Evening in America
By Katie Avagliano
It’s evening, the world blurring around the edges, that sleepy summertime weather that encourages a lot of sitting around, day turning to night the way water boils; slowly, and then all at once.
It’s evening on a midsummer Friday. Pools, lakes, boardwalks, dinner cooked with the windows open and eaten outside, bugs swatted, music from tinny speakers. The cicadas, the crickets, the whip-poor-wills. Siblings squinting against the dying light to play basketball, dribbling around a fenced court and shooting into a rim long ago gone net-less. Friends piling into a pickup to fetch booze, to fetch more friends, to fetch ice cream. Couples sweating in houses where the AC crapped out on the hottest day of the year.
Movie theaters are crowded. Beaches are emptying. Children are being reminded, for the last time, brush your teeth and get to bed. Televisions tuning to the weekend mainstays, sitcom reruns, baseball games.
It’s evening, and the Yankees are at the bottom of the sixth, one run up against the Orioles. Third of four games. Bars have the game on, muted. In homes, the game is on, muted. The Yankees are there and not there. They are window-dressing.
It’s evening, a red sunset, the temperature dropping. There is a man. This man approaches the baseball game with the sullen quiet of winter fog. He has a beard and scars on his arms. He used to give gifts of flowers, buds left on the table for his mother, a single stem for a special girl, and before he walks into the stadium he sees a beat-up dandelion, the hardy summer weed, and he thinks, for a fleeting, childish instant, of picking it, blowing its billowy head. Make a wish.
He is a man who was a boy who grew up in a part of the world where buildings and people were destroyed with the random, wilful chaos of a game of Battleship. He who was born into war, who met death for the first time because of war, who knew with the unshakable belief of childhood that he would die in war. Who knew the humiliation of being on the losing side.
He is a radical. He is a terrorist. He is doing the right thing. He is a freedom fighter. He has his own reasons. He is not in his right mind. He is lost, desperate, hopeful, suicidal, evil, a mother’s son, a murderer.
He has a backpack. He wants to do as much damage as possible. He is full of love and conviction. He is idealistic. What he is doing will change the world, and the world needs changing.
It’s one of those summer nights where the body longs to be outdoors, swaying in a hammock, waving pennants for the home team. The stadium is teeming with life.
There are crowds at the game, clutches of white families in pinstriped jerseys. The man never liked crowds, the crush of bodies, the odor. He is used to having wind blow through his baggy t-shirts. Tonight he is wearing layers. He is wearing a bomb. He sweats. He keeps moving. He has a red baseball cap settled low on his forehead, his mask.
You have seen this man. He has bitten fingernails. He sits on the floor because there is no room at the table. He has eyelashes so long they brush against the top of his cheekbones when he blinks, and he blinks a lot, as if surprised to realize he’s still in his own skin. Brown. Anyone. Common as a dandelion.
It’s evening and he pushes through the assembled fans lining up for hot dogs, talking shit about the pitcher taking too long on the mound, the smell of popcorn and sunscreen and turf, summer in a bottle. There is no breeze. The world is on an inhale, the space between notes, the instant between the lift of the baton and the downbeat. Anticipation.
When he was a boy he had a notebook filled with tally marks. Black crosses marching down the spiral edge. He thought if he kept track of the martyrs he could predict victory. In the lines of black he saw glory.
Long before he agreed to die, when he was a boy meeting death over and over, he used to imagine what it would feel like to die. He would lay flat on his bed, toes pointed, arms crossed over chest, and he would hold his breath, and he would close his eyes. How deep and dark. How quiet.
He counts heartbeats, counts faces white and plain as milk. Have you seen this man? He is caught on camera, walking a little too fast, security spotting him, following him. Faster still. There’s a position to get to.
Though he had imagined his grave and his mission he has never thought about this journey, the maddening step-step-step, how he has to brush against men soft with fat, how he has to touch stone pillars and nudge aside children. How he has far too many seconds to think.
It’s evening and corn grows straight and tall in fields. The sand on the beaches is losing its scorching heat and is becoming positively freezing.
He sweats. He chafes. He has attracted the wrong attention. The walk is too long. He had memorized this route. He had walked it before. He remembers:
How he fell in love with a girl, her tumble of hair, how small her hand was on him, how even thinking her name—Rebecca—reminds him of chunky yellow sweaters, of tea and stalks of lavender, of wallpaper hung in picture frames, as if the entire world could be remade into art.
How during the Rebecca years he met men online, radicals, but they didn’t seem like radicals at all, talking politics over coffee by day, talking about Game of Thrones and their mothers’ food; boys playing at men, their words softened by lagging internet connections, by blinking cursors, screens on screens, how their ideas to change the world happened like the creeping tide of summer, the green rush of new ideas turning gold. How they welcomed him—homesick, yearning—into a brotherhood.
How before any of it, when he was in primary school, there was a theology textbook with a picture of a swirling galaxy on the cover, and his friend Hazza used to sit with his chin resting on top of folded fingers, staring at the frozen stars and talking with the solemn conviction of a ten-year-old about something that good being that far away.
It’s evening and the dark comes later in the summertime but it does still come, a blank and hazy night, no moon.
He is in the wrong spot. They didn’t plan for all the people. It will not be as effective. The world needs changing. This will have to be enough.
He doesn’t feel guilt, even at the end. In those last steps he doesn’t remember the slide of Rebecca’s thighs or Hazza’s breathless voice or the jokes he had online, the dozens of small, inside jokes that proved he was one of the family. He doesn’t remember the marigolds he brought his mother, or the smoky voice of his brother, or the twisting fist of longing that curled in his belly when he saw his niece for the first time. He doesn’t remember the squeaky hinge of a porch door open to summer breezes, the lazy feeling of evenings all over the world, a buzz that lasts a moment or an hour, the sigh of relief at the sight of home.
At the end he remembers the lines of crosses marching across a torn school notebook, black tallies that, in that final moment, flicker into different shapes. Snakes. Ravens. Angels. A cluster of wings. They beckon. Smoke signals. A dance across a new horizon.
It’s evening and the bomb explodes and it’s like slipbloodcrashbreak nothing familiar at all.
Within range of the bomb: children, fans of the home team who were someone’s children, fans of the away team dying on the polished floors of a strange city; There were flowers within range of the bomb. There were flowers, too.
It’s a perfect summer evening with the heat lightning scorching overhead, laundry on the line, the sway of cattails, another bottle of wine. Screens buzz and burble with news out of New York. And across America people think, though rarely say out loud,