Winterlight on Will Morgan. It always disoriented him, the fact that the day had endured despite time spent inside a cavernous space, that the afternoon’s last gasp was still bright enough to sting. A walk through glass doors and onto the sidewalk; four p.m. on a Saturday in February, 1993. He was in the middle of his annual Hartford trip, the eighth he had made in as many years. Some years it felt like routine, the way he used to feel moving from chord to chord, the ecstatic familiar. Other times it’s tradition, greetings and updates recited by rote. First hockey, always with Falk and Patten, before they got into their car and ventured back to their apartment just north of the city. Then Will would make his way down the block for a short coffee with Barrett; and then, the drive back south, towards western New Jersey. For the first few years they had occupied a quartet of seats, never too close to the ice. And then one year, Barrett had been absent, and neither Falk nor Patten had seen fit to address the matter.
Now the farewells outside of the arena. The perennial invitation to Falk and Patten that, should they ever be in or around western Jersey, they should visit. Will knew that it was implausible: Falk’s professorial duties and Patten’s field research occupied their time to an almost comedic extent. And yet the offer must be made, and must be made annually. A frost-laced wind coasted across Will’s face as he watched his friends walk down the sidewalk. He breathed warm air into his fists and rubbed his palms over exposed ears and mapped the way to Barrett’s chosen coffee spot.
Will made a careful adjustment of his glasses. Åsa’s of an age to watch over herself now, he told himself. Well-behaved, not likely to run riot over the place or open the doors to some afternoon’s revelry.
How different she is than the punks he knew, thought Will.
Will Morgan at the bar in Hartford, a four p.m. beer before him. Beside him was Barrett, cheeks emblazoned with a younger man’s sideburns. What’s left of the day still streamed through the windows, but it was dwindling, the month still choking sun’s access to streets.
“I don’t see Åsa’s mother much anymore,” he was saying, and wondered why Barrett has led him down this path. Wondered what Barrett is doing in a bar to begin with: he’d been sober the last time they’d met, and Will had felt a shock when Barrett met him outside the coffee shop and jabbed a neutered thumb to the neon signs across the street. “Let’s go there,” Barrett had said, and Will nodded. “I’m only down for one,” Will had said. “Long drive ahead of me, and a longer night when I get where I’m going.”
Later, their drinks down to a quarter full, he reiterated it. “I’ve got somewhere I need to be,” said Will.
“I don’t,” said Barrett.
A look at his watch outside of the bar. 6:05. Menachem Jennings had told him to be at Coney Island High on St. Marks Place for the show by 8:30; time enough for a coffee before the drive.
A quarter for the payphone. Thirty seconds on the line with Åsa, making sure everything’s fine. The sky had gone past violet, and Will remembered his jacket in the car’s back seat, the temperature slowly pushing towards freezing. Another farewell to Hartford, then. And in another year he would come back, will again gather with friends, will once more watch the Whalers play and then find Barrett and trade stories of the year just passed.
Will had never played music with Menachem, though the subject often came up when they spoke. Usually it came down to Will suggesting buses to his cohort, or offering to meet at a train station halfway between the city and New Duchess. Menachem came from a background of dissonance, of time spent abusing reeds even as he kept the brass curves of his saxophone meticulously aligned. Will would have been curious to improvise with him: to sit in the studio and let tape roll and see what emerged. “There’s a guest room next to the live room,” he always told Menachem. “I’m told it’s all kinds of comfortable.”
They had known one another for sixteen years now; had met at an art space in Tacoma where Will’s old band had stopped on their final tour. Menachem had been one of the six members of the other group on the bill: a low-slung group called Jack-the-Sharp. They had taken some cues from The Stooges but preferred simply to drop their songs into a lower register and let them howl; Menachem’s baritone sax, to Will the standout instrument, roared through most of their numbers, evoking images of the building’s walls trembling towards implosion, footholds gone unsteady.
The two bands had played to a room of a dozen, three of those barely there, the rest attentive and appreciative. This was not a crowd on which social histories would have been made, and yet whenever Will read outsider accounts of Northwestern music or biographies off the beaten path, he always attuned himself for mentions of the space, of Jack-the-Sharp, of the night a quartet from Philadelphia by way of Iowa had passed through town. He always kept some eye on history, or at least his own hopes of it.
Menachem, for his part, had kept a recording of the night; had filed it away in a small room in Blissville that he visited every three weeks to check for dust and defects, to maintain some grand sort of integrity.
A few years ago, they had encountered one another by chance. Will had been enlisted as producer by a local four-piece, a contrast to his usual recording engineer gigs. He’d driven to Hoboken to watch them play, had seen a familiar face in the crowd. Menachem was there in some loose capacity, managing one of the other bands on the bill or collaborating with someone who happened to be in the room. (Will’s memory was hazy on that particular detail.) Will recognized him almost instantly: Menachem’s temples now boasted a dusting of white, but other than that he looked much the same. Will, too, was recognizable from his road days: his hair still largely dark brown, his face cleanshaven. The primary difference in his appearance was the style of glasses he wore; for that show, he had adopted a wire-rimmed pair, more surgical than academic. They reminisced quietly in between guitar squalls and pinpoint rhythms.
Since then, they had remained in regular contact. Menachem’s name had weight in certain circles, and he tended to route certain bands in his orbit towards Will’s studio. For the past few years, this had been what had beckoned Will into the city: a recommendation from Menachem, whose instincts about Will’s own taste in music was normally spot-on; trips to hear bands in the live setting before bringing them into the studio; trips to the Continental and Brownies and the Knitting Factory and Threadwaxing Space. And occasional stops in Hoboken, something of a halfway point for the two men to convene, Will adding miles on his ’87 Jetta and dreading the sight of dented doors or shattered glass on the windowside sidewalk.
This evening, Menachem’s advice pointed him to a club on St. Mark’s Place. “It’s quality punk rock,” Menachem had told Will two days before. “Focused stuff. The singer’s got a howl like you wouldn’t believe, and there’s something almost ambient about the guitarwork.” The band—called Dead Spies—had cut a handful of demos, and were looking to release their first EP; a moderately-sized label in Massachusetts had signed them to a two-record deal, and they were eager to find an engineer. Hence: Will walking into the smaller performance space at Coney Island High and looking for Menachem at the bar. All he had to do, he noted, was look for the other person in the room over the age of forty.
He thought about Åsa, back in New Jersey. Easier now to do these trips than in years past. Those decisions: hire a sitter until late in the night or make the trip back to New Duchess early, skip out after three or four songs and hope he could form a sense of the band’s right and proper sound from that fractional impression. The annual Hartford trip always struck him as the most potentially ruinous; memories came to Will now of the same drive seven years earlier, when traffic had morassed him on four separate pockets on the trip back home. Long still stretches punctuated by hasty trips into rest areas, feeding quarters into a pay phone and buying coffee to obtain more quarters. In recent years it had grown easier: Åsa now capable of looking after herself. There were still periodic check-ins from the road, usually a call on his way to Hartford and a call on the way back home. And yet now the trip to Hartford itself had grown awkward, the group he’d gone to meet now fragmented. Conversations at bars and at their seats watching the game, Will never sure whose names might bring stares and declarations of offhand contempt. Maybe that had been the swap: his daughter’s self-sufficiency bartered for the dissolution of his bandmates’ detente.
At the club, he found the back of the room and stood against it. Dead Spies would be the second of three bands; there was no sign of Menachem, and no indication of whether the first band had yet to play or had just finished their set. Amplifiers and a drum kit sat on the stage anonymously, a backline or the gear of a band not interested in identifying characteristics. The room was about a third full. Will gauged the average age at twenty-four or twenty-five; a different generation from his own, then. He had made albums older than most of the attendees here; he had worked with some of the bands he saw emblazoned on t-shirts and patches sewn onto backpacks.
He took off his glasses for a moment, wiped them on the corner of his shirt, then donned them again. In the gap before the next set, Television’s second album piped through the speakers on stage. Will nodded his head in time with the rhythms.
He took off his glasses and watched the room become indistinct, gray shapes and blurred circles of color around the stage lights. It seemed more clear to him, in some ways, than his sight with glasses on. Though this might simply be intentional delusion, a way of thinking that made less and less sense the further it was considered. Will had had plenty of those over the course of his life. Sometimes he saw clouds as he surveyed what was before him. He suspected that cataracts were a decade off; his father and his uncles had all gone through procedures for their removal, and he saw his turn coming before long. Standing there in isolation on the club’s back wall, a tripwire shudder passed through his thigh and up his back. He thought, Plan for that now. He saw a cost looming much as the cost of Åsa’s future schooling might loom. He crossed from the wall to the corner of the bar, where a pitcher of water sat, took a small plastic cup from a stack beside the pitcher, and filled it. Waiting for Menachem, he removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes again, sought out details to carry with him from the room.
On the stage, musicians were gathering, emerging through the crowd on the floor to heft guitar cases and drum heads. Will stared at them; they looked familiar enough for him to conclude that this was, in fact, Dead Spies, and that he had missed the first band. Good, he thought; time enough to watch the band, to catch up with Menachem, and to be home before midnight. To, perhaps, talk briefly with Åsa—late at night, the clock chasing midnight, neither feeling much compulsion to sleep. Åsa had adopted his own sleeping habits, and he saw no need to scratch at the issue; the pursuit of late nights was not something he would opt to control.
These kitchen-table check-ins had become a strange tradition in the previous year and a half, so much so that Will was unsure how they’d gone without them. Åsa would be waiting, often writing, often in her own soundscapes, sometimes friends’ bands’ basement demos and sometimes music more official in its production. She would ask him about the groups he’d seen that night, and he would relay his account of the evening to her, sometimes jotting down notes as new angles on the group’s sound occurred to him, touchstones for the recording sessions to come. Sometimes Åsa would jot something down as well on a small note or scrap of paper; sometimes Will would bring home a compact disc or cassette, might be tempted to move the conversation into another room and cue up a song. They would sit and trade accounts, with Åsa occasionally relaying tales of a basement or hall show from earlier in the day. Most of the time he would say, “I never much cared for hardcore,” but sometimes she would bring him news of something more esoteric: Seattle punks who’d come to John Coltrane through unorthodox means, a D.C. trio who echoed the surf-rock he’d fallen in love with as a boy and the postpunk he’d fallen hard for just as Åsa’s mother had moved out of his life; a storming dissonant group from Olympia whose guitars rendered fields, suggested depths, or simply loomed.
It was time, Will thought, to take the pulse of the room. Ten minutes until Dead Spies would play, he figured. He’d see Menachem soon enough. On the wall opposite the bar, a few small tables selling CDs and seven inches and t-shirts, manned by band members and friends of the band, and currently serving no buyers. Will would be curious to see what happened once Dead Spies had concluded their set: would he see a rush towards that table, or would interest remain flat? Before they began playing, he would look to see what they had to offer; he would purchase a beer and stride to the table and look things over.
The space was filling up now. Will recognized some faces: a handful of musicians he’d worked with in the past few years whom he planned to greet once the set was done, a smaller handful of industry types, and one or two bodies that he’d simply come to recognize over years of coming to shows. The man with prematurely white hair; the red-haired woman with four piercings too many; the rain-thin guy who Will had assumed was chronically ill until someone had set him straight. “Just vegan,” the drummer in a post-hardcore band had once said to Will. “A vegan who doesn’t know shit about nutrition. You know Goldberg’s Peanut Chews? Those are vegan. Doesn’t mean they should be the foundation of your diet.”
He saw dark work jackets and a smaller number of sweaters worn by skinny bys with close-cropped hair. Drive Like Jehu t-shirts and someone in a hooded sweatshirt with SAMIAM emblazoned on the back. Some months Will would drive to the nearest record store, would seek out music he hadn’t had cause to encounter on his own. Most of his friends, his former bandmates and old tourmates and prior clients, would say that they’d grown sick of it. He thought about that question of looking forward; he wished he had brought a notebook with him, to jot down the names on shirts, to delve further in. He knew he’d hate most of it, would find much of it uninteresting or simply retreading ground he’d heard covered years, decades earlier. Still, the pursuit beckoned.
One of the guitarists was now tuning, brittle notes coming through onstage speakers. The bassist, too—lower notes, fuller. Will thought about the last time he had played an instrument. Sometimes he would take it out, would play in the studio on quiet days. Sometimes he thought about multitracking; he could play cursory drums, could play a passable guitar, could even emanate a strange singing croak that a couple of friends had told him was better than he believed. He was never a songwriter, though, and the thought of assembling a one-man band to channel someone else never struck him as all that satisfying. He enjoyed that comfort, the familiar calm that came over him when he played with those he knew, that he trusted. When you didn’t even need to look over to know what transition was coming, when you could feel it before it happened. He needed to get Menachem to come west, or get some faction of the old band—the Barrett faction or the Falk-and-Patten one—to do the same. Some familiarity; some response to a feeling that he hadn’t summoned in years.
The drummer’s impromptu soundcheck; the sound of beats in isolation. Now came the second guitarist to tune, eking out his own brittle notes. He tuned faster than the other, Will noted. He walked to the bar, downed five dollars, and walked back towards his spot on the wall with a handful of beer. The merch table caught his eye, and he wandered over, suddenly conscious of his age, of how this might look. A disjointing; a recognition of this irregular pathway, that most of those around him had not spent the afternoon watching hockey in Hartford.
Dead Spies, he saw, had one seven inch on the table. “Dreams With Wrong Solutions” was the a-side; “Live Moon” was the song on the reverse. He handed over three dollars in exchange for a copy, and held it by his side as he stood and waited for the group’s set to begin. He’d move to the center of the room soon enough; would find where the sound was optimal and chase it there. Voices came, checking microphones, checking onstage levels. The bassist and both guitarists all offered up their own shouts, their own croons; and, in the case of one, a slight scream, check! transformed into a source of terror. Will heard it and wondered where it would come again; he knew, just as sure as the gun on the mantle, that it would certainly make an appearance.
And then, through the onstage monitors, the voice of the soundman: “That okay?” A nod from the bassist, who Will took to be the primary vocalist. “Whenever you’re ready, then.” Muted, the sort of conversation most here would overlook. Glances passed among the four on stage. Will heard something that sounded like, “Dreams or Rake?” A pause, then, from the bassist: “Dreams.” And so it began.
One song in, the crowd was already too dense for Will to have any hope of seeing Menachem. Three-quarters of the room now full, dense dark fabrics and pale arms fluctuating in uneven rhythms. The band’s songs stretched forward, rhythms ascending and beginning to fray, and then long languorous chords from one amplifier or another filtered in, encircled the rhythm, and pulled them back. It wasn’t so much a question of dynamics, Will observed, as it was one of tension and release; something harder for him to capture in the studio, but something that could be captured, could be channeled.
The bassist sang out with a clear voice; one guitarist chimed in with yelps and shouts, and the other muttered along in a low counterpoint. The crowd embraced it, sometimes surging forward to meet the stage and sometimes giving way to shoves and kicks and shouts directed inwards. Will stood towards the back of the throng but was still in the movement, still deep enough in it that he was jostled and sometimes shoved with the outside edge of a forearm or the back of his hand. He downed the rest of his beer as quickly as he could and let the plastic cup drop. Two songs in the crowd began leaping onto the stage and then, just as quickly, off into the crowd, arms flailing ecstatically for that five or six or seven feet before the crowd carrying them lost strength or will or patience and lowered them back into its embrace. And Will watched it all and smiled and waited for the next song to begin.
A third of the way through the second song, stagediving began. Subtly at first, a few thin men bounding from the stage onto the hands of their compatriots, making it a few feet into the audience, and then righting themselves, taking their feet, and waiting for their turn to leap again. Fifteen or twenty feet separated the furthest they’d reached from the spot where Will stood, and he waited, his attention still captured by the sounds of the group more than any of the motions undertaken by the people watching them.
The third song found one guitar delving into deep bent rhythms above which sonorous vocal harmonies rested, the song’s structure breaking down midpoint into an evocation of fragility, then ratcheting back up over a simple accelerating beat. The harmonies broke down into countermelodies, the lyrics naming items, details, dates and places and names, the crowd’s energy accumulating and manifesting itself in leaps, in surges forward, in joyous shouts. “That was a new one,” the bassist said as the song reached its end. Will realized he was nodding, as though the other half of a private conversation.
By the fourth song, the motion in the crowd ahead of him had turned more rhythmic, had become almost organized. Will found himself having to push back when some staggered back into his vicinity; his attention drifted from the band to the crowd, and he thought it best to move back towards the wall after this particular song. And then a repeat stagediver took a leap into the crowd and ecstatically made his way across palms of hands and forearms, his own arms flailing wildly and a look of utter bliss on his face. He was passed towards the back of the room faster than any of his predecessors had been, arms in motion like a kung-fu diagram. And soon enough he was on the shores of Will’s space; Will’s arms went up to move him along and instead Will found two strange fingers moving towards his face, found them catching the inside of his glasses, and then watched his glasses inadvertently flung into the middle of the motion before the stage. As the younger man passed over him, Will stared into the venue’s center with newly blurred vision and realized that said glasses were lost, were fucked, were gone, and that this meant something new for the night.
At the end of that song he moved to the back of the room and waited there, waited out Dead Spies’ set, his attention no longer on the music so much as on the large blurred mass before him, like a psychedelic rendering of a cartoon dust storm. Low light and flashing lights and boundless energy. At the end of their set he did a cursory squatting search of the middle of the room. He found one lens intact and little else: some shards of plastic and two twisted pieces of wire. Expected perhaps in this moment to hear Menachem’s voice, unexpected and possessing a sudden and pointed concern. Will did not hear Menachem’s voice; he noted to himself that he’d need to call him in the coming days, would need to speak with him about the band, would need to confirm days and rates. Would probably not want to mention this, a note of dissonance in the proceedings that would benefit no one in particular.
The crowd seemed to be making their final exits after Dead Spies’ set. Will felt for the band that would follow them; could certainly understand their situation. And yet he knew that he’d also be exiting. A pay phone needed to be found, and a call to Åsa would have to be made.
This, for Will on this particular night, was the city at ten p.m.: a series of blurred shapes and eternally bursting lights, objects thinned at their outlines passing down the street, pedestrians distinguished by height and skin and very little else. Everything seemed to lack distinctions: shapes fed into shapes, forms collapsed into one another. And yet the clarity of colors bled into his eyes, taking hold of his sense of balance, his notions of proportion. The lag of his vision contrasting with the sense that these colors were somehow more true, that the glass previously sitting between his eyes and the world was somehow lessening his perception, that this reduction of focus was somehow a gateway to a superior perception.
And then, as he continued down the block towards Third Avenue, costs came to mind. He had cursory health coverage through the studio, incorporated years before as much for Åsa’s security as for his own. Glasses were a different expense, though; one incurred every three or four years; an expense for a boom time rather than one for a fallow year. Which, Will reminded himself, this was not—the year to come looked to be one of his busiest. And yet: these things that seemed most assured often crumbled; bands broke up, feuded with management; acquired new managers and found themselves channeling new whims, sonic and otherwise.
As pedestrians passed him by, Will attempted to recall where his previous pair of glasses had ended up; he anticipated his conversation with Åsa, of her concerns and questions and began to outline his next few steps. Did it make more sense for her to come to the city, for him to guide her back to his parked car and for her to drive it home? Or should he board a bus bound for New Duchess and meet her and return to the city the following day to pick up his car? Meters might expire, he realized; his vehicle might be impounded, dragged off to some unknown lot in the outer boroughs, newfound expenses born from indecision. The fact that he recognized it did nothing to halt the panic that crept through his stomach; instead, it prompted him to pause and to retreat deeper into the sidewalk, the blurred masses before him in constant ecstatic motion.
It was crucial to Will that he have a plan before telephoning Åsa. Driving home in his own condition was not an option; rather, it was an invitation to collision, to oblivion on the unlit roads on the outskirts of New Duchess once the interstate had been left behind. Was there a neighbor, a friend, a casual acquaintance whose car he could borrow once an older iteration of his glasses had been located? Or should he enlist Åsa as his courier, hope that a last bus might still depart from somewhere in New Duchess?
He could call and put the question to her himself; but as this thought crossed his mind it set him trembling. He would call, he realized. He would call and ask her to make the trip in, would meet her at the Port Authority and rely on her from that point on. He could stifle those intervening hours with transit and coffee, find a book to hold close to his eyes and scan until he heard Åsa’s voice again. One deli yielded change for the meter two blocks off, and another yielded money for the telephone. He leaned in, eyes not far from finger not far from the pay phone’s familiar grid. He heard the rings in one ear and awaited the sound of connection, the promise of communication.
Will hadn’t taken the subway in four years, not since he’d decided it was his duty to bring Åsa in to the city for a day’s worth of culture. He had parked in the Village and had ushered Åsa to the 6 at Astor. They had begun the day at MoMA and gone north from there, then boarded the 6 again to usher Åsa further north to the Whitney. The line had then brought them back to SoHo; they had walked through several galleries, one of which hosted a group show in which work by an old tourmate of Will’s could be seen. Will and Åsa got back to the car at eight that night, headed for the Lincoln Tunnel, and stopped at a diner on Route 3 forty minutes later, watching the delirious neon shiver as they approached. They sat in their booth and spoke of what they had seen. Twenty feet away, a group of regulars clustered around the diner’s bar, and Will vowed to be on the road again before any of that particular group departed.
Will thought it best to take himself to the Port Authority on foot; what he remembered of the underground system involved long walks in the pedestrian tunnels near the Terminal, and from the timing of things, it seemed more advantageous to make the uptown traversal on foot. His arrival time might coincide neatly with Åsa’s; and it seemed to him that the Port Authority at this time of night would be ill-suited to his half-blindness.
The cold surrounded him, but so long as he had motion on his side, he had warmth. He clutched the Dead Spies record to his hip and jammed both hands into his pockets and set off. And so he came to Astor Place and turned north on Fourth Avenue, the buildings on either side of him a softened kaleidoscopic array of flattened lights and diffused scale. It was both familiar and treacherously altered, the city’s grounded geography all but vanished to him now.
He hadn’t walked through New York in a long time. He wanted to observe facades, to say with some certainty that things had changed, but all he could perceive were the existence of lights and the form of crowds. And slowly, a specific fear entered him as he crossed Sixth Avenue on 23rd Street: that he might pass someone who recognized him, that since his vision lent everyone anonymity, that he might ignore someone signaling frantically or attempting to reconnect. There would be no reunions here—at least not until Åsa arrived to enhance his eyes. Rather, this walk might lead to reunion’s opposite, to a failure of recognition prompting schisms and faltering bonds. The city loomed around him, its form degrading, the precision of its grids and the narratives spelled out on awnings and neon signs rendered unavailable to him.
He walked up Seventh Avenue to the high 20s and passed the Fashion Institute, suddenly feeling very much his age, suddenly feeling utilitarian in a space designed to reward the precise usage of accessories, to praise an alien form of luxury. Long coats and dresses hung in gallery windows, lit from behind; their silhouettes looked to Will like something almost robotic, forms set adrift, headless sentries foreshadowing some new baroque age. He cut west, first to Eighth and then to Ninth, on 31st Street, letting the structures that squatted there loom over him like some modern leviathans. For a brief moment as he passed the western entrance to Penn Station, he wished that he had asked Åsa to take the train instead—had told her to call a cab to bring her the twenty miles to the closest station and use that as her point of departure. But the economics of that struck him suddenly and his second-guessing recoiled; he passed the white fleece of the post office at Eighth and crossed the next long block.
Little was open in the Port Authority by the time Will arrived: one coffee stand, at which he bought a brackish cup; a bar that looked unappealing; and a newsstand, where he found a paperback novel to hold close to his eyes. He checked his watch and found a bus schedule and checked his watch again. Åsa’s bus would show in twenty minutes; with a book and coffee, that was time that he could nimbly kill.
Five minutes later, a voice that was not Åsa’s called out his first name. He stared out into the crowd, saw five or six anonymous forms, none of which seemed to be beckoning in his direction. He considered its tenor, its qualities; he tried to identify it, but couldn’t identify the speaker. It was the sort of voice that cuts across a room, that skirts other conversations and sources of music to reach a dozen destinations. Still, even with this quality, Will couldn’t say who the speaker had been; could not even say with certainty if that speaker had been male or female. Will scanned the lines of the paperback novel and traced the outlines of letters with his lessened vision. He spoke words to himself and heard no other words spoken from the crowd that addressed him. His name was common enough, he knew. He stared at the words in the novel and thought of the frequent cries of “Will” heard in a space such as this and continued to wait.
As he sat and tried to focus on blurred words, Will thought about the end of the group; about Patten’s move to academic life and Barrett’s sudden devotion to the girlfriend whom he’d dated as the band waned. Had she become Barrett’s wife? Will couldn’t remember; he remembered a years-long gap in his knowledge of Barrett’s life. There had been a letter in 1982 in which there were passing allusions to a pair of shortened marriages. Will hadn’t inquired further; it seemed to him that Barrett’s life had accumulated enough freshly-settled detritus that to raise the topic would also be to scatter it again. And so he’d gone out, that first time, to meet Barrett on the outskirts of New Haven. They had passed a quiet afternoon in Barrett’s apartment, drinking a few of the beers that Will had brought and venturing slightly into Will’s own history and halfheartedly playing a few chords together.
The curtains were made from the same set of old sheets that Barrett had used for curtains in their old van, Will noticed. The apartment itself felt something like that same van: insular with intermittent sun, and music a constant presence. The refrigerator hummed along and sometimes tremulously shook the floor. When it came time for Will to leave he embraced his old friend and promised reconnection with Falk and Patten, and that reconciliation had come a year or so later, their first common gathering since their band’s final show. He had driven back to New Duchess on that night with a giddiness in his heart, a sense that he had repaired something unaware it needed fixing.
He had paged through a few chapters of the book and slowly recognized that he knew nothing of what had passed in the text. He’d been thinking of them all; of Barrett and Falk and Patten; of how Barrett had always seemed the most unmoored. Of how Falk and Patten had their own life, of how he had his daughter and his studio. He wasn’t sure if Barrett even had music these days, or if his sole comfort was the angle of sunlight through a bar’s front window and whatever friends or associates greeted him there. Will wondered for how much longer these reunions would last, especially with the new addition of his own necessary two-step. He wondered what Barrett had said to his other friends, and realized that several possibilities came to mind. Will considered them, momentarily lodged between curiosity and a deep fear; the consideration that his old friend might be reprehensible had always sat just outside his field of vision.
He tried again to lower himself back into the novel. The name “Will” or the word “will” hit his ears again, now from a different indistinct shape at some distance from him. He looked over towards it. He squinted, as though that might suddenly restore anything like coherent vision to him. It was an old habit, something that had arisen in childhood. As a child he had thought that this would cure him, that it might substitute for corrective lenses or surgery. It was a tic he returned to over the years, a hearkening back towards an older system of understanding the world. He heard “Will” again—or he heard “will” again. He again searched the crowd even though no faces suddenly came clear, no bodies resolved themselves into forms familiar.
“Hello?” he said. Soon afterwards, he realized that it had been said too softly for anyone not standing beside him.
The sounds of the terminal drew close around him. Closed pockets of conversation; cursory exchanges at the newsstand. College students on a late bus home; high school students exuberant in their just-concluded visits. Late-shift commuters on pay phones, making abbreviated conversations with family or friends, coordinating arrival times and arrangements.
“Hello?” he said again, louder this time, and waited for an answer. He honed in to the din, to the overlap. He hoped for some response, for a word in response to his own before his daughter arrived. He listened for the sound of some familiar voice. All he heard were the echoes of strangers around him; unknown voices issuing from unfamiliar forms.
Will was tired of words; he was tired of the blurredness of his vision and he was exhausted from waiting. He wanted this winter’s day and this winter’s night to end; he wanted to see Åsa and to see the drive home and to see the simple fact of his home. He stood and lowered the book to his side. He walked to the chart, behind scuffed plastic, where gate assignments for bus lines resided. He pressed his face close in and squinted and saw his destination; heard a security guard’s anxious “Sir?” and pulled his face back, murmured a soft apology. The gate’s number memorized, Will Morgan began anticipating the sight of his daughter’s blurred face, and feel of the journey home. He had a record in his hand, music he longed to hear, and to share. He found the escalator and let it carry him down, away from blurred lights and blurred sky.
Tobias Carroll is the author of the short story collection Transitory and the novel Reel. He is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn and writes about books, music, and food for a host of places.
“Nearsighted in Northern Cities” was originally published in The Collagist.