Illustration by Morgan Maurer, 2011
He stands four floors below, outside the window, playing God Bless America all goddamn day.
Across the street, a chapel is covered in ash, festooned with flags, crayon drawings, chains of origami birds. Gravestones in the churchyard, two centuries old, gray dirt, dead grass. Even the grass, dead. Looming behind, stubs of famous office tower, gravestones too, lit yellow into the night, still smoking.
Our old office is damaged, off limits, behind checkpoints we can see from our window. Our new office is a conference room, four of us crowded around one table. Laptops, papers, Doritos, dry-erase board. And a lemon. Tasha brought it to deal with our troubadour.
“If you show him the lemon,” Tasha says, “He won’t be able to play. It works to stop a whistler.” An old Russian trick, like medical suction cups bruising your back, like dog saliva to ward off infection.
“You just show it to him?” I’m laughing. I’m skeptical. This lemon is the best thing I have seen for awhile.
The lemon sits on the table for weeks, while the fife plays on. He doesn’t know we are in here, that we hear him all day, that his song penetrates our jumpy bodies like ash: particles of asphalt, computers, bones.
Phone calls from Boston, clients growing impatient. Now I notice how loud this colleague chews, that one laughs. Eyes to my screen, but nothing gets done. I look at the same word fifty times, and forget it fifty times. Every number looks wrong to me. A war of feet under the table, and apologies grow less sincere. That person’s lunch smells disgusting. I look straight ahead, out the window, at the newly empty sky.
I can’t take this song any more. I grab the lemon and go outside, ready to face the enemy.
On the street, tourists push against police barriers to get a glimpse of what isn’t there. Eyes turn skyward, mouths gape, taking in the dirty air.The fife guy breathes this all day. This is the gritty wind going through his instrument. The hat beside him holds quarters, no bills. He’s just an entrepreneur. He’s a symptom.
I hold the lemon up, show it to the disease. The stars and stripes, the new sirens, the horrid blue sky, the junk of grief. I give it a good squeeze. It pushes back, solid and cool in my hand. When I go back inside, the fife plays on. The gritty wind is still there. The lookers still gape. Nothing has changed except my palm. It has turned waxy white, and smells like an innocent summer.
Anne Elliott is a securities analyst / writer living in Brooklyn. She has performed spoken word, with and without ukulele, at PS122, The Whitney Museum, St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and Woodstock ’94. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, Pindeldyboz, Opium, and others. Her hobbies include knitting and feral cat management.
Read our interview with Anne here.