Romare Bearden, "Late Afternoon," 1979
Romare Bearden, Late Afternoon (1979)
Can a Game Be Literature?

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October 3, 2002:

Afterwards her sister called. Partly she wanted to make sure I was ok; but also she was still shaken.

She'd been at work, 101 Spear Street, high up. The building manager said that her floor had swayed fifteen feet in either direction. People were injured by flying furniture: the metal leg of a heavy desk pierced the foot of a co-worker. She'd evacuated down dimlit stairs to find a street scene glittery with broken glass, as if the heavens had snowed shards.

It was the wrong moment to talk to me. We were on different emotional planes. I was glad, still satisfied by the echo of my landlords' panic. It made me seem flip, and, I think, unsympathetic.

Sunset over the city. Skinny boy sits in a bay window with a telephone to one ear. Outside, Masonic Street is littered with bricks and dust, faux facades fallen like nightgowns around the ankles of the now-naked buildings. There are cracks in the sidewalks. People cluster around parked cars, listening to news on the radios. To the left, smoke rises beyond the crest of a hill: later we learned it was the Marina burning.

Shaky voice in the receiver. People near her were hurt. It's difficult for him to focus on that. There's his own malicious satisfaction. But also there's the background sounds behind her voice. She's at her sister's boyfriend's apartment, in the Tenderloin. There's a party going on: loud voices, the clink of drinking glasses. That's the leitmotif for the year: the clink of drinking glasses. A young woman's voice rises, in a characteristic childlike sing-song he knows well. It comes near the phone, talking loudly, laughing. Then, drops into the background as she passes. That was her way of saying hello.

It's difficult for him to talk, after that. She's left unsatisfied by the call. They're each glad the other is unhurt.


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