Earthquake or a Twitch of Time

By: Anna Curtis

She was lying there, crying in the street. Curled up for protection against the world, fetal position. An overgrown baby in last night’s secondhand clothes. No, it’s not what you think. Sure, she’s a big girl and she can take care of herself. She lies there, not because she’s mistreated or wounded. Not because she was drunk, stoned or otherwise intoxicated. This time, she simply felt the pressure and collapsed, sucked down to the ground through the soles of her glittered high heels, dropped to the pavement and stayed there. On other occasions, during long nights out avoiding herself, she’d end the night in intimate contact with relative strangers not much warmer than that filthy, cold cement. Colder, even. “Why have I done this to myself, again?” She mumbles and rolls her eyes, smacks herself on the cheek to lock in and awaken the sting of disgust. Placing her hand at her side, touching the gritty plane beneath her, she focuses her grey eyes on a few inches of pavement directly in front of her. She imagines the history of it, before it had a name, before the planning, man-hours and labor that went into its construction, before the millions of footsteps that have trampled there, in that spot. She looks at a crack, a snakelike imperfection and considers its depth, conceives years of rain water falling through it, sliding down to the dirt and mud, and further still, through layers of crust and mantle where it all ends in an intense concentration of fiery energy. She thinks about the giant sphere she’s lying on, feels her bruised body floating in space, convinced she can feel the throbbing pulse of the white-hot center below. She wills a monumental tragedy; an earthquake perhaps, waits for it. Nothing. She wants to become small, miniscule and slide, melt, disintegrate and combust, transform into a recycled energy within the earth’s explosive core, wash herself clean with a spastic pirouette of intense heat, atoms spinning and return to her position on the surface, start again.


She transports herself to a moment by a lake, exhausted from a day of rowing, arguing, tolerating bitter cowboy coffee, no milk or sugar. She’d also collapsed then, from exhaustion, depleted, a few meters away from camp, fusing into the ground. She watched a grasshopper make its way across a grassy landscape before her eyes, not hopping, but crawling. The profundity struck her, a minute creature with its determination to move, to persevere in the face of what she saw as great adversity. Where is its directive? How does it know where it’s going? She cried then for lost love, mistaken love, her perpetual confusion. Recognizing the ridiculousness of her position, as she did then, tears turn to laughter and boil inside her, erupting as a howl, the humor of her sober reliance on the stability of the ground strikes her implicitly. She gets up. She takes a few steps and shakes it off. She feels the night disappear into the dawn, feigns hope in its pale blue ambience, this moment of spring change, revival. She hears a bird chirp and a siren in the distance; the hum of city electricity and the drunken exchange of slurred voices a block away. A glass bottle breaks, shattering her idea of peace and calm, she wasn’t convinced anyway. This is life, she thinks, in all its contradiction. She’s alone, going in no particular direction without any particular reason.


She picks up the pace, dons her oversized sunglasses and checks to see that she hasn’t lost anything. Cell phone, wallet, notebook, keys, camera, everything in order. Searching through her bag, she pulls out a scrap of paper where a phone number was hastily scribbled down, an email address and a name she can’t quite make out. Is it her eyes or does the person really have terrible handwriting, she absently wonders. She tosses it away, uninterested and embarrassed by the conversation that led to the information being handed to her, feels guilty she doesn’t find a trash can, but relishes the freedom of discarding superfluous weight. Yeah, sure, let’s get together soon. I’ll call you. She talked a lot of shit, again. She said she wouldn’t do that anymore. Remembering this place, this street, this neighborhood. She hasn’t been here for a couple of years, yet the memory, noise and events that led her here and back again jumble themselves in piling thoughts inside her consciousness. A delicate house of cards tumbling down neatly upon itself, one covers up the other after the painstaking care with which she built it up. Does that mean she has lost everything or is that the point of the game, the exercise?


She keeps going because she doesn’t know what else to do, there are no other options. Was that really her, lying in the street, selfishly pondering her narcissism a minute ago? She buys a sugary Chinatown iced coffee, to remind her how some things never change. It’s reliably too sweet and she drinks it down quickly, savoring her slight dissatisfaction and its familiarity. It’s getting warmer now, the light changes to a piercing whitish yellow. She sucks and then chews the ice cubes, drowning out the clink of cocktails and overlapping conversation in her head. She thinks about her messy life and the thump-thump of the darkness that she’s grappled with and fought to escape. It still has a hold on her, the past has a way of doing that. She doesn’t want it anymore. She reminds herself that she doesn’t live here, that she’s gotten out. This place still stands, will continue to exist. It pulses with or without her heartbeat.


She walks back, putting one foot in front of the other, determined to find something else, something other. She admires the bridge, a few cars, street lights changing, the natural motion of traffic and the morning buzz of millions of souls awakening. An awkward man crosses the street towards her, he stumbles, maybe a nerve disease. He walks with difficulty, she’s not sure he’s going to make it. He’s taking his time and walks in zigzags. He’s drunk or crippled, pushing a broken rolling chair he’s found along his nighttime journey. She imagines herself to be him. He is unaware of her presence, or of their crossing paths. She takes out her camera, checks the light, sets it, and holds it up. He doesn’t notice her; she is nothing in his world, his focus being elsewhere. His goal to cross the street without dying appears to be his sole purpose, she projects. She clicks a few frames, the light is right, warm. A plastic bag hovers above the crossing behind him, a momentary freeze frame in the gentle breeze, like in that movie where they really got it right. Street trash whirlwinds by the curb. Horn blaring, a car passes, just missing him, the driver yelling something rude, terse and very New York. He’s oblivious to all of it, barely supported by his faulty crutch and getting closer to her, to the other side of the intersection. Another frame. In the far background, a couple embraces, stopped in their private world, independent of the green walk sign. They share a slow kiss, standing in half shadow, half bright morning sun, gripping each other, supported by the strength of the corner of the building. The earth’s core rises up through her and she wonders if she felt a tremor beneath her feet. Click.



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All opinions expressed by Anna Curtis are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


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