The Rise and Fall of a Plastic Bag
A short story
John William Tuohy
The long day was over and Elysia was temporarily released from the confines of the cubicle walls that is her office to be paroled to the claustrophobic cabin of her economy car, the newly released tin box called The Charon, that now sat motionless in a traffic jam on route 95 at 179th Street on the north end of Manhattan. She could almost see her efficiency apartment at the Asphofdel, on the other side Bridge. It was less than a mile away, but on this night, like every other night, it would take her an hour and a half to cross over the Hudson River. It was as if the world known world converged there.
The setting sun blinded her and baked one side of her face, yet its imminent departure from the days stage did nothing to lower the ceaseless, suffocating humidity that gripped the city, the realm of Hades, that mid summers evening. She thought, again, that maybe she should have taught English. What happen to that plan, she wondered? She stuck. Even her car was gridlocked. It hadn’t moved one inch in one hour. Releasing her warm palms from the wheel, she resigned herself to her motionless fate and slowly sat back and turned her face from the sun and eyed the cement and concrete valley that surrounded her in a labyrinth of worn roads and colossal apartment buildings that Daedalus would envy.
For lack of anything else to do, she watched a tall man appear at the doorway of the Tartarus Brothers Convenience Store whose window signs pronounced proudly in bold red that it sold Ouzo by the case. Once on the street, the tall man reached inside a small ivory colored plastic bag and pulled out a long brown bottle of beer, opened it and took a long, quenching swallow and then tossed the bottle cap and bag to the hot cement of the city streets. She watched the bottle cap make a valiant effort for Jersey but sadden when it was only able to roll a few inches before it expired. Another fallen Hephestus of Manhattan.
This was no ordinary bag. Lifting itself up a few hundred feet it swayed softly along a jet stream and then smoothly lowering its altitude it bounced playfully on a soft breeze. This bag with the wings of wax was Sinatra in the forties, it was The Beatles on Sullivan, it was Fitzgerald sober and writing, it was the Yankees from the summer of 63, it was the son of Zeus and Hera gliding elegantly towards its rightful home on Mount Olympus or over to the Jersey shore, which ever was closer and it was then that she heard these words float down from the skies above her “Nous sommes libres le moment ou nous etre libres!”
“We are free the moment we wish to be free”
Not only had the bag quoted Voltaire, completely out of context, but still, you know, it quoted Voltaire! In French! It spoke French! with a slight Bronx accent, but still....I mean, you know, it’s a bag. And, although, like most Americans, she preferred Locke over Voltaire and the other enlightenment figures...well, she did have a liking towards Rousseau but sometimes he struck her as morally irresponsible but she wondered if her Catholic education just made him seem that way...but, anyway, moved by the moment, she leaped from her car...okay, she didn’t actually leap, but she rushed from the car only to have the seat belt part that goes over your shoulder get caught in hair and nearly choke her to death but after that she more or less leaped from the car and still on fire with the passion of freedom she raised a fist to the sky and yelled at the very top of her voice to the bag
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Hearing the deep passion of her words and seeing the bag fly its course; a homeless man on the corner adjusted his aluminum foil hat, snapped his heals and standing at full attention raised his hand to his forehead in salute and watched it fly overhead. He stood erect...in several ways...as he watched it rise up and up to the heavens escaping the surly bonds of Earth and the lonely grey caverns of Manhattan.
It choose to fly towards Jersey, although she thought that personally she would have chosen Connecticut, but, she reasoned in defense of her new idol, perhaps the bag was thinking shorter commute, who knows, but southward it flew over the Hudson.....but then she thought that if she could fly what would a shorter commute matter anyway?
As she pondered that thought and realized it was a pointless waste of time she turned attention back to the bag and saw now that it was sinking from sky. Perhaps the sun was melting it or maybe the wet air of the nearby Atlantic had dampened it or maybe, exhilarated by the thrill of flight and unrestrained freedom. Downwards and downwards, it spiraled, descending from the heaven to icy grave below...but then she thought, well, okay, the Hudson probably wasn’t icy cold in mid-August but like, still, it was probably pretty cold.
Rolling her hands into fists that she rose to the sky, rolled her head back to face the heaven, closed her eyes and cried
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aero planes circle moaning overhead
“Lady, get in your car and move it!” The voice boomed from a police helicopter which was moaning in circles overhead. “Your blocking traffic”.
The road before her was empty all the way to New jersey. Turning completely around she eyed a traffic jam further than her eyes could see. She lowered her gaze to the man in the car directly behind her. His license plate claimed he was from Georgia, or at least his car was. he was staring at her. His lips were tightly closed and his eyes were wide as saucers and when she looked at him he very quickly diverted his eyes to the floor. It was now official, she was the crazy cat lady. She lowered her head, returned to her car and drove away.