By Peter Marra


I got out of the subway at Bryant Park and stopped at the corner deli before going to the Grace building where I worked as a computer programmer. I hated my job, and I hated the building my job was in. The architects had tried to give it an elegant look by sloping it out at the bottom, but it simply rang false to me. The plaza in front is white stone which is impossible to keep up. Every month workers come and clean it with huge buffing machines which kick up suffocating clouds of stone dust. There have been times I’ve gone down on a break to catch a smoke and come back covered in fine white powder.

That morning, when I bought a coke at the deli, I noticed that they were also selling bandanas, which seemed strange to me, but I bought three of them anyway; one red and two black. It kind of made me feel like an outlaw. The generic music on the radio was interrupted by a news flash: There had been an explosion downtown.

As I left the deli, I popped the top and used the soda to wash down two Vicodins. It would take about ten minutes for the numb tingling to start at the base of my spine and then slowly crawl up to my brain.

Sometimes I’d feel guilty about the pills, but they were the only way I could hide my rage, though I’m pretty sure my face showed what was going on anyway. I hadn’t spoken to my parents in two years. I wanted to be alone with my wife and my son and the constant anger that lived inside me.

I lit a cigarette before going in to work. A messenger on a bike peddled up and stopped a few feet away from me. Straddling his bike, he asked if this was the Grace Building. I said yes, and he thanked me, then asked, “Are you high?”

“That’s a strange question. Why are you fucking asking me that?”

“Because you’re kind of swaying, and your pupils are tiny little pinpoints.”

He dismounted from his bike, locked it up, and walked into the building. I finished my cigarette and ground the butt into one of the white flagstones.

I entered the lobby and showed my pass to the massive security guard – he had never seemed to like me very much, and would usually flip the pass back at me in a nasty way.

I made my way to the elevator and punched 41 – the top floor. Nobody else got on. Exiting the elevator, I passed the receptionist who ignored me. I walked briskly to the room I called my office which was actually a cubicle in a matrix of five other cubicles. Matty was sitting at his desk; he was the guy in charge of network monitoring, but what he mostly did all day was cruise the internet looking for porn sites. He was laughing manically as I walked in.

“Check this out!”

I went over to see what he found so hysterical. On his screen was a naked woman fondling a pig. They were in a mud puddle. The film dated from the mid-70’s. The woman was speaking German and moaning.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, “Don’t you know that’s illegal?”

“No way! Why? Is it illegal to fondle animals in this country?”

I shook my head. “It’s cruelty to animals,” I said. “Plus it’s fucking disgusting.”

Matty stared at me for a second. “Speaking of disgusting. You have blood on your lip.”

“Oh really? I must have bit it in the lobby.”

I pulled out the red bandana and wiped it away.

“Nice neckerchief!”

“Fuck off.” I stuffed the bandana back in my pocket.

He continued to watch the video and giggle.

“Matty, can you cool it with the sleazy shit today? I have a person coming in from Westchester to do training for us on the new finance package. She’ll be here any minute.”

“Did you hear about that helicopter that crashed into the Twin Towers?” Matty asked.

“I heard there was an explosion, or something like that.”

“It was probably a helicopter or a small plane – slammed right into the damn thing.”

I felt for the pills and remembered that there were ten left. I took one out and washed it down with the dregs of the coke that was still sitting on my desk. I sat down and powered up my desktop.

It was just me and Matty, so I lit up a Marlboro. Seated at my desk, I stared out the huge picture window.

She arrived at 9:45. The woman was tall, about forty-five, nicely dressed in a dark blue Elie Tahari business suit. She was pulling a tort case on rollers, which I assumed contained training manuals. Her long blonde hair was tightly pulled back. She told me she was Elaine from Global Finance Software. I introduced myself, then showed her to an empty cubicle where she could use the phone to call her office to inform them that she had arrived.

“I’m not getting through. Busy signal. That’s strange.”

“Maybe you should send them an email?”

“Good idea.”

Matty kept looking at her when he thought she wouldn’t know. He probably found her attractive. I tried not to think about that. He was pretty slimy, overweight and very crude. I went over to see what was on his computer screen. He had exited the porn site.

“They just told me two planes crashed into the World Trade Center,” she said. “It’s a terrorist attack.”

Matty navigated to a news site where we got the whole story: Two passenger jets had crashed into the towers at different times. Both buildings were on fire and people were jumping out windows. All flights had been canceled. Mayor Giuliani and the police commissioner had gone down to the scene of the disaster.

Thoughts were now moving very slowly through my mind. I thought about my kid in school in Brooklyn, and started to get panicky. The sound of rushing blood hurt my ears. I popped another pill to calm myself and felt nauseous. I called my son’s school but got no one. Just a busy signal. After numerous attempts I finally got through.

They put me on hold. I popped two more pills. I had about 60 mg of codeine coursing through my body and beads of sweat were starting to form under my eyes. Finally someone answered. It was a female voice, but detached and very far away. I could feel the blood leaving my face.

“Hello,” I said, “Is everyone ok?” I didn’t know what else to ask.

“This is PS 321. We will be open until 3 pm or until all children are picked up due to the terrorist attack and its impact on the transportation situation.” I heard a click. They were gone.

I tried calling my wife at the school in Brooklyn where she was teaching, but no answer. I tried her cell phone, but that was a dead end, too; I tried again and again, then finally gave up.

The instructor came over to my desk. She was extremely nervous, which was understandable under the circumstances.

“Are we still having the training?” she inquired in a voice I could barely hear.

“I had some people coming up from our office in New Jersey, but I don’t think that’s going to happen now.” I said.

“I figured. But I can’t leave so I might as well stay here.”

“I know. There’s no fuckin’ way out of here. Do you smoke?” I asked.

She nodded. I offered her a smoke.

“Uh…Ok.” I could see her lips were trembling. She lit up and blew the smoke out, then coughed.

I shook my head. “You know…” But I didn’t finish the sentence. What was the point? She was having a great day. A terrorist attack; spending the day with a drug addict and a sex fiend. I hoped she was being paid well.

“Look,” I said, “I’m staying here until the trains are running again. You’re free to stay or leave – it’s your call.” It was about noon now.

At around three I got a call from my wife who told me that she had picked up our son from his school and was now home.

“Please don’t call my cell phone so much. I was busy.”

“Do you have any fuckin’ idea about what was going on? Are you saying I shouldn’t have been fucking concerned?”

“I was busy! We’re both at home and we’re fine. So stop!” She hung up on me.

I was furious and slammed the receiver down so loudly it must have sounded like a gunshot. Elaine jumped slightly, but said nothing. I went to the bathroom and smashed the towel dispenser with my fist. I did another pill.

We stayed in the office until we heard that the subways were up and running again. As soon as Elaine heard that Metro North had resumed service out of Grand Central, she left in a hurry. She said she would call later to reschedule the training. It was 5:30 when I headed out, leaving Matty in the office. I don’t know why he stayed.

I took the elevator down. When the doors opened I stepped out and stood in the lobby for a second as they closed behind me. Nothing seemed real; the security guard was gone.

I walked quickly to the subway. Once underground I was somewhat surprised to see that there was no one on the platform. A train was very slowly approaching and eventually wheezed into the station, a broken creature. The conductor opened the doors. I got into an empty car and sat down. The train slowly departed. No stops were announced. At Delancey Street someone finally got in. He sat down at the other end of the car.

Glancing furtively towards him, I noticed it was the messenger from this morning who had asked me if I was high. He had his beat-up bike with him. I don’t think he saw me. I stared at my feet for the rest of the ride to 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. No one else got on. When I got off, I noticed he had left. I’m not sure where he got off.

I made it home. My son was happy to see me, but he was scared about what had happened in the city. After dinner I helped him with his homework as his mother prepared her lessons for the next day. He went to bed not wanting a story, and fell asleep quickly. Looking at him sleeping, I felt very sad.

Someone called and I didn’t pick up the phone. It was probably my family checking in to see if I was still alive. I hadn’t spoken to them in a long time. I simply didn’t feel like dealing with them.

It was 10 pm. My wife and I were watching television. The story was on every channel. People were walking over the Brooklyn Bridge en masse covered in white powder – asbestos and plaster and debris. Some dust was blowing into our neighborhood. They had a clip of the president. He spoke: eyes glazed over, not blinking. Newscasters offered opinions and theories.

Without looking at me, my wife said, “I want a divorce.” I stared at the television, not responding. Then time started moving again at breakneck speed. I can’t remember what I thought about next.

Peter Marra has work in Maintenant, Calliope, Have a NYC and Have a NYC2. His chapbook “Sins of the Go-Go Girls” has just came out from Why Vandalism? Press. Peter is currently compiling his first collection of poetry.