Ben lives in a room below Mirage Station on the subway.Â Every hour after dark, the train rumbles past and dust falls from the ceiling.Â During the day, it’s more frequent.
Ben lives in a room with a lock.Â He believes he has the only key.Â There are other locked doors on his level, none of which are numbered, none of which you’ll find on any official map.Â As far as the city is concerned, these little rooms don’t exist.
Electric is stolen from wires somewhere, and either nobody notices or nobody cares enough to do anything about it.Â So Ben lives in a room with a light bulb.Â He’s also got a mattress made up of rags and snatched pillows and bits of cloth.Â There’s a shower and a toilet down the hall, shared by eight or nine people who, for the most part, don’t know each other’s names.
The strangers around him either are things or were things: one a painter, one a poet, one good with numbers and another good with locks and keys.Â Not all of the strangers living in rooms around Ben’s room are murderers.
Ben lives in the room in which he was born.Â He’s never lived anyplace else.Â He’s never wanted to live anyplace else.Â He misses his mom.Â She’s dead.Â But he knows she’s someplace safe now, someplace warm, and it doesn’t bother him in the least.
He lives in the room by himself, and the only thing he owns, apart from three changes of cloths and a Yankees cap, is a violin.Â It’s dingy and stained, and one string is missing, but you almost can’t tell when he plays it.
Ben plays the violin a lot.Â He improves, albeit slowly.Â He doesn’t actually know any music for violin, and only knows a few other songs besides, so mostly he makes up melancholy melodies to help put him to sleep.
Ben likes a girl.Â She’s a real girl, he thinks, because she doesn’t live in one of these rooms, and she’s been to the streets of Midnight, under the stars, and she travels by train as though its only purple in having been constructed was to shuttle her from one place to another.
Ben lives in the place between places.Â At the same time every day, he ventures near the subway platform so he can see his real girl in her pretty blue dress or wrapped up in a red coat or glowing in a bright yellow blouse.
Ben lives in a room, in a world, which lacks color.
The girl has seen Ben.Â She smiles for him, sometimes.Â She waves, four fingers moving one after the other in a way that reminds Ben of oceans he’s never seen.
The girl is younger than Ben, but not very much so.Â He wants to play a song for her on the violin, but he’s afraid he’ll frighten her and she’ll never come back to this platform.
Ben lives in a city of a million souls.Â He knows.Â He’s counted all of them passing on the subway.Â He’s also counted twenty-nine dogs, three dozen cats, and a hundred and eleven ravens.
Ben knows a lot of things no one else knows.Â He knows about Elizabeth, under St. Lazarus’ Cathedral.Â He knows what happened to the Spider Dragons–both of them.Â He knows how long it takes the maintenance men to get the lights back on at Mirage Station.Â He knows what happened to the Palais Royal.
Ben lives in a room under the subway and dreams of a girl.Â But there are things he does not know.Â Ben doesn’t know how to speak.Â He doesn’t know how to play violin, either, but he puts notes together fairly well.Â He does not know why they call it Paladin’s Court.Â He does not know what’s inside the Historical Society building.Â He does not know how many strangers fall gently to dreams when he plays his violin.Â And he does not know the girl returns every night to that same subway platform to listen to his lullabies and dream of speaking to a boy who cannot speak.