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“What would the world look like if I rode on a beam of light.”

—Albert Einstein at the age of fourteen

A girl leaves her apartment in Brooklyn and starts walking. When I say “girl,” I mean she is in her early twenties. Her apartment is right next to a fire station. The fire station is dormant as she passes. There is no fire. She is walking to her subway stop, an elevated train. She is headed to work. She is the assistant to a guy who is the assistant to a guy who promotes monster truck events, riverboat casinos, and closed-circuit heavyweight boxing matches.

She doesn’t have what she wants, not even close.

Beneath the elevated subway, there is a rundown travel agency, the kind that makes you wonder who would ever travel from there. How can anyone in this rundown neighborhood afford a vacation? Most of the residents are Hasidic Jews, and they dress in a drab uniform. The women wear little felt hats and plain, plain skirts, plainer than possible, and nude pantyhose so thick you can’t see the skin underneath, and sensible shoes, they all wear the same shoes. The women also wear several small children, whenever they go out. Children as armor; it’s a thing.

The girl stops in front of the window of the travel agency and reads a poster taped to the window. She stops here often, to read this poster, which is so faded and tattered, even the scotch tape is tired. The corners are torn off, like someone tried to eat the poster, starting with the corners until a coworker said, “Hey stop that! Don’t eat the poster!”

The girl would eat this poster; she loves it that much.

She could have the same poster herself probably, on her bedroom wall in a cheap frame, but she would never do that. It’s a cheesy poster for unthinking people who need too much help. It might even be religious.

The poster shows a photo of two sets of footprints on a deserted, tropical beach and on top of it is a poem, a riddle, like the riddle of the Sphinx, with a folksy Christian twist. The point of it, to cut right to the point, is that everybody is being carried along in the giant hand of God. Being carried along, that’s right, especially during the tough times. God is carrying you in his hand like a set of car keys.

The girl doesn’t believe in God, and she certainly isn’t a Christian. She is intelligent and educated, and pretty hot besides, and she does yoga and is planning to work in the music industry once she builds up her resumé. She fell off the map for a while and is just starting to become a person again.

She pulls herself away from the footprints poster and walks up the stairs to the subway. She moves very slowly, even though she is running late. When she gets close to the top of the stairs, she notices a big crowd of people milling around. This means that—shit—the trains are delayed. A man turns around to greet her, a total stranger, which is what happens when the routine gets thrown off in the city. The stranger says, “Some woman threw herself under the train.” He is more annoyed than appalled.

The girl considers her options. A different subway line runs along the other edge of her neighborhood. It’s a cold morning for such a long walk, but the girl can probably make it in twenty-five minutes.

Although the girl knows exactly which woman threw herself under the train, she wants to check to make sure. She sneaks a look, and she sees pantyhose, thick nude pantyhose and a bloody leg with bones sticking out. Then she walks under the track, down on the street, and she looks up at the crumpled body from underneath. It was definitely the woman with the five kids and the ugly purse and the little felt hat.

Blood is dripping down onto the street, and the girl feels sick. God. This is awful. Why did she let herself look up? Why did she want to see that? She must have wanted to, because she did it. Presumably, she still has control of her own eye muscles. It might be the only thing she has control over. The girl looked at the gory mess on purpose. She can’t blame God.

She doesn’t have what she wants, not even close.

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