He walks down to Station Zero like a dead Jesus dragging his cross back down Golgotha. There are no scars to be seen, no gashes to be probed. He is well fed, well conditioned, reasonably well dressed; he carries himself well for a dead man. But he knows the score, and it is Zero.
There is a bay, and then there are mountains; in between is the city. Long ago the city began pushing itself up the mountainside, and the narrow shop-lined street bears signs of its struggle. Finally it stopped being a street altogether and turned into a stone stairway. Bud kept going until even the squat old houses gave up the climb. Higher still he saw a shallow niche carved into the solid rock; a green steel trash barrel occupied the protected space where a statue or relic had once stood. From there the stairway steepened and veered to the right, its ascent blocked from view by the bushes and craggy trees that had managed to find a foothold. Bud took one more step up and scuffed his shoe. Fuck it, he thought: I’m going back.
Bud stepped into a bakery. He pointed to an apricot-filled pastry in the display case, then waited with embarrassed helplessness as the small woman behind the counter sorted brusquely through the coins he held out in the palm of his hand for her inspection. He asked her where he could find a coffee, and she pointed down the street and around the next corner. Toting his pastry in its paper sack, he took the turn and saw the sign above the door: a stylized cross-sectional drawing of a nautilus shell inscribed with one word – Rik’s.
* * *
In March I arrived at a tentative ending to a novel. Since then I added a sentence to it here and there, but overall that ending still looks good to me. A week ago I came up with what seems like a pretty good opening paragraph on the next installment for this ongoing project, tentatively named The Stations. I let that paragraph sit for a couple of days, added a couple of thousand words to it, let it sit again, scrapped it altogether, gave it a shake and a twist for another go. So here, for your inspection, are the first three paragraphs of something new.
The beginning is the hardest part. Why, among the countless possible beginnings of countless possible texts, should I settle on this one? If things go well, then after some juddering and some catatonia the beginning accrues additional mass and generates a momentum of its own. It doesn’t always work, and so my hard drive is spattered with false starts. We’ll see if this one goes anywhere.