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"Monument Falls" by Perry Genovesi





30th Street Station - Dunkin’


Todd approached the register clutching his guitar bag. He ordered an iced latte and small hash browns, paid, and slunk to the side with his receipt. An older cashier with stringy hair streaked with gray leaned her elbow over the counter. 

“They’re doing a shit job,” said a customer, who was younger than the cashier, though much older than Todd’s 17 years. “You should see the men’s room. I’ll spare you the details.”

 “To some of them,” the cashier said in a North Carolina accent, “work is a four-letter word.” And she nose-motioned over to the payphones where three janitors, two men and one woman, stood in blue uniforms. Todd felt a gleaming inside his eyes as if he were watching a sad scene in a movie. Then a sheen tinted his vision. The muscles in his legs tensed. He was shaking. 

“Earthquake!” said the woman.

“Here?” said the man.

Plaster bits snowed around the counter as a rumbling shook the station. Jags of wall fell and sizzled into the fryer. Todd clutched his receipt and, while the ceiling boomed, a black void in the roof formed and then shrank. Todd’s knees and neck wobbled as if on a subway car. Then a yellow comet dropped from the ceiling.


The impact of the object striking the floor jolted his knees. The tiles against the coffee stand rocked and the Chinese food sneeze-guard glass shattered into the lo mein pit. 


Sky and clouds passed through the new hole. Smoke cleared. “Miss, miss! You ok?” The goatee’d customer coughed and then leaped up to bend over the counter. “You alright?”

“Leave me alone,” she barked and then grappled around to stand. 

A choking feeling pushed his throat as Todd turned to examine the object. It had a shiny, elongated, steam shovel-like front. Was it a piece of a crane? Todd crept around the thing with two more customers. His ears rang and he toed away rubble as he walked, trying to swerve around a tall guy to read the writing. 

It had a plaque cast in gold.


Laziness

March 23rd On this afternoon in March, MMXXIV, Caucasian Dunkin’ employee Lindsay Walling remarked to customer Gregory Billing that, to the all-Black Buildings staff, “work was a four letter word,” adducing to the trope of African-American laziness.


Voices murmured behind the payphones. 

One of the janitors said, “It’s a mop bucket. It’s a big model of our mop bucket.”


Todd fled - he didn’t want the cashier to find her name on the structure and know that he’d made it happen with his eyes.


Thirteen Months Later




Small’s Hardware Store


The UPS driver carried a package inside the store, hurrying, since he was double-parked on Walnut Street and blocking a lane; his lower back relaxed as he eased the box down.

“Hey,” a man at the counter - Todd’s father, Leon Smalls - shouted. “Dropoff’s in the back.” Leon thrust a finger past an aisle of paint, drills and lightbulbs toward a white door near the breakroom. “Told you guys already,” he said. 

The driver peered back out the window at his truck. Yesterday, he had gotten a note from the head disciplinarian at Penn Charter: his daughter had been caught smoking again in the parking lot with two boys from the rugby team. He grunted as a green ticketing van slid behind his truck. “Guy on Monday said I could just leave it here - damn,” he groaned as the ticketing van parked. Todd had been watching from the break room doorway - yesterday he’d seen the scene to which the driver was referring.

“Well,” said Leon, “he’s not the owner. Hey - move it back there.” 

And the driver again hoisted the box, jostling it slightly, and stomped to the store’s end.

“What’s that sound?” said Leon.

“Package just shook a bit,” said the driver.

The rumbling amplified. Todd gasped and, from the door, a metallic clang rang out. A smell of burning and black ash hung in the air. A bronze sheet filled the hardware store’s front window, then clanked over. 

A woman in a violet blouse had been parked in front of Small’s Hardware in her Subaru, and she exited her car once she saw it. 

Leon and Todd Smalls and now the woman, Dr. Danielle, all stood on one side of the fallen metal mass as it flamed and smoked around its edges. 

Leon craned his neck to read the embossed lettering. “Is that another damn Civil Rights sign? It’s about us!” Leon shouted to Todd, who paled, peered away, and rubbed his sweaty palms against his shorts.


Microaggression 

On April 4th, MMXXV, African-American UPS driver Nasir Thompson walked into this site to deliver a package. Small’s hardware clerk, Reid Berling, also African American, told Thompson he could leave the package at the entrance - saying that Berling himself would attend to it, which he did. The next day when Thompson carried another delivery into Small’s, White owner of Smalls Hardware, Leon Smalls, refused to let Thompson leave the package and asked that he move it twenty feet to the exit. Had the driver been Caucasian, Smalls would have let the driver repose.


Leon toed the monument with his worn work boot but it wouldn’t budge. “Get Berling out here!” 

Berling ambled out, grinning and stroking his beard and trying to hide his laughter. 

“Help me with this goddamn piece,” said Leon. 

A woman in sunglasses tugged a pomeranian away from the monument. 

The two men hooked their arms under the hot metal pole, scraped it up off the sidewalk, and dumped it into the street.

The top of the sign was a UPS package replica on top of an alloy pole. Leon craned over the sign to read, then twisted to face Todd; sweat rolled down his forehead. “You,” he straightened toward his son. “You’re doing this to me?”

Dr. Danielle grabbed Todd’s arm. “Let’s go,” she said.

 



Omar’s Halal


The foil crinkled as Todd unwrapped his falafel. Dr. Danielle was already chewing her lamb gyro, dabbing a dot of Tzatziki off her lip. “These past few months. One young man who started a cottage industry of,” she exhaled, “guerrilla memorials.”

Todd dropped his sandwich on his tray. “I didn’t mean to start anything. These…things.” He scanned the restaurant. “They just fall from the sky when I’m there.” Todd dug his pita through a hummus container. “It could’ve crushed you. Why didn’t you run away?”

“I wanted - I needed to see what happens. What this is all about. It’s a talent you’ve got, especially from a diversity and inclusion perspective. But it’s. I want you to recognize there’s two sides to every story.”

Todd asked her what she meant.

Dr. Danielle scratched her ankle. “So let’s think about this. You’ve got the one when someone got called a” - she spied around then whispered - “a Black bee on the 21, right?” Todd nodded. That bus had had to pull over; the memorial had exploded its right front wheel and smashed the sliding door. When the offender crawled from out the emergency exit, he’d heaved it into the Schuylkill. “Then - what was it…a bronze statue of a computer to that fight in the library tech lab? That wasn’t the library’s fault. Two fighting, private citizens, right?” She counted on her saucy fingers and stared at one of the ceiling fans. “The giant shaving razor in the firm on Market, dedicated to the guy who almost sued your father? Said he couldn’t keep wasting eighty bucks a week on shape-ups if your dad wasn’t going to promote him?”

“That’s Berling.” Berling was Todd’s closest friend at work. Todd could talk to him about his father’s habits, and Todd’s own plans for his future - things he could never tell his dad.

“Look - I’m not here to censor you. But, are white people the cause of every oppression? Every statue?” She shrugged. “Black women can be…chauvinists too you know. I’m asking you to use this power of yours more diplomatically. Any more of those statues still standing?”

“I think the Library  - their HR installed the big computer in their lobby.” 

Dr. Danielle leaned forward. “I’m amazed no one’s died yet.”

Todd said, “I don’t know what you want me to say. You’ve done your homework. You want me to say I’m sorry?” 

Todd knew he was special - there were times when, as a kid, living with his mother in suburban Philadelphia, he felt the television used to broadcast to him alone, which is when the gleam in his eye made its debut. But the gleam had never caused this.

“You know, if you’re trying to change your dad you can’t confront him like this. People get defensive.”

“I know.”

“But those signs are forever here. How many have been about your dad?”

“This’s the second.”

“That must be hard for him. I know he wants you to take over the store.”

“How do you know that?”

“And I imagine today was quite a surprise for him. Or, for the commuter just trying to get to work.”

Todd crushed a napkin. “You’re acting like I know how they get there. I don’t!” He flung it and it biffed against her blouse. She pushed it into a pile on his side. 


Todd disappeared down Walnut. 


The loss of the air conditioning relaxed her. Todd had felt bad about lashing out and got the bill. That had been kind of him, she thought. 

Some women in burkas and hijab walked across 45th Street to the AICP mosque. Cars veered around and honking horns cavalcaded. The monument’s pole had dented. 

Leon crossed his arms, smirking, while engines screamed around him. “You talk to him?” he said.

“I think he’ll go for it,” yeah.”

“Good.” Drivers veered around the mangled sign. “It’s just disgusting. What’s he doing this for?”

“I know what you mean. Sometimes young people - we act in a way that’s too far left.”

He nodded. “See what you’re up against?”

She nodded back and asked him for a cash advance - her student loans were still due at the month’s end.




NW Corner of Market and 11th Street


Dr. Danielle was walking with Todd on the wide concrete sidewalk. Leon had told her to take Todd to one of Berling’s ‘hate-white-people’ rallies. She thought she could catch a gotcha in the logic of whatever was happening with Todd. But, when she thought about it, she wasn’t sure it was Todd’s logic at all.

“Why are you doing all this? Taking time with me?” he asked.

“Book research,” she said.

Figures farther down the sidewalk mulled; six guys with big beards and black bandanas wore leather vests and talitos studded with pyramids and gold gems. They resembled a construction crew, occupying half the space. Yellow signs leaned against their legs, propped in a row against the bank. Todd squinted. Berling stood against the brick. He wore dark sunglasses and shook a sign. Todd listened as the man who appeared to be the leader shouted on about ‘the so-called white race.’

“Oh,” said Todd. “This is what you wanted me to see?”

“This is as offensive and ahistorical as anything white people do,” said Dr. Danielle.

“How do you know?”

“Well, number one, I’m Black. Number two, I’m a woman. I want to make sure we understand each other. That you know where I’m coming from.”

The other men in dark leather skirts stood in company formation and stared. A bald demonstrator thrust a poster above the leader’s head. The four or five scattered onlookers in earshot stepped into the streets to get away. Dr. Danielle would usually leave too when she encountered them  - but for the next three months she was under contract.

A man in a bright red bandana pointed at Dr. Danielle and Todd and spoke into the microphone: “Why is this Black woman diluting the bloodline?”

“Black people can be racist too,” said Dr. Danielle to Todd, though she wanted to say, ‘You think he’s my boyfriend?’

Then the sky turned wet-tissue gray; the shaded concrete enveloped the sidewalk. 

“It’s happening!” said Todd.

“Well, good!” 

“What if one of those things falls and squishes them? What then?”

Dr. Danielle thrust her arm out and Todd’s stomach dented into it. Sweat ran down Todd’s back and his heart throbbed. Then rain pricked the sidewalk. A blotch smelling of cellar broke on Dr. Danielle’s shoulder and then her jacket. In the downpour, the group rubber-banded their signs and folded up the table. Dr. Danielle called, “He’s not my boyfriend!” as they disappeared.




Forty Feet Beneath Broad Street, near South Philadelphia


Todd sat in the first subway car riding south toward Ellsworth/Federal. He was meeting Berling at Le Tin Can, a bar and cafe on Point Breeze Avenue. Sometimes Todd wished Berling was his dad. Berling had wanted to confess to Todd the day before at work that he’d left the group; he’d just wanted a listening ear against Todd’s father. 

Two young guys chattered next to Todd. One had amber hair and a baggy, blue Fred Perry shirt. The other wore a denim baseball hat and khaki shorts. He was close enough for Todd to smell his sport deodorant.

“What a stereotype,” one said.

Todd peered down the subway’s metal chamber. A seated, bald, older man raised a can of grape soda; his lips touched the rim. The boy in front of Todd cackled. Heat pumped into Todd’s chest. Todd’s eyes widened. Todd gripped the railing and heaved himself up, wobbling in front of the two as the train zoomed on. Bronze shot through the front window before Todd could even shout, ‘Stop!’.



He’d been at the Dapas Rec Center, relaxing on a swimming pool’s edge with his legs dangling in. But then the water was bubbling and boiling. Todd came to with a plastic pillow of ice numbing his lower right leg. The monolith had smashed the left headlight and melted the ventilation grill. Two medics in yellow vests clamped an oxygen mask onto an elderly woman - in his state, Todd feared the woman was the Dunkin cashier. Other passengers, cradling their arms or legs, shouted how they were suing the subway agency, how they might never walk again, and how they were calling an accident lawyer. Todd’s leg ached, a hot pain surging to his toes. Looking up, he saw a hole where the memorial had blasted through forty feet of pavement, pipes, and ground soil. Orange safety cones shone and yellow police tape wormed in the wind. Todd limped to where the train expelled acrid, rubber-smelling smoke. The monument hulked past the smoke crimps. 

It was a massive replica of the can - Crush grape soda - nearly as tall as the train’s front windows. Over his right shoulder, Todd heard a “What the fuck.” The one in the Fred Perry shirt and his friend stood nearby. They squinted to read a bronze plaque fastened to the can.


Grape Soda 

Racist microaggression near the Lombard/South Broad Street Line Station

 Close to this site on July 30th, MMXXV, White Temple Freshmen James Davidson and Samuel Gregory, on their way home from Summer Semester Algebra 1021, observed African-American Payroll Supervisor Claude Willems drinking grape soda. To Samuel, James implied that they were witnessing a stereotype fulfilled: the trope of African Americans enjoying grape soda.


“ Christ!” cried James. “Fuck. What do we do?” His face gleamed with sweat. “ I’m a minor.”




30th Street Station - Food Court


Dr. Danielle watched Todd from the oily payphones as he hobbled on crutches with his dad. It was a Sunday afternoon.

“Stop!” said Todd, brushing away his dad’s hand every time Leon tried to lay it on his son’s shoulder. Todd was catching the train to band practice in Lancaster. The band rarely let themselves joke anymore in the two years after the emergence of Todd’s talent

Dr. Danielle walked from the shadows. “Leon,” she said. “We need to talk.”

“Talk about what?” said Todd.

Leon glared away and pointed up at the taped-over hole in the ceiling, the plaster of which was still being fabricated after the blast two years ago. Two men were working around it in hard hats. Leon said, “They’re gonna take over, one day, Todd, if we don’t do nothing.”

Todd looked at Dr. Danielle and then at his Father. “What?”

A windstorm dashed through the Grand Hallway. The caution tape around the mop bucket slipped off and snapped around. “Jesus!” said Dr. Danielle.

“Get back!” Todd said. His eyes gleamed. Lightning boomed outside. The window flashed. Inside the station a crack resounded, knocking over three travelers and a display of sunglasses. Brochure spilled into a corner. Hot grease leapt out of the fryers, splashing, and permeating even the florist’s stand with burger odor. 


A gold, miniature ranch house, a type local to the borough of Clifton Heights, PA - the kind Leon used to work on before he bought the store in the early ‘90s - appeared in Todd’s father’s place. Tufts of smoke and dust wisped where it met the floor.

“My God,” cried Dr. Danielle. Rain sheeted through a new station ceiling gash and down the house’s roof, pattering onto the floor. Embossed paragraphs gleamed over the front door. Rain seeped into the engraved letters. 

“I tried—” shouted Todd. His ears rang. He tore at his collar and tears stung his eyes. The gleam faded. “I told you no!” Todd shouted first at the monument and then up to the ceiling, where a strawberry sun was pushing through. His knuckles bruised; his fists clanged the structure. Then the etching of the year gave way under Todd’s blows. The statue paled until only his father’s body remained. Rain poured and turned his dad’s flannel collar to dark blue. Rain veined the blood on the floor like a watercolor.





Epilogue


His Dad’s will named Todd as the inheritor of Small’s Hardware. After three weeks of mourning, Todd promoted Berling to first level supervisor and then to the store's helm. 

With the last of his inheritance, Todd paid off Dr. Danielle’s student loan debt. As for the doctor’s remaining fourteen years as a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, she’d never again see a stranger case.






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