He thought back to before April’s abduction and murder, when he viewed his future life plan as a chain of unlimited opportunities. He credited himself for using sheer force of will to convince a gorgeous creature like April to begin dating him when they were college freshmen. He told himself he needed a clean break from any remaining false hopes that had not gone into the grave with her. He decided Kenny might have done him a favor by ridiculing his goal of landing a record deal – in Washington, D.C. of all places.
He stepped onto the escalator that descended into the subway terminal and looked at the shadows on the gray ceiling. What might it be like checking into the homeless shelter on second and D tonight?
Doubting he could ever improve himself, he launched into a final prayer to the God he’d cursed so many times since April’s death: Please send me a sign. Prove you love me. I’m giving you one last chance. If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll know you hate me.
Chapter 4: New Dawn to Come
He boarded the subway train bound for Union Station and fixed his attention on an attractive woman with short blonde hair. She gripped a pole to his left and wore a red dress and large diamond earrings.
His gaze lingered on the curves of her hips. He hurried to avert his eyes when she frowned in his direction, but as soon as she looked away, his eyes surrendered to the magnetic pull of her cute nose and her ever-so-kissable neck.
He saw her mutter to herself and clutch the cross on her necklace. She looked at him again, and he pretended to take interest in the orange carpet and leather seat covers. He couldn’t understand the intensity of his hunger for these stolen glances at her body.
He called himself a depraved pervert, almost worse than Kenny. He told himself women were more than choice cuts of meat and remembered the time Kenny complained about the gray wrinkled skin on the back of every woman’s elbow. Hadn’t Amy asked whether a plastic surgeon might be able to improve her own “ugly” elbows?
The train came to an abrupt halt at the next stop. A kid, yelling a guttural language into a cell phone, boarded and sat in the open seat next to Ed. A recorded voice blared from the overhead speaker: “Doors closing.”
A chime followed the voice, before the voice and chime repeated six times and some clueless passenger stopped blocking the doors. The train conductor announced “Union Station” as the next stop, elongating his syllables like an obnoxious radio disk jockey.
Ed coughed and gagged, struggling not to vomit in public. He imagined the strangers crammed next to him in the car, turning against each other in a murderous frenzy. He pictured the bearded biker pull a Bowie knife out of his black leather bag before jamming it into the fat gut of the Midwestern tourist, now flipping through the photos on a digital camera. The mob in his fantasy reminded him of a snarling pack of rabid wolves as the weaker ones fell to the floor and cried in agony.
He recalled reading how Hercules massacred his own wife and children after Hera had plagued him with temporary madness, and how the Maenads, the frenzied female worshipers of Dionysus, shredded the men and beasts they stumbled upon in the wilderness.
He could almost hear the sound of popping limbs and agonizing screams of the mole-faced woman in the wheelchair near the door on the other side of the car. As Ed imagined the feel and taste of warm blood splattering against his face, he blamed April’s death for his indulgence in these dark new fantasies. He wondered whether God would flush this evil from his mind: How many Our Fathers must he say?
When the train reached Union Station, he followed the woman in the red dress out onto the platform of the subway terminal. She walked along a line of floor lights that ran along the edge of the platform, and she seemed to be looking down at the puddles of water near the center of the track or the shiny metal plate that covered the electric third rail.
Someone bumped into Ed; he turned around to face a horde of tourists, shoving their way to the escalators. As the sea of hideous faces engulfed him, his nostrils filled with the odors of cheap perfume, hair spray and sweat. He told himself universal love for humanity only seemed possible in the abstract.
His eyes searched in all directions for the attractive woman. He found her sitting five feet below the platform, down on the track, appearing lost in a daze as a subway train’s head lights approached through the tunnel.
Her death looked certain if she failed to move, but she didn’t look worried. The familiar nightmare of April’s dead, pale face seared Ed’s mind. He considered the rotten abomination he’d become by putting April at risk, and he swore he would never allow such weakness to overcome him again.
He dropped his guitar case and bag on the platform and dove after the stranger. She reminded him of a limp rag doll when he threw her over his shoulder, carried her to the edge and lifted her to safety.
The train horn wailed. A pocket of air burst through the terminal. He pulled himself up seconds before the first subway car screeched past. The woman stared at the train, like some psych-ward zombie in a catatonic stupor.
Ed shook her. “What’s wrong with you? Are you alright?”
The Metro police surrounded them and demanded to “see some form of identification.” He opened his bag to realize his driver’s license and passport were missing.
“I’m sorry. I must have left it at a friend’s house.”
The cops shot a suspicious look at him. He knew he had done nothing wrong, but he couldn’t shake fear of prison from his mind. As he considered trying to run, the beautiful woman in the red dress snapped out of her daze and identified herself as Mrs. Helen Miller, "the wife of the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee." She credited Ed for her survival and revealed her license. Ed noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and wondered why the cops hadn’t asked about this detail.
She kissed Ed on the cheek. “Thank you for saving me. You were meant to save me. It was willed before the dawn of time to usher on man’s glorious new dawn to come.”
Ed remained silent, as witnesses seemed to come out of nowhere. An elderly man with a cane said he had not “seen such bravery” since World War II. A woman in a yellow shirt showed the police digital photos of Ed’s heroism. She snapped one last picture of Ed when he grabbed his duffle bag and guitar case. He stared into the flicker of light and worried a published photo might give his parents clues on where to search for him.
To Ed’s surprise, none of the cops attempted to stop him as he left his audience and rode the escalator to the street. At the top, a bearded man, who reminded Ed of Jesus, tried to hand him a travel-agency advertisement.
Helen’s bizarre words clung to his memory, almost making him feel special: Glorious new dawn to come? What a nut job.
The gleam of sunlight reflected off the windshield of a D.C. police car in the circular driveway where a line of taxicabs intersected with a stream of waiting tourists. The music of a saxophone cascaded through the arched corridor as Ed looked at the American flags flying half-mast near the Columbus fountain. Gazing toward the front of the white marble sculpture on the fountain, Ed noticed the statue meant to represent the angel Discovery on the front of a ship. The angel clutched her breasts and closed her eyes to the heavens. He decided he would have welcomed death on the tracks if it allowed him to make a direct apology to Anthony and April in heaven, today.
Ed settled into his familiar routine and followed the morning rush-hour parade of government employees who trekked from the Union Station subway terminal to the Senate office buildings by the Capitol dome. Instead of entering the building, he sat in his regular spot – a bench on the sidewalk in the nearby park – and tuned his guitar. He craved a bottle of whiskey to soothe the stress and beat back the hangover.
He pulled the pen and notepad from his pocket and wrote a poem, imagining Helen Miller’s face: “Forbidden desire, I don’t want to resist you. The notion that you’re somehow wrong electrifies the moment. We surrender to frenzy, and calm returns with questions of what overcame us.”