be happy in one minute, but he turned her down. It was good stuff, bought from a Dutch tourist who didn’t know what he had, she insisted, but he shook his head, as if he still needed his wits to go to work in the morning. She didn’t really think he was a banker ruined by the sub-prime lending practices leading to a mortgage crisis, but she hung around him anyway. It was only for one night.

She introduced him to Avi, a pierced, but not tattooed scribe, who made fake prayer scrolls, miniature ones that fit into small cases nailed to doorposts that no one ever opened. He had more work than he could handle, and Burton wrote down his number when he thought Zenia wasn’t looking. Burton vaguely remembered flickering alephs, lightning rod lameds, or corral-like samechs from his childhood, but in this area he was a self-professed ignoramus.

“Twenty-two lines of seven hundred and thirteen letters, the probability that anyone will ever find out you’re not a certified Sofer is just about nil. You use black ink and a quill if you want. That’s optional.” Avi explained. “Purchased at your own expense. I provide one prayer for you to copy from, the slips of parchment, yes, I throw those in, too. Think about it. This is a good offer.”

“How do they trust you with all that metal-work on your face?’ Burton pointed to the rings on Avi’s eyebrows, lips and plugs in his ears. “It would seem to me in this line of work you would have to have a different appearance.”

Avi shrugged, and Burton felt like the kind of old man who always sends the soup back at the deli, irritated and clueless, never seeing more than the excess of salt directly in front of him.

“You know this prayer?” Avi took a sample scroll from his pocket and unrolled it under Burton’s nose. He couldn’t believe he was doing this right in the middle of a cluster of dark rooms named for an island known for its perpetual ice that hid the bones of wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. He looked around for Zenia who had disappeared. He wasn’t exactly in the middle of Lyakhov; they were in a dark corner, of which the place had many, but still. Some particle of Burton believed if there were angels floating around, and they were watching this prayer pulled out of a guy’s pocket, produced only to promote a swindle, then a private sink hole with his name on it waited, hungry on Surf Avenue.

“I’ve heard it,” Burton answered.

“Of course you have, but it doesn’t matter. You just copy what I give you. Fifty dollars a prayer. Not bad if you what you got in the bank is zilch. Work is work, you know what I’m saying? And words are words, when you consider, what does it matter how they were written or who did the penmanship? How can it be fake?”

Zenia returned and put her arm through Burton’s. He looked out at the people milling around, shouting over loud music, and for a moment felt glad he hadn’t jumped off his fire escape. The man in the houndstooth jacket who might have been a Dutch dealer, a man who kept looking at his illuminated watch: if Nachmann hadn’t come along at the second he did, if he’d fallen past Mrs. Katan’s window, then they’d all be just as oblivious to him as they were now, but he’d never have met the girl in the olive skirt or the man who offered him a job. In a few hours Zenia would learn the truth about him and bow out, studying her messages, then going outside for a better signal. Burton would begin the tedium of copying scrolls for some guy working out of a basement, and was already wondering how fast he could write, maybe five whole prayers a day. But for the moment he felt he had landed on solid ground, and he was free to believe a narrow range of probability might remain solid forever.

***

Nachmann remained on the boardwalk where he knew he would get good reception. He stared at his phone, waiting for Dina to call, to tell him that the magic card had solved her problems. He’d neglected to punch her number into his own phone, so he had no way to reach her, ever, though he knew where she lived. While he waited, staring out at the ocean Nachmann tried to estimate how long it would take for her to make the transaction. If it got to be two in the morning, then obviously she wasn’t going to call. As he paced the boardwalk, the amnesiac appeared, gray fedora perched on his head. Nachmann said hello, but the man didn’t remember him, which was no surprise.

The two of them stopped to look out at the ocean as if the Canary Islands might suddenly drift into view and fellow islanders, Coney and Canary, could wave and eventually meet. “I fished up this word, apeiron, it’s Greek for formless chaos, the infinity of formless chaos, something the Greeks feared and who wouldn’t? My memory is an example of apeiron, but if you consent to bear with me, this is what I think. It might help,” the man suggested, “if we could climb to the top of Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel, or pause at the top of the Cyclone, or even if you could scale one of these buildings, from the top we could see everything and everyone, and then you and I would know, looking at all those rooftops, windows both the lighted ones and the dark, and perhaps we each might figure out where we were meant to go next.”

***

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Coney Island Knock Off

Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone

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