Alex stands at the window, looking out at a rooftop garden a few key blocks away, wondering how he could get there. How does one get from pouring cereal in a tiny kitchen to a great green expanse above the skyline? Despite the fine china they use, nothing about their current situation telegraphs a movement upwards.
There is, however, movement around him. Sensing Ivan darting between doorways causes Alex to lose his place. It's only a flash of flesh and fabric that he sees, but it must be Ivan because it hovers around three feet high. Kate is 5 foot 7. Ivan is quick and chaotic while Kate is his wife.
Alex moves from cereal to milk, window to refrigerator. There is a slow culmination of activity in their apartment. Drawers are pulled out, chairs dragged along the floor, doors closed, breakfast being prepared.
It can stop now, thinks Alex. The cereal bowl is full. The milk is poured. Looking at his watch, he imagines that everyone should be ready by now.
Mrs. Blackwell hurls the walker in front of her and then slowly catches up with it. An extension of her arms, the walker patiently waits although Mrs. Blackwell is sure she's seen it agitate with impatience on numerous occasions.
On her way to the sofa, a textured affair of moss green and burgundy (now faded to an old-blood brown), she listens for life around her. That crazy Spanish bitch upstairs is threatening to drop plaster on her with those whorish shoes she always wears. Where the hell do you wear shoes like that at 8:00 in the morning? She must be turning tricks although she's no looker and her tits hang down past her navel. But Mrs. Blackwell imagines that guys who pay for pussy early in the morning are desperate bastards anyway. Her tits probably look okay when she's flat on her back.
Mrs. Blackwell waits expectantly for a little chunk of plaster to bless her head and prove she's right. There is no such sign today. The ceiling is more substantial than she'd given it credit for.
Again the walker is sent forth to wait for Mrs. Blackwell.
Finally seated, she takes a Bible out from beneath Monet's Gardens, Great Moments in Stained Glass, and Dutch Masters (results of a misguided membership to "Art Book of the Month" club) and opens it up.
From the cut out heart of it, she takes her works. She considers herself only a sustaining member of the habit. She's no junkie nodding off on the subway; she's a retiree with a hobby. It's an interest that helps pass the time, or something like that. The elderly need things like that. Besides, with good clean delivery that fits into her budget, she doesn't have to leave her house to find it on the streets.
But it does have its downside. Even only a few years of sticking needles into veins makes them a little reticent to pop up for her, but she's smart and she finds them, coaxes them to the surface, whispering promises to lay off for a few days if they just show up now. This way she moves from vein to vein, surveying the landscape of her body. By the time she comes back to one, it has already forgotten the last time.
Hitting it is a great moment of consolation for growing old.
Eric hasn't slept. Still in the heavy velvet bespoke trousers, the paisley silk shirt his mother gave him for his birthday three years ago (as he opened it, he heard her whisper to his father, "It isn't too faggy, is it?"), and the Cuban heels from the night before he sits in front of the 24-hour TV news. The girl from last night, Ellie, is still passed out on his bed.
Last night, after they had fucked the first time, she had said, "I thought you were a homo at first."
To which he replied, "Don't let the clothes fool you, dollface." Still, it raised an extra bit of anger in him, and he wanted to hurt her for it. And he did, just a little, but cleverly disguised it as enthusiasm by adding compliments to her form and performance when he slapped her.
He's always found it difficult to sleep with someone other than his cat, Max, in his bed. Max, too, has his standards and now dozes on Eric's lap. Both remain quiet and immobile in front of the television. Eric hasn't moved because he knows that as soon as he goes to take a shower, she'll wake up. Then one of two things will happen. Either she'll take the opportunity to leave without properly saying goodbye or, in some erroneous sense of sexiness, she'll join him in the shower. While the first is definitely rude, he is certain to strangle her if she does the latter. He would rather she steal something, like that chick Bianca last year who took the gold Class of 1933 signet ring. Theft is definitely a way to leave a lasting impression. Currently there is nothing about Ellie that he would care to recall during some awkward moment of sentimentality. He had really liked that ring, though.
Ellie moves in the bedroom. This is another moment he hates, when she'll come out all sleepy and satisfied to coyly say "Good morning." After she fulfills his expectations, he apologizes and says he has to go to work.
They walk downstairs together, because she insisted on waiting for him while he showered (alone) and changed. On the street, he gives her a quick kiss and watches as she gets into a cab. Then he walks down the street to where his own cab, the one he drives, is parked, and heads out.
When Ivan runs into their room for the fifth time that morning, Kate doesn't bother to look up. She sits and stares at herself in the mirror.
"Mommy, Mommy! Look!"
Ivan's face bounces in and out of the plane of her mirror. She turns to him and asks, "What have you got now?"
"Look at me! Look at me! I dressed myself!" Ivan, with arms outstretched, spins a blur of color.
"Slow down there, sport. Let's see what you've got on."
Ivan, with his face flushed, steps forward and puts his hands on her knees. Dressed in a broadly striped red and white button-down shirt and gold brocade pants from last Halloween's Three Musketeer costume, he peers into her eyes waiting for a response.
"Well, don't you look handsome." Kate places her own hands over Ivan's. She loves the way they fit into her palm, little knuckles rising from the soft skin. She imagines her hands as protective tents for his and wonders how long they'll fit like this. "Have you shown Daddy yet?"
Ivan shakes his head, slides his hands out, and races to find his father.
Kate returns to her face in the mirror. ‘Wish I had the balls to wear something like that.'
From the kitchen she hears Alex say, "Wow, that's quite some outfit you've got on there. I'm surprised those pants still fit. Has your mother seen you?" There is silence and Alex's voice once again, "She has? Well, great then. I'm sure your friends at school will be impressed that you've dressed yourself." This last sentence is slightly louder for Kate's benefit. "Why don't you get your backpack now." Ivan's footsteps move out of the kitchen, past their bedroom, and into his own. Kate waits to see if Alex's follow.
"Kate, honey, are you almost ready?" Alex instead calls directly to her from the kitchen. "We've got to get out of here if we're going to get anywhere on time today."
She quickly changes her earrings. Instead of simple gold hoops, she puts on the emerald and diamond drops that Alex gave her for their fifth wedding anniversary. They look a little out of place with the brown turtleneck and tan cords she's wearing, but ‘maybe a little embellishment is what we all need.'
On the street the family climbs into a cab idling in front of their building. Kate gets in first, followed by Ivan and then Alex. The driver doesn't seem to be expecting anyone, but before he can say anything, Alex's directions cut him off and he pulls away from the curb.
It's now that Alex notices Kate's earrings. Why would she wear those? With that? Today? Has he forgotten some important event? It's definitely not their anniversary or her birthday. He looks at Ivan for a clue. When that fails to satisfy, he turns his head and stares out the window.
Eric really hadn't intended to take a fare so early in his shift. He'd just gotten into his cab to have a reason to leave his apartment. Before he could protest though, the whole family had already climbed in and the guy had told him where to go. Eric ended up just looking in the mirror and nodding. Why not? Nice pants on the kid.
There's something about them that makes him wonder whether he knows them, but maybe it's just that kid's funky get-up. At a light he takes a minute to survey the family again.
The kid is chatting up a storm between his parents, who seem impervious to the onslaught of words and gestures. The woman catches him looking at her and smiles self-consciously. The fingers of her right hand rise to her earring before she returns to gaze out her window.
The parents are like bookends to their kid. Related to each other in function and formality, they contain the child between them. Yet whose genes influenced the brocade? The mother looks like one of the Wasps who've tried to reinvent themselves as the artsy downtown types, and the father looks like a regular suit—an off-the-rack suit. Nothing implies that they could've created the character between them. Not even the fancy, slightly out-of-place, earrings on the woman.
He pulls up to the address the man had given him earlier. Eric recognizes it as a high-end preschool. He's handed the fare plus tip and asked for a receipt. The woman, last to exit, presses an extra five into his hand.
Eric speeds off before the businessman he sees rushing toward him can make it to his cab. He has criteria for his passengers and he's already taken an unselected fare. He generally only likes to pick up people whom he might know or whom he could have met at a club or a social event. He drives the cab to embarrass his family and friends, that plus it takes up a significant chunk of time.
The cab is a fraud in many ways—the medallion a fake and the car personally outfitted by him to replicate all the other taxis in the city. To make things interesting, he keeps the meter at the 1995 rate. Still, people complain about the cost.
Since he started early today, he takes the opportunity to clock out early. Besides he hasn't slept yet and he's got to see his grandmother later today. Once at home, he strips the bed and lies down, fully clothed, on the bare mattress, to take a nap.
Just as he's falling asleep, he hears a kid on the street below his window say, "If you lick me, I'll drop the watermelon." It sounds so familiar.
Mrs. Blackwell isn't feeling well. Meals on Wheels must be trying to poison her again. Stan, the regular delivery guy is, quote unquote on vacation. They probably fired him. Look at that idiot they sent in his place. Some do-goody cunt that had the nerve to sniff around Mrs. Blackwell's apartment while she pretended to be interested in small talk. Good thing that Mrs. Blackwell cleaned up before she knocked. Thought she'd have to throw her walker at her to get her to leave however.
Now Stan, he's a decent guy. Comes in, sets things up, sits and has a whiskey with the old lady. Mrs. Blackwell lets him eat some of the food he delivers too, although he always makes sure there's enough for her. She doesn't have much of an appetite these days, and she hates to see things wasted. Easy on the eyes, Stan is, and that's a fine bonus because that's all she can handle these days.
Mrs. Blackwell snaps back to her living room. She needs to pee, but finds it such a hassle pitching metal, flesh, and metal again toward the bathroom. Then she remembers her grandson's impending visit and thinks better of pissing in her diaper. By the time she makes it to the toilet though, she's leaked a little. Despite its representation of failure, the naughtiness of it pleases her.
Eric drives his cab to his grandmother's. He loathes the subway and bus. Besides, he likes to pass by all those people who are looking for a ride, self-satisfied in his empty cab. He never puts the "off-duty" light on.
Climbing the stairs to her apartment (he doesn't take the elevator, it smells of old people and sickness) he rearranges the flowers he's brought and moves the bottle of Jameson from one hand to the other. He knows that by this time of day, she's had her evening fix and a little hooch is just what she likes.
Mrs. Blackwell has already positioned herself by the door. Once, when he was late, she stood there for almost 45 minutes waiting. She actually sat down on the floor, convinced his steps on the landing would give her enough time to stand up. They didn't and it took her three minutes to get up and open the door for poor Eric, who was beginning to worry on the other side. Now she waits patiently for his knock.
Eric and Mrs. Blackwell exchange a brief greeting. He carries her to the sofa so that he doesn't have to wait for her or to pretend that her slow progress isn't annoying. She lets him.
The tumblers have been set out on the coffee table and he pours them each three fingers. They clink glasses and throw back the first drink. Savoring is for later. Mrs. Blackwell leaves the television off and they sit in silence as the room goes from a pinkish orange to a mellow blue. Eric moves to turn on the lights, but Mrs. Blackwell grabs his arm and says, "Leave it."
In the darkness they stay. On their third drink, Mrs. Blackwell asks him, "So, how are you these days?"
Eric thinks for a minute and then puts his head into her lap. It's a little awkward, arranging his six foot four frame so that his head can fit into the limited lap of a woman barely topping four eleven. She strokes his hair, saying nothing, asking nothing more. When he opens his mouth to speak, she puts her hand over it and says, "Just close your eyes for a minute."
Eric does as he's asked. There is nothing much that changes for either of them day to day. With his eyes closed he smells the recognizable scent of his grandmother and sees the strange little boy from the cab this morning. He wonders how one gets from there to here?
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