A wave of humanity flows onto the court of the Dallas Mavericks basketball arena, wearing the clothes people wear at 3:00 AM, clutching the things people grab when they have seconds before the world ends. They streak mud across the rubber barrier protecting the court, dumping the backpacks and plastic bags and, in some cases, the nothing-at-all that is left of their lives onto army-green nylon cots. Families shout and wave to secure clumps of cots together. Chihuahuas and pit bulls strain at their leashes, snarling. The energy is bloodshot, the din panic.
Noah is rooted to the ground. For the last year, he’s hardly left Montrose, Houston’s queer neighborhood, where it’s easy to forget that he lives in Texas. Now, hundreds of capital-T Texans swarm around him. They’re busy scrambling for cots, but soon they will settle, and look around, and see Noah in their midst.
“You have to move,” says the child staring up at Noah. He looks about seven years old. He’s not transparent, but he is unpigmented, dressed in knickerbockers and a cuffed man’s shirt, like an old-time black-and-white photograph made flesh. He has Noah’s same long nose and black hair with a broad wave, and Noah strongly suspects that the boy is his great-grandfather Abe, at the age Abe was when his uncle stuffed him in a duffel bag and carried him onto a boat out of Germany.
Noah’s not sure what he’s more frightened of — Abe being real, or Abe not being real, or the thick-necked dad in a Texans jersey who just walked right through him. But the ghost boy has saved Noah’s life twice in as many days, so when Abe says, “Let’s go,” Noah follows.
Abe leads him off the court into the promenade, where more cots are lined up under darkened concession stands. It is quieter out here. A woman sits alone in an island of empty cots, near a single stall “family bathroom,” and when Noah meets her eyes, they both smile, recognizing in each other an instant kind of home.
Elena is older than Noah — mid-forties, a dark-skinned Latina with thin hair pulled into a messy bun. She wears the polo shirt and khakis of a work uniform, but her sharply pointed manicure belies a different personal style. Incredibly, only one of the mustard-colored acrylics has ripped off, given … well, what-ever her story is.
Noah’s first impulse is to cling to Elena like a mother, but as he takes a step towards her, a family of five shoves him aside. Dad with shoulders like a bull, three white-blonde kids all in matching camo pajamas. The girl’s are pink.
Fear submerges Noah’s better impulses. Elena’s smile fades. Are they safer together? Or more of a target? Noah looks around for Abe to tell him what to do, but the ghost boy is gone.
“Maybe we shouldn’t —” Noah starts.
Elena tilts her head. As if she’s read his mind, she says, “Under these lights? I’m not passing, and neither are you, honey.” She pats the cot beside her. “Might as well stick together.”
He drops to the cot, blushing at his hesitation. He does not take off his backpack. He thinks he might never take it off again.
Twenty-two hours ago, he boarded a bus at the Red Cross staging area in Conroe. He didn’t manage to get much sleep on the interminable ride, stopping at every small town between Houston and Dallas, stalling in church parking lots until the driver would inevitably reboard and announce that every shelter in the area was full.
After the day-long ride, it feels amazing to be horizontal, but he can’t close his eyes just yet. He scans the passing faces — wondering if that’s Emeric with the undercut, or Sasha, beneath the floodwater-mucked hair? His heart skips a beat at certain older, white folks too, for that half-second before he realizes they’re not his parents.
The cots around Noah and Elena remain empty for a long time. Maybe it’s because folks don’t want to sleep so near a bathroom. Maybe it’s something else. Noah’s never sure when to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Eventually, an older man with a shock of white hair stops in the aisle of flowing people. He’s drowning in a baggy army jacket and hunched under the weight of an overstuffed camo backpack. His lip curls into a sneer, and there’s no mistaking that look. Noah pretends to check the screen of his battery-dead phone, and the top of his head grows hot, as if the man’s eyes are burning into him. It’s maybe a full minute before the guy moves on.
“Isn’t that incredible,” Elena says, after the man disappears around the curve in the promenade, “that they can still find the energy to hate us, even with all this.” She waves her hand elegantly.
A short while later, two white boomers in undershirts and boxers stop at the edge of the circle of empty cots. They bow their heads together, whisper-arguing in a way that suggests marital intimacy. The taller one clutches a tiny beast, which might be a Pomeranian under all that matted mud. He hisses something-something “privilege” and something-something “ally.” The greying blonde thinks that a gathering of queers in this soup of humanity, all mixed-up, all separated from their bubbles of like-minded friends might be a bad idea. But the taller one persists, and eventually the other sighs, looking up at the promenade’s high ceiling, where flags printed with the giant heads of the Dallas Mavericks look down on them like grinning gods.
David and Michael introduce themselves with bourgeois cheer, like new homeowners moving into a gated community, and claim the cots in front of Elena and Noah. The stream of humanity slows to a trickle, as the last of the cots are claimed. A few more queer-seeming people set down nearby. Two white women with a snarling Maine Coon in a cat carrier. A black woman with a taper fade takes the cot next to Elena’s and promptly falls asleep beneath a mylar blanket. A 20-year-old who looks like an Instagram model spots Noah and blurts, “Thank fucking god, my people!” and dumps a few tote bags onto the cot next to Noah’s. “Malone, they/them,” they say, stretching out a hand.
Malone has a fall of black-to-seafoam hair and eyeliner that’s miraculously unsmudged. By the end of the night, Noah will learn that Malone is nineteen years old, half-white, half-Vietnamese, their favorite band is the Coathangers, and they’re pre-med at Houston Community College — planning to grow up to be an abortion provider.
For now, their outstretched wrist hovers in front of Noah, stacked with acrylic-bead bracelets in the colors of half-a-dozen queer flags, but Noah can’t remember what any of them mean. It’s been a day and a half since he woke up to the end of the world, and suddenly he can’t remember who or what he’s supposed to be, and why any of it ever mattered. “Sorry, I’m … tired,” he stammers.
“Hi, tired,” Malone chirps, pumping his hand vigorously. Noah coughs a laugh, and it’s a relief. He didn’t know he was still capable of laughter.
“Sorry. I’m Noah,” he says. “He/him.”
“Oh my god, your name’s really Noah?” They say with a wry grin. “That’s a little on-the-nose, isn’t it? This is all your fault, huh?”
Pre-Order Depart, Depart!
|Depart, Depart! Paperback | $18.99 CAD|
Release Date: September 1, 2020
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Release Date: September 1, 2020
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