Authors: Pasha Malla
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers
Copyright © 2012 Pasha Malla
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This edition published in 2012 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
Avenue, Suite 801
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Malla, Pasha, 1978–
People Park / Pasha Malla.
PS8626.A449P46 2012 C813’.6 C2011-908645-X
Cover design: Brian Morgan
Cover photograph: Jessica May Rita Kohut
Map design: Chris Tucker
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing
program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the
Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
the son, Raven’s
the daughter, who carries a purse, always
The New Fraternal League of Men
the last living Original Gregory
Helper L2, a wily
Helper L2, D-Squad
Helper L2, D-Squad
Helper L2, Snitch
Recruit, on crutches
Summoner, very big
Helper L1 (Probationary), reinstated and reluctant
aka Mr. Ademus, brother of Adine
an artist, sister of Sam, partner of Debbie
friend to all
a living protest, a quartered century hencefrom!
the girl with the hand-shaped haircut
LEFT AND RIGHT:
In the Know
daughter of Isa, Calum’s girlfriend
The Fate of Faye Rowan-Morganson
a boy and a girl (names unknown)
Sam and Adine’s mother (deceased)
How curious that it should begin on a day of dazzlingly flawless blue.
— Gilbert Sorrentino,
LL WE UNDERSTOOD:
o’clock that morning, the illustrationist would be arriving by helicopter.
In the pre-dawn gloom Helpers from the New Fraternal League of Men, mostly middle-aged guys in matching khakis and wind
breakers, busied themselves with preparations. The streets surrounding
People Park were closed to traffic and down on the common a landing area was marked off with pylons. From these a red carpet cut woundlike across the muddy lawn, up the steps of the gazebo, to a pressboard podium. Affixed to lampposts banners proclaiming the park’s Silver Jubilee hung limp as dead sails in the cold still air. At just after six a.m., with everything readied, the
assumed their positions, walkie-talkies crackling, breath puffing in clouds, and waited for the crowds to come.
The towerclock of the old cathedral, now the Grand Saloon Hotel, had barely marked six-thirty when the first people began to appear: families and lovers hand in hand, businessfolk swinging briefcases, Institute undergrads with their knapsacks and hangovers, teens walking bikes, the elderly in pastels, the tall, the short, the fat, the thin, the hirsute and bald, citizens of every shape and creed and trouser, many in Islandwear jackets —
silkscreened into a skyline silhouette.
In a splendid show of diversity and solidarity, with the same look of curiosity and expectation, they came. As night lifted they came, the bruise-coloured sky leaking light while citizens from all corners of the island arrived stamping and squelching onto the wet brown grass, the mud suckled their shoes, their boots, a few thousand strong by the time the lamps and streetlights flicked off at seven-fifteen, everyone wrangled into order by the
Atop the bannered poles, on the roofs of the boathouse and the Museum of Prosperity, amid the solar panels of the Podesta Tower, from all around, cameras trained on the crowd, panned over the crowd, zoomed into and out of the crowd, while We-
commentators readied microphones and ran spit-slicked fingers through their hair. Camcorders pointed at the stage and sky and one another: when two faced it was akin to a pair of young pups nuzzling snout to snout, awaiting the instinct to maul or mate.
Though there were no dogs.
The tower bells sounded eight, and with room scarce on the common, new arrivals were forced up the surrounding hillocks. To the west in the windows of the downtown towers faces appeared framed in steel and glass. Some intrepid souls climbed into the
leafless apple trees to the east, or the bare-limbed poplars on the
park’s south side. In a hilltop clearing to the north a handful of demonstrators wagged placards — ignored and estranged until one young woman was hit with a gritty
snowball. Hey! her boyfriend cried. Hundreds of people poured blithely past, the culprit secreted among them.
At twenty to nine by the towerclock the Mayor arrived alone and waving to perfunctory applause, attempted to stride up the gazebo steps — and found herself marshalled sidestage behind a handwritten sign:
. Then a signal was given and a faction of Helpers formed a line before the crowd, arms yoked in the manner of paper dolls. They spoke into walkie-talkies, responses sputtered back.
, the crowd began chanting and clapping in time.
This was April 16, a bright cold morning warmed by the sun nosing out of the lake. Springtime was coming: stray patches of
snow had gone crystalline and grey in their dying days, the asphodels
would soon bloom, the trees beckoned leaves with their spindly arms, the crinkle of ice upon Crocker Pond fractured like an eczemic skin. Everything smelled of decay and worms, rich with thawing dirt. High above, a single cloud, a thin little wisp, trailed along — a baby bird lost from the flock. The Ra-
chant faded. Everyone watched the sky because he would come from the sky.
Someone said, It’s nearly nine!
Someone said, Shut up howbout, okay?
Someone said, Listen!
There it was: the growl of an engine, faraway. Everyone craned their necks and looked, but in the sky was just the cloud. He couldn’t travel inside a cloud. But watching it drift along up there people began to wonder. In locales around the globe the illustrationist had defied many laws of physics and gravity and, more roguishly, the judiciary arms of governments.
There, yelled another someone.
A little piece of cloud seemed to be breaking away. But it was not, the crowd realized, a cloudlet that was now swooping toward the common, graceful and white as a gull against the deepening blue. It was a helicopter. As it approached the air began to thrum, applause splattered through the crowd, there were shouts and yelps and murmurs and with fingers pointed skyward hollerings of: There he is — He’s coming — Yeah!
As though lowered on a rope the helicopter descended: one hundred feet from the ground, eighty, sixty, engines snarling. The crowd watched, faces slanted skyward. Those wearing hats were holding their hats. Some people plugged their ears. Puddles rippled and Silver Jubilee banners fluttered and tree branches trembled and all those cameras captured everything, everything. From her pocket the Mayor produced a stack of cue cards she patted into a neat little pile.
Pausing only inches from the ground the helicopter’s twin tinted windows were the eyesockets in a polished white skull that tilted this way and that, regarding the crowd curiously. For a moment it seemed it might lift back up and away. Everyone watched, hands clutched hands and squeezed, hearts hoped. And at last as though satisfied the helicopter straightened and nestled between the pylons, and was still.
higherups scuttled out under the chopper’s thupping main rotor. The engines settled, the blades slowed from a single whirring disc into four separate propellers, and stopped. The Mayor smoothed her sash and stepped forward, cue cards poised, only to be impeded by a windbreakered arm, a freckled hand. Sorry ma’am, offered the arm’s owner, eyes downcast, lashes the colour of lard.
The helicopter sat there on the lawn, gleaming and still — was the crowd watching it, or was it watching the crowd? The feeling was of that cork-wriggling moment before the champagne pops: anticipatory and dreadful. And then the door to the cockpit flapped open and out swung the illustrationist, Raven, a brownskinned man in a white velour tracksuit, baldhead glossy in the sun.
A roar went up. The crowd hollered and thronged and the
held them back. A teenager ululated ironically. Hopping down the illustrationist shook hands with each of the men on the landing pad and whispered into the ear of one, a guy in sport sandals and thick woolly socks, who signalled to his vigorously nodding, goateed colleague, and together they pulled from the helicopter a white, glassy-metallic trunk. With loping strides Raven glided along the red carpet, up the steps of the gazebo, out to the podium. The
hoisted his trunk onstage and retreated.
Raven gazed over the crowd. But as he opened his mouth to speak, from the Grand Saloon clanged the old towerbells. His head sank to his chest, he tapped his fingers on the podium. The hours rang out golden: the first, bong, the second, two more, then three, and in a show of impatience Raven thrust his hand to his forehead, closed it in a fist, and the strikes stopped at eight. Instead of the usual echo and ebb, absolute silence — a tongue cleaved from a singing throat, leaving only breath and flapping lips.
Cameras lowered, everyone looked around at one another, eyebrows arching. But Raven was clutching the edges of the podium now, leaning forward, what would he do next. His fingernails were either all cuticle or painted white. His gaze dragged over the crowd as a net trawling the ocean floor. Beyond People Park there was no indication of the city: its usual hum, its growls and gurgles and honks and whispers — all absent. The island had never been so quiet. Then, with sudden violence, here was the illustrationist: eyes widening, thrusting his arms into wings.
, he hollered.
The crowd roared in a single voice and the illustrationist bowed to them and bowed to the cameras and bowed in the general direction of the Mayor, waving her cue cards like a winner.
, chanted the crowd again, almost pleading.
But he looked past them to some place beyond their expectation. He snapped, thrice and crisply. The white trunk heaved open with a groan.
Hush fell. The trunk’s insides were as dark as a coffin’s. What was hidden within?
The sun continued its slow swing upward. The lone cloud had scattered into droplets — had the illustrationist made it do so, some people wondered. Raven stared out from the podium, the brown of his face and hands, the white of his nails, the white of his tracksuit, china-white teeth bared between parted dark lips,
the black of the shadows behind him, the white trunk vesselling
night into the daytime. The people waited. The
stood fast — ever-khaki, ever-vigilant. The cameras rolled. The Mayor coughed.
Then the illustrationist sucked in a deep breath and hurled his arms above his head: six doves erupted from the trunk. The crowd applauded, cameras followed the doves upward. Raven pointed a single finger, thumb extended, at the birds as they climbed. A gunshot cracked and the doves plummeted and thudded dully into the sodden field. But they were no longer doves: half a dozen pigeons lay there in the muck.
The crowd whispered, fell silent again.
The illustrationist looked deep into the rolling cameras, and crouching inches from his
screen Sam watched through a fizz of static and shivered. In the illustrationist’s eyes was — what? Nothing.
His eyes are like tunnels, Sam described into the telephone. They’re just black eyes.
Contacts probably, said Adine, on the other end of the line. What a doosh.
Summoned by the illustrationist’s trembling fingertips the pigeons wobbled to life, tottered about with the wary steps of a litter just born. The crowd gasped and clapped and the cameras
zoomed out and the illustrationist bowed. He snapped his fingers
— once, twice, three times, the clack of bones.
He’s snapping his fingers Adine, explained Sam to his sister.
I’ve got the volume up, she said, I can hear.
You can hear.
Just tell me what you see, she said. You’re my closed captions, okay?
I’m okay Adine. I’m doing the work Adine. I’m doing good communication.
You sure are, buddy. And I appreciate it.
The crowd had gone quiet once more. It was as if a blanket were being ruffled over them, up and releasing their hoots and hollers, down and stifling them silent. A pause. Then the illustrationist flung his arms skyward, the pigeons lifted into the sky, they were white again: doves.
Sam explained to his sister what he saw.
He’s done this before, she said.
He’s done this before.
It was on
at some square in some city, said Adine. One of those places all covered with pigeons. He walked into the square and waved his hand and all the pigeons fell down and everyone thought they were dead and then he did something else stupid and they went flying away, all at once.
They went flying away.
Right. And then he cried a single tear off the main bridge and the rivers started flowing again after like a hundred years or something. God, I just can’t understand how anyone buys this guy.
— it’s just so affected and phony.
People like that sort of thing Adine. They like that sort of thing I guess.
People? said Adine, as though the word were a disease. People fuggin suck.
the doves vanished, the applause faded. The illustration
ist peered down upon the crowd and grinned two rows of perfect
white teeth from his brown face, arms still extended in the same vast V from which he had released the birds. His eyes were two wet black stones and what Sam didn’t tell Adine was that, looking
into them, in his gut churned a sick, sour feeling of vinegar and rot.
Slowly, with drama, the illustrationist lowered his arms, returned
his hands to the podium, curled his fingers around its edge. He leaned forward. He closed his eyes. He licked his lips.
He’s opening his eyes, said Sam.
Look out, buddy, said Adine, here we go.
, screamed the illustrationist, and everything exploded