“The Night Point” by Toby Miller, NYC

Crime and Punishment July 11, 2011 22:59


as told at a PenTales event themed “Crime and Punishment” 

In the empty church, he still found it hard to get his bearings once the lights were turned out and he was left to guard the vast place alone from a little desk by the door, his more customary seat far on the other side of the room and beyond what the single desk lamp that stained the darkness for a few feet could accommodate. He squinted past the muted glow before looking back at a small TV, itself muted, that flung joblessness stats at him from a news report. “Good thing I don’t believe in some sort of divine retribution,” he thought amid the steady stream of crisply rendered graphics. Looking back at the darkened hall where his thoughts seemed to echo back to him—“divine retribution…divine retribution” —he stood up and took a few steps in, trying to make it all out and wondering as he went at the curious position of journalists. What was the reality behind those stats? Rumor, speculation, hearsay: in short, nothing at all. Yet they had to write something; they had to make the story ends meet somehow. He barked his shin on something and stopped. And what was it to live that reality? The blank haze of days, a penalty for the crime of waking up. A steady stream of self-directed observations, hushed admissions, and declarations of intent, awkwardly uttered aloud as if through a face with no mouth and always somehow ending up at the same place: “this should not be happening to me at this age.” That, all that was the real divine retribution. And the random construction job referred by a friend you can’t imagine would have any connection to something like that: lifting parts of demolished walls into barrels with our hands – it might have been the pyramids we were building. Another with a woman who needed help moving things into storage, her wall a wall of clutter in her apartment; it took till you were reduced to dusting out the plastic box in which she kept business cards before you walked out, not wishing that you had quit sooner but that you had taken some business cards: you could use a new job, not having one being the hardest job ever invented.

The pain having dissolved, he walked back to the desk, and, still standing, turned up the sound on the TV: “Economists of every stripe are looking for what they call a ‘pivot point’ where the economy turns.” He snapped it off: so that’s how they did it, the word jockeys: politeness. The whole collective searching on the economic downturn, the mooching, roundabout news reports written with the professional paramount above all, all of it a smoothly, even gracefully voiced entreaty shot through with a belief that if you can get to the lowest dens and talk to the orneriest folk, things like ‘pivot points’ will live simply because they are cordialities in a world that knows not of them. “As good a way as any to make them meet.” Turning back to the miasma, he heard his thoughts echo again. But this time, he paid close attention, listening as they dared him, stereophonically: “Make them…make them.”

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