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Zeke was daydreaming when he saw the wheelchair kid go down. He yanked his mind out of his imaginary plane ride, stopped, and watched the boys run, the kid stuck under the chair, apparently unable to rise. Surely someone would help him; they couldn’t all stare as they passed by. Zeke waited a few more seconds, mentally fighting with himself. He had long ago learned that people were going use favors against you, no matter how innocent they looked. But the kid didn’t look like he could get up on his own. He struggled for a minute, swearing under his breath, before collapsing.
“The things I do.” Zeke said, walking over to help the kid.
He lifted the wheelchair, and with a small clang set it back upright. One of the screws was missing. Zeke knelt and found it after a few seconds search. He screwed it back together while the kid sat up and wiped the rain out of his face and ran his fingers over his legs.
“They should make these things studier.” Zeke said, now testing the chair for stability.
“Thank you.” The kid said, pulling himself into the chair. The screw would hold, but not for long. Hopefully the kid had somewhere he could take it to get it fixed.
“Zeke.” he replied, as if that was enough, “I should apologize for those guys as well.”
Not that he really had to, but at that point Zeke was unsure of how to continue the conversation.
There was a name no one heard anymore. He probably had a sister named Claudia, a mother named Eleanor, and they lived on the upper west side. Zeke almost snorted.
“Don’t worry about it. You get used to being an oddity. Besides, I usually enjoy my time face first on the sidewalk.” Theodore added.
Zeke paused. It was in the way he dropped the last line, casually, and almost as if he was unaware of what he was saying. He looked at the kid again, and a small smile broke out on his face. Perhaps he wasn’t so bad after all.
“I should be going, I’ll be late. Thanks again.” the kid said after a minute.
“No problem. See you around.”
Theodore wheeled away, a movement that looked so natural it took Zeke a moment to realize that he was still staring after him. He shook his head, and turned down a side street, determined to put some distance between him and the impromptu meeting.
It was later, when Zeke was lying on his bed, that he remembered something Theodore had said. You get used to being an oddity. Zeke swallowed. Maybe the kid did get used to it, but that didn’t make it any better.
Central Park was deserted. Rain cascaded downward, barely slowed by the tiny new leaves on the trees. The water pooled in the ditches and potholes littering the walkways, snaked out in streams running beside the grass, and flooded the duck pond. Lightning split the sky, and the corresponding thunder boom sent a flock of birds into flight.
Theodore watched the birds take off, a bittersweet longing nestling in his stomach. He seemed impervious to the rain plastering his hair to his face and soaking his clothes as he made his way slowly around mud and holes. At seventeen, Theodore knew the city like most kids knew video games. It was his only source of entertainment, though in recent months the city was losing it’s appeal.
He bent to scoop a rock from the ground and threw it toward the pond. It hit with an unsatisfactorily small splash, the ripples lazily widening. He snorted and turned sharply away from the water. He headed down a small hill, rain stinging his eyes, weaving past boulders and under a bridge before coming out into the streets of New York. Theodore splashed through a large puddle, soaking a bicycle taxi.
“Watch it.” the man said, shaking his head to clear off the water.
He mumbled an apology, turning to go the opposite way. The streets were fairly empty, most people huddled under the overhangs, or inside the shops. A few lucky ones had umbrellas, and were going about their normal business. Theodore ignored the inevitable stares from them. After thirteen years he had learned that rising to the jests and the sympathetic looks wasn’t worth being yelled at by complete strangers. New York could say what it wanted.
“Nice ride,” a group of teens slightly younger than Theodore called from underneath an overhang, “Is your family so cheap you have to use your grandmother’s wheelchair instead of a bike?”
Theodore ignored them, continuing as if he hadn’t heard. Anything you say will make it worse, he thought.
“Are you deaf?” One of the kids took half a step into the rain. “I asked why you were in the chair.”
Theodore said nothing, repeating a steady mantra of ‘Ignore them’ in his head. He had three blocks until his apartment, three short blocks. He leveled with them, focusing straight ahead, when a clacking noise came from under the chair. Theodore glanced down just as the entire wheelchair tipped sideways, dumping him onto the ground.
The kids laughed and ran off down the street, leaving Theodore stranded on his face. He swore, and tried to shove himself up, but something in the chair wasn’t right; it only scraped across the ground a few inches. Rain trickled down his face into his eyes, blurring his vision.
Footsteps came from behind, and with a metallic clang, the wheelchair was lifted. Theodore pushed himself into a sitting position, checking his legs for scrapes.
“They should make these things studier.” the voice said, and Theodore looked up.
The speaker was about Theodore’s age, maybe a little older, with spiked blond hair and pale green eyes. He was fiddling with a small screw in one of the wheels, twisting it back in with his fingers. He rolled the char experimentally, and, seeming satisfied, nodded.
“They should.” Theodore pulled himself back into the chair, “Thank you.”
“Zeke,” the boy said, “I should apologize for those guys.”
“Theodore. Don’t worry about it, you get used to being an oddity. Besides, I usually enjoy my time face first on the sidewalk.”
Zeke stared for a minute, before breaking into a smile and chuckling.
A silence fell, and Theodore glanced at his watch, watching the second hand make a full rotation. “I should be going, I’ll be late. Thanks again.” he said.
“No problem. See you around.”
Theodore spun the wheels, and headed home.
Fay loved the rain. She loved the sound it made as it splattered against the windows, natures very own snare drum. She loved the shrieks of people caught in it, the lyrics to a common song. Best of all, she loved the thunder, the bass rounding everything out, rolling across the sky.
Her face was pressed against the window in her third story apartment, ears straining to make out the scene in the streets below her. Cars honked and sirens blared, but this was a poor indicator of time of day. The streets were a perpetual cacophony, never sleeping. Then there was the rain that Fay knew made the sky darker than usual. Perhaps, she thought on a whim, perhaps it would look like twilight. Fay liked that. To her it was as if the entire world paused before going to sleep and took a breath. Everything seemed still and background noises were dull, making it easy for her to concentrate on one sound at a time.
Fay was certain it wasn’t twilight yet, having woken only a few hours previously, but with the clouds covering the sun, she couldn’t be sure of the time. Sighing, she backed away from the window and felt her way to the kitchen, almost gracefully stepping around furniture. She knew her parents would have loved to move things around, or even get new furniture, but it had taken Fay years to know exactly where everything in the house was and what it felt like, and neither Fay nor her parents were willing to go through that again.
Her mother was in the kitchen, judging by the slight floral smell in the air. Her mother always smelled of flowers, some combination of lavender and honeysuckle.
“What are you doing?” Fay asked, hearing what sounded like boiling tar on the stove. It didn’t smell much better.
A clatter came from the sink.
“Fay! You scared me.” Her mother’s voice was strained, “You need to make your presence known. I’m making jam.”
Fay wrinkled her nose, “What kind of jam?”
“Strawberry, I just need to add-” Fay’s mother broke off and groaned. “Not again, this is the second time I’ve burned that.”
Taking an open opportunity, Fay slipped out of the kitchen and to her room. She sat in front of her own window, and leaned her forehead against the cool glass. As the noises of the outside filled her, Fay longed to go outside and dance in the rain.
Checking to see if her mother was still in the kitchen, she headed out of the apartment and into the hall. She carefully made her way down the stairs, making sure each step was firmly under her foot before moving. She paused in the entrance hall to the building, adrenaline making her heart beat faster than usual. Outside the door was a world that was usually closed for Fay, unless her parents were with her. She inched her hand toward the doorknob, gripping the metal, scared that it would break.
A sudden fear filled her, and she backed away. Her heard raced, and her hand tingled. Fay traced the lines on her palm with her other hand, trying to feel if it was burned at all.
A fleeting memory rose in her mind, of when she was little and new to the darkness. She had tripped, and caught herself on the stovetop. Pain like she had never felt it before had emanated from her hand. The burns had taken months to fully heal. Even now, her mother would occasionally comment on the scars still visible on her palm. Fay didn’t know exactly what they looked like, but she could imagine them, blemishes on otherwise unmarred skin.
Her back was pressed against the wall still, but something in the familiarity of the memory calmed her. Her hands still shook, but with less vigor, and she was beginning to think that maybe she could try again, when the door was flung open, and someone came in. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Fay thought the person seemed vaguely familiar, having some kind of musky smell mixed with rain, but she was too enthralled with the sounds coming from outside. The street noises were much louder here, as if they were right in front of her. Fay gasped, taking half a step forward.
“I wouldn’t go out there, it’s really pouring.” the person said.
The words were almost out of her mouth, that it didn’t matter, she was leaving to dance in the rain... But the words would not come. The fear was back, and Fay closed her mouth.
“No.” She stepped back.
As the person closed the door, cutting off her freedom, sadness filled Fay. Sinking down, she pulled her knees to her chest and began to cry.
The parade was filing down the street, the straight rows and rigid positions making Theodore think of an army marching to war. In a way, he supposed they were, marching to fight for their right to play music as loud as they wanted in the street, marching to fight the war against silence.
It was amazing, the sound rising from the instruments, curling in the air, and echoing across the city. Theodore spotted Zeke, the boy he met a few weeks previously when he’d rescued him from his overturned wheelchair, across the street. He almost waved to him, almost called out to him, but a line of horns passed, and he lost sight of the kid.
As the music carried him into the sky, a peaceful feeling burst into his chest, spreading through his limbs. It was the same feeling he used to get when he was little, before disaster struck his home, when Theodore and his parents would sit together and watch a movie. The same feeling that used to come from wheeling through Central Park. He didn’t want to bother Zeke, didn’t want to bother anyone. All that existed was Theodore and the music. Theodore, and the strange, wild freedom that he found in soaring with the music.
It was a few weeks after the incident at the front door. Fay hadn’t ventured outside her apartment since, which caused problems for her parents, but they didn’t seem to mind. Secretly, Fay suspected they were a little relieved to not have to deal with steering her around the busy streets. She was in the kitchen, eating jam out of the jar with a spoon, when she first heard the noises.
It sounded like an entire band was right outside her apartment, the drums thumping in her chest, the horns a sweeter version of the noises created by police sirens. Whistles blew, shoes clacked against the pavement, and Fay would later swear she heard someone singing.
Upon giving an account of that afternoon, Fay wouldn’t be able to explain exactly what made her rise from the table and head to the door. She couldn’t say why she made her way down the stairs, passing her flabbergasted mother. She may have hesitated at the door, she may not have, but before she knew it, Fay was out on the sidewalk, and the noise was incredible.
Fay had no idea what was going on, all she was sure of was that before her lay a wall of sound. Drums, horns, flutes, it rose from the street and blasted against her ears, forcing her backwards. Her back ran into something soft, and she started, the sudden bump back to reality was overwhelming.
“Careful, you don’t want to fall into the street.”
The voice seemed familiar, as if she’d heard it a long time ago. Fay struggled to concentrate on who it was, but a name eluded her.
“You’re the girl from 3B, right? I think I saw you a few weeks ago. The day it rained?”
Of course, the person who entered before she made it outside.
“That’s me,” Heat rose to her cheeks.
If the person said anything, Fay couldn’t hear, because just then a large drum line passed, and she could hear nothing else but the rolling beats, a mimesis of her heartbeat.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” the person said.
Fay nodded, speechless. Amazing was one way to describe it.
“I’m Zeke, by the way.”
Fay nodded, still lost somewhere in the music. It took her a minute to realize that she should introduce herself, and managed to do so somewhere between a french horn and another drum line.
Fay floated in ecstasy, briefly wondering how long this, whatever it was, would go on. She wished she could see if there were an end, but that was as impossible as it was for her to navigate the streets. Feeling slightly disappointed, she folded her arms. In doing so, she brushed against someone else, and an idea came.
“Can I ask a favor?”
Zeke paused, and then answered, “Sure.”
“Can...Can you tell me what it looks like?”
Another pause, then, “It’s a parade, at least ten across, everyone matching in red and blue...”
Fay smiled. At last, images danced across her unseeing eyes, and the moment was complete.
The parade had been advertised for weeks so it didn’t come as a surprise when the side walks were so full of people that he could barely move, even a half hour before it was due to begin. Zeke forced his way to a small clearing just outside his apartment door, and focused on the steadily rising noises. Drums were heard first, their low frequency traveling far ahead of them. As the first specks of color were seen, horns joined in, and suddenly the entire parade was right before him. The uniforms of the band members were bright red with blue sashes, and ridiculous furry top hats that made the members look like part of the London guards.
Movement just outside his peripheral vision caught his eye, and Zeke turned to see a familiar girl move slowly out of the apartment, and head to the street. He watched her approach, and then suddenly back away from the edge. She kept backing, apparently unaware that he was behind her, and he was about to move when she ran into him. The girl jumped slightly, and Zeke almost reached out a hand to steady her.
“Careful.” he said, grabbing his pants leg instead.
The girl looked dazed, and a stronger memory of where he’d seen her arose. He had been entering his apartment building. She was pressed against the wall in front of the door, and had made to leave when he’d entered. She’d said that she wasn’t leaving, but something in her face had told him that she’d been planning otherwise.
Zeke stole a look at the girl’s eyes, and if he wasn’t sure before, he was sure now. They were the same blue, a pale color, unseeing.
He introduced himself, and chatted aimlessly into silence when it became clear that she wasn’t interested in him at all. Not that he could blame her. He was about to give up, and move away when she suddenly asked a question.
“Can I ask a favor?”
Zeke paused, the old thought of not doing favors in New York almost rising on his lips, when an image of the wheelchair boy flashed in his mind.
“Sure.” he said, and was astounded when she asked her question.
How was he supposed to describe what a band looked like? How was he supposed to put into words, the sheer awe of hundreds of thousands of people together, in one place? What did she think him, a magician?
Zeke took a breath, and started from the beginning.
“It’s a parade, at least ten across, everyone matching in red and blue...”