An Urban Fairy Tale

By Donald J. Levit


Art by Esmiralda

The strangest things will show up anywhere.




     He was walking down the streets, 95 in the sun and no shade, when he exploded. POOF!  Just blew up into pieces that scattered and fluttered down over passersby, who started for only a blasé moment and then, shrugging, continued on their hurried way.

     The morning had begun normally. Toast, eggs (over lightly), Canadian bacon, OJ and coffee. A glance at headlines—Burning Bomb Blast…Teens Terrorize Toddler…Grunge Gang Garottes Gal…Broadcaster Bites Bimboand once again on his way downtown.

     The briefcase in his hand rhythmically banged against a pressed trouser leg, and given his shirt, tie and jacket, no one would have taken him for anything but one of thousands of brother clones, each needed for his or her very own compute-desk-chair cubicle.

     For how long had he masqueraded thus? For masquerade he did: the leather Mark Cross was fully empty, and he went to no space in no office but, for years, had walked down with the hustling A.M. mass, and did whatever he did for seven or eight hours, whenever he did it, and regularly returned and walked up with the sea of humanity. Drivers driving talking on phones, walkers walking talking on phones, walkers walking frying brains with a hundred and twenty decibles of Walkman, speeders weaving on rollerblades or skateboards or in wheelchairs helemeted messengers weaving on bicycles. He surged through lemming crowds of high schoolers heading somewhere, talking loudly over headsets, jostling, laughing, profaning, uniformed in North Face (Michelin tire man), and Tommy Fishfinger prominent, shiny sweatshirts or oversized jeans, overpriced sneakers, JanSport backpacks and rags. One jostled him, or he jostled one, for a moment of tense pre-confrontation; but our figure’s bland, lost face was empty, and the shoulder-swaying teenager swept back into the stream of his fellows. Past laptops in black cloth bags out walking their suited (expensively) and sneakered (expensively) owners. Fridays, they were all casual in (expensive) Gloria and Liz and Calvin and talked of Southampton and “the country” and tennis, but today was not Friday and so they talked of nothing.

     By half past, or a quarter of, the crowds had changed—not thinner, but different. Shoppers shopping (“Lost our lease! EVERYTHING MUST GO!!” “Pay three get four!”), construction workers already shirtless with bellies alfresco, Minnesota-looking kids with tattoos and pierced parts, tourists from Babel (“Uptown and Downtown, $36—the Statue and Gospel, only $20.00), the homeless with shopping carts or great bundles, cops, BIDs and rogues, tank shirts wrapping gays, more tourists. Flyers proffered everywhere and for everything (“Eat!” “Buy!” “Do!” “See!”). Guayaberas, baseball caps, Chinamen wearing cowboy boots, Japanese in dreadlocks, bright African boubous, water bottles, brown-bagged beer, T-shirts proclaiming teams or places or dead rappers or lost causes.

     A little further south, he first noticed the tightness, and a corresponding lightness. To him, of course—the faces did not appear to mark it—his hands felt larger, and trousers and shoes stretched to splitting.  The heat, perhaps.

     Jackhammers jacked, R.V.s rapped and vibrated pavement, sirens passed, ribbons of salsa erupted from stalls, eight-car trains grumbled under gratings, mufflers didn’t muffle, loudspeakers spoke loud.

     Definitely, he was a balloon man, he knew. The white shirt grew taut despite his loosening the knotted tie and top button, cutting under the arms and at the neck. His belt, too, needed letting out. Didn’t they notice, as he advanced blocks south toward the river, that he was an oversize snowman sweating in the sun and already too large for his skin, rippling in waddling obesity? No, they apparently did not.

     So he leaned against a street post or a building and with a clean kerchief wiped his brow and hair and, reflected in a window, carefully combed the latter. Bialis, bagels, buffalo wings, burritos, burgers, BBQ, pizza, pastrami, pretzels, pernil, two eggs on a roll, sushi, sirloin, café expresso, latte, mocha, relish mustard ketchup mayo hot sauce. Low fat. No fat. Middling fat. Fat.

     He was so big now that he saw himself taking off, rising and floating away forever. He hoped some child in shorts would move the streets with him above on a string, a smiling balloon face with lank hair and loosened necktie. But, really, it was alarming. Would he continue to accrete until his bloatedness blocked the sidewalk so that he would have to make way for others by rolling down the sun-softened streets?

     Signs blazoned into him through the eyes. Genuine Bayer can do something Tylenol and Advil can’t. Simply Lauren: Made in England [Honduras, Indonesia, Haiti]. THE REVENGER’S TRAGEDY: THE MUSICAL. Nails. Unisex. Sex! (Lace! Lingerie! Legz!). Virtual Reality. Real reality! Fly to Kuala Lumpur, via the Turnpike. Two million copies sold [Maybe read]. OUR AMERICAN COUSIN/ three tony awards as best revival. Carreras, Fernandez, Iglesias—In concert live [not dead]. Hair—big time shine! Comix, cards!!

     Lights went on and off and on again before his face. His distressed stomach was empty and hung in front. At a green traffic light he stepped into a zebra crosswalk.

     Horns. Honking; incessant horns. Taxi drivers [East Indians? West Indians? Real Indians? Africans? Illegals?] Limo drivers in red ties. Honking, right-side-passing, outside-lane-turning. Screeching, brakes, tires. Alarms untouched alarming. Turn signals beeping. Gunshots, or backfiring like shotguns?

     Blasted into passive non-resistance, pedestrians retreated.

     But he was afraid to stop now. Despite the ballooning emptiness inside, he feared being unable to start in rolling progress from stasis. Curiously, cars missed him; or else he floated above or around them, whirled slightly like plastic bags in their  blue-grey wakes.

     Panic and fear set in, fear for his poor body. Will I ever regain it and be me again? he thought.

     Buttress your butt! (screamed the gym.) Power pecs! Access ad flab! Tauten tummies! Potentialize potency! (said Iron John Gingobiloba, Siberian Gensing, Ginseng, Ginsai, Ginsana, Ginkogin, Ginkai, BioGinseng, Ginkoba, ginGordon’s Gibson Gilbey’s. Amazing arms! (“Wrap your lovin’ arms around me…”), Llamadas Internnacionales. Park all day. Socks, Scarves and Gloves. Toys.

     Really too much, he thought, as he rolled to a halt. I can’t make this light, I’m scared, my feet won’t lift and go one in front of the other. This swelling must stop.

     He parted his lips around a line mailbox mouth. And screamed. But no one paid even the slightest mind to him, not even the child in shorts, holding its mother’s towing hand, who savagely rebounded off him.

     He looked up helplessly in tears, into a blue sky and a merciless sun. High up, a solitary jet still climbed as he opened his mouth, screamed again…and exploded.  POOF!  Just blew up into pieces that scattered and fluttered down over passersby, who started for only a blasé moment.