Manhattan


A storm came into focus over the city, something characteristic of the cold mocking spring, delivered only two weeks before. But it cut west at Stuyvesant High School and bore for Jersey City. The few drops fallen only activated the street garbage to shed odors it held while the cold had reigned.

They were sitting in the cafe with the cheapest products and the ugliest decor—something just above plywood encased by silver trim, chairs with cushions the color of vomit—things no single person could live amongst, things only an appeal-to-all edict from corporate could conjure.

He was her acquaintance, someone who knew her brother back in Tuscon. He’d been in the city for enough years to know how his ass fit in. He remembered her from the old subdivision. Blonde now, not taller but filled out, holding a glazed plumpness the city would shave off in a few months of running about after her destiny. Somewhere she’d meet a woman who would coax her into wearing other things, ensembles that didn’t mark her as a member of a college team clique—if you wore black here, you wore black with etiquette, a black that went well with a sharp knife in hand, as the vamps from film noir. Women had pressure and presence then, now they had pecs. Still, she was luscious, mainly because of her Arizonian entablature. Her mind wasn’t jagged with rent worries, the specter of bed bugs, or leering, toothless men on the subway, but cylindrical and crypto-Buddhist with a splash of leaning liberal, rightly oxygenated, with her arms still expecting bannisters to support her wherever she walked—ha, welcome to hard times. The mind controlled the body, or so this half-handsome man, beveled with early eye lines, believed. He’d read it on his phone and some old idiot at a bar in Carroll Gardens told him as well. The old idiot probably wanted to sleep with him, but the husky man wilted after his advances were rebuffed, so his advice smelled true. So, his mind controlled his body and his mind told him if he told her, You have beautiful eyes—and he would say it—she would loosen herself to him because of his positive vibe on top of the built-in trust of being her brother’s friend. Even in this shitty cafe, they were making love already.

She smiled to give the impression of impression, but was she? Did she fool herself in his company? She was a little taken and the understories of her being pulled to please for fear of the lonely life. What else did she have? A computer, a good winter coat. Back home, her often angry cat stewed. Mom said Fred wouldn’t eat and then he attacked the flat screen when the Miss America was on, and she was like, What the hell, cat? I can’t hold your hand through everything. You’ve got to get by on your own. It’s not like you have to come up with a job and figure out the silly subway. You wake up, you get fed, and you get to look out the window for twelve hours, see the birdies, eat a fly, maybe dad crinkles up a piece of paper for you to bat around until you decide, This is stupid, old man. Jesus. I mean, I can’t stress about these little things. My cat, Fred? He’s not a part of my resume. I don’t want to work in a coffee shop—How can I help you today? No, like maybe grow your own coffee or at least grind it. Environmentalists holding their paper cups every morning. I can spell thermos, can they? Man, I’ve got to take it easy. He’s cute—does he know he cut his neck shaving? And why did that guy in Union Square tell me the Beatle who wrote “All you Need is Love” and “Give Peace a Chance” was a wife-beater? Why do they have to be instigating? Keep your negativity local, everyone’s fighting a hard battle.

This guy, he’s probably just doing the best he can—what else can he do? One of millions. Am I smiling? Do I really mean my smile? Answer the question, you jerk.  

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