Park Row — Tom Laichas



Park Row is an alley. Beneath the day-lit zenith, visibility is ten miles. If my city vanished,
I’d see a quarter million acres: bare ocean, alluvial plain.

But Park Row is an alley, a shallowed arroyo lined with banks and commercial backsides
and dingbat apartment carports. Only at its open ends does the Row reveal any kind of
beyond.

I remember, near enough, what’s out there. To the east, the San Gabriels march toward
Colton. Beyond their gray-blue fade, the Mojave’s mottled and sepia square miles. Then
there’s further, miles of further, outward towards nation, towards ocean, towards the
planet’s curved surface.

Twelve years old, nineteen-seventy. I remember, near enough. Echo Park, Silverlake,
Downtown. I walked from end to end, one street after another. Elysian Park, Solano
Street, the Alameda railyards. In those years, neighbors lived in easy agreement: we agreed
that the world is round, that planets and stars are round, that gravity pulls all eccentricity
inward.

I took this on faith. Griffith Observatory said it was so. I took it on faith from the
Planetarium Director, who set the black mantid Zeiss Projector in motion, touching a
lectern’s knobbed instrument panel. In the dark, stars moved backwards and forwards: in
three minutes, the work of an eon.

Earth, said the Director, is as round as a beachball. It had a beginning. One day, in billions
of years, when the sun bloats red, oceans will boil away and earth will end.

In the seat next to mine, my sister, seven years old, sobbed. Her weeping was heard at the
lectern. The Director added: Billions of years. Not in our lifetimes. We’ll all be gone by that time.
Unconsoled, she cried in the car as Dad drove us home. She cried all night and wouldn’t
sleep.

But the Director was right. My sister died long before Earth. She’s buried in central block
B, plot 291. Her bronze plaque will last hundreds of years.

On Park Row, as in central block B, the earth remains round. We orbit our star year after
year as it eats into its ration of hydrogen fuel with slow and deliberate speed. Nothing will
end while we’re still alive.

When she was older, just before dying, my sister began believing in God.

I’m telling you: these days it takes an act of will. I can’t believe what anyone says.


***


Tom Laichas’s recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ambit, Eclectica, Panoply, Underfoot, Blue Unicorn and elsewhere. His first collection, Empire of Eden, is due out from High Windows Press (UK) in 2020. He lives in Venice, California.