by john e
Visit john e and PJ Night's collaborative Web site
In the meantime I am off to the City. Where is the City? What is the City? I don't know.
~ Tom McAfee
In upper upper Manhattan there's a piece of Riverside Drive, disconnected from the rest of it-- from what people think of as Riverside Drive-- where I lived for a while. I lived in an apartment house which no longer exists. It was a crummy area then, and I'd hate to think of what it looks like now. But it did have its charm. Fort Tryon Park was across the street, and if you climbed the steep path to its summit there was the Cloisters where one could stand entranced by a unicorn tapestry, or an oversized wooden rosary bead with delicately-carved images of a sacred nature. There was also a great record shop-- so out of place-- and a good greasy spoon right down the block.
If you trailed this appendix of the Drive in the opposite direction you'd be able to hop off the road and sit by the banks of the Hudson River, drink a six or two and watch wonderful sunsets over the palisades across the water. At night the George Washington Bridge twinkled to the south like thousands of teasing promises scattered through an immovable crossing of a life. It was a promise of this sort which enticed me to move west, away from friends and family and the magic of the city. And come dawn years later I searched for its twinkle and found it superceded by the light of day.
This late afternoon though I was still there, poised for promise yes, but also weary for it, too. I was the man who wanted change, and would travel 3,000 miles seeking it. That late afternoon though I was enthralled by the splinters and splashes of sunset, and the beer, and Kate. We sat together on a large stone at water's edge, slowly sipping in silence and chugging whenever our conversation burst or flared. Dusk settled, and with it came a sharp frenzy of thought piercing my last night in New York.
Kate, long-time friend and lover sighed once again, louder and deeper than before. I sensed she was buzzing on the beer already as she grew quiet. I tried to keep certain thoughts away, tried to remain light, matter-of-fact, jovial. We had fucked that afternoon at the apartment, had tried to squeeze one more great memory from this last day together, but nothing great came of the trying. Better I remember her head on my shoulder, her fingers making lazy circles on my belly, her humming of a song I didn't recognize. We stayed in bed for hours, barely moving. I remember watching the curtains blow in a soft breeze, trying to find a consistent pattern in their movements. I discovered myriad fleeting ones, and decided that the pattern, after all, was movement. And this made me sad somehow. I pictured myself alone on a plane, flying to LA for a job I didn't even want.
Now I was the one sighing on that rock. It was a sound brought straight from my memory of the breeze rustling the curtains. I was the wind, the curtains, the air.
Kate burped. I smiled, not even looking at her. She punched me with a phony affable pop, and it hurt quite a bit. I looked down at her bony knees under the hem of her plain grey skirt. I loved that she loved to wear these short skirts, and that they were the sort that called no attention to themselves, like she was wearing nothing at all down there. I squeezed a kneecap, and began inching my way up her thigh, pushing the fabric higher and higher as my fingertips pressed into her skin.
Should-have-beens, could-have-beens, would-have-beens: the opposites of the twinkling promises.
Last night, Friday night, we found ourselves cuddling on a stoop on Bleeker Street at four in the morning, drinking tall boys from Smiler's which were still hidden in their brown paper bags. We savored a fresh warm loaf of bread from a little Village bakery, taken for free from the 'broken bread' pile. This was one of those little pieces of urban charm not many think of when they think of the city. We leaned together, feeding each other. An occasional late-night drifter passed by, but the sidewalk and street were more or less ours. New York was beautiful to me at night, and was my own. It was a place of leisure, for recognizing small beauty, for sighs. I never bought into the stereotypes many believed the city to be built upon.
Kate turned her head toward me. The streetlamp reflected in her glasses, small clear hexagons, held by goldwire. Her head bowed forward to meet my neck, and she kissed it with a soft, dry touch. In a few more days she too would be leaving, and it hurt her. Strange though that my move made it easier for her to accept traveling back to Ohio to help care for her mom. We spent years together in the city, years off and on together exploring in our own way: exploring the colors of sunset and cool quiet nights, and the noise of our own passions in the hot humid afternoons. When I leave, I thought, the city will hurt her with its brash insistences. She will suffer from the memories of our times together stored in so many places she might be apt to revisit.
The sun had already disappeared, and with its leaving the murkiness of the river was also transformed. My fingers pressed harder as she spread her legs, while trying to maintain her balance on the end of the rock. I offered her another can of beer which she slowly took from me. Everything seemed to be slowing down, except for my fingers. My hand was now between her legs. She looked straight into my eyes and for an instant I swore I saw my reflection in her hexagons. But how could I? It was nearly dark now. Her thighs pressed my hand, then opened once more. I looked for that imaginary me in her lens but it was gone, never there, really. She had crying eyes now, without tears. I knew why, and to say anything about it would only have made it worse.
Kate fell asleep, propped against me on the stoop, bread in one hand, bag in the other. I closed my eyes, and let the night swirl around me, and seep further into me. We're so small, I thought, and plans and promises are so big, so overpowering. And it will all come to naught. People die, people lose all they have and all they are in the process of gathering. Kate began a wheezy little snore. I took the beer and bread from her hands, but otherwise didn't disturb her.
"I'm going to think about you for the rest of my life," she whispered to me at river's edge. "Did I really snore last night? You will be the only one who knew."
I can never remember the name of the street on which that bakery resides. My old apartment on the second floor of that building on the appendix of Riverside Drive is just air now, breeze, sigh.
When my hand reached her panties they were wet. My fingers made love to the satin, pressing inward until there was a response. Without warning Kate spasmed and shook. She squeezed my arm.
So here in the spectacle of the city we pass our last moments together. We are close enough to the water to hear it; last night the bread was soft and warm. Smiler's is open all night, and no one bothers us about the bags.
I'm not being unfair to the hustle and the bustle and the decaying stone ugliness of this city, am I? I'm not being insensitive to its museums and theaters and parks and landmarks, do you think? I know these pass, either through natural process, or hard light turning to soft dark, or simply from forgetfulness. Someday I will go back, unannounced and without any fanfare, even to myself. I will be a hungry ghost haunting the avenues, looking for a certain bakery, or a stone by the river: twinkling promises in the air of grand achievements.
Copyright © 2002-2003 john
e. All Rights Reserved. May not be re-printed in any form without express
written consent of the author. Do not copy or post.
john e was born in New York and now lives in California. He is the poetry and Flasher editor of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, where his work has appeared, and also online
at Branches, Mind Caviar, Ophelia's Muse, Slow Trains Journal, Unlikely Stories and other Web sites. He works at a winery, and thanks you for reading him. Visit john e's Web site he shares with PJ Nights. Email john e.
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