City of Angels By William A. Bluthe

I called my grandmother when I noticed the phone number of the nursing home’s office on the caller id log on my work phone. She had often called me herself, but sometimes, when she was particularly manic, she would dial hundreds of times, whether or not she received a response, and so the home directors were compelled to remove the buttons from her phone, both to protect her family and, I suppose, to forestall a little longer the day when she would be living on the government’s — and their — dime. She didn’t answer; I dialed the home office. They told me that she was in her room but wasn’t answering the phone.

Why not, I asked curtly. I never hesitated to play the irascible family member as I assumed unpredictability would get her a bit better care.

“You better talk to her yourself,” the woman said. “I’ll pick up the phone for you, if you give me a minute to get to the room.”

It was about three minutes later that the connection began ringing again, and the woman answered. “Mrs. Beauregard,” I could hear her say in her exaggerated Southern accent, “Ma’am, your grandson would like desperately to speak with you.”

I could also hear grandmother’s quaint voice, somewhat more angry and dissatisfied than she used with family: “I don’t care who it is. Why are you in my room?”

“He just wants to say hello, ma’am. He’s so far away. It’s long distance.”

I could feel her glare, but had to chuckle that “long distance” might have such an influence. The handset exchanged hands, and I could hear someone’s labored breathing.

“Is that you, Gregory?”

“No, grandma, it’s your grandson Warren. I was worried when you didn’t answer your phone.”

“I can’t find the thing, Warren. They move it every day so I can’t find it. Even when it rings I can’t find it.”

“Well, grandma, I’m glad we’re talking now. I was a little bit concerned. . . . So, how are you doing?”

Usually this would lead to a lament of life doled out in small elderly portions by an underpaid, undereducated and therefore uncaring staff, working for a distant and banally evil corporation. I hear ya, grandma, I would simply say, unless I thought there was something there I could latch onto and ask to speak to the director about. I understood venting.

But today she bit her tongue. There was a pause. “Greg,” she said, “it’s just so beautiful that I don’t know how I can stay angry. Just so beautiful.” I let pass the reference to my long-departed cousin, a suicide in his twenties.

I was thinking she meant a memorial service or maybe a violinist that had come to visit. “What was so beautiful, grandma?”

“The angel, Greg.” The tone of her voice was suddenly transfixed, pious.

“What about the angel, grandma?”

“He came down from the mountains, after they laid the cornerstone.” She paused to let that sink in. “The cornerstone of the new cathedral.”

The old cathedral had been condemned after the earthquake of ’94, so that made sense. And I myself had been in Los Angeles on one of those days when the sky let through a glimpse of the precipitous San Gabriel Mountains, which stood like the bowed silhouettes of giants to the north, a vision that had led to the moniker of “city of the angels.” Grandmother was not given to poetry, but the image was understandable enough, given her profile.

“That must have been very exciting to watch. Was it on the television?”

“No!” she said with her usual exasperation with the dimwitted who surrounded her. “I saw it myself. We were outside on the porch.”

“Okay, sure,” I said. Time for another topic.

I made several assays, but she refused to let go now that she had started. “The angel Michael is standing over the cathedral now, Gregory. You must come to see it.”

“I’m Warren, grandma.”

“I know you are, child,” she said.

We stayed on the line for a few minutes longer, then she repeated “you must come” and hung up on me. A few minutes later the office called to let me know that the Michael story was part of a psychotic episode that they wanted to treat medically. A doctor was standing by; all that was required was my mother’s acquiescence as her medical guardian. And they knew that mom relied heavily on my advice.

We had been through this discussion a number of times before. The first time we had settled on a course of an anti-depressant, which grandmother used for a year and then gave up. Each time since then, I had convinced mom to ride out the bad time, and each time they had said that when things became bad enough they would have no choice: medicate or transfer. They let me know that this time we had reached the point of no choice.

“What is the big deal?” I said. “She seems calmer than ever.”

“She is having a sustained hallucination, one that has taken over every aspect of her life. On her own she may never snap out of it.” That seemed like pretty dire you-get-what-you-pay-for non-medical advice, but the nurse with whom I was speaking could call on years of wrenching empirical experience — she was a scary person to disagree with, someone who could describe in expansive detail the ruinous path that the wrong decision might lead to. But I was also conscious of the Nurse Ratchett effect: you can create the disasters you predict.

I agreed to fly out after work on Friday for a meeting Saturday afternoon. If they convinced me, I would urge my mother to begin the treatment that day. I gave mom a call to let her know I was coming to the Southland. She’s had a non-committal attitude about me since the year my father died, so I didn’t ask to stay with her. I told her what was up — she also didn’t speak with her own mother much — and she repeated her usual expression: “I’ll do whatever you think is best.” Okay, mom.

The flight did not leave me in a good mood, nor did registering at the crappy hotel near grandma’s home. When I had breakfasted the next morning, I walked through a pleasant, lightly smoggy LA morning to the home. It was a stately building on a small knoll, something of a landmark, the kind of place that once commanded respect but now was mainly a burden because of its age and dilapidation, and an impractical interior designed for another time. Still, the building had grown on me over the years, despite the low-grade aggravation of grandma’s situation, and I always assumed that mother would follow grandma into its confines.

As I climbed the steps to the front door I took a look and discovered that, yes, it was a very nice view of the downtown area in the still not too hazy distance. No archangel, but still nice.

I met with the nurse, who excused the director, despite his having promised to be there. She repeated her diagnosis, with the added advantage of expressing her exasperation in every muscle of her body. I told her that I was sure she was right but would not feel right about this decision without having seen for myself. She was unhappy with this rhetorical spin, but she gave her best contemptuous smile and invited me to see for myself.

I plodded down the hall with a heavy heart: sad for my grandmother, who was clearly on a downward spiral; tired of dealing with a family that didn’t care much for me anyway; angry with myself for seeming so petty; and unable to shake the feeling that I could be spending my day much better somewhere else. I knocked several times on grandma’s door, until someone with a pill cart recognized me and unlocked the door.

“Grandma?” I said into the semi-dark.

“Gregory?” said a disembodied voice, that I finally recognized coming from the armchair in the middle of the room, pointed away from the door and toward the TV.

“Warren, grandma. — Why are you sitting in the dark?”

“Oh,” said the voice, with the same beatified tone I had heard on the phone. “Is it dark? I hadn’t noticed. It’s so light inside here.” Meaning, I suppose, her mind.

I turned the light on, and sat down across from her on the bed. I engaged her on a number of subjects, trying to ascertain the depth to which her mind had receded. I was surprised to find her — lucid. In fact, there was a calm lucidity I hadn’t seen for years. When she got pissed with me, I stopped the interrogation, and we moved directly to a new tone.

“Why do you keep calling me Gregory, grandma?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m not really talking to you, Warren.”

“Who then?”

“No one, I guess. But I feel like Gregory is with us.”

“When people die, they die, Grandma. But if you want to believe in the afterlife or in ghosts, don’t let me stop you.”

“When people die, they die,” she repeated. “What is death, then, Gregory?”

“Death is cessation of life. Cells die. The body decomposes. There is nothing left.” I had been a rather cruel rationalist for a while.

“Nothing is left, Gregory. Did you hear that?”

“Grandma, since I’m here and Gregory isn’t, I’d appreciate it if you spoke with me instead.”

She looked at me as if I had just shown up and said, “Did you see him?”

“See who, grandma?”

“The angel,” she replied. “It has started, you know.”

“What’s started?”

She smiled sweetly, like some caricature of a grandmother, and said ever so lightly: “Why, the end of the world. The rapture. Armageddon. The Second Coming.”

I smiled back a clinical smile. Now we’re getting somewhere. “How do you know that, grandma?”

“Go talk to the angel and you’ll know.”

“Did you go talk to the angel, grandma?” I asked.

“Warren,” she said with a warning tone, the way she might say that I would never amount to much: “I didn’t need to go.”

There were several minutes of silence after that, until I cleared my throat and offered to escort grandma to the porch. “Maybe we’ll be able to see him,” I said. She didn’t assent or demur, so I stood up and took her arm, bringing her to her feet. We took the walker’s sweet time going to the door and down the hall — as I stood there, talking baby steps, hearing her breathing, watching her feet shuffle, the physicality of existence was achingly clear.

After she basically fell butt-first into the porch chair, she took a couple minutes to recover. The other chairs had home residents in various stages of disinterest, and I stood. Grandma seemed content to gather her strength for a while and not speak.

But I was on a mission: “I see downtown, grandma, but I don’t see an angel.”

She squinted and looked toward downtown in the morning haze. When she didn’t say anything, I felt bad for taunting her. After a minute or two, she said, “You never could see beyond your own nose. Just like your father.”

Cheap shot, I thought. Especially since he’s twenty years in the grave. Nothing left but slimy pickled skin and brittle bones in a casket.

Then, as I turned back to her, the corner of my vision caught something, like a bird that flew by or a figure come out of hiding. What was that? When I looked, there was nothing there. Or — I had a funny feeling, like the contrast was misadjusted on a television or a screen, hiding the details of a movie star’s wrinkles or of a murder clue. Was there something there, against the horizon in the overly bright LA haze? — Damn power of suggestion.

“What do you folks see?” I asked looking in all directions. “Do you see an angel downtown?”

One particularly ornery and haggard face looked up with a scowl and said, “I see a whole city of them.” Then, with uncanny timing for such a docile set, the lot of them burst out laughing, coughing, chuckling.

“Okay, okay,” I said, “good one.” I let the topic drop, and the conversation with grandma alternated between complaints of old age and remembrances of people who meant nothing to me except as ciphers of her life before I knew her. It was tiring to try to keep the conversation going, even in fits and starts, and I was pleased when a speaker placed somewhere in the porch ceiling announced the first seating for lunch.

Lunchtime was rife with ritual, as I soon discovered. I was confused as to why Grandma told me to sit in the seat opposite her — where else would I sit? — but when another woman showed up and looked at me as if I had defecated on myself, grandma jumped in: “Nory, this is my grandson Warren and he’s visiting. I asked him to sit in your seat. Can you go find another table to sit at?” A waitress came by with soup bowls and looked confused, like her strict accounting of soup volume was being thrown off.

“I’m sorry if I’m messing up the seating chart, grandma.”

“Don’t worry, Nory won’t remember in five minutes that she even stopped here. And I told them that you were coming to lunch today. I told them.” She looked to be getting angry, but just as quickly the anger flushed and departed from her face.

I couldn’t help a spark of anger that everything was overcooked to be easier to chew, and that the coffee was lukewarm dishwater, and that the slice of banana cream pie was more like a banana wafer. Grandma pushed it all away with a disgusted grunt and tried to stand up. I got her walker in place and we started back down to her room.

“Grandma, I’ve got some business to attend to.”

“Sure, Gregory, don’t let this old woman hold you up. Thanks for visiting.” We were half-way down the hall at this point and meandered from there in silence. When I got her into the room and into her chair — “lights off, please” — I said, “I’ll be back later this afternoon. I’ll see you then. Maybe if you’re feeling up to it, we can go get dinner somewhere.”

She didn’t answer and I didn’t wait. I was exhausted by the effort of entertaining and seeming interested. Sure, I loved her, but in the way you love a human with whom you had once eaten and drunk in fellowship — in this case, Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas eggnog. Now she was a beloved burden, a woman with barely a sense of humor and equally little personal redeeming value for a relatively young man with disposable income and better places to be. But you can’t leave them to be clubbed like baby seals on the ice, I always said, so you do what you have to do.

I went back to my room and took a shower to get the disinfectant out of my nose. At some point I’d have to make that short walk to the home office, but I wasn’t ready yet. She was delusional, okay, but not irrational. There was even a beneficial aspect to this delusion, although I supposed that it was just the calm before the storm and that making the move when she was lost in full-blown paranoia would be harder still. Couldn’t she just pass now in her sleep, I thought and felt the guilt of a kid stepping on a sidewalk crack…

With hopes of feeling better I resolved to drive downtown. “Hey, grandma,” I would say, “I went to the cathedral construction site. Michael says hello.” Then maybe a bar or a strip club. I didn’t know anyone in this godforsaken town. Maybe I could head back to the airport, and maybe I could even meet someone — stranger things have happened.

I drove the rental over surface streets the several miles to downtown, a more harrowing trip than I could have imagined: lights that wouldn’t change; gang corners where I imagined the little rental company sticker suddenly pulsing in neon tones “shoot me”; and endless miles of an unholy mix of exhaust etching my face, wafts of yellow smog, blinding chrome and unrelenting April sun. I was in a very sour mood by the time I arrived in the city center, and I had no patience to find the cathedral’s location. I was close enough for my purposes. I kept my reddened eyes open on the return trip and pulled over at a gentleman’s club overlooking a freeway. When I entered, the relative darkness — which normally signaled an oasis to me — felt like a thin veneer tacked over outdoor sun-bleached tables and bubbling hot windows. Damn LA. The woman who greeted at the inner door seemed equally dazed by the light. Damn LA.

I wanted to make a damn-LA remark to her, but knew that was a country bumpkin thing to do. She slapped a menu down like a discarded card, and moved back to the door. “What’ll it be?” said the topless waitress, an attractive, older woman with real breasts — not saggy but more tubular than any saline job. I ordered a beer to start, half determined to drink myself into a better mood. Another woman, implausibly voluptuous, with the stiff locks of a country music wig and mounds for breasts, slithered along the dancing stage, climbed up the pole and rubbed herself in a faux rapture against it, mouthing sighs and shudders of pleasure. My beer was on the table when I noticed it.

I thought the beer would snap me out of the funk I was in, loosen me up, let the possibilities play in mind. But the strangest thing happened. The beer didn’t taste like anything. I looked at it to see if they had given me water to begin with. No, it was beer. Maybe somebody’s idea of light beer? Near beer? I couldn’t taste anything; even the bubbles were near imperceptible. I almost flagged down my waitress but I didn’t want to hear my own voice saying, “This isn’t the way beer tastes in my hometown.” I looked around for someone chuckling in a corner. I finally decided that I wouldn’t give whatever jokester the satisfaction. I drank up the beer and ordered another. I thought the alcohol, the music, the lights, the woman swaying on the stage, the near-naked waitress sauntering by would hit my head hard, but au contraire! I felt as sun-drenched and depressed as the moment I stepped in. My penis was pulseless. I began to worry about a physical cause, paid up and got out of there.

I made it back to my fleabag hotel without further incident, took another shower, and lay on my bed. I didn’t move for a long time, then had an urge to call someone other than the nurse. Mom kept coming to mind — because of grandma, first of all, and then for all the reasons why I lived so many hundreds of miles from her.

She answered the phone through the answering machine message. “Hello?” she said, interspersed among the syllables of a more melodic message for her friends.

“Mom, this is Warren. I’m in LA. I wanted to talk to you about grandma.”

“Oh, hello, son,” she said. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. Look, grandma is concerning me.”

She said meekly, “Is she not well?” She waited for me to accuse her of not caring for her own mother. Of course that wasn’t my intention — but here I was and there she was. What else could either of us expect?

“Physically she’s fine. But she’s delusional. She thinks the archangel Michael has landed on the new cathedral here to announce the end of the world.”

“Oh — my God,” she said, perhaps not for grandma’s sake. She had never been above superstition.

“Mom, I can assure you as an eye witness that Michael has not taken up local residence.”

“All right, Warren, whatever you say,” she said in that retreating way that always got my goat. I struggled to avoid shouting into the phone.

“How are you, mom?”

“I’ve been better,” she replied, not exactly matter-of-factly, more pointing out that I was in downtown LA with grandma, not there with her.

I had the sensation that neither location seemed like it would produce anything positive. Dinner with grandma and then early tomorrow a plane back home, but for appearance’s sake I asked: “Do you want me to come see you, mom? I’m going to leave tomorrow.”

“Oh no, that’s not necessary. Really it’s not.” I wouldn’t know what to do with you if you were here. But then again, a son should visit his mother. Etc.

“Okay, look, mom, I’ll call you tomorrow and we can talk about whether it makes sense for me to visit. Okay? I’ll call you.”

“Okay, Warren, thank you.” Then that strange pause that had burned me countless times before: “I won’t be home tomorrow. I’m going to Las Vegas with a friend. Bye dear.” And with that she hung up.

I looked at the ceiling for a while, stewing in frustration, and then hoping that this series of mishaps had made it too late to meet about grandma. Oh my God. I couldn’t see myself consigning another human being to a mind-numbing chemical regimen for the rest of their natural days. I could send thousands of virtual creatures and paramilitaries to gamer Valhalla, but I had a general sense of pride — to go with an urbane cynicism — that I was not responsible for any other human’s suffering in the real world. I knew this meant “directly” — I was not directly responsible — but there was a satisfaction in this unboundedness. I didn’t make the choices. I was consigned to live, and everything else fell to someone else’s account. If I saved an occasional baby seal from clubbing, so much the better for me.

There was no way around calling. The woman who responded said that the directing nurse had told her she was leaving until Monday. I knew what that meant: goddam irresponsible young man, no business making these decisions. I called grandma’s number but she, of course, did not answer. It was 5pm, and I was betting the front door would be locked. I despaired of saving any seals, any time soon. I turned on the television.

The local news. Cancelled flights; crews out sick. A freeway car crash from which everyone walked away. A missing reporter. Street festivals, some spontaneous. The weather will be the same tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

I flipped among the channels. Some were blank, a few had the mythical Indian head screen placeholder. What the hell. There was no explanation anywhere, but I didn’t think further about it, given where I was.

I went to the motel office after relieving my tension, and had myself oriented toward the next bar. I was able to walk there. The late afternoon was still warm, with a gritty residue from the day still collecting on surfaces and filling the air at street level. Cars honked and roared and screeched a few blocks down, and the drone of the freeway hovered in the air, not unlike a distant waterfall or a wind through a tall forest at that distance. Nothing wrong with this city, I thought.

The bar was full — this was a Saturday night after all — and there was quite a buzz. I was impressed, and pleased to find a table near the door where I could sit with shots lined up and watch the writhing young women and play the sophisticate, above the fray but still Epicurean enough to enjoy its rituals. The waitress came by but didn’t seem to understand the purpose of six shots. She brought one back, so for ill-tempered effect I threw it back and looked at her as she was turning away. Maybe a trip to the bar was called for.

The burn sometimes takes a few seconds for me, so I wasn’t immediately concerned. But then its absence became obvious. I looked around and recognized something: a cavernous room full of people desperate to feel the comfort of a chemical charm, and maniacal in their unaccustomed clarity and undesired willfulness. Oh my God.

I dropped ten dollars and headed for the door. Outside the sky was thankfully muted, and the sun was beating a red retreat into the Pacific. I realized I must have been imagining things, projecting my own malady onto the whole room. There was definitely something wrong with my palette. I couldn’t exactly tell what it was, but it dawned on me at that very moment that I had not eaten since lunch with grandma and I was not the least bit hungry. That must be it. There must have been some goddam kind of poison in the food.

As I marched back towards the home, I began imagining an ugly conspiracy, with tendrils in the trade of cadavers and body parts, but concentrated on the efficient warehousing of the elderly. Sure, we’ll take ol’ granny — and stuff her full of something that’ll make her as docile as a heifer. And if she starts to hallucinate under the regimen — we’ll make you complicit in zapping her brain with even stronger drugs. And the symptom for the more robust younger man blindly brought into the regimen? It would be a loss of taste — now there’s a Hollywood twist.

I walked past the motel, which seemed to have an impromptu party in the parking lot, toward the home on the hill. The place was almost completely dark when I stood at the door and rang the bell. I rang it several times, trying to screw up an angry eye with each unnecessary ring, but the whole charade felt hollow, a distraction from the emptiness I felt on my tongue. Damn LA. Finally, there was a rattling behind the door, and a viewport opened.

“What do you want?” said a small wizened black man, perhaps one of the denizens of the porch, I couldn’t be sure.

“Hi — could you get one of the staff to unlock the door? I’ve got to talk to them.”

“There’s no staff here tonight,” he said.

“What?” I shouted. “What the — are you sure about that?”

“Miss Pursett was on duty tonight, and she just up and went.”

“Up and went?” I said, half way between a guffaw and a curse. “Up and went where?”

“She went downtown, I think. She took Mrs. Frank and Betsy Sutton with her, I do believe.”

“That can’t be,” I said. “She just left this whole facility without any supervision at all?”

“Don’t worry, young man,” said the old man. “We’re under God’s care tonight.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“There is no need to despair or be cynical. Examine your heart, for the end is nigh.” He smiled a bit of comfort for me and slowly closed the viewport.

I didn’t move for quite a while as I debated my options: call the police; go to bed; ring the bell again; break a window. Finally I meandered over to the porch to sit and soak up a bit of the LA evening. I could see in the distance the illuminated downtown high rises and the glow of some rotating search lights. But I also saw giant red flames piping billows skyward at various spots between me and the city. Riots. Damn LA.

Maybe, I thought, the poison is in this whole damn city. Five hundred square miles of humanity unable to enjoy sensation, now that’s a scary prospect, a source of conflagration of biblical proportions. Sodom and Gomorrah called down upon themselves, when they find they can rub no more excitement from their raw bodies. Wow.

What was that? In looking away, I thought I saw it again. A form, a shape, somewhere to the side of the downtown. A towering human shape in silhouette, with its head bowed and shoulders hunched, like the mountainous peaks to the north. But the placement was all wrong. When I looked directly, I could see nothing; that only increased the feeling that there was something there, something subliminal. I knew that I had to go, really go. But I did not move for a very long time, wondering about the plague I could see stretched out before me, about my place in this unfolding drama, about the strangest things in my life — a missed opportunity with a girl whose features had blurred except for her funny smile, the time my grade-school self messed in my underwear, the feeling on a mountainside of taking a psychedelic for the first time — the parade went on for quite a while.

When I stood up, I realized that the street before me was hosting a loose but steady stream of pilgrims. Headed towards downtown. The distant whine of rubber on concrete still floated in the air, but it was more subdued, almost distant and lonely. I walked to the street and observed. It was a crazy cross section of humanity, indescribable except to say that there were all kinds of people. Some were praying as they walked, others danced, and still others walked as if enthralled by a supernatural snakehead at the top of the B of A building 5 miles away. A few walked to the side, self-conscious about being part of this spontaneous action, unsure of their participation.

“Hey,” I said to someone carrying a camera and walking distinctly to the side. “What’s going on?”

The person looked at me and weighed responding — I couldn’t tell if he was tired of explaining himself or unwilling to speak. I started walking beside him. He looked away, fiddled with his camera as if he was pondering taking a shot.

“Come on,” I said.

Without turning toward me, he said, “It’s a march to the center.”

“The center of what?”

“Of that — ” he said, pointing to the smoke-punctuated landscape before us. Though it was night, the LA luminescence gave a distinctness to much of the urbanscape.

“So, do you know what’s going on,” I asked, thinking that my insight into a metropolitan-wide poisoning would be quite a revelation to him.

“Some say it’s the end of the world.”

“What!” I cried out, even though I saw that my own theory would provide an explanation for that. Still, hearing it come from a complete stranger on a public street with so much strangeness about was disturbing. I was rattled.

“That’s what they say,” he said and looked at me with the sad eyes of someone who had spent too much time — at work, at home or both — facing things he had sworn off. Before I could say how ridiculous that was, he went on: “There are similar occurrences all over the country, all over the world, according to Internet sites tracking this. Here in the US, as much as 20% of the workforce is unaccounted for. Riots have broken out everywhere — looting, lawlessness, chaos. But no one has died. It’s unimaginable. This city aflame, full of gangs and gun-toting lunatics, and the morgues are empty. Hospitals are emptying. Some of these people here have been on foot since late last night, without break, and they’re still dancing.”

“I think the water’s poisoning us. St. Vitus’s Dance.”

Pointing to some hippie dancers, he said: “they call it the spiritualization of humanity. The final evolution. Over there, the prayerful are convinced that Jesus will be coming down from the clouds.”

Yeah, right, I thought. “It’s the water, I’m sure of it.”

“What do you say about that, then?” he asked with his arm extended toward our goal. There it was finally: big as the tallest human monument one could imagine, outlined against the sky, a glowing silhouette very much like a hunched and introspective archangel. He was leaning slightly on the transparent but gleaming sword before him, with its point resting at his feet.

I was speechless, unable to make the argument that this was the progression of the illness, manifesting itself in a collective hallucination, one where we might even anticipate each other’s visions.

I also wanted to mouth that I couldn’t breathe, because I could feel my lungs balking, but that wasn’t true. I felt I didn’t need to breathe, though I eventually found myself continuing to do so. So this was dying.

“Why are you going?” I finally asked.

He looked at me to uncover the traces of irony or, perhaps, derision. Then he turned his head away and said, “I want this to end.”

I didn’t know what else to say to him and slowed my pace. I walked on in silence for quite a while, observing my fellow pilgrims, as groups came and went in the flow. I watched a sweet-looking young woman in tie-dye skirt and top on the sidewalk make as impassioned a plea as I have ever seen, then just walk away from her unmoved mate and fall into the stream. I saw what looked like a man of the cloth, in tears on the curb, befallen by the fear of his own convictions. We were passed going the other way by rioters, with broad, contemptuous smiles on their faces; but there were no confrontations.

I finally recognized the mania from the club in my companions: the prayers just a bit too fervent, the dancing just a little too unrestrained, to be natural. It was as if they hoped to counteract the fact that our fates were already decided by a force whose power and mercy were now fully manifested — but whose judgment was still beyond comprehension. I saw pentacostalists flipping through the last pages of their bibles, like panicky students entering an all-important final examination, as we all walked toward a zone from which there might be no return, for which there were no assurances.

Not far from downtown, I found a Kinko’s and set myself at this computer. I will broadcast this story out onto the Internet in the off chance that my gut was right and this is the story of our natural demise, rather than a moment of reckoning, or even my moment-of-death hallucination. I can’t bring myself to believe that the world is ending, so I have begun to think of the possibilities as my dear grandma did. I feel Gregory beside me, providing comfort and promising a sense of meaning. Perhaps, if I can get myself to my feet again, I will find comfort from my father closer to the end. Somewhere, I will come to the line between indecision and acceptance, and there I will face what I realize is the point of inversion, where every feeling and thought is turned inside out. And I will learn whether I have the courage to disappear into the spiritual.