Literary Orphans

Athenians of the South by Theodore Yurevitch

Paradise-08

I can warm up in the big marble library and look for the kind of books that Dany talked about how to get the chip out from behind the eye. Dany says he has one, I have one, we all have one. We’d looked for books at the store but stores are only maws of red badness, money kingdoms, but warmth, too, during the snowy weeks, not unlike recent days. Dany says it is how it is. He’s not here now, the big marble, the long halls and tall columns. Rows of old pages. Dany says he’s a prophet, he needs the microchip gone more than I do, he needs to unplug, but the librarians don’t have anything on our subject, they say and give me suspicious eyes, so I do the research on my own, gather large, hard-backed books, bring them to this desk, sit at this desk and read—one passage about photographs: the act of optics, aperture, paintings, mirrors, the outer world beginning with the eye of the beholder instead of the eye of God—and no one sits around me, not unlike the way it was at the store, until now the lights dim once and a ghost voice says that it’s five o’clock and time to leave. Like always, I leave the books. I leave when I’m asked.

Outside is still cold, thin, dark blue air, like the rare bottle of Skyy glass. Old Broadway buildings made of brick one way, government concrete the other. The Cumberland is blocked from sight and is manifest death, Dany says. That’s where he might go if he can’t get it out. He needs to unplug and I do too—we’re practically brothers, even though his beard is ashy and mine still the brown of a young man. I felt unplugged in the library although the amount of space I was provided went beyond my requisite needs. I wish I was there again, it was warm, I need to be inside again, now, or at least moving the blood through my jellyfish heart.

The way of old Broadway, I head west, pass the honky tonks, saloon doors, a statue of the King in a white coat, his knees turned in, his plastic face twisted into an O. That’s what will happen if we don’t get the microchip out and unplug. Plastic eternity. It’s not evening yet but the neon signs are powered: palm fronds over Paradise Park, Western World, the guitar on fire, Tootsie’s orchid. Massive cowboy boots float over the sidewalk like the feet of giants striding through the city. I get a wide birth and only see droves of denim legs. I could squat with a cardboard box and beg but even then they wouldn’t look, probably. Move west, Dany is probably down the road.

To Union Station at the juncture where Broadway becomes West End. A year ago, when I was still taking classes, I talked to a woman at the bookstore with flying blond hair. We discussed old things, the city, history. She called it Victorian Romanesque, the castellated clock tower, the old train station. Built more than a hundred years ago, now it is a restaurant and a hotel. And West End here is a series of fake-Euro restaurants, but I don’t see Dany yet, I keep going, pass the University on my left, a funeral parlor on my right, the bookstore on my left where the lady with the flyaway hair is a manager. I was told to leave the last time I’d been there, not by her, but a greasy boy who said that I should consider a shower before returning. Fuck this, he stunk too, and a bookstore is wrongheaded anyway. A book is a long letter to a friend. But it would be warm there in the bookstore. But if I cut through the flat, grassy park, pass the floodlit Parthenon—the closest replication of what’s now ruined stone in Greece, I once learned—I’ll find a McDonald’s. I do, I cut, as further west the last corner of sun lies by the base of an office building and splashes orange over its face, and of course I find Dany panhandling in the parking lot of the McDonald’s.

He says, “Boy, if I don’t get nourished soon I’ll throw myself into the street. Before a car, a train, a God. And that will be it. The whole world out like a shadow. Not just mine, the prophet’s, everyone done. Stakes are high, boy. Help me get some change.”

Paradise-31

I don’t argue, he’s my best friend, my brother, my only one, even if I’m not so sure about all his ideas. Like most in Nashville he at least has a guitar and sets the case before us. We plug in if we can, at least to get some sandwiches. He plucks and strums, and I begin to sing, one of the King’s songs—Here we go again, asking where I’ve been—as someone passes into the store, but doesn’t drop anything. The sun dematerializes and the midtown building turns to black glass—You can’t see these tears are real if you don’t look—and a coin falls from the hand of a large, round woman, who smiles even though robot wires run from her head to her pockets and she can’t hear our song. We all risk powering the microchip every day. We can’t go on together—eventually we get enough for one, a sandwich, and Dany stops mid song, scoops the bills and coins and heads inside holding the guitar by the neck and of course I know but I don’t stop singing, I still sing the King’s words—with suspicious minds—and wait maybe a beat more in the cold for whoever else might happen in this parking lot, under this blueberry night, these golden arches.

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Theodore Yurevitch is a writer currently living in Florida, where he is a graduate student and instructor at Florida State University. His writing has appeared in Breakwater ReviewThe Southeast Review, Flow and other journals.

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–Art by Milton G. (Paradise Found)