M and I need to find ourselves some furniture. There is an old market on the other side of the city.
“We have to take the escalator down to the subway so, you’ll need a book.” M says, shoving a thick-socked foot into an old sneaker.
“For the escalator?”
“Yeah, you’ll see.” M stands up and grabs his copy of The Learner’s Pocket Infinite Jest off the shelf.
He hands me a book. Dante’s Campfire. I stare at the picture on the front cover.
“Seriously?” I say.
“It’s good, it’s about how Dante started off as a camp counselor telling horror stories to Italian boy-scouts.” He takes the book out of my hands and places both in his back-pack.
When we get to the subway M hands me a few coins. “You’ll need these,” he says.
“They run the subway, too?” I ask.
M looks sideways at me, “of course, they run everything.”
The Babushka is protected by a sheet of unbreakable glass at the top of the escalator. Her stone face has worn away so much that, if not for the décor of dead animal skin over her shoulders, she might have been a misplaced post-modern art piece.
I slide the coins under the slit in the glass. She slides a single coin back.
We use the Babushka Coins to pay our toll onto the escalator.
“Holy shit,” I gasp, looking down.
“How far down does this go?”
“Long way. The earth under the city was too soft to build a subway system so the city council made a deal with The Devil.”
I peel my eyes away from the endless depths and look at M. “What?”
“Yeah, the subway is built on the outskirts of hell. I guess they got a pretty good deal too. They say The Devil liked the idea of all the souls in hell having to watch the living race about, you know, not damned.” By the time he’d finished, M had Dante’s Campfire held out to me. He opens his book and sits down. I do the same. I close the book.
“This is in Latin,” I tell him.
He looks over at it. “Ah, so it is,” he says, and goes back to reading. I stare down into the abyss for a time. “Do you ever wonder what hell is like?” I ask, bored.
“It’s an endless cycle of performing head, shoulders, knees and toes.” M says without looking up.
I laugh. M turns to give me a somber shake of the head.
“Seriously?” I ask. He nods, then goes back into his book.
So, I spend the next hour down the escalator staring at the cover of my book – Dante Alighieri in a tight, tan uniform, sitting beside a small flame, making a ‘boo!’ face.