“The Only Song is the Song of the Self”

The aurora of fireworks over the Hudson has passed and New York’s Finest are cordially inviting everyone to move the fuck right along home. Metal barriers clang together. The crowd is partitioned. People are hemmed in by the fence. Slowly, it is pushed back towards the cops by the press of bodies.

A short but stocky female cop stuns everyone with a feat of strength. She picks up a metal barrier and marches forward with it held high in both arms. Momentarily, she looks like she is rattling the bars of a great cage. She slams it down against the barrier already in place and barks out a command.

“Move back! Move back!”

But those behind the barrier can see a party up the riverbank. They can see dancing silhouettes. In accordance with the grim dictates of Zero Tolerance, there is no music. But people are dancing silently to the tunes in their headphones. The only song is the song of the self. A good-natured voice speaks for all.

“We just wanna go over there and hang out with those guys!”

Less wisely, another voice chimes in.

“Yeah—that’s where the party’s at!”

Three burly policemen yell a response.

“Get back! Get back!”

Once again the policewoman pushes the sliding barricade back into the front of the crowd. One cop speaks up.

“Go back the other way! Back down that way!” He points behind the crowd. Nobody moves.

“Okay, people,” a second cop shouts with a tone of finality, “The party’s over! The fireworks are finished! It’s time to go home!”

But a current ripples through the people. The barriers shuffle forward. In a coordinated effort, all four cops muscle the barricades back into place. Their guns are snug in their holsters. Their shiny black nightsticks waggle like ungovernable erections. There is stress in their faces. They are holding back a crowd several hundred strong. Almost in panic, they shriek their reiterated commands.

“Get back! Get back!”

Each crowd control barrier is about eight feet wide. Six are interlocked in all. But the four cops get no reinforcements. There is a line of mounted police on West Street, but they are distracted. Something is going down on Vestry. Sirens. Flashing lights.

A very reasonable voice pleads with the cops.

“Will you please just let us go hang out with our friends up there?”

Two cops converge on the barrier near the voice and shove the barriers back into the crowd. One answer fits all.

“Get back! Get back!”

The commands almost seem to be directed at the appellant’s words. The cops, though, have left an unmanned gap. Nimble as a rabbit, a tall guy hops over the barrier and sprints up the shore. A cheer goes up from the crowd. The cops shout after the escapee. But there is a dilemma. To chase the guy down, they would have to leave the barrier unmanned. They look at each other, realizing this. So do the members of the crowd. The eyes of strangers meet. Heads nod in collective realization.

The crowd bulges forward. Two cops converge on the bulge and push it back. But now a second and a third figure hurdle over the unmanned part of the fence and run up the river shore towards the dancing silhouettes. Laughter ripples through the crowd. One cop smiles glumly and shakes his head as he wipes sweat from his brow. Two others yell in determination.

“Get back! Get back!”

But a fourth figure has already jumped across the barrier’s widest unmanned gap. It’s simple mathematics. There’s a flaw in the system. The holes in the state’s net are too big. The fish are leaping through. Another jumps. Then another. The cops are stumped. When someone makes a run for it and the cops react, another gap opens and two more people clear the barrier. The effect is incremental and cumulative. Like a law being validated. In no time the crowd is pouring over the barriers. The police cordon has become The Hudson River Park Mass Start Midnight Steeplechase for People in Funky Streetwear. The Number One Kip Keino Fan Club Jamboree. The Edwin Moses Crowd Barrier Hurdling Invitational. The cops finally stop yelling and retreat to the bushes. One takes off his cap, throws up his hands, and shouts to the others.

“Whaddaya gonna do? Whaddaya gonna do?”

His buddies have no answer. Suddenly the police just look like four people who have had a very long day. Meanwhile, the masses surge over the flattened barriers and scramble upriver. The air vibrates with the patter of running feet. There is laughter in the dark. All are swept up in the jubilant release. Finally the two groups merge. The people are wild. Ecstatic. Children once more. Dancing silhouettes in the festive myriapod of the free.

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Mark Crimmins’s fiction was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize, a 2015 Best of the Net Award, and a 2015 Silver Pen Authors Association Write Well Award. His short stories have been published in Confrontation, Cha, Split Rock Review, Penmen Review, Trainless Magazine, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Kyoto Journal, Prick of the Spindle, Microliterature, Eclectica, Cortland Review, Tampa Review, Ellipsis, Columbia, Queen’s Quarterly, Apalachee Review, Del Sol Review, Pif Magazine, and Chicago Quarterly Review. His flash fictions have been published in Happy, White Rabbit, theNewerYork, Eunoia Review, Flash Frontier, Portland Review, Gravel, Eastlit, Restless Magazine, Atticus Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Dogzplot, Chaleur Magazine, Spelk, Long Exposure, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He teaches English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.