Lex pushed back his chair and allowed a sloppy smile to spill across his lips. “Shocker.”
Fifth Avenue stood. With a curt nod to Lex, Fifth Avenue straightened his collar (not that it wasn’t straight before) and exited the room, relishing the echo of his footfalls against the cold linoleum floor.
The chess set remained open on the table. Lex smirked at it but didn’t move the pieces, not even the pawn where his king used to be. Lex had never cared terribly about chess. He wasn’t terribly good at it, either. Fifth Avenue was far better. Or—“better” was the wrong word. Fifth Avenue wasn’t better than anyone, although he certainly wasn’t worse. He was simply incomparable.
Lex figured that was why he was so apathetic about their daily chess games.
Fifth Avenue had forgotten about Lex, though. Leaving the room meant inviting the grey river to flow through his mind. Fifth Avenue looked forward to the grey river. Every chess game was debris, and every chess game was also water. But that was okay — chess was everything, and chess didn’t matter. Because soon the grey river would come again, and soon it would sweep itself away again. Actually, Fifth Avenue might not have just looked forward to the grey river. He loved it. Maybe.
Maddie had her usual charm, gushing some rustic nonsense as soon as Fifth Avenue rounded the corner of the hallway. She always waited for him at the door but never let her toe protrude over the doorstep. He blocked his ears with the grey wax and waited for her chatter to dwindle. Fifth Avenue didn’t much like the grey wax, because he didn’t like the way Maddie’s words collected within his eardrums and dribbled over the sides of his lobes.
Fifth Avenue waited. These days, he spent too much of his time waiting. He filled himself up with concrete to see how grey he could become without Maddie noticing. The answer was completely grey. He even felt his eyeballs crust over, while the sleep hardened in the corners. Maddie kept talking.
She grasped Fifth Avenue’s grey hand and tried to tug him toward the table set up neatly in the center of the room. Only then did she realize that he was immobile. Fifth Avenue made the concrete vanish, and forced a cubist smile in return to Maddie’s quizzical one.
Maddie gestured to Fifth Avenue. He took heavy but smooth steps as he followed her to the table. He sat on the right side, like always, in front of the black pieces, caressing them (not quite caressing, but it was as close as Fifth Avenue ever got) and inspecting them for cracks. They were pristine.
Maddie pushed a pawn two spaces closer to Fifth Avenue’s pieces. And, with calculated strokes, Fifth Avenue decimated her. He wound his grey oil through her side of the board. She was powerless to defend herself. Satisfied with his melancholy infiltration, Fifth Avenue stood. With a curt nod to Maddie, Fifth Avenue straightened his collar (not that it wasn’t straight before) and exited the room, relishing the echo of his footfalls against the cold linoleum floor.
The hallway was empty again. Of course it was. If Fifth Avenue had been in the presence of a single other being, Fifth Avenue would have flooded the hallway with his grey tsunami.
Fifth Avenue’s posture was immaculate. Of course it was. If he had noticed even one vertebrae trembling, he would have snapped it off himself.
He swiveled himself exactly 90 degrees and turned another corner, inviting the blessed grey river to cleanse his skull. He was content — for a moment. But the hallway rushed back in as soon as the grey river rushed back out. Fifth Avenue contemplated summoning the river again, but he shoved away the desire. Fifth Avenue didn’t want to become addicted. No, he would not become addicted. He depended on nothing.
Fifth Avenue entered Parker’s room, wasting no space as he approached her. Parker was grand and aristocratic, not messy like Maddie or sloppy like Lex. Fifth Avenue preferred Parker’s company to that of the last two. In fact, this chess game was the highlight of his day. Parker was always the most satisfying to defeat.
Wordlessly, Parker swept an arm toward the chess table in the middle of the room. The room was like all the rest — grey. It made Fifth Avenue comfortable. He enjoyed the grey as he plunged his black knight through the forest of Parker’s white pawns, sweeping her pieces with his grey gales until they tumbled into her lap. Parker accepted her failure with dignity. Fifth Avenue reveled in his triumph as he stood. With a curt nod to Parker, Fifth Avenue straightened his collar (not that it wasn’t straight before) and exited the room, relishing the echo of his footfalls against the cold linoleum floor.
He continued down the hallway and became limp (or as close to limp as Fifth Avenue ever was) with relief as he felt the familiar calm of the grey river.
Fifth Avenue was rotting. He had built himself a shell that was also a coffin that was also skin, though, so no one noticed.
He kept walking.
This piece is inspired by the poem "Fifth Avenue (New York)," by Maxwell Bodenheim.