Kenneth met Marie on the night of August 14, 2015 at The Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia.
It would be the first and last time they would intersect at the exact same coordinates of space, time and parallels.
They knew this the moment their eyes met. But they fell in love anyway. A martyr-driven tragedy of Romeo and Juliet proportions.
It was their one and only play, a breathless “fuck you” to the Kafkaesque-Hawking situation they were both in.
Kenneth spotted Marie the moment she walked into the club.
Through the throng of headbangers in the mosh pit, in spite of the fog accented by blue and orange floodlights and in between the dense threaded wall of static, pulsating rattle and tidal wave of distorted diminished chords…
Kenneth saw her. He knew her and understood her and when their eyes met from across the room, they both recognized each other instantly even though they had never met before until this very moment.
Kenneth wore an old, faded jean jacket from the Gap, his bald brown Puerto Rican head rested sturdy above the denim pedestal like a marble bust of the Mayan god Itzamm. Marie wore a little black dress, her long straight raven hair draped over her pale white shoulders, thick foliage covering tattoos of impending shipwrecks and an angry Kraken with one tentacle swirling, reaching over and into her bosom, cradling a pierced nipple.
Kenneth dodged, sauntered and sidestepped his way through the white noise, loud metal and flailing limbs to reach her.
They stared into each other’s souls for a while before she smiled. Kenneth followed suite.
He leaned into her left ear and shouted, “How many days has it been?”
“Two hundred and forty-seven!” she yelled into his ear, a hot blast of cherry lipstick and spearmint gum. “You?”
“A thousand and twenty-three,” he said, then patted his chest, over his heart.
“That’s a long time. That sucks! I’m sorry!”
“Well. You and me both.”
They looked at each other for a long while then. It was their last chance to spend the night together or walk way from each other, never to meet again. That split-moment right before you jumped out of a plane. Hesitation, reluctance and anxiety all rolled into one and roiling in your gut.
Their eyes gleamed, as if meeting a long, lost childhood friend. There was deep-rooted familiarity, but a strange new uncertainty that was fresh and stark and ripe.
They wanted to hold each other for comfort and sanctuary, but didn’t.
Finally, Kenneth worked up the courage and asked, “Do you want to get out of here?”
“Yeah, sure. I hate this band anyway.”
They wandered close together, but not holding hands, across the street to the Historic Fourth Ward Park and sat a few steps away from the stormwater pond. It was a warm humid evening.
Just a few blocks away on Boulevard and North Avenue, a Jeep Cherokee was being broken into. The summer air crackled with a persistent tense worry.
But to Kenneth and Marie, they felt nothing beyond their own solitary small spherical world.
They sat in silence watching the ripples in the water. Kenneth recognized there was a terrible poem to be had here, but pushed the idea away. He glanced at the young woman beside him, her brilliant eyes staring vacantly into the void. He had still not asked her name yet, and felt it was safer not to. For now.
He sensed however, perhaps knew, she felt comfortable just being sitting beside him. And he felt the same way about her.
Kenneth reached into his back pocket and pulled out an old leather wallet. It was an anniversary present from his wife back home in Los Angeles where he had a job as a grip on movie sets. A lifetime ago.
He flipped it open to the picture behind the plastic window and put it in front of Marie’s face. She took it and looked at it.
“That’s my boy, Ermano,” Kenneth explained. “He’s eight in this picture. He would be eleven now. I wish I had something more recent. But my wife stopped soon after this thing…” He twirled his two hands in the air in mock disappointment.
Marie nodded. “He looks like a beautiful young man. You must miss him.”
Kenneth held back a tear. “Everyday. Everyday.”
“I was single and living alone when I was taken,” Marie said, handing back Kenneth’s wallet. “I wasn’t really close to my family and I didn’t really like the friends I had at the time. So I guess I’m lucky in that regards.”
“I hear you. It’s still not easy, is it?”
“No,” Marie murmured, turning away. “It’s not.”
She paused, as if lost in her own thoughts, before she continued. “It’s still a shock every morning. To wake up in a new bed in a new city, not knowing where you are, why you’re there, what you could have possibly done in your life to deserve this… this… cruel and unusual… punishment.”
She hissed the last word out with useless bitter vitriol.
Kenneth raised an arm to wrap around her, but held back at the last minute. Marie reminded him of the some of those who had committed suicide, people in the same situation as him, on his travels around the world.
Nobody chose this life. And whoever was upstairs making this happen didn’t seem to have any rhyme nor reason for who was chosen either. He, or she, or it, or them, had taken away the young and old, the rich and poor. Your race, class and religion didn’t matter. Kenneth had met a large enough sample size of “travellers” since he was first taken to know it was truly random.
In Dubai, Kenneth met Barney, an ex-IT jockey. Barney called himself and their queer group RASTTies. Random Access Space-Time Travellers. Earth’s motherboard needed you on the go, so you went. Blip. Every morning, somewhere else.
In Rio Janeiro, Kenneth met Alice, a 68-year-old retired stockbroker with twenty-one grandkids spread out all over America in eight different states. She got on a plane on the first of every month to visit with another one of her grandchildren, living in a different city every month. But now that she was “taken”, she didn’t need any planes and she was in a random city every single morning.
In Montreal, Kenneth met Feng. She was an ambitious young woman from Shanghai. She came from a dirt poor farming family and had fought tooth and nail to get into an Ivy League university on scholarship. She did it living a life of regimented discipline and strict order. When she was “taken”, she couldn’t handle it.
They found her body in Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis. Nobody knew who she was and what she was doing there. Her family never got the news.
Like many others in his situation, Kenneth tried contacting his family. The first time, they think it’s a joke. The second time, they’re angry you’re not home. The third time, she calls you a coward for leaving her and your baby boy and says how she knew you’d do it and now you’re just being a dick for calling her and making up some weird fucked-up excuse.
What do you tell them? What do you tell her? What does it even mean? Who was doing this? Why were they doing it?
And every morning you woke up, you asked yourself, “Why this city? Why today? What am I supposed to do here? Am I supposed to do anything at all?”
“Hey you,” Marie said, intertwining her fingers into his. “You OK?”
Kenneth shook himself out of his tangent of memories and feelings of lost helplessness. “No, I’m not. But I’m fine.”
“My name’s Marie, by the way. In case you were wondering.”
“Hi Marie. I’m Kenneth. Nice to meet you.”
She flashed her teeth and smiled with her eyes, creasing the thick black eyeliner and magenta eyeshadow.
They held hands and they watched the water wrinkle together in silence. ☣