Eric walks slowly down State Street, his back bent under the weight of his shoulder bag and the suit coat he had shoved between his bag and his body. Though the sun set on Chicago hours ago, there was no need to don a jacket this evening, which feels more like summer than fall even this late in September. Street lamps stare down hard at the sidewalks, filling the air with their harsh, fluorescent light. Apart from them, Eric is almost entirely alone. Only a few cars and buses keep him company. (The bums sleeping in the side entrances of the business towers are all but invisible to him.)
Plodding—one foot, then the other, and again—Eric pauses when he recognizes the shiny exterior of one of the local news stations. Raising his head, he catches the tail end of the update on the ticker that runs outside the building. In blazing orange letters, he reads, “LARGEST DROP IN NYSE HISTORY.” Eric blinks once, twice, and sighs. This is not news to him. Then he glances at the next item: “BOMBS EXPLO—.” That’s not his story. He puts his head down, and starts trudging anew.
* * *
Empty. That’s what his head is: utterly empty. To think about anything now would be too much. It’s all he can do to keep focus long enough to understand what words say on the newspapers and litter that cross his path. More than anything, he must keep walking. If he comes to an intersection with a don’t-walk signal, he ignores it or turns. He knows he must stop sometime.
To stop, though, would feel like death. It would give his mind a chance to move beyond the day’s events. In Washington, hundreds of representatives had thumbed their noses at their betters, refusing to fix the turmoil in the financial sector and among traders. In New York, traders—frightened by Washington—pulled their clients’ money out of the stock market with the firm conviction that it would not be there to pull out tomorrow. In Chicago, Merc traders did their best to save their dreams.
All of them except Eric, that is, for he had no more dreams to save. With the day’s collapse, he lost nothing; everything concrete he’d lost weeks earlier. But today, struggling to break back into the black but only falling further into the read, he realized he couldn’t make it. With that realization, he had noticed his pulse quickening, sweat beading on his brow, and his stomach twisting and shrink and then to leaping into his throat. He gained a completely novel understanding: he can fear. Before, he hadn’t had the time to be afraid. Earlier today, though, his tomorrows gaped open wide before him as ravenous, gnashing beasts that would consume him, each in turn. These heretofore unknown creatures—tomorrows that threatened rather than beckoned—shocked Eric.
* * *
Suddenly, Eric sees that he has stepped onto a bridge. He stops and turns to look at the river below. A breeze blows gently, whispering in his ears. He closes his eyes and lifts his head to catch the gentle caresses more fully against his cheek. He opens his eyes, looking up toward the skyline. ‘Pretty,’ he thinks, ‘and pretty damn impressive.’ As a boy, this had always been his favorite spot, looking up at all the monoliths around him. For the first time in a decade, he notices the buildings and remembers his love for them as marvels of man’s genius. Hell, even Donald Trump’s monstrous tower—one-third of its 90-plus floors built—looks kind of pretty tonight.
He feels a buzzing in his pocket. He reaches into it and lifts out his phone, but not before the buzzing ends. “13 Missed Calls,” the screen tells him. He opens the phone, and scrolls through the list: 6 from his mother, 3 from work, and the rest from friends and that chick he met in Toronto last month. He goes back up to the most recently missed call, squeezes his eyes and holds his breath for a moment, and then presses “Send.”
“Hiya,” he says, when he hears a voice on the other end. A question comes through. “I know, I know, I’m sorry. It’s been—a day.” Another question. “I dunno, Mom. I don’t even want to think about tomorrow.” Yet more questions, insistent. “Well I gotta—.” Eric pauses, fumbling for words.
Sucking the air in deeply, he regains his composure. “Yeah, you know what? Yeah, I’ll be there.” Questions again, but less insistent. “Whatever you had for dinner is fine, Mom. I’ll just stick it in the microwave.”
“Oh, and Mom. I’m sorry I missed Sunday dinner last night. I just—.” Now, he’s interrupted by a command, and then the voice on the other end goes away. Eric brings his hand down from his ear, looks at the phone, and smiles. “Okay, Mom. I love you too.”