Air Stories

David Beus

I.

He checked his watch. He noticed for the first time the bent-angle of the second hand against the graph as it crosses the three and moves on to the four. “Three minutes,” he thought, as he looked down the street. No one was there.

He thought of air, the excess of air. “Air moves,” he said aloud. “No one stops the air.” He watched the chalk-mark that an airplane leaves fade and disappear from the sky. “You cannot stop the air,” he told it.

He thought that the air might swallow him up, or erase him like the chalk-mark, but he knew it wasn’t true. He knew he was free, and he told the air it couldn’t stop him either.

He saw the bus, but it had already passed before he broke out of thought. He bent to pick up a rock, crossed the street, and headed on home.

II.

The store was empty when he walked in. He looked over at the register then down each aisle one after another. “Is anyone here?” he asked. There was no response.

He looked at televisions. He saw the same man on all of them, but didn’t recognize him. “You’re all the same!” he said. He went to the first television and blurred the picture until he could no longer see the man.

He stared at the television for a few minutes, hoping that someone would come, but this hurt his eyes. He returned to the man in the picture and saw that he was getting closer until he could see nothing but the man’s face staring back at him. He changed the television to channel one. He put the second television on channel two and set the channel of each television to match its place in the row.

When he had finished he went outside. The sky was darkened by clouds and he could not find the sun when he looked for it. It was quieter outside than inside, though. He returned to his televisions. There were twelve sizes and twelve channels. He saw that the smallest should be on number one and that the biggest should be on number twelve. He matched the numbers of the channels to the sizes of the televisions. “That’s the way it should be done,” he said.

He looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was time to get back to work. As he left the store he looked again at the sky and saw that the clouds were breaking up, and he smiled while he walked off down the street.

III.

He looked at the mountains. The summits were newly hidden by snow and above them the sky was a clear, empty blue. He stared at the mountains for several minutes out of his bedroom window, which was outlined with grey, and went nicely with the snow and the sky, he thought.

Walking to the office, he noticed that a layer of clouds now covered the mountains. The air was crisp. “It will snow today,” he said aloud. “It’s about time.

The air stung his face and uncovered hands. He rubbed his hands roughly up and down his cheeks. His face was red as he walked into the bank, and he fumbled with his wallet, before getting it out of his pocket, and onto the counter. It was snowing as he left the bank. The snow was thick and blinded him, and he collided with an old man carrying a red-leather briefcase. He could feel the snow gathering and melting slowly in his shoes.

He stumbled on, half-blinded by the soft snow, his chafed hands straight out in front of him, red palms out, stiff fingers spread apart. He almost passed by the office without seeing it. In the doorway he shook his head rapidly back and forth to get the snow out of his hair. He took off his coat, and water dripped off his nose and down his shirt as he walked to the heater and warmed his hands.

IV.

It was dark out. The night was warm and the air rose hot around him. He coughed. Down the street he could see some light running out from under a door, and he headed towards it, his eyes fixed on the light. He was alone on the street. The only noise was that of the insects buzzing.

As he approached the light he began hearing music and voices. “A cafe,” he said. The door opened before him, as if by magic, and a man stumbled onto the street. He went in.

The air was even hotter inside the cafe. There was an Arab band playing Arab music in a corner and a lot of Arabs dancing or drinking. The talk and the music buzzed in his head. He watched for a few minutes, but no one noticed him. He shut the door and walked off.

He heard the growing sound of a siren in the distance. He looked around for a fire, a running man with a sack, a car, anything, but he could see nothing. The siren slowly began to fade. Everything was quiet.

He looked up then down the street. He couldn’t decide which direction to go. Across the street was a park with trees. He crossed the street and entered, walking around the trees, feeling their rough bark. The trees were large oaks, all of them taller than the telephone pole in his backyard.

On the other side of park was another cafe. He went in. It was dark and quiet inside. There were only a few couples scattered around in the cafe. He sat at the table nearest the door and ordered a drink. He watched the other couples. None of them were speaking, and all he could hear was the whispering of the waiters. They laughed. “Why are they laughing?” he thought. “This is no time for laughing.”

He emptied his glass, paid, and left. There were no streetlights and the only light came from the cafe. He looked back in and saw the waiters who were laughing. He turned and walked down the street. He angled away from the park and towards the center of town. “There will always be people downtown,” he said.

He passed a small house with a chain-link fence in front of it, and a dog started barking at him. It continued until he was four houses away. He recognized the street that led directly to his own and began walking down it. “Another night,” he said. “They’ll always be there.”