“I like the rain,” Sid says.
“It’s nice,” Max says.
“It’s like the corpses of melted snowflakes dripping slowly from some great snowflake graveyard. Don’t you think? A graveyard like elephants have.”
“I miss you,” Max says. “It hurts my heart. Because it’s so very Sid not to know the word ‘cloud.'”
Sid looks down. His eyes are winsome.
“It’s a hard word,” Sid says. “Two vowels in a row, like ‘ouzo’.”
A distant crashing noise intrudes. It is followed by a soft and faraway hum.
“It’s starting,” Max says.
The world vibrates softly. Something new is happening. Something strange. The salt and pepper shakers rattle. The beaded curtain in the doorway shakes.
“The running of the luggage,” Max says.
In Babylon, in 2004, it is the running of the luggage.
“Is that why we’re here?” Sid asks.
“It’s why I’m here,” Max says. “I don’t know why you’re here.”
“I wanted to go to Sydney,” Sid says. “It has the best name of any Australian city ever. But I drowned in confusion and got on the wrong flight. That’s why I’m in Babylon.”
“Like luggage,” Max says.
“Like lost luggage.”
“My bag came here,” Max says. “A lot of luggage does. The undeliverable. The forgotten. The lost.”
The table shakes with its hidden passion.
(It is its love for the nearby table. It can never be expressed. It can never be spoken. If a table speaks of such things it is the end. But it may tremble.)
The water glasses on the table shiver.
“Every year,” Max says, “Babylon holds the running of the luggage.”
“I met you when I got off the plane,” Sid says. “It was an accident. I wanted never to see you again. I didn’t know it was the running of the luggage.”
“Have a drink,” Max says. “It’s no big deal.”
“It is a big deal,” Sid says. “I have to turn you in to the police.”
“It’s no big deal. We met. We walked to a restaurant. We got our hair wet in the rain. We went through the curtain. We sat down at a table. I ordered a drink. You should too.”
A pack of luggage gallops by outside the door. A damp breeze stirs Sid’s hair. A few thin locks of hair curl against his cheek. They look dead sexy there.
Sid looks pretty good today, for Sid.
“If you get an alcoholic drink,” says Max, “you might forget to turn me in. But if you get something watered down, the local water will make you sick.”
Sid looks sad and lost.
“Have I no third option?” Sid asks.
Max thinks. The cloud of his thoughts grows richer and denser. A suggestion precipitates. “Rum and coke?”
Sid orders a rum and coke. He sits back.
A carousel of luggage storms by. It turns the street’s puddles into spray.
“Is this festival safe?” Sid asks. “The door is a beaded curtain. It cannot save us from feral Gucci.”
“I don’t know,” Max says. “I guess so. Nobody else is leaving.”
A single solitary bag ghosts by. It’s lean and underpacked, like a scavenger. Its hunger is tragic.
“I lost a head,” Max says.
“A head?— oh, thanks,” Sid says. His drink has arrived. He sips it through a straw. Each sip is daringly unabashed.
“I packed it to prove I killed someone. I checked it for Detroit. But it got sent to Babylon.”
Sid sips further.
“Hard luck,” says Sid.
“Sometimes I miss you and my bones ache and my eyes blur,” says Max.
“It’s not a big deal,” Sid says.
Sid looks sad.
“I plan to do this,” says Max. “I’ll have a drink with you. I’ll hang out. Then when I can bear to leave, I’ll sneak out and find my luggage.”
“It’s out there?”
There’s a scream from somewhere outside. The scream stops, sudden and short. The locals look up from their tables. There’s a silence in the room.
“Tourists,” one man says.
Another man shakes his head.
Then the locals go back to their conversations.
“Don’t go out there,” Sid says.
“My bag is mine,” Max says. “It won’t hurt me.”
“It’s running with a bad crowd,” says Sid. “It might go feral.”
“Things like that don’t happen,” Max says. “Not to my luggage. My luggage wouldn’t go feral.”
“Mine bit me once.”
Sid drinks some more. It’s suddenly cold and bitter drinking.
“I caught my finger in the zipper. I had to rip the whole bag apart.”
“No,” Sid says. He’s hard-edged now. “Practical.”
“Ah,” says Max.
Sid sips ruthlessly at his straw.
“You know— I mean, that thing— what happened with us—”
“I know,” says Sid. He smiles. His smile has sun and snow and ice in it. “I still have to turn you in. For closure.”
“But I’ll go to the bathroom first,” says Sid. “I have to pee. So you can run away then, like a terrified puppy.”
“Okay,” says Max.
“I mean, not that you should.”
“Just, I have to pee.”
Sid gets up. He asks a waitress where the bathroom is. He faces the bathroom hallway with determination and walks in.
Max stands. He slinks to the door.
“It’s not safe,” the waitress says.
“It’s okay,” Max says.
“It’s not safe,” she insists. But he pushes past her, out through the beaded curtain. It rattles like a snake. Like a snake with maracas, preparing to strike.
“Be well,” Max says, to the waitress.
The luggage run is fierce now. It fills most of the streets. It shouts to Heaven like a world in pain. It thunders like the wrath of God. Max jumps up and grabs the fire escape ladder. He drags himself up towards the roof. He needs a lofty height to find his bag.
“I can’t see it,” Max says.
He goes higher. He’s standing on the roof.
“Black,” he says. “Black as pitch. Zippers like dragon’s teeth. My bag, with a teddy bear and some clothes and a poor damned bastard’s head.”
The luggage runs fiercer.
“Where are you?” Max asks the world.
There’s a growling snapping zipper behind him.
The bag is not Sid. It did not love Max long. It did not love him well. And it does not love him now.