Eleven-Thirteen

I watch a man stop, put his head in his hands. His balding head sports a shadow of hair; the street light gleams in the folds of his leather jacket. He stands, head bent, for only a few seconds while I watch from afar.

One of my cats hops up onto the couch beside me, throws herself onto her back, thuds against my thigh, nudges the box containing the fried chicken sandwich I bought three hours before, as gunmen picked off a room full of hostages, one by one by one.

***

I bought fried chicken as the news broke, the television screens in the restaurant silent, just dark images of police nationale, bodies in bags, Paris illuminated in the cobalt blue cloak of emergency. I bought fried chicken, glanced at the television screens, and left the restaurant. I drove home listening to music, singing, even. I unpacked shopping: seasonally-flavored potato chips, tomatoes, sweet baby lettuces, hummus, a bottle of artisan ginger ale with a fancy lid.

When I turned on the television, I watched a home improvement show, ate the fried chicken sandwich while a Canadian couple contemplated which million-dollar mansion they should buy. I licked sauce from my fingers, crumbs of batter spilling onto my shirt, onto the couch, then flicked through the flyer from a local grocery store, pondering whether or not to buy a gingerbread turkey for our Thanksgiving table.

I decided against the gingerbread turkey, checked emails on my phone, squashed a tiny bubble of irritation at a rejection in my inbox from a literary journal whose name I won’t remember in an hour. The Canadian couple on the home improvement show chose their mansion and the closing credits rolled. I scanned through the channels for a chintzy Christmas movie, even though it is really still too early.

The remote control for our cable box is positioned at an awkward angle; it ignores fifty percent of the commands we give it, so when I asked it to turn to Channel 48, it ignored the four, sent me to Channel 8, where the local news was showing. Paris, Kentucky—just 20 miles up the road—had been replaced by Paris, France, and the screen replayed the images I had so carelessly scanned as I bought fried chicken.

Police nationale in black helmets, crouching behind white vans, the shocked face of the Président in an infernal loop, the same bus being waved on by the same gun-laden officier de police, over and over again. Then the body bags, The white body bags.  

***

I watch orange-coated men load stretcher after stretcher into ambulance after ambulance, holding IV drips above the heads of the injured, yellow coated men handing out shiny foil blankets for warmth, more white body bags.

“It’s all very troubling,” the news anchor says, as if he were talking about a rise in the price of milk, or a shortage of canned pumpkin.

Outside, I hear the drone of a helicopter while the French correspondent talks about “suicide bombers,” enunciating both b’s in a way that should be comical. I decide to use my time productively, get up off the couch, clean the kitchen, while a banner scrolls across the bottom of the screen: “five terrorists have been neutralized.”

I text my wife, still at work, interrupting her because I don’t know who else to tell—as if I need to tell someone, as if the rolling footage on every screen isn’t telling enough. She quotes Yeats; I quote Yeats back to her, finishing her sentence. Neither of us has our own words.

“France has its own nine-eleven,” someone announces, like they’re awarding a trophy.

“We do not know if this is over,” a different news anchor says, and then repeats, “We do not know if this is over.”

Six hours away, eleven-thirteen has already turned itself over, as if a day can be contained in twenty-four hours.

 


(News photo of a body covered in a white sheet outside Bataclan, courtesy of www.cnn.com)

 

Catherine A. Brereton
Catherine A. Brereton is from England, but moved to America in 2008, where she is now an MFA candidate at the University of Kentucky. Her 2014 essay, "Trance," published by SLICE magazine, was selected by Ariel Levy and Robert Atwan as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays, 2015. More of her work can be found in Literary Orphans and Graze, and is forthcoming in Pankhearst: RAW, The Indianola Review, The Watershed Review, and The Spectacle. Her “Dead Bird Vignettes” are featured in an anthology of ekphrastic writing, forthcoming from Wind Press, and her work will appear in Turn : Turn : Turn, an anthology of short shorts from ELJ Publications. Catherine is the current Editor-in-Chief of Limestone, the University of Kentucky's literary journal. She lives in Lexington with her wife and their teenage daughters.