• Travis Schuhardt

PROJECT: NEW YORK

I’m on the playground, six, and lonely, while Max and Julie are on the swings, and Dylan still isn’t talking to me, and Matty and Taylor’s kissing game turns into a yelling game and then into a hitting game. Clouds overhead. Don’t tell anyone. It’s probably nothing. If it were a problem, the teachers would step in. Taylor is crying. I’ve always loved Taylor. I will talk to her when she’s not crying anymore. She’ll be alright. Matty goes to the basketball court. I don’t talk to Taylor.


The storms are getting worse, they say. Mom says it’s probably nothing to worry about. Dad says it’ll be years before anything happens. I don’t know the value of a year, I’ve only had six, you see. I like watching the rain. We sit in a garage in New Jersey on lawn chairs and watch the storm, and Dad lets me run out into the storm, lets me lower my voice and act like a man and have the wind lift me off my feet, and I could fly if I jumped.


I am in high school, and theater fills my days. It reveals a love of acting, a love of writing, and suddenly I have dreams. I have a crush on Liz that gives me a future. A house, a lawn, a churchgoing, comely neighborhood. She graduates three years before me and takes away everything we could’ve shared. I have a crush on Mina. I think about nothing else.


Columbia rejects me and it’s fine but not. I am searching for a way into New York to chase Sophia and a future. The future, who knows? Sophia doesn’t talk to me anymore. Chase away. It is raining outside, like my psyche, of course, it is a storm and we lose power for a week and I meditate on loss and love and come to no conclusion at all.


They are talking about building a wall around New York. Project: New York, they call it. In anticipation. Not good enough, the protestors are saying. They’ll come out in the wash. The world is changing. I call it the always-rains and the never-rains, because it’s always or never raining. I am in New York the day they break ground on the wall. I get a bagel in the morning, then head to the bookstore on 14th, then head back to my dorm and read. My blinds are closed. I listen to the always-rains softly pattering against my window.


The walls lead to flooding, flooding to protests, protests to dome.


The dome around New York is an architectural marvel, both for its speed of creation and technical prowess. The rain never stops, who could’ve predicted, it’s certainly not my, the scientists were, data says this evidence was, people are dying in the, contradictory reports from the, “Who cares what’s true anyway?” Claire says to me on our way to Bushwick. We are going to see the center of the dome. There is a small, grated opening in the exact center, where the always-rains drop from the sky, down into another grate at the bottom. Next to the spot, a small, plastic sign slapped onto a metal post: Please do not drink the water.


Mass transit has begun to move underground, and so I get to see Mom and Dad again. Every time they call they ask if its a good time to come visit — of course, it never is, but come, come — and laugh at me for being a Dome-ite. People always knew New Yorkers lived in their own little bubble. Because of the success they’re trying it everywhere now, Mom says. All the big cities. And how are things in Jersey? Oh, you know, the same; it’s harder to get to the Costco in all the rain, but we buy in bulk now, honey, so we’re fine. A small change as all that, I could never see what all the fuss was about.


I teach a class on literature and mythology on Wednesdays from 1:00 to 3:00 at Washington Place; my students — it fulfills one of those requirements, I think — they look dully at their screens as I tell them about history and writing. Who is the father of the gods? Hand up, Kronos. What was Sisyphus’s punishment? Hand up, couldn’t eat or drink despite being in a pool and near a fruit tree. No. Other hands up more aggressively, he has to roll a rock up a hill forever. Hard one — Why does Daedalus build mechanical wings? Hands up. To save his son. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be ironic. She’s a freshman and has taken four pages of notes on my introduction. I mark down that she gets an A, and then dismiss the class.


Claire says she’ll marry me if I ask her. Everyone’s getting married these days. I’m in my editor’s office, twenty-eight, and lonely, and ask him what I should do. He says my writing is too much about longing for me to settle down: if you replace I want with I have then the writing is dull. He’s right, I know, but I think about marrying Claire anyway. I think about it too long and she marries someone else. My book sells like crazy.


A New York Times article titled Project: New York: The Modern Labyrinth is lying on a desk in the classroom where I teach. It’s a former student of mine, fresh out of class. The minotaur is real, she says, and it walks the street each night looking for young women to take. It is a response to Dome Hysteria. We are not allowed to leave; it is not safe to leave anymore, they say. Daedali, she calls us, the plural Daedalus, trapped in our own creation, waiting to be taken by the creature.


I hit the big 3-0 and have a small party with Claire and David, and a few other friends and former students. There is a cake and everything. Claire announces that she is pregnant and the party music stops. Congratulations and how could you. The child will never see the sky, I tell her. They’ll see a different sky, she explains, softly grabbing my arm. I wish I had said yes two years ago. My editor is hounding me for another book. My parents call during the party and tell me they love and miss me. I blow out the candles and ask everyone to leave.


Vitamin deficiency sets in en masse. To be expected. Health centers give out free multi-vitamins, until they run out each week. Rumor is they’re placebos anyway, but who knows whether or not that’s true. You can get to Chicago now, and Boston, without even going outside, and so they’ve deemed it safe, when it’s not quaking at least, to leave the city, so long as you stay underground. Newark is getting it’s own dome this year — Mom tells me excitedly on the phone — and they’ve bought a small place there, and should be able to visit in no time. Everyone looks so pale here, I say to her, it looks like we’re all sick or something. Try not to lose your tans.


The new science journal says that the next generation will be shorter, paler, a little more hunched, and possibly able to see in the dark. Buzzfeed calls this the new age of superheroes. We are becoming more powerful through adversity, you see. Claire’s son is named Willis. She stole my name. We’ve just been so busy I can’t believe you haven’t met yet. At two, he’s an ugly little thing. I ask if he has dark vision as a joke, and they say it’s too soon to tell.


I visit my parents in Newark. They look much older, and I can tell by how they look at me that I do too. I’m sorry, I say to them. Mom cooks her famous chicken — you have no idea how hard these are to come by these days, dear — and it tastes like I’m six and at home. The rain on the dome of Newark sounds heavier than the rain on New York’s dome. I listen to it.

My second book doesn’t do as well and suddenly I’m forty. How did that happen, we all joke at my party. Willis, young Willis, is nine now and has too much energy. They say that’s the way it is with kids these days. Too much energy or not enough. They give him pills but he doesn’t take them, Claire tells me, to explain why he’s running crazily around my apartment. He’s a good kid. I ask him how he enjoys life under the dome — there’s an outside? His eyes light up. You’re joking. There can’t be a sky after the sky. I explain it like a myth. There was once a sky, and we even flew in it in big metal things, planes, higher than you’ll ever find these days. Woah. Some day, do you think I’ll be able to fly in one of those? Some day. It’s not a lie — they’re saying things will go back to normal, soon, that they’re close to a break through. Just a few more years, and things will change again.


Willis, the young Willis, and his friend Lea go looking for trouble. Kids will be kids. Eleven and proud, Lea tells him that her father worked on the dome, and she knows where the service elevator is. We can get outside. But only for a second, and we have to go all the way up, and you have to hold my hand okay? She is red in the face and he agrees. They take the subway towards Hudson Yards, and creep towards the edge of the world. The pin code for the elevator is 1-2-1-9, and then they are flying up faster and higher than Willis ever imagined. He watches the city get smaller and smaller beneath him — I am in a, what did he call them, plane. Lea’s hand is sweaty in his and the elevator is stifling in its heat. At the top, the elevator dings.


Ocean, sky, things go on forever how are they allowed to do that I do not know, see how it tumbles, it tumbles and falls and it is moving like the cars but not like the cars it is like stairs it is like falling down stairs and smells funny like bad funny but maybe not so bad and it feels so wet like Bushwick like the tub except forever and not cooped up and so blue, crayon blue, blue that’s sad but not all sad and the sky is gray it’s cold and what is that that feeling of moving and floating and — wind, she says — wind that’s the word and wind and sky and where does it all come from and that in the distance that flash that bolt of — lightning — yeah lightning and the thunderclap I never I don’t look at how small everything is behind us and what is this on us it’s it’s the sky coming down — rain, Willis — yeah, yeah, of course Lea I know like Bushwick but always rain and everywhere and I didn’t know there was an everywhere except there — let’s go, we’ve been gone so long — just one more second I want to think here I think there’s more to think here and I think I could fly if I jumped — Willis, Willis!


They search for him all night. No one knows what to do. Lea gets in trouble with her parents, but no one presses charges. Claire goes to a therapist who specializes in grief counseling. The funeral is postponed until David gets back from Chicago. Claire wants me to speak at the funeral. Your namesake. Wanted him to be like you. There is a new article in the Times by my former student, titled Project: New York: Escaping the Labyrinth. We have used Icarus for so long as a pride metaphor we forget that it wasn’t about pride at all. It was about a child who had never come to the realization that he was able to die. When Daedalus finally gets to the underworld after a long and fulfilling life, he rushes to Icarus. Dad, why didn’t you catch me? I thought you were going to catch me.

©2020 by ~quarantine content~.