147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3

 

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3

The apartment door slammed shut, but she didn’t hear the deadbolt. He always turned the deadbolt. Even if he was just going for a job or picking up their Thursday night avocados. Or limes. He never, ever remembered to get limes. Something that bugged her to no end in the first months with him, but that she had come to find endearing. “Love?” she called. Their place was not exactly the biggest. Their place. She still stumbled over that one. Their bed, in their place, was at the top of an unforgiving ladder that could only be called “stairs” in the most generous of circumstances. But for two rooms in New York, you made compromises. Some of these included being bounced on your ass when going to the bathroom.
It was quiet. Maybe it wasn’t their door slamming. Probably the Indian couple next door. Those boys could bang some doors. She leaned over the bed, remembering this time that she couldn’t stand fully erect to put on the clean pillowcases, or she would bruise her forehead on the slanted back wall. Then she heard the door close again. Definitely their door. And then their lock clicking. She put down the still-naked pillow and walked downstairs. As she cleared the last two steps, facing towards the wall and clinging onto the railings on both sides for support, she heard the door unlock and swing open.
“Shawn?” she called. But she knew he wasn’t there. No way. She walked toward the door. When she got within two steps, she felt the air exchange inches from her face. She realized she was sweating. Phone. Needed her phone. It wasn’t in her back pocket. Bed. Pillows. Upstairs. She slipped and cracked her shin against one of the steps. Blood dripped on the dark, faded wood. Get upstairs. Get the phone. She finally got to the top. It wasn’t by the pillows or anywhere on the bed. Then she heard it vibrating from downstairs. Back down, slipping on the last step. Finally upright, she ran across the room and grabbed the first and biggest thing she could hold. Smashing her guitar over the head of whoever was opening and closing her door, but she felt better having it in her hand. Where was her phone? She heard it vibrating. Maybe on the counter but the door, she ran to it and grabbed it. She looked up when the door slammed shut again. Full-view, eyes open. She saw the door. It was closed but then it independently swung open, paused as if someone stopped it with their foot and then kicked it shut. Her phone stopped vibrating in her hand. Everything was quiet. Then her phone rang.
It was a song she knew, but couldn’t name in this moment. Old and tinny. Something from a black and white movie with fainting girls and men in fedoras and waistcoats. Then it faded, the notes dimming. They were replaced with the sound of a child, young, when boys and girls have the same voices. The same accent as Shawn.
“Hello. Are you there? Someone? Can any body hear me? I don’t know where I am. I’m…I need my mummy. Is she there? Mummy?”
Carolyn stared at her phone. The screen was black. Nothing. She pressed the power button, the home button, nothing. The phone stayed dead.
“Mummy, I’m so tired. I want to go to sleep in your big bed. Rub my hair so I can go to sleep. Tell the scary goblins not today. Mummy…sleepy…” The child’s voice stopped.
“Carolyn,” she head, and she finally looked up from her phone. It was the same accent, only a grown man’s voice. She jumped and screamed when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
“Love, what are you doing? What’s the trouble?”
She grabbed him, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing. “Someone’s here. In the house.”
“Who’s here? One of your work mates. Is it Dae?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see them. They are here. And there’s a little girl on my phone.”
He took the phone from her hand and examined it. He pressed the home button and the screen lit up, apps and wallpaper photo of a rosemary scone she had baked in place as usual.
“There’s no girl on your phone,” Shawn said. “And I don’t think anyone is in the flat.”
Carolyn grabbed the phone from him and put it down on the table. She rubbed her hand on her leg after she dropped it.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Why don’t you go lie down? I’ll bring you in some tea.”
“Fuck your tea. I’m not staying here,” she said.
“Lynnie…”
“No,” she said. She walked past him to the next room. He heard her scoop her keys ups from the table. Then he heard them drop onto the floor. She swore and picked them up. Pushing past him in the doorway, she walked to the table with her phone. She looked at it, but refused to touch it. She didn’t feel Shawn pulling at her hand as she rushed out the door.

—————————————————————————————
“Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks,” Carolyn said to the bartender. She sat at the bar and waited. She didn’t know where to look. It had been years since she had been anywhere alone without her phone. She saw a black phone on a lower shelf by the bartender with the long braids. Who would she call? She didn’t know anyone’s number. And she was too stunned to do anything but look straight ahead, seeing her pale reflection in the mirror behind the bar. A ghost.
The word sounded ridiculous. Ghost? Is that why her doors slammed and a make-believe girl hijacked her phone? She stared past the bottles to the mirror behind the bar. Her face. Her short hair. No crazy horror movie blood streaks. No absent reflection. No forced reflection of a goblin or bewitched little girl scout with poisoned Samoas. Just her and her drink. And the woman who was now sitting next to her.
“Johnnie Walker. Neat. You got blue label?” the woman asks. The bartender raises his eyebrow.
“I know,” she says. The bartender shrugs and walks to the back of the bar, reaching on tiptoes for the blue-labeled bottle on the highest shelf. “Every time,” she says.”You think’d they’d start keeping it lower.”
“Maybe they don’t want it to get broken,” Carolyn said.
“Then they should tread more carefully,” the woman said. “It’s really fucking good scotch.”
“Yeah it is,” Carolyn said.
The bartender placed the really fucking good scotch in front of the woman. Not gently. The liquid tilted and swayed in the glass.
“ I saw him in Medea in some shithole theater in DUMBO. He was a lousy Jason. No wonder she killed her kids.”
Carolyn was quiet. Pam slugged most of her drink. Her lipstick stuck to the rim of the glass. Her nails were painted black. So was her hair.
“Not an actor?” the woman asked.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“Pam,” the woman said. “Nun’s name.”
“Are you a nun?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Pam said. Carolyn stared at her.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“No,” Pam said. “Are you?”
“Not yet,” Carolyn said. She rubbed her shin it was still sore from the crack it took earlier.
“You from the neighborhood?” Pam asked. Carolyn nodded. Creeped out or not, she was still a minimal-information New Yorker. “Me too. Haven’t seen you here.”
“Look. Before you…I’m not interested.”
“I’m not asking,” Pam said.
“Okay,” Carolyn said.
“Okay,” Pam said. She nodded to Carolyn’s drink. “ Phone’s ringing.”
“I forgot my-“ Carolyn stopped. Her phone was on the bar, next to her drink. She knew she hadn’t brought it with her. She knew it. But there it was. And it was ringing.

Exceptionally Okay

 

Times is okay

Times is okay

I didn’t want to write this post.

And I don’t know why.

Today was full of hope and planning and goal-setting for many people. Short term “LoMein and Luther and chill” goals as well as “write-a-book-while-running-a-marathon-on-the-way-to-reiki-healing-instruction-class” goals. I was participating in none of these. I just wanted to go home and go to sleep.

The day started a long time ago in a most bizarre way. At least I think it was bizarre. The night before had been interesting and charming but very much ongoing and not edited for length. So my dragging  barometer of what constituted bizarre may have been skewed. (Sidebar: What I saw later in the day while working at my clinic?  Slanted scales or not, now THAT was bizarre. I won’t dane to attempt  an explanation or visual description, but it involved my creative use of an infant’s sock on some one who was definitively not an infant.)

Sleepy hours through the night with whispered worries and finally revealed fears and hard-as-hell admissions of self  tend to bring really, really early dawns. Despite my initial bleary-eyed concerns, I was not mugged on the street of Lawrenceville.
I was…envelope-bombed. Not in a bad way. I wasn’t served with papers or a subpoena. Nothing frightfully legal. Instead, I was confronted with my insecurities and shortcomings during a blink-fast sidewalk exchange. A lot to take in visually and emotionally, especially on the dark-side of sunrise. But a remarkable memory.

It’s all actually turned around into a quickly crafted game of tag. Rules and length of play to be determines. Prizes are negotiable. Victor takes all. I usually despise games. I am awful at every single one. But this time?

Run, boy. Run.

Aside from wanting to win this twisted little playground game. I don’t have any plans or goals. Not tonight. (Although I do have at least the hint of a plan to get in bed in the next hour.) Not next Christmas. No immediate ideas nor long-con grifts. No “want to” or “really love to” or “it would be amazing if”.

Saddest, no LoMein. Seems silly for one. Haven’t gotten to Luther yet either.

And this makes me a little sad.

Not gut-wrenching, cry-on-the-shower-tiles sad. Just…sad.

Sometimes I don’t want to push. I don’t want to make it better. I don’t want to try harder. Those days can be trying. When turning and walking seems light and peaceful.  But, if I want to, even a little, maybe I should fight.  On pages and other places. If I don’t want to write and push and keep trying, I don’t want to. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.

I hope that’s okay. And if it isn’t, who’s going to tell on me? The fact that I’m considering what happening in my head and world and not collapsing under it, is pretty okay. Talking and writing about it, means it’s exceptionally okay.

I didn’t want to write this post. Or the chapter that follows. But here we are.

With that consideration, I don’t give a shit about the new year. I want to do tonight. Working. Looking and trying. Being enough. Fighting for better.

Here’s more of what I’m trying. Even if I don’t always want to.

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 3.

Have an exceptionally okay night. Even if you don’t want to.

Expectations

The best of times and the worst of times. 

 

Christmas Eve pajamas and snowflake pancakes for two.

 
You bet your holiday ass. 

The older I get and the more holidays I experience, the more I realize that they wind up boiling down to expectations. Chasing an ideal of what you think a special day should look like. Or worse, chasing a memory of a perfect one that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. 

Neither works. 

I have been part of too many recent  unhappy holiday conversations about unmet expectations. 

  • A dear friend is coming home for the first time in a long time. She has spent many precious hours and much energy preparing herself for the fact that the visit will not and could never live up to the picture in her head. She has come to expect much less and as a result, has happier times. Smart. Realistic. But kinda sad. 
  • My family can’t get this holiday thing managed. Our people are older and our numbers the gathering size is shrinking. One member, not naming names, is pissed. Not okay with this development. At all. She doesn’t want a perfect holiday. She just wants our old ones back. Sadly, that ain’t never happening. The place where those bright and truly fun holiday dinners were had has long been sold. Pillar members of our immediate core are gone. We couldn’t recreate Christmas 1988 if we wanted too. And some folks are having a really hard time with that. Understandable. Also kinda sad. 
  • And some people are just a challenge. to holiday with. Presents given are wrong or, in the best of cases, come up pathetically short. I know my gift attempt was a fail. But I appreciate the sentiment and attempt at muffled, convivial gratitude. I felt badly because the earrings I received in return were really lovely. There’s more to it than exchanged jewelry. Not so much sad, as much as questioning melancholy. 

Holidays are hard kids. 

Seems like there are just monumental expectations. For everything from food and gift transactions and general human availability. It makes you want to run away to a hotel in Vermont to happily drink and get delightfully tongue- barbed by Mary Wickes. Sounds like snow-laced, boozy heaven. 

Look, holidays, whatever your culture and traditions, will never live up to the magic. Maybe that’s just my depression and anxiety or stark pragmatics and sense talking. 

Did I expect as I enjoyed fantastic holidays as kid that my further celebration would be so wildly, bizarrely different? No. Did I ever entertain for a moment that a future Christmas Eve would include me playing Santa  alone and dropping presents under the tree by myself, as a divorced parent? No. Did I ever expect for a heartbeat that before my future solo Santa mission that I would be hosting my ex and his new fiancé in my home for the night? That’s a sleigh-sized no. 

No one gets the holiday we expect. Unless you’re like my rad friend who aims low and cherishes Noel victories when things succeed just by being ‘not awful’. Do we then get the holiday that we deserve? Maybe. If I have a surly, selfish, pouty kid on my hands, maybe that’s not him but instead a gaping rent of a flaw in my parenting. Or maybe it’s just a sugar decompression. 

I hope that in twenty years, I can manage to…well, manage my own expectations. That I can peacefully enjoy my kid celebrating his own holiday wherever he pleases with whatever family he has brought into him life. That I can love nostalgia and tradition but always make room for new people and places and times. And maybe that I can learn to buy a better gift. And make cookies. 

Because of my life situation, I’d be surprised if I don’t have some unusual, maybe sad, holidays ahead of me. Likely some of those could be alone. Very likely that might be me by four o’clock today. And that’s okay. Because today was good. I got to fall asleep and wake-up ( at 4:45 AM dear, sweet baby Juno) under the same roof as my son. Many, many, oh so many aren’t nearly as lucky. I had the means to put presents under a tree for him, even if I had to put them there myself. Don’t care. That alone surpasses any great expectation. 

Yes. Expectations are great. They push and drive us to make and do better. Nothing spectacular comes from a mediocre intention or imagining. I, wrongly, set low bars for my writing and acting and I’ll bet that’s why my returns are limited in number and scope of success on those fronts. Something for me to remember. And to make the casserole from the stuff stashed in my drawer for later today. I keep forgetting. 

And if I do forget? Might be for the best. I think Christmas will survive. 

Have a wonderful day, with whomever and wherever brings you joy. At least smile, if you can, in the times and with the people that bring you something less. 

Expect the happy that you can create. 

Expect that there will be problems. 

Expect that pretty lights can still shine on dark nights, if you look for them. And if they don’t, remember when they did. 

Expect that if you look again, and maybe again, and maybe once more last-time again, they will. 

Inhale

While researching for a piece of writing work  (all right, let’s be honest, I was scrolling through Twitter because I was stuck on a plot point) I came across a lovely thesis on how an artist might possibly maintain  sanity and harmony of family and one’s own soul during the ebbs and flows of making their art. Whatever process and  eventual form that may  take. It was not a fluffy piece of dumbed-down psycho-analysis, but a simple offering of inspiration and reassurance. As much as one can find on social media, anyway.

Credit for this smart little nodule of zen  goes either to Henry Rollins, who is the alleged practitioner of this wisdom, or Amanda Palmer who is spreading the gospel of this practice on his behalf, while she herself has had her own artistic gears grind to a halt because of a little sand in the cogs called motherhood.

The premise is simple.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Artists must go through periods of flux. We are fluid, mercurial creatures.  The specific terminology I found accredited to Mr. Rollins was inhale and exhale. We will have times of exhalation. Touring. Frantic creation. Continuous giving and sharing and exposing of every piece of us and our work. The time to finally unveil and present what has been scavenged from the recesses of the mind of the artist, after it has been honed and hammered and released into the wild. These breathings out may be days for reaping accolades from those luck enough to receive the newly minted fascinations. And  if by some lucky star, the gods of the dance are good, the holder of the tools and ideas may also receive some remuneration for the labors of love, and the days and hours and painstaking seconds spent chasing the muse.  But beyond compensation, maybe just a moment  to step back and smile at what we as  dream facilitators have brought into being.

But, it can’t be all exhale. That can go one for a while, of course. Longer than we might imagine or expect, but eventually, the face will flush, the lungs will burn and the mind will take over the body in the interest of preservation of both. Only so much can put out, before there must be an exchange.

There must be an inhale. A time to think, and not put forth. To discover and refresh, without the demand for results.

I am on a inhale.

Might not be fully by my own choosing. But, here it is. Air aplenty for the breathing in here in my world, so that’s what there is to do. So it’s what I’m doing.

I’m knitting an adorable grey scarf. Slowly.

I’m reading without my own  pressure to produce my own content and any rapid or prolific pace. (On that subject, Addiction to Perfection – The Still Unravished Bride by Marion Woodman is just beautiful. It is nourishing my soul and brain is so many ways.)

I”m watching documentaries and silly television.

I’m  having challenging but fulfilling conversations with challenging but fulfilling people.

And best of all, I’m being a mom. To an unbelievable kid.

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After seeing Star Wars (again) we went to a Doctor Who themed birthday party (Yes, I’m a nerd, raising a nerd and I couldn’t be happier) and he saw the piano. He didn’t specifically ask me if he could play, he just sort of wandered over and glanced in my direction just to be sure I was on board with him getting down with some unsolicited music playing.

I was down.

I’m a realistic mama. We’re not applying to Juilliard or hauling our cookies to Boston in hopes of admission to Berkeley. What happened today was some right-hand-only tinkling of a Christmas song or two. But, to me, it was Beethoven.

Huge, lung-filling inhale for me.  While my boy slowly exhaled during his own brand of sonorous story-telling.

Am I still bummed that I’m not doing any specific artistic work of my own right now? Sure. I wouldn’t trust it if I wasn’t. But with some anxiety issues only recently contained, it’s a lovely time to focus on breathing. Not specifically preparing for the next big exhale, but I can breath easier knowing that will certainly be one again.

Until then, I’m remembering to just enjoy the air.

 

Bag of Books and Chocolate

I really wish that was my day. I wish it could be everyone’s day. Because that sounds awesome.

Instead, for my poor mom, this was my day.

Courtesy of the waiting room.

Courtesy of the waiting room.

This is how I entertain myself in medical waiting rooms. Nothing passes anxious hours alone like dense, political feminist psychology.

(And we don’t need to talk about the period and stress-induced breakouts that are happening on every corner of my face. I’m aware. It’s practically a pumpkin patch up there. While someone’s body is heading to forty and someone’s joints are well aware of that, someone’s skin is deciding to stick with thirteen and is behaving accordingly. Except for the forehead wrinkles and crow’s feet. Age equality march on my face. Every day. Hormones are righteous, selfish jerks.)

Today was eyeball surgery number seven for my put-upon girl. I feel so much for her. Thank Juno, it’s not a critical situation. It’s not a day with an oncologist or an overnight stay in a nocturnal dialysis unit. But it’s hours with needles in her arm and her eyes and that’s still  pretty bloody far from pleasant for any conscious being.

My job on these procedural days is  to entertain. And to drive. Must mostly to entertain. To talk. To distract.  On the drive into the appointment. In the waiting room. In the pre-op room. In the recovery room.  On the way to the pharmacy. On the drive home. You get the vibe. Calming conversation on carefully pre-selected subjects.  She will do her best to steer the chatter to my ex or my clothes. I will nudge it back to happier subjects.  Like how to best make mashed potatoes. Weighting the pros and cons of rocking chairs versus gliders in a bedroom.  Debating which was the superior fight: Tyson vs. Michael Spinks or Tyson vs. Buster Douglas. (Don’t ask me. My mom and dad loved some boxing in their day.) Or my favorite, the similarities between Mia Farrow and Jackie Kennedy. (Think about it.)

My other job is to wait. And while waiting alone includes peaceful time for reading and snacking, waiting alone also inevitably leads to thinking.

Oh, thinking. You sneaky bastard.

This fragile little brain was  everywhere. How I need to move. Maybe not need. But really, really, really, REALLY want to move. I thought about what might happen if my loses all of her eyesight. What if we both have to move? What if we have to move together? How about my kid? Is he okay? He seems sad sometimes. I know what that’s like. And why hasn’t he lost any more teeth? There have been significant changes at work. What if I lose my job? What if I keep writing only garbage or never get to set foot on stage again?

Fun times in that waiting room. And pacing. Lots of thinking. Little bit of pacing.

And I somehow never spiraled past that. Which is huge for me and my synapses. Brains are incredible. A week ago, I would have been curled in a ball, rocking and mumbling. Today, I saw the difference between anxious machinations and reality and I wasn’t rattled for a second. I put that bad dreams and ideas in a corner where they belong and acted like a human for the rest of the day.

I’ve acted like a royal, selfish madwoman for a while and people close to me have paid the price. And on the other end of that, so have I. Because not everyone is willing to deal with selfish madwomen in their lives. Imagine that. It’s the way the universe keeps the scales in balance. Finally get your head on straight, fully prepared to participate and thrive, walk out onto the stage that is your life…and the audience has left a house full of empty seats. That’s comedy, folks. And I’m no Buster Keaton.

But deep, deep down, past the passion and talent and into the sad heart, maybe I am.

It all ended well. She made it through the surgery with the best possible outcome. I didn’t make it far with the book, but I made it thorough the day feeling like I had actually helped someone in some small way.

And that, with a bag of books and chocolate, is not a bad way to spend a Tuesday.

It Gets Better?

 

I mean, it does get better, right? Has to. I had to spend part of the night here, for Juno’s sake, with emerging filmmakers doing their new and wonderful things.

Poor me.

Art happens.

Art happens.

 

Poor, poor me.

(This is the condescending, self-centered conversation that I have with my brain. See, my brain can be a conceited ass that can’t see beyond its own sulcus/gyrus convolutions of pretend need and importance. )

Shut up, brain. Shut the fuck up.

It’s not really that bad.

Even that is offensive.  It’s not bad at all. Not even remotely close to resembling bad.

What do I need, line ticks, check marks, a tally marker?

Fine, brain. Have it your way.

I was at the mall today (1) where I was spending money from the job that I have (2) to buy Christmas gifts (3) for the people I am lucky to have in my life (4). After parking my car, that I don’t own but can manage the payments (5), I saw another mother shopping. Perched jauntily on my high horse, I judged her for letting her kindergarden-ish kid jump about outside the car in the busy parking lot. I couldn’t figure out what this broad was doing, bent and wiggling in and out of the doors and seats. Until I saw her unload the transport wheelchair from where it had been folded in that back seat. And then, I watched her fully alone, dead lift her teenage son from the car, and cradling him in her arms, transfer his to his wheelchair. I choked on the giant slab of crow that was caught in my throat. As well I should have. (Tally of things I was stupidly lucky and unworthy to have stands at 6 and carries through to infinity.)

Planted and locked in my own disbelief at her capacity, I held the door for this trio as she steered the chair into the mall. Meanwhile, she was just doing her daily life. I was agog and she was just handling Friday afternoon. (Run the world, girls.) She laughed, and so did her younger son as they misjudged the clearance and banged off the frame. And then her youngest and I had a game of hide-and-seek/monkey in the middle/musical doors where he and I debated on who was the official door holder of the day. He was better at the job, frankly.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of jobs I have mucked up in a magnificent way lately. Magnificent. Like, as good as the dialogue in His Girl Friday, magnificent. Jobs more important than holding doors. Now, I have yelled at my kid for spilling a drink, for getting peanut butter on a sweater, for not getting his shoes laced in time. I expect far too much from him, just to make the hours pass more easily for me. The irony of my own young man having an immediately eminent first penance is not lost on this usually guilt-ridden ex-ish Catholic.

It’s bullshit and I more precisely I am bullshit. Might blame my brain, and that’s fine. But someone here is definitely magnificent bullshit.

I was mortified at myself, watching that mother. The 20 yards from the pavement to the linoleum looked harder that anything I have faced in a long, long time. And that’s just my narrow, ignorant perception and presumption. I have no idea what that family’s days are like. I won’t pander to them and pretend to know their hards or easies. She handled her business and I walked in after them, feeling like a grade A schmuck. They seemed to feel fine. As well they should. Me feeling that things in my life should get better? That’s my bullshit.

Courtesy of this great team.

Courtesy of this great team.

Tonight was a premiere night. It’s always a kick to finally get to see on screen what so many people have worked on for so very long. I was thrilled for our director and producer (Both ladies. I won’t let that slide. Run the world, girls. ) A chance to be part of the thing I love. The artists involved were pleased with what I contributed to their project (Bringing to tally of good to infinity plus one)

This one was especially poignant. This was the film that I was in with my son. This was the one where, while the audience laughed at the humor of the script and the acting, I sat with tears in my eyes, watching my baby on screen. I watched him make a theater full of people laugh with a look. And, I melted.

I have this boy that I love. He’s fine. I have what I need. Every now and then I get to do the littlest bit of what I love. (There’s no meter reading for that tally. Infinity times infinity and then square that. Then do that all again.)

But things get better, right?

Oh brain. Go to sleep and get over it, already. Stop thinking and look.

Today was my reminder that things don’t need to get better.

They are better.

147 East 9th – Chapter 2

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Because anxiety is real. And a problem. Not just for the person in whose head this filthy, ugly beast lives. But for the people closest to them.

Because I just came back from visiting my favorite 9th street. A wonderful handful of days. And then anxiety fully and properly killed my vibe. And my confidence. And most of a relationship.

Anxiety got her Sunday night flesh. Got her cowering and insecurity. Got her turning away and shutting down. Got her total belief in lies and “I can’t”.  But that wasn’t enough for that awful wench. Anxiety went and got this morning as well. And that selfish, needy bitch got her tears and her collapse and everything else she wanted to take from me. But tonight, she gets no more.

Tonight is mine. My words, my trying, my taking a breath and putting something out into the world that terrifies me. Anxiety will not take that tonight.

147 East 9th Street – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The computer blinked at her. White background with dark text. Then blue. Then black screen of death. Then white screen of what could not be called afterlife, because there was nothing but white light coming from the screen.
“Fuck me,” she whispered.
“You know, baby. I got you,” came the voice from the other side of the felted cubicle partition. Carolyn wheeled herself back away from her desk. Dae wheeled herself back as well. They touched knees in a passageway behind their desks. A hallway so small, claustrophobic and convoluted that it tapered at the coffee room at the very end. At least that’s what Dae and Carolyn had decided. And then one day a few months ago, they measured it. Full four inches shorter at the far wall.
“What’d you do?” Dae asked. Carolyn shrugged. “Did you lick it? Were you looking at pictures of Gary Oldman and got wound up and loved up on the screen and got sick, white girl germs all over it?”
“White girls don’t lick our computers. At least I don’t think we do. Are we supposed to?”
“Like I know what white girls do,” Dae said.
“Gary Oldman?” Carolyn asked.
“Boy was all kinds of hot in True Romance,” Dae said. “Move your ass and let me see.” Dae stood and kicked her chair back into her station and walked around into Carolyn’s tiny boxed space. A picture of Shawn sat on her desk, next to her computer, where the screen was now flashing between darkness and bright white light. Dae picked it up, still punching out letters on the keyboard with one hand.
“How many beautiful black Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking-push-up doing boys are in this city?”
“Thousand. Probably more,” Carolyn said.
“Don’t care. You got one of them to wake up next to you. Lucky bitch.”
“I usually leave before him. He stays up late.”
“Tragic.”
“Dae. You don’t like boys,” Carolyn said.
“That, my privileged girl, is not the point,” Dae said. She hands Carolyn the picture. “I said move your ass. Damn.” Dae sat in Carolyn’s seat and stared at her spasming computer screen. She pounded the keys with conviction. Then stopped.
“Fuck me,” Dae said.
“See?”
“You have something truly rotten wormed up in this thing,” Dae said.
“I shouldn’t. I haven’t pulled anything of or put anything on.”
“Something got through.”
“Shit. I bet I lost my whole piece,” Carolyn said.
“Your girl will find it. Don’t worry. Go get me a latte. Almond. No. Soy. No. First. Almond milk. I’ll have it figured by the time you get back.”
“Thank you. Again. Like always.”
Carolyn stood at the counter, spilling a second cream into her coffee. Her phone beeped. She splashed cream on her hand as she tried to squash the lid onto her coffee. She sucked off the white drops as she pulled her phone from her pocket. It was a text from Dae.
‘Your shit is fucked, kid. I got pulled in on something else. I’ll get back on it tomorrow.’
She texted back.
‘Fail, lady.’
Dae responded.
‘Might as well head home. You can’t do anything else here today. Take my beautiful coffee and enjoy.’
Carolyn put her phone back in her pocket and using her hip, left carrying both hot, very, very, intensely hot coffees. She walked.
An hour later, she was sitting in Madison Square Park. Her beautiful Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking boy appeared and kissed her cheek. He was carrying a cup of ice and a thermos.
“I knew it wouldn’t be hot anymore, so I brought this to make it sort of drinkable,” he said, handing her the ice. “And I brought this,” he held out the thermos,” If you wanted to try it again with a proper drink.”
“Thank you, love,” she said, taking a drink from the thermos.Her face tightened and her eyes blinked. “ That’s not tea,” she said.
“Course not, lovely girl. It’s almost five on a Friday. It’s a gin and tonic with a copious, just this side of an almost offensive amount of lime,” he said.
“Never will I understand your taste,” she said, handing him back his toxic thermos. “You’re done early.”
“I am. My last appointment cancelled. And, I am free all weekend.” He took a long drink from the thermos, then leaned in and kissed her. It turned into a deep one. One that drew her back on the ground, with him, his weight and his intensity heavy on her chest. She loved that feeling. Not that she couldn’t breathe, she could, but she had to think about it. Had to push her lungs into action, using his chest and stomach as a counterpoint. For as shallow as her breath was, she pushed into his kiss deeper, running her hands into his hair. Feelings the spines and knots of the twists in his hair. She reluctantly broke the kiss.
“Everyone’s watching,” she said.
“I like it, “ he said.
“Let’s go home.”
“Let’s go home, “ he said. He held out his hand, and helped her to her feet. He kissed her again when she got there. Her breath caught again.
Twenty minutes later, she pushed him against the wall and closed the door with her heel. Shawn was still holding the thermos of gin. He leaned over to drop it on the table, but not too far that he loosened contact from her mouth. The thermos held on the lip of the table for a second and then toppled to the floor. Neither noticed. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
An hour later, they laid, wrapped, with arms and legs looped around each other. Always the same. Both on their left side, her right leg between his, his right hand loosely holding her left breast. Their home position. His hand trailed from her breast to her stomach, slowly rubbing his palm across her slack flesh.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, Mister,” she said.
“Wouldn’t dare,” he said. “But I was thinking of something else.”
“Were you now?”
“I was thinking of us. Having a baby,” he said.
She rolled of of home position to face him. “A baby?”
“Cute little, chubby one. Cinnamon skin. Lots of drool.”
“Do you want a baby?”
“It’s why I brought it up, isn’t it? Do you want a baby?”
She thought. Really stopped and thought. “I do. I never thought about it as an actual, real, maybe-happening thing before.”
“You should,” she said, rubbing his hand across her stomach again, kneading and rubbing her skin. Then, he grabbed her stomach, hard. His fingers curled toward each other, until soft flesh spilled between the angles. The cells flattened and squeezed until top and bottom were approximating. She tried to pull away, but his grip had locked. “Stop. That’s too hard,” she said. He didn’t respond. His grip didn’t lessen.”Seriously, Shawn. Stop.” She flattened her palms against his chest and pressed as hard as she could. Trying to push him away, to push herself away, to make this pain that was bringing tears to her eyes to stop. He said nothing.Then she looked at him.
His body was as rigid and columnar as it had been that day at his apartment. But that had been months ago. Almost a year. Before they knew they were a real thing. Before they moved from two homes into one. Before there were drops of blood dripping to her hip, where his uneven nails had dug into her pelvis. It hadn’t happened since.
She moved both her hands to his wrist, and tried to pry his hand from her body. He was immovable. He voice started making sounds against her will. Her skin had flattened to the width of paper and it felt like only seconds until he completely pierced through, from outside to in and back again. She brought up her knees and wrapped them around his arm. Throwing all her weight forward, she pulled herself up and over and knelt on him. Countering against that pressure, she leaned back as far as she could, yelling as she finally broke free of his grip.
His body laid on the bed, still and stony. She didn’t know she had scuttled away from him, until she felt the closet door bang against her back. What was she supposed to do? She pulled up her shirt and examined her ribs and stomach. There were scratches and streaks of blood. It wasn’t deep. It only felt like she’d been slashed with a chef’s knife. She looked up from her own skin. Shawn was still lying flat on the bed. She stood up, but stayed flush against the closet door. His limbs were motionless but his chest was rising and falling. Craning her neck without breaking the seal against the door, she focused on his neck. There was the smallest hint of an undulating peak and valley just above the crease of his collarbone. His heart was fine. So, she sat down, still firm against the door. And did nothing.
Another hour later, the twitch of her chin against her collarbone woke her. She blinked and then registered the irritant. Not a bug or a stray fiber of clothing. It was his hand against her shoulder. She felt the smooth stroke of his fingers, and the momentary catching of the callous at the base of his middle finger. He was back.
“Are you okay?,” she asked.
“Right as rain,” he said, stroking her hair, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. “Hope it wasn’t too frightful, love.”
She smiled. “Say frightful again,” she said, murmuring it into his chest. He leaned into her neck, his mouth moist and soft against her skin. Goosebumps raised themselves and her shoulders shivered as he ran his finger down her vertebra and whispered.
“Frightful.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” she said.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I thought maybe those were done,” she said.
“Would be nice,” he said. “I’m famished. You want to get a curry?”
“When have we ever gotten a curry?” she asked.
“Always a first time. Come on. Pants, young lady.” He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet. When he kissed her, before he swatted her down the hallway, she saw the bright, red bloodshot tracks in his eyes.

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