It all started before the fire.
For months, the man had kicked his spouse awake with the same recurring nightmare. In the dream, he arrives at Times Square in New York City on the Number 2 train he had boarded at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn. He is the first violinist and founding member of the respected Arch String Quartet. He maintains a blossoming parallel career as a soloist and chamber musician. He is at the peak of his profession. His violin is a 1735 Guarneri del Gesù violin, a long-term loan from the Gothamburg Family Trust for the Arts. The Strad magazine judged his instrument one of the finest examples of the Golden Age of Cremonese violin-making. It is insured for eight million dollars.
In the nightmare, the man is wearing a suit and carrying his violin case. He changes to the 42nd Street Shuttle to Grand Central Station; but when he arrives at the end of the Shuttle tunnel, there are no stairwells, only a gaping hole in the floor thirty feet above the Lexington Avenue IRT tracks. He can see a train in the station on the express tracks. Wherever he looks, there are shattered walls, twisted girders, and piles of broken concrete. On the other side of a pile of rubble, he sees a column of people, six-deep, walking in orderly lock-step fashion. They look odd, but secure, as if there is a destination in their step.
Standing in the wreckage-strewn subway concourse, he weighs whether to join the line. He notices that all the travelers’ heads are covered with brown paper bags. Their other accouterments are typical of urban commuters—backpacks, folded newspapers, books, cell phones, purses, shoulder bags, rolling luggage, umbrellas. But unlike New Yorkers, this file of sojourners walks with military precision up a steep temporary wooden ramp. Their footsteps kick up a fine white dust.
Ah, the dust must be why they are wearing paper bags on their heads. It’s also why they are marching in step: they can’t see. That’s it. They can’t see where they’re going. Blind mice.
In the dream, he pulls a white handkerchief from his suit jacket and ties it over his mouth and nose. It’s then that he becomes aware of a droning sound. The marchers are humming. The enveloping paper bags give the sound a buzzing quality. He can discern no tune, only a continuous monotone buzz—maddening in its sameness.
No one in the moving line seems to notice that the station has been bombed or suffered a catastrophic structural failure. If they do, they give no indication of anything unusual. They ignore the collapsed walls and piles of rubble. They march on.
Just like blasé, thick-skinned New Yorkers. Or maybe some authority has forced them to don the paper bags so they wouldn’t see the extent of whatever happened here.
Just then, in the dream, he loses his New York cool. Suddenly, a panic attack. There is no place to run. No escape. His heart pounds erratically. His mouth is dry, his throat parched, his shirt soaked with sweat.