Featured Student Prose
By Ariella Sanon
In the Heat of the Night
“I don’t care,” Frank uttered into his hand, talking into the warmth pressed against his face. The air that escaped through the cracks of his fingers appeared in front of him a wispy fog. A familiar sting hit the corner of his eyes but he refused to cry, sliding his hand across his eyes to prevent release. He looked up to see a passerby staring in his direction, scoffing at his apathy. He knew what he was thinking. Frank’s now bloodshot eyes didn’t lend him any favors.
But how this stranger could look into the dejected eyes of a boy and see a degenerate was a complete mystery to Frank. He figured maybe it was his baggy clothes or the dirt that lodged itself under his fingernails that appalled the new crowd in the city.
They’re kids born of the same time as him but who learned little of the streets, they’re baby-faced adults who seldom wander at night, ignorant to the happenings of the very town they live in. They couldn’t imagine the countless lives that pulsated every night, occurrences that Frank could track down from miles away. He was especially attuned to this, as it was almost as automatic as instinct he could tell you if there would be activity on his block or not.
From his spot perched on the bottom of a set of old cobbled steps he could clearly feel the vibrations of the Earth below him, shaking so vigorously that a distant bottle of malt liquor rattled itself about in its brown paper bag. If he was to be a degenerate he would be a damn fine one.
Frank approached the origin of sound with the empty bottle, descending and then stopping in front of a large door decorated in graffiti and stickers. Propped open with a wooden plank, the door echoed with sound that beckoned him to come nearer, this was the hearth of life for the night.
Once inside, it was easy to blend in. Frank held an indiscernible face that rendered him invisible. He floated along the walls, swapping drinks with strangers, un-surprised at how easy they accepted his offers in the midst of the music and madness. A full cup and an empty cup are all the same to these people that stand upright solely from the electricity of the bass pumping them alive. They are modern Frankenstein’s, galvanized too soon with parties, drugs, and love. Yet, he felt the humanity of their hungry bodies piled on top of one another, so densely packed that direct pathways were scarce and to move one must weave within and without.
Belonging to the underground collective of the city is all a ghost could want, degenerate he’s not, but amongst the group he found himself becoming them, taking part in their delinquencies. There’s a comradery in the way the room danced, thoughtless, operating also on instinct, but something far sweeter than Frank’s selfish claim on his block. It’s something kinder than the young stranger’s scoff, and when he stumbles at the thought of it the group is there to prop him back up.
He moved all night, sweating profusely in the inferno despite the beating winter outside. Frank knew the cold would stick now and bite his ears as soon as he stepped out, but there was no stopping him. He broke off, ushering out the open door and back onto the streets in only a T-shirt, his jacket no longer belonging to him. He walked with conviction in no particular direction, disoriented and obeying the path of the wind as it pushed him whichever way he was destined to go, trusting only the thought of blind trust. Until he opened his eyes to packs of people moving through beams of light that were incomprehensible. He felt around and gripped the railing of steps that descended downwards into a subway station. He followed, finding himself the passenger of a car headed to Canal St.
Frank stood with his eyes closed, rocking back and forth, lulling into the bumping of the subway on the track. Although the rows of sticky yellow seats were mostly empty Frank remained rooted, his frail arm controlling his only grip on gravity like an anchor planting him in perfect balance.
From across the car, the only other occupant called out to Frank.
“Yo…what time is it?”
“Sorry, man,” Frank replied after checking both of his wrists and meeting the voice’s eye. “I don’t have a watch.”
The question came from a boy who sat slumped over in the farthest corner of the subway car. He folded into himself, piling red on black on white, hints of his brown skin peeking through the gaps. Letting out a dry laugh of frustration, he shifted in his sticky seat so that he leaned towards Frank.
“I’m not really asking what time of day it is. I’m asking, if you step outside, is it dark or is it light out?”
“It’s light out…isn’t that obvious?” Frank asked, despite the fact that they traveled steadily on a track built underground.
“I don’t know,” the boy admitted earnestly. “I have to go home.”
“Yeah,” Frank said dully. “Wherever home is you should probably be there.”
He studied the kid more carefully now and could sense the signs of domesticity. His crushed red school bag and gold cross necklace screamed love to Frank. He could see the family in the kid’s face, young, but not much younger than himself.
“Hey, aren’t you cold?”
“Me?” Frank asked aloofly.
“Yeah, you. There’s no one else in this empty ass subway car.”
This stifled a laugh out of Frank. He smiled for a while until he gradually recentered with reality, dropping any amusement from his face.
“To be honest I haven’t really noticed.”
“Well, just looking at you I can tell you’re freezing, your hands are purple.”
Frank fumbled with his pale blue fingers as if they were new to him.
“Feels fine to me.”
The car jolted and the kid finally stood from his seat. Sliding off his backpack and unzipping his sweatshirt, he made his way over to Frank and put the jacket on him, without ever giving Frank the chance to refuse.
“I don’t need this,” Frank fumbled out as he saw the boy turn for his bag in just a tank-top and head for the car doors.
“Really, I have nowhere to be,” he insisted while their movement slowed to a painful halt.
“Well, you’re headed somewhere now,” the kid said with unparalleled certainty, disappearing into the darkness of his station.
Frank remained unresponsive for a while, focused on the words of the stranger. Headed somewhere now. He repeated it to himself. He liked the way it sounded. He understood what it meant, and not just that he was going to Canal St.
“I guess he’s right.”