Stories

Chiclets in Columbus Circle, by Mary Ellen Gambutti

#literary #memoir #new york

This day in 1955 is as clear a summer day as any I can recall. Mom and I have been staying with my grandparents, a block from Central Park, where I swing and play in the sand. Today’s adventure is a trip with Nana on the D train from Columbus Circle to Greenwich Village. She instructs me to hold her cotton-gloved hand, and we step through the tiled portal into a strange subterranean world.

Her best friend, Mrs. Toomey, lives on MacDougal Street, and Nana wants to show me off for the first time. They met in the late 1920’s, through her daughter, Katherine, and my mom, Agnes, when they all lived in the Village. Nana and Grandad moved up to West 58th Street when Agnes and her brother were ready for high school. But the women and girls have stayed friends.

Down underground, Nana pays for tokens, which is subway money, at a booth. She lifts me up, drops a brass coin into the slot, and pushes the wooden arms of the turnstile, causing a ratchet sound as we go through. Then she pushes us through a tall gate with bars, and we are near the tracks. I peer from Nana’s safety toward the tube with blinking lights. A man shines shoes at a big stand near the back wall, and I smell the polish. By the newstand–the dusky smell of newsprint.

People walk this way and that, while we wait for our train. I spy a glass jug with bubbling, swirling orange drink, and ask Nana. She gives the vendor a coin, and he presses the knob. The cool pleasure of smooth un-carbonated sips of orangeade from a conical wax paper cup stays with me.

Hand in hand we hurry to the train car as the engineer calls out the next stop, and sliding doors hiss and snap shut. Nana guides me toward a smooth, woven rattan seat, near an open-window. As we pick up speed, the breeze builds, and the cold white wall tile outside the train blurs its black writing. Inside, wall fans whir. The car isn’t full, so no-one stands at the center steel pole or at the swinging grip handles. In our seats we sway to the click-clack rhythm of track. Ceiling lights flash as we roar through the tunnels. I press against Nana’s petite frame for comfort, and her smile shows pride in me. My legs dangle below the hem of my yellow summer dress.

Amid the screech of steel brakes, we arrive at Houston Street station, and emerge into jagged light, stifling New York afternoon, traffic din, and reek of overflowing trash cans. Across the street, red brick dust arises, workmen shout, and a wrecking ball pendulum swings from a massive chain frightening me. Nana holds my hand through the fear, and leads me up the front concrete stoop of an apartment building.

Through the stale hallway by a wall of mailboxes, we climb three narrow flights past shabby plaster and the smell of cooking. Mrs. Toomey has seen us on the sidewalk from her front window and opens to us with a warm smile, and an accent I’ve heard from my father’s great aunt Kate Caffrey. In Mrs. T.’s floral parlor, the two old friends chat, drink hot tea. I kneel on the carpet at the coffee table with cold milk and crumbly powdered-sugar cake. After, I might have napped.

On the train back to 59th Street and Columbus Circle, I sit in a corner seat by myself, while Nana sits adjacent. At the station there’s a gum dispenser, and I ask.

Nana produces two pennies, pushes the first into the slot, and says, “Hold your hand under it,” and turns the crank. One white Chiclet square drops into my palm. Then another penny, another turn, another Chiclet–both instantly in my mouth–I know what to do with peppermint sugar excitement

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Stories

The Last Sunset, by Steve Slavin

#brooklyn #new york #realistic

1
Can you remember your favorite sunset? My father had always wanted to see the sun set over an ocean. His favorite song appeared to be Red sails in the sunset (written in 1935 by Hugh Williams and popularized by Bing Crosby, and later, Nate King Cole). He seemed to recall just the title line, and would hum the rest of it.
My father knew that he would have been able to see some great sunsets on the West Coast, but he never had the time to make the trip. Then, finally, when they were in their late seventies, my parents flew to San Francisco to attend a family wedding.
They stayed for two weeks and returned with hundreds of photos. When I asked if there were any sunsets, my father explained that the ocean was too far from where they were staying. A few minutes later, I heard him humming, “Red sails in the sunset.”
I’ve never seen the sun set over an ocean either. But, then again, it wasn’t such a big deal for me. Maybe that’s because I’ve seen a couple of much more memorable sunsets. In fact, I was actually in Brooklyn when I saw them.
If you’re old enough, you can remember where you were and what you were doing on November 22, 1963. I was in Kelly Park playing basketball. Someone had a transistor radio, and we all stood around listening. We knew that the president had been shot and was rushed to a hospital.
The park was a few blocks from the apartment where I grew up. Depending upon whom you asked, the neighborhood was called Midwood, Kings Highway, Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Madison Park, or Flatbush. Only three years earlier, when John F. Kennedy was campaigning, he made a stop in front of Dubrow’s Cafeteria on Kings Highway, just three blocks from our house.
As soon as I heard the news, I rushed home. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the radio. She was crying. I knew then that the president was dead.
A month later I was on an elevated train going from Jamaica, Queens, all the way across Brooklyn, and then over the Williamsburg Bridge to the Lower Eastside where I lived. It was, by far, the coldest day of the year. Passengers getting on at each stop were shivering. One girl was shaking. Her lips were blue.
It was the last day of mourning. Flags all across the nation were at half-staff.
The train had just made a right turn and was headed north. I looked out the window to the west. The sun had just set and the sky was a pale orange.
In the distance, I saw the metal frame of a five- or six-story building that was under construction. And visible through the frame was a flagpole silhouetted against the sky.
I memorized that image, knowing that in minutes it would be gone forever. There would be no going back. Not for me, not for anyone else on the train, not for our nation, and maybe, not for the world.

2
A few years later I moved from the Lower Eastside to Brooklyn Heights. I could afford only a studio apartment; but it was just two blocks from the Promenade, which provides a spectacular view of New York harbor.
One of the first people I met in Brooklyn Heights was Seymour, who lived in my building. At the time, he was a graduate student at NYU. He supported himself by teaching English composition part-time at a couple of community colleges.
Seymour was a mountain of a man, maybe six-foot-six, and close to 300 pounds. Truly a gentle giant, he was often apologizing for offenses that only he appeared to notice.
For months, studying for his oral exams completely consumed him. To relax, he would walk along the Promenade, often reciting poetry to himself. One beautiful summer afternoon, he was lost in his recitations as he strode across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Back in those days, the footpath was not yet clogged with tourists, although it had long been a magnet for Europeans and Japanese. As Seymour power-walked, his arms swinging wildly, a middle-aged German couple walked toward him. Seymour was spouting poetry in Middle English at the top of his lungs.
The couple suddenly turned, and began rushing off in the opposite direction. Seymour, who was horrified that he had frightened the couple, galloped after them, trying to explain that he was studying for his orals. They either could not understand him or perhaps were just not that impressed with his explanation.
The German man, growing more alarmed, yelled over his shoulder, “Please, just leave us alone and we will say nothing to the authorities!”
Seymour, almost out of breath, slowed down and whispered plaintively: “You don’t have orals in German Universities?”
But Seymour passed his orals, and defended his dissertation a year later. When he was offered a tenure-track teaching position at Jersey City State, he bought a seventeen-foot wide three-story brownstone near the college for just $28,000.
The only problem was that he missed the Heights more than he could have ever imagined. Once or twice a week Seymour would take the PATH train to the World Trade Center, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and then continue along the Promenade.
Another friend I met soon after I moved to the Heights was Bob. He had grown up in the neighborhood and often proclaimed that he would never move away. Whenever someone asked if he had lived in the Heights his entire life, he had a ready answer: “Not yet!”
Known as “the mayor of Brooklyn Heights,” Bob wrote a humor column in The Heights Press. But for a living, he sold steel and other metals to construction companies on Long Island and in Connecticut.
When I asked if he liked his job, he said that he’d much rather be the full-time mayor of the Heights. Regretfully, that position did not exist.

3
I spent a lot of time on the Promenade and especially enjoyed the sunsets. These attracted some serious photographers, who set up their tripods, perhaps hoping to capture the world’s greatest sunset, even if it wasn’t over an ocean.
After living in my tiny apartment for a couple of years, I caught the break of my life. A great apartment on Hicks Street, across the street from the Hotel St. George, had just become available. It was a floor-through, with fourteen-foot ceilings, a working fireplace, and even a sauna.
To this day, I can say that living there were the happiest years of my life. The rent was fairly high but still affordable, and the landlady, who occupied the third and fourth floors, kept to herself and was away half the year.
I held huge parties and often had friends and family over for dinner. But mainly, I loved coming home and enjoying all that space.
But as they say, “all good things come to an end.” My landlady, spurred on by her friend Mindy, a local real estate broker, decided to sell the building. This was in 1980, when the Heights was becoming a hot new neighborhood.
Mindy could get my landlady at least $400,000 if she could deliver the building without any tenants. I was an easy mark since I didn’t have a lease. The couple in the ground level apartment, Tony and Vern, who had spent hundreds of hours fixing up the backyard, also had no lease. The landlady didn’t even offer to compensate them.
There was an elderly couple on the second floor who still had almost a year to go on their lease. They refused to move. But Mindy persuaded my landlady to make them an offer they could not refuse. Grudgingly, she forked over the money.
We were heartbroken, but within a few months, all of us were gone. A friend and I bought a fixer-upper building in Downtown Brooklyn, about a mile from the Heights. Still, I never reconciled to living there. I was back in the Heights once twice a week, often on the Promenade. I was another Seymour, albeit a scaled down version with absolutely no facility with Middle English.
One day I ran into Bob.
“Did you hear what happened to me?” he asked.
I just shrugged.
“I had a heart attack!”
“That’s terrible!”
“I still don’t know how it happened. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. OK, I’m not in great shape, but I was just ten pounds overweight.”
“Were you under any kind of stress?”
“Not at all. But I did take on a new line at work that was causing some problems.”
“Bob, maybe that’s what it was.”
“Yeah, maybe. Anyway, I have a great cardiologist, I go to cardio rehab three times a week, and I walk a lot.”
“What about that new line you look on?”
“Yeah, maybe I should get rid of it.”

4
I still ran into Bob from time to time. He’d be walking in Cadman Plaza Park, or on the Promenade. He knew that I had moved, and was glad to see that I still came around. I confessed to him how much I missed the neighborhood.
He told me that it was becoming increasingly unaffordable.
“How much do you think my old house would go for?”
“Why? Are you thinking of moving back?”
“I wish I could afford it.”
“How much did your landlady get for it?”
“I think slightly over $400,000.”
Bob started laughing.
“What’s the joke?”
“If she would have held on to it another couple of years, she would have gotten almost double that.”
Now I was laughing too. It served the greedy bitch right!

5
A few months later, I was watching the sunset. It was the second or third week of September. Bob was holding court with a few friends and acquaintances.
He had recently started swimming in the pool at the Hotel St George and was looking forward to going the next morning. He declared himself one hundred percent recovered from his heart attack.
After the sun set, the sky remained a deep, deep red. Then, very slowly it faded to a blackish red. Almost an hour later, there was still a bit of color where the sun had gone down. It was as if the sun knew how much we enjoyed watching, and had only reluctantly disappeared.
The next afternoon I got the news. Bob dove into the pool and evidently had another heart attack. He was dead before they could call an ambulance.

6
I am writing these words thirty years later. I still miss Bob and Seymour. I still miss the Heights. And I still miss the sunsets. I checked Zillow.com the other day. My old house on Hicks Street just sold for almost four million dollars.
But the Heights that I miss no longer exists. It’s become an entirely different neighborhood. Only the upper one percent and long-time residents with rent-stabilized apartments can afford to live there. I doubt that I would feel at home there anymore – even if I could live in my old apartment.
For years, like Seymour, I was in denial. I was no longer living in Brooklyn Heights, but I couldn’t help going back. Until, one day, I stopped.
What happened? When did things change? When did I stop going back there? After that last sunset, there was no going back.

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Body, Soul, Murder, Part Five, by Ed King

#body-soul-murder #detective #fiction #jazz #mystery #new york

It was Friday night, and Maria was tired. She sat at the window watching the evening traffic go by. The sound of Carol’s music wafted in from the next room, drowning out all the quiet sounds from the street.

Carol was putting on makeup, getting ready to go out. Carol Flanagan who played the guitar and wrote poetry. They never got along well. She had a boyfriend and spent maybe one night in five at the apartment. A space of time in which she managed to turn the bathroom and the kitchen into disaster zones and play records just loudly enough to be dully grating. She didn’t try to be a hassle; she just was. It was simply her way.

Why had Maria come to New York? For what—for Jazz? Was that really it? The strange melodies, the thumping bass. Had that been important enough to uproot her whole life? To leave her father?

The door slammed, and Maria was all alone in the New York apartment with no hot water.

She had lived in the city for six months and not made a single friend. To be truthful, the city horrified her. She was terrified of its dark alleys, its infinite variety. She hadn’t talked to her father.

Worst of all, she hadn’t been to a single jazz show. She lived right in the Village but she hardly ever left the apartment. She spent all day in her room, reading or listening to music. Late at night had become the only time she ever felt like eating anything any more.

A Turkish restaurant in the village had become her sanctuary. It was open late, and she left to go there now, unsure of how she would survive hours in the apartment by herself.

A man stumbled into the restaurant at one o’clock. His clothes were rumpled. He was thin, and he had a thin mustache and long, thin sideburns. He was drunk.

“Eddie!” he cried to the man behind the counter.

The counterman turned. “Phil. What?”

“Eggs. Bacon.”

Phil noticed Maria. He sat down next to her and held out his hand.

“Phil Ocks.”

Maria turned away.

Phil started to mumble to Eddie. His friends were all bastards, he didn’t need them, that kind of thing. Eddie paid no attention.

Phil gained interest in Maria again; he turned and looked into her eyes.

“You know, you’re beautiful,” he said.

She turned to face him.

“Do you really think that or are you just saying it?”

“I know it.”

He left, forgetting about his food. She regretted dismissing him so suddenly. Wasn’t this what she had come to New York for? Life, free from the chains of Lincoln? Meeting strange men, dangerous men?

She walked out into the street. Phils’ form was just beginning to fade from the cone of a streetlight.

“Wait!” she called.

He turned around. She ran to meet him. She looked into his eyes, and they were like a gateway to the life she had imagined for herself.

She slept with him that night. It was not how she had imagined it. He fell asleep in her bed and she found that she couldn’t stand to lie there next to him. She moved to the couch in the living room. It got cold in the night but she couldn’t bring herself to go back to her bedroom to get a blanket. She just lay there—she could hear him breathing—listening to him sleep in her bed.

When the morning came, he got up and came into the living room. He was hung over and very confused at first, but when he realized how Maria felt he apologized. He offered to make her breakfast.

Maria was genuinely sort of charmed by how sorry she was, and she let him. He brought a blanket out of the bedroom for her and she turned on the radio and sat there wrapped up on the couch, listening to the food sizzling on the stove.

They didn’t talk. He made a big breakfast for her but he just made a fried egg for himself and sat there eating it, not rushing, with his eyes down.

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John Lennon by Deana Morton

#john lennon #new york #realistic

“John Lennon is out cold,” Gabe said, pointing to table three with a cappuccino in his right hand.

“I hope he fucking dies.” He paused and then added, “I guess I don’t really mean that.”

The cafe was packed with the lunch rush. It seemed like everyone inside the place was trying to catch a glimpse of John Lennon who was sitting upright in his chair with his eyes closed and his head tilted forward, his chin almost touching his chest. I walked over to his table and saw a couple of fresh track marks up the side of his right arm that were unseen by those inside of the cafe.

“Should I call an ambulance?” someone shouted from the other side of the room.

%

At the time, I was working French cafe in Chelsea living as a struggling writer in Brooklyn. My creativity had fallen by the wayside, replaced with anger, frustration and self-pity as I waited tables, serving New York City’s elite. The cafe was a meetup for actors, famous artists, fashion editors and literary heavy hitters.

On Wednesdays, I worked the breakfast/lunch shift with Gabe who had moved to New York City from Alabama with high hopes of being a playwright. We bonded over our self-loathing, lack of success and hatred of each customer that walked into the cafe.

That particular Wednesday, I arrived forty minutes before the cafe opened to find Hank Williams blasting over the speakers of the dimly lit cafe. The green and white armless bistro chairs were still stacked on the tables and the place felt cold and empty. I knew that Gabe was in the back room squeezing lemons for our famous “fresh squeezed lemonade.” The wait staff took the lemon juice, mixed it with tap water, added a piece of mint and charged patrons $4.50.

When I heard Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonkin,” I knew that Gabe was either hung over, in a terrible mood or both. I dropped my coat by the cash register and opened the door to the tiny back room. Gabe stood wedged between four cases of tomatoes and a stack of frozen chocolate mousses. He looked like a giant amongst the towers of food hunched over, gritting his teeth as he placed the lemons in the juicer.

“Morning.”

Gabe looked up with a split lip. “Hey.”

“Rough night?”

“Ain’t it always rough in the city in February?”

“I guess,” I huffed, grabbing a couple gallons of milk out of the back fridge.

I retreated to the front of the cafe, put the milk in a large tray that Gabe had already filled with ice, counted the cash, stocked the napkins and made myself a shot of espresso. Gabe opened the door to the back room with gusto. “The lemon juice is done. I wonder if the customers would notice if I added some piss to it.”

I was unsure if he was serious or not so I continued what I was doing. He handed me the large plastic container filled with juice and started to take the chairs off the table.

“Fleetwood Mac?” I asked, flipping through the list of my once beloved albums on my iPod that had all been tainted by their association with the cafe.

“Tom Waits’ Closing Time. On repeat. The whole shift,” he insisted.

I clicked on the album as Waits’ piano rang through the speakers.

“Here we go,” I said, opening the front door as Gabe cracked his knuckles. The storm of regulars entered the cafe, simultaneously removing their jackets and hats.

Thirty minutes later, the place was packed. Two old ladies complained about the music. “It’s too loud!” one cried, pointing to the speaker above them. I shrugged my shoulders with a half-assed apology and lied, “The speakers are broken. There’s only one volume level.”

“Can I speak to the owner?” The other lady yelled looking over my shoulder at Gabe. I hadn’t seen the owner of the cafe in months, which was one of the best things about working there. We were our own bosses.

I sauntered over to Gabe. “Go pretend you’re the owner at table eight.”

He squinted his eyes and nodded his head. “No problem.”

After talking to Gabe, the ladies got up and walked out the front door without ordering.

“What a bunch of angry old hags,” Gabe uttered, joining me at the espresso machine. I knew without asking that he too had refused to turn down the music.

Two hours later, another regular strolled in. He was the one we all called John Lennon because he once wore the iconic navy and white ring tee with the words NEW YORK CITY on the front and a pair of wire framed glasses with tinted lenses. John Lennon was about my age and lived in a huge loft in the neighborhood where he made leather pants for celebrities like Madonna, Lenny Kravitz and Sheryl Crow.

John Lennon had curly black hair, square chin, high cheekbones and pouty lips. He was always wearing leather pants, a ratty t-shirt and black prayer beads around both wrists and today was no exception. He sat down at table three and placed his feet on the chair in front of him and leaned back like he was sitting poolside on a chaise lounge.

“I’ll take this asshole,” Gabe snarled.

“I think I can handle it,” I spoke, regretting my words as soon as they flew out of my mouth.

I walked over to his table and stood in front of John Lennon with my hands on my hips. “What’ll it be today?”

He smelled like cigarettes and Nag Champa and he was picking at his right thumb. He looked up at me like I was interrupting something important. “I want the soup du jour and it has to be hot. I mean really hot, okay?” He smiled at me with a piece of tobacco wedged between his front teeth. I started to walk away from him as he yelled, “And a cappuccino. Skim milk. Extra foam!”

I sulked over to the espresso machine. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of his cappuccino,” Gabe said, as if making his drink would break me.

After serving a German lesbian couple with matching red glasses, Gabe pulled me over to the cash register. “John Lennon is out cold,” he said.

%

I took John Lennon’s brown fur coat on the chair beside him and draped it over his chest like a blanket. It was the most maternal thing I had done since I arrived in New York. I raised my arms and turned around to face the customers and made an announcement. “He told me he might take a nap,” I lied.

This reassurance caused everyone to go back to what they were doing. People asked for the check, the German lesbian couple waved their arms to get my attention and two crepes appeared in the kitchen window waiting to be served.

Gabe leaned against the cash register sipping John Lennon’s cappuccino. “I made this with heavy cream instead of skim milk,” he stated flatly. “I want to throw it in his face.”

“I think he nodded off,” I whispered to Gabe, tapping a vein on the inner crook of my elbow. He shrugged his shoulders, grabbed an almond croissant covered in powdered sugar out of the display case and shoved it into his mouth. He then took a small bottle of Kahlua out of his back pocket, poured it into the cappuccino and finished the drink.

“Money can buy you an apartment in Chelsea but it can’t buy you a bed to nod off in.” Gabe shook his head almost taken back by his new found wisdom.

“I’m too tired to deal with this,” I said.

“Me too,” Gabe said pouring red wine into a coffee cup that he would keep next to the cash register. He held up the bottle and raised his eyebrows in a gesture to pour me a glass.

I shook my head.

Several customers started to come up to us asking us about John Lennon passed out at his table. Gabe and I took turns making up lies ranging from sleep to a new meditation trend to performance art. We said the last one to most of the art enthused tourists that had stopped in for coffee between galleries. I even took a picture of two Japanese college girls who held up peace signs while squatting on either side of him.

Thirty minutes before our shift ended, the restaurant was practically empty. I found myself studying John Lennon, who was still slumped over in his chair. I noticed the scuff marks on the tip of his black cowboy boots, how the zipper of his black leather pants was almost halfway down and the inch long scar on his right cheekbone. He seemed almost angelical with the sun gleaming off of his face and all I could think of is that even as a drug addict, John Lennon would be more successful than I ever would be. I went over to the table and took his fur coat and lifted it up over him again as his cell phone fell onto the floor with a crash. I froze, waiting for him to wake up. He stirred but continued to sleep.

I grabbed the phone and ran back to the cash register. There were several missed texts and phone calls on the screen. I clicked on the first text from someone named Patrick. dude where r u? got the dopest shit ever. u got to try.

Gabe glanced over my shoulder with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

I typed, fuck off and leave me alone, and pressed send. Gabe grabbed his stomach and started to roar with laughter. I chuckled uncomfortably thinking about the time I vandalized the side of a school with a sharpie marker when I was twelve. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway. “Maybe Patrick’s his drug dealer,” I remarked, trying to rationalize my actions. “Telling him to fuck off might save John Lennon’s life.”

I clicked on another set of texts from someone named Mandy. Keith Richards is in the city and wants to meet with you today. You need to call me back ASAP!

“Gimme.” Gabe reached for the phone, placing the cigarette behind his right ear.

I watched him type, tell keith he can blow me, and press send.

“Ok, I think that’s enough.”

I took the phone and placed it in my apron.

Gabe started to pour more wine into his coffee cup. “I’m takin’ a smoke break.”

Someone entered the cafe and ordered an English Breakfast tea to go as Tom Waits began to sing, “Lonely. Lonely. Lonely.” I placed my left hand on the phone in my apron and rubbed my thumb over the screen.

Another waitress walked into the cafe brushing snowflakes off of her hair signalling the end of my shift. “What’s up with John Lennon?” she asked, taking off her black pea coat.

All of a sudden, John Lennon opened his eyes and sheepishly looked around the empty restaurant, touching his right thumb on the corner of his mouth. He put his arms through the sleeves of his fur coat with a little shiver. I took a deep breath and walked over to his table. He looked directly into my eyes and tucked his curly hair behind his ear as his cell phone buzzed against my thigh.

Folding his arms over his chest, he yelled, “Where’s my soup?”

That night I sat alone on my unmade bed in my studio apartment listening to Reggaeton seeping through the walls from my neighbor’s apartment. I watched texts and phone calls file into John Lennon’s phone one by one. I went through his contacts recognizing names of people I only read about in the New York Times and Rolling Stone Magazine. There were even two texts and a voice message from him stating that he needed his phone back offering a $800 reward, “No questions asked.”

At around 10pm, I shoved his phone into the pocket of my coat and retreated down the stairs to go for a walk. Two blocks away from my apartment, a homeless man in a threadbare sweatshirt asked me for “some kindness.” I placed John Lennon’s phone in his calloused palm and gestured for him to take it. He began to thank me profusely, spit flying out of his mouth and onto my shoulder. Pulling my hood over my head, I continued down the snow covered avenue trying to convince myself that I was still a good person.

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You First, by Kasey Thompson

#brooklyn #christmas #fiction #na #new york #recovery #shortstory #women

you_first-2

Design by Vincent Walden.

“Hi, my name is Alex and I think I’m addicted to Xanax.”

Hi, Alex. The group chants droningly back towards me.  It’s December and after the mishap on Thanksgiving and my mother said I wasn’t allowed home unless I figured out a way to get myself some sort of help.  Narcotics Anonymous is some sort of help.  Or at least it’s a start.  I’m not ready to share that story with the group.  I’m not ready to share any story with the group actually so I just fumble for a second before sitting back down.

I look up from my chair, once.  Of the six other people in this group, four look homeless.  At least they are worse off than me; that’s always reassuring.  One of them stares behind me at my leather coat draped over the chair.  Two more stare at the black and brown purse slouched in front of the girl across from me.  Her hair is bleached and stiff.  I’ve only seen her eyes three times even though we’ve both been to seven meetings in the past three weeks.  She’s always wearing sunglasses that cover half of her face so all I can see are her bright red lips.  This is Kelsey.

She never shares any stories at group either.  I actually think she might sleep through half the sessions.  That could be why she wears the sunglasses.  I’ve noticed her on the train going home from group a couple of times but never talk to her, not until this Monday.

“Why do you always take the train back to Brooklyn after group?”

“Excuse me,” I say, looking up from my phone to see who has been observing my train routine so closely.  Kelsey is standing in front of me.  She sits down and repeats the question.

“How…and why, do you know where I take the train?”

“Because I live in Brooklyn, too, about one stop down from you I think”

“I don’t know why you know that, but I think you just answered your own question then,” I say.

“How,” she says, looking amused at my slight sign of both annoyance and confusion.

“Because I live there.”

“Why don’t you go to group there then?”

Because they are smaller in Hoboken, I don’t know, why do you go if you live one stop away from me?”

“Because I used to live in Hoboken and I like the ride, it’s a little break where I can just do nothing but sit,” Kelsey says as she stands up seeing the train approaching.  She walks down a few paces from me and enters the train.  I don’t know why I follow her but I sit two rows behind her so I can watch her, still confused as to what extent she has been watching me.  She waits three stops and turns around to face me.

“Want to come over,” she asks.

“No,” I say, not even meaning to reject her so quickly.  She isn’t fazed though.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t even really know you.”

“Yeah, you do, I’m Kelsey from group and I’m a recovering narcotics addict, so you probably know more about me than most of my friends even do.”

I have work at 9:30 a.m. and by the time I get home I’m usually exhausted.  If she lives one stop away though, she might be closer to the store than me anyways.  I don’t know why I’m making excuses to hang out with this girl or why I’m assuming that I’ll stay over night at her place? Before I could answer my own questions though, I answered her’s, “yeah, sure.”

I immediately don’t know why I said that, but I’m not overly upset about it either.

“Awesome,” she says, turning to face the front again.

%%

The third time I go to Kelsey’s after group I sleep with her.  She sits with me on the train home and invites me over like she has the other two nights.  She doesn’t say anything on the train because she saves her questions for pillow talking.

She props her head up on one hand and lies on her side facing me.

“So, what happened on Thanksgiving?”

I turn to face her.  Her red lipstick hasn’t wandered across her face at all.  It is still perfectly placed on her pursed lips, which always amazes me; I forgot about her question for a second while just staring at them.

“Nothing, it was just typical stupid shit, you know?”

“Nope, its something, that’s why you never want to talk about it in group.”

“You never say anything in group, Kelsey, not a single fucking word.”

“Yeah, but I’m different and I asked you first so what happened.”

She’s so casual about it, as if she is asking “what are you doing this weekend.”  I like that, but I still didn’t want to tell her.  I didn’t want to tell her that Thanksgiving was the first time I hadn’t been able to get Xanax for two years and was experiencing withdrawals so bad that I had a mental breakdown.  I didn’t want to tell her that I punched my Uncle Leo in the face and broke his nose when he found me ransacking the medicine cabinet at my parent’s house.  I didn’t want to tell her that I proceeded to fall in an attempt to punch my father in the face who charged at me after I had punched my Uncle Leo.  I didn’t want to tell her that thanksgiving is when I decided to tell my mother I was dropping out of school right after I found her purse and stole three hundred dollars in cash and one of her credit cards from it.  I didn’t want to tell her any of that.  I did though.  I tell her everything and she just looks at me with her big, green eyes and then smiles a little.

“What, its not funny, its fucked and it was stupid and it was a pretty big ordeal in my house.”

“It is a little funny, and a little dramatic, and a little cliché, don’t you think, so that’s why it’s a little funny,” she says still smiling.

“Fine, it is, it’s very funny and dramatic and stupid, whatever, why are you in group?”

“Nope, too tired, maybe later,” she says and she rolls over to face the wall and falls asleep.

%%

It’s only been one week since we’ve slept together after group, but I think bringing Kelsey over for Christmas dinner was actually a good idea.  I haven’t brought a girl home since junior prom four years ago and no one will make me talk about Thanksgiving if they think I have a guest to impress.

She’s in a loose black dress and an oversized green cardigan.  I’ve never seen her without a sweater of some sort.  This is probably the most color I’ve seen her wear though.  Kelsey’s wardrobe consisted of black, white, tan, and the occasional red or maroon.  I’m surprised she even has anything green actually.

“You look nice,” I say when I answer the door.

“You’re wearing red?”

“Yeah, I’m embracing Christmas and thought it’d be nice if I matched your lipstick,” I say, looking down at my red button up.  This is probably the most color she’s seen me wear, too.  My closet’s composed as the same colors as Kelsey’s I guess.  I always make a point to wear some sort of Christmas color back to Christmas in Connecticut though otherwise my mother will make jokes about how the city has made her son some freaky fucking goth boy as reflected by my all black attire.  This obnoxious ragging lasts about 45 minutes, usually after her second gin and tonic when she thinks she’s much funnier than she is.  She identifies as a borderline alcoholic, like that’s a good joke or something.  Hypocrisy is clearly a huge problem in this family.

“Kelsey, we’ve heard so much about you, it’s so great to finally meet you, and you are just so pretty, just as pretty as Alex described over the phone,” my mother says, shaking Kelsey’s hand.  She says some variation of this to everyone she meets even though for all she knew Kelsey could have been a fucking goldfish.  I don’t like to go into specifics because it just provides more potential fuel to her fire of terrible and usually inappropriate “jokes.”  All I had ever told her was, “I have a new friend.”  Kelsey knows this though so she just smiles at me after my mother says it.

I don’t need to talk much at Christmas dinner.  My mother picks Kelsey’s brain, which I like since Kelsey almost always seems to be the one asking me all the questions.  She asks her the basics: where she’s from, where she lives now, if she’s in school, if she works; then, the question finally comes that I’m waiting for.

“So, Kelsey, how did you and Alex meet?”

“At Narcotics Anonymous.”

I don’t know why I am surprised by how quickly and confidently Kelsey answers.  Her nonchalant approach to conventionally uncomfortable situations is never really shaken and I think this might even be my favorite thing about her.  Everyone looks around and murmurs oh or interesting uncomfortably, except for my mother who springs on the opportunity to bring up my Thanksgiving story.

“Ooooh, so you’ve heard about Alex and his inappropriate outbreak on Thanksgiving,” my mother blurts out, on her fourth or fifth gin and tonic by now.

“Yeah, just the other day actually,” she says, looking over at me with a reassuring smile, a smile that I found comfort in immediately, and I still don’t know how she could get me with the slightest look.

“So, what are you going to these meetings for Kels,” my Uncle Leo asks.  My mother immediately motions to him that that’s enough.  She is the only one allowed to make the inappropriate statements and ask the inappropriate questions at this table.

“Kelsey, you don’t have to answer that,” my mother says.

“Oh no it’s fine,” Kelsey says.  I lift my eyes from the table and lock them onto Kelsey.

“I’d been prescribed a lot of medicine for a while and about six months ago I took a lot of it, too much of it, actually all of it, in hopes of killing myself, but instead I just got really sick and then my roommate came home and found me so clearly I was unsuccessful, so it’s court ordered, along with therapy, but I’d say I’m doing much better now.”

She continues eating the potatoes on her plate and everyone else looks down to the table to avoid eye contact, except for me.

Vincent Walden is an aspiring student Graphic Designer and Illustrator. He is always looking to work and learn, to progress through inspiration and to create beautiful things. His website is vincentwalden.com.

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