“What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him?/and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?/And that thou shouldest visit him every morning/and try him every moment?“
— The Book of Job 7:17-18
How many sufferings must we endure before we truly understand that nothing can be taken for granted in this world of mysterious transformation? Oh, come on, you say, this is old news, you’ve heard it all before, that the joy of today is the calamity of tomorrow and no one cheats the wheel that spins out our destinies. You knew this as a child, you say. But the child knew what you have forgotten and lay awake in fearful contemplation of the half-darkened closet and the empty space beneath the bed. You do not understand gravity or the habits of crows or MTV or the words of your heroes or the hidden circuitry of the city in which you live. The silent power that forces blood through your veins does not consult with you.
Yeah, well, okay. Nothing is for certain. Your loan application has been rejected. They are disconnecting the phone. Your servants have discovered a taste for democracy and will hang you, lovingly, at dawn. Maybe your old black jacket — exhausted with the routines of your tedious body — will darkly sprout wings and carry you through the gates of the sky. Maybe the secrets you have kept are known to everyone but you.
I do not speak of the future, Job. The shape of the future remains obscured to all but the Lord and His cryptic angels, and whether or not God chooses to play dice with the universe we will never know, we who are fixed like moths on pins against the matrix of time. Though Einstein and Heisenberg may gnash their teeth and rent their coats in outraged despair, the uncertainty of the future remains, after all, the primary condition of physical existence. The lilies in the field, the punks on Avenue A — they too know it’s a hard and capricious wind blowing through our lives.
But whatever. I did not come like these idiots and rubbernecks to tell you what you already know so well. I came as a friend, to speak as a friend. So listen up, Job — and you all may as well listen too, you pious councilors, head-shakers and tongue-cluckers, you captains of industry and leaders of men, you fearful lovers twisted in the night, you glum rockers in tattoos and rags.
Last night I crossed the river to visit the town of my birth, and when I returned to the city, I slept and dreamed of my childhood. Our family was young and new to the neighborhood. My parents hopeful and still unbroken. The streets of that town ran differently in those days. I had forgotten how there used to be a dusty, ramshackle store at the far end of our street where my mother would send me for milk and bread in the morning while she was still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. When did they tear it down? And what happened to the shopkeeper, that unsmiling, leathery old man reeking of hair tonic and cigarettes, who never spoke a word unless it was a harsh or mocking one, who was known to take a broom to children lingering too long near the comic books, and who never failed to toss a few pieces of candy into my hand along with my mother’s change?
In the woods nearby there stood an abandoned little house, boarded up, dirty white paint chipping away, cracked windows full of spiders; a house so small it surely could have contained no more than a narrow bed, so small we could easily hoist ourselves onto the mossy tarpaper roof to shout gleefully at the others below. Amongst ourselves we circulated many stories and rumors about that house, tales of trolls and witches, drug dealers and sex maniacs, but the central mystery remained: who would have built such a house in the woods, and why? There are no woods there today.
I had forgotten all this, and I had forgotten what people were like back then, how we all knew each other on that street. In the summer there were barbecues and the kids played tag until the fireflies flickered across the dusk, and the grown ups drank beer under the glow of the street lights, their voices mingling with the humid whirr of cicadas and the wet green smell of grass, and the stars wheeled above us as the evening darkened into night.
I woke up, amazed that I had forgotten how much things had changed since those days, how everyone had grown distant and retreated into their houses, how that street had flattened out until it was like all other streets. How could I have failed to notice these momentous changes as they had happened?
I spent the morning in bittersweet nostalgia, and it was well into the afternoon before I remembered that there had never been a dusty old store on my street, that the summer barbecues under streetlamps had never happened, that there had been no woods where a little white house had sprung up like a mushroom after the rain, that my parents had never been hopeful. The street of my childhood was hardly different from the faceless street I know today.
Job, where is the sense in mourning your loss? Even our memories are framed in doubt.
— Tyler C. Gore, a native New Yorker, has MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College, and has taught at Brooklyn College, Hunter College, and for Gotham Writers Workshop. He has published in Literal Latte, MeThree, Lungfull, Opium, The Kossuth Review, The Fire Island Express, and Rosebud. He is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship for Creative Writing.