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Fiction #226
(published May 12, 2005)
Till Tomorrow
by Julio Peralta-Paulino
The disgruntled look from the cloud that had become her face stared fixedly at Tom. He was no longer a man; he was simply a protest. Of course, in America a protest meant about as much as a paper cut to thick skin. Some say the apathy in the States began in the 1960s with assassinations and the spread of television entertainment. John F. Kennedy shot in Dallas, The Addams Family in black and white...

"Please, don't leave me," he protested, "I need you, Jane."

Of course, there are some who know the American problem to be much older than the 1960s, much older than television. The land is evil, the evil was there before the Indians, suggested William S Burroughs. Others point directly to the Civil War.

"I just can't live in this city anymore, Tom," she responded with a voice alien to anxiety.

And there are those who do not see a problem. But America is a wonderful problem. There is power combined with a freedom so complete that one can assert the truth in any matter and the truth will not make a difference. Indeed, the truth is there, even in the movies and on the television. It's just squeezed into a media machine which grinds everything down to its basic commercial value. The truth of a candy bar may well sell more than the truth of Lee Harvey Oswald.

"Jane, I can't leave now. I can't afford to," he paused, knowing that this was only partly true. "It's many things, honey, but it comes down to the fact that I need to stay here - at least consider it a little more," the words seemed to flicker from his jawline.

Between Manifest Destiny and the American Dream, there is a problem. An unfinished situation. A lack. How can a country yet so young and filled with possibilities be so lodged in the fantasy of an Orwellian scenario, gladly? Is the entire country somehow collectively in competition for world reality television ratings on a global scale?

"I don't want to consider it. I can't. Everything cannot revolve around you, Tom," her words were unstudied and sharp.

And how can a country be, at the same time, so alluring and romantic and even beautiful...Ah, yes. There are still children in America. Children from all over the world. Children who might grow and in their growth make changes. Convert the apathetic notions. Return the true threat of revolution to the hands of the people. Transform the innocuous media into the worthy exhibit it should be. Change... There could not be good without evil.

"I'm not saying it's about me, I'm saying it's about us. You and me. We should be together," he was still only a protest.

Or at least, that is what she saw in front of her. He, on the other hand, saw her as tenderly as he did when they had started dating. The aroma of her hair was fading as the his cigarette edged itself down to ashes. They had not made love in a week and his desires added to his desire.

They were New Yorkers. They had a lot to deal with. Manhattan was tantalizing but it was also terrible. She felt it more than most.

Jane could have authentic Chinese food delivered, but she had to look into the disillusioned eyes of the delivery man. She could save money through a ride on the subway (the bus was more sophisticated but too slow), yet she could hardly avoid the intense eyes of the homeless and the people that simply looked hopeless. Jane could walk in Central Park, which was only two blocks away from the apartment on West 88th Street, but not without some lingering fear from her last mugging.

For almost a month after that shadow of man had taken her cell phone and squeezed her breasts as if they were not on a person but a tree, she could feel her heart drop to her knees when a similar looking stranger sprouted on the paths or walkways she frequented.

She was at the very heart of the world, but she knew it was bleeding and the beat was irregular and it would always be so...

There would more than a few places and city sensations she would miss. Of course, she did not allow herself to ponder too deeply into those personal churches she would no longer pray at.

Then there was Tom and the thousand pages of their romance. The way he kissed her with a short tongue that promised unreluctantly into the long future. The poster from the Burne-Jones presentation at the Met. His fingers. The way he woke exactly with raised arms every morning. What was he reaching for all those nights? The magic which comes only through the furious trust of love. Yes, there was Tom.

Tom who had given up his friends and his social life to court her heart. Tom who twice missed portions of playoff games so she could watch the O. C. and those unheroic commercials. Tom who dressed without pretension and did not use hair gel. Tom.

Tom who suffocated her with his need for affection and reassurance. Tom who was not so fantastic in bed. Tom who usually found a way to avoid doing the dishes. Tom who didn't even bother to vote. Tom who only read Stephen King novels. Tom who was getting soft in the middle. Tom who had never seen Moulin Rouge.

Still only a protest she hesitantly ignored. She had decided and Jane was determined to stand by her choice.

"I just can't," she rejoined with her radiant hair shimmering like thick rain as she turned away.

He felt the jealous emptiness of bitterness pulling at mouth, leaving him with stubborn words that would not even stutter out from his stomach. There was a beer taken from the fridge. Another cigarette. The couch. The remote. A razor thin light on the screen expanding.

The news had been the same for weeks and it was hard to tell what day it was, but Tom knew. It was the day Jane had left him.

People chanted the name Jerry. A commercial for Zoloft. Weather. Cartoons set in an impossible future. The mysterious stock market. A new exercise contraption. A video for a cover of a 1980s hit song. Men in suits holding a meeting. Models in mini-skirts speaking Spanish. Keanu Reeves in an esoteric hat. African children in poverty and ambitious flies. French lessons on PBS...

Tom wanted another beer, but he was not ready to stand. Sadness started mixing with sleep. One arm was already reaching above his head. As he dropped the suffered filter of the cigarette into the bubbly remains of the beer bottle, the pleasant French blonde said, "a demain."

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