I am not allowed to forget

Is he dead?

I can see now that it’s a boy. He is lying on his back and his shirt is open, exposing a smooth, impassive chest that I see in glimpses between arms, legs, shopping bags, coats. I push through the crowd of people, going sideways against the throng, and then I’m standing right in front of him. Over him. I can’t tell if he’s breathing. His eyes are closed and his lips are pressed together. They’re not blue – I want to lean down and put my hand to his mouth to feel for air, just in case, but I can’t make my arm move. It’s as if my body wants to obey the same laws that keeps everyone else walking. Danger! Stay away! This is not safe for you! But up close, he looks like a child. If my arms won’t move toward him, then my feet won’t let me walk away.

And now it’s just the two of us. A young man laid out on his back, and me, hovering over his body, unsure what to do next. His feet are bare, dusky pink soles caked in mud. He must be freezing, I think this at the same time that I reach down, remove my sneakers, then my socks. They’re white, sporty, and now I’m thinking of Walter, of the way he tipped his hat at me when he first opened his front door, and how I knew I was going to be alright, even before he welcomed me in. I’m thinking of this gesture as I wrestle one sock, then the other, onto this young man’s feet. He doesn’t stir, but I can feel the warmth of his skin. I know what dead bodies feel like. Not like this. Emboldened, I kneel down and pull his shirt closed, fumble with a middle button to fasten the threadbare material across his chest. And then I lean back on my now-bare heels and start to cry. Is this all I can do? Give him my socks, cover his chest?

This is somebody’s baby.

Someday soon – it’s coming – I’ll think, doesn’t he know I’m somebody’s baby? Doesn’t he know that I was once loved? But right now I’m crying for this passed out boy, lying on a slab of concrete, halfway underground, that I can’t do much else for. I take the $10 emergency note out of my jacket pocket and gently tuck it into pocket of his shirt, and then I turn, run up the stairs and out onto the street, as if I am being chased. It’s dark, but you wouldn’t know it from how illuminated it is up here, above all of that grey below. It hurts my eyes. I walk a block with my hand up to both, trying to push back my tears.

I need to go home.

I don’t want to be in this world tonight. Not when it has revealed the true ugliness of itself so clearly. As if there are some things I am not allowed to forget.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Subway

Real life. Spun into fiction. We are all better there. Right?

I will remember what it means

The day I die.

Where do you want to start? What would you like to look at first? I get up, I have sleep in my eye. I make a bad pot of coffee, the water hisses over onto the element, spits at me. I can’t get the water temperature right in the shower. Sometimes I think the faucets are switched from day to day, just to confuse me. I eat a banana, the texture struggling in my mouth. I step around dog toys, kick them into the corner of the living room, and open the window to the day. The street is its usual mix of bloated rubbish bags and scaffold frames. You could swing down them, if they didn’t always seem on the verge of collapse. The sky is blue, there is dog hair creeping across my big toe. The day is light, bright, ordinary.

I get up. I have sleep in my eye. Bad coffee, water hissing. Temperature wrong. Banana slick on my tongue, and the squeak of a rubber bone. Rubbish bags and metal and blue, blue sky. Dog hair itching my toe. The day is light, bright, extraordinary.

The morning passes. I make a cheese sandwich, leave the plate and knife in the sink next to my coffee mug. I should do more to help Carl, I think. Thinking too, I have forgotten how grateful I was. I am. I press down on another post-it note and write the word Help, before a large bang outside startles me. My ‘p’ wobbles, shoots off the yellow paper as I drop my pen. I had intended to write this: Help more around the apartment but the pen has rolled under the dining table now, and I don’t want to reach down to find it. Help will do, I think, sure I will remember what it means, as I place my last fluttering debt on Carl’s fridge door.

I do not realise, could not have realised, I have just left my first clue.

I have made a mistake, by the way. This isn’t the day I die. Not really. But it is the last light, bright morning of my life.

~  Alice, What We Have Left

NYC Morning

A quick bit of novel-ling before bed. It’s good to be back. If only in this way.

Women like me

Well-behaved women seldom make history – but they make for lovely girlfriends and wives, wouldn’t you say? Forgive me. There’s something bitter on my tongue today – in my fingers too. The burnt taste and feel of men like you. Wanting a piece of women like me (but never the whole) …

So many times I’ve apologised (even now!) for resisting the border of how much I should be. So many times I’ve nearly believed your limitations. It can drive a person crazy, you know. Being wanted in parts like that. Reflecting another’s need to see in the dark. Never once being seen (loved) as you are.

A reminder: I am light, bright, blinding. We all are, women like me. So keep your shadows, and the length of your arms. You have nothing more to offer a woman like me. Drunk, sober (mostly somewhere in between), I am now solely concerned with what I see.

Aphrodite at body, remember

The narrowing of distance

I mean, can you imagine? That a place can feel like a person? That a place can talk and sing, and make you feel that same bubbling under the skin that a lover can when you’re just one corner away from meeting? I love that feeling. That sort of pleasurable terror at what’s to come. He made me feel like that. Like this. But! This is a city of sensation, and I can push away those sad feelings, those reminder feelings, just by going for a walk somewhere new. I walk like some people drink, I suppose. Too early, too late, until my head is spinning with everything I’m forgetting.

I never expected to be happy.

Carl bought me a pair of sneakers. I came home and they were there in a box on my bed, the sticker with the price scratched off, so only the .99 part was left. Purple, thick-soled, smelling of rubber and dye, and so much newness. My size, too. It was like sliding my feet into the future. Into all the possibility ahead. That’s what I felt, and I may have cried a little, but I didn’t tell Carl that, or say thank you, because I’m learning he doesn’t like that kind of thing. I just wrote out another I.O.U on our post-it pad, and stuck it on the fridge door. They’re layered on top of each other now, all the little notes, and I don’t know if he ever looks, but there are a couple I’ve snuck into the pile that just say – Friendship. Or Loyalty. Things like that.

The things I can pay back sometime.

I’ll be 25 one day. And 30 and 40. By then I will have accumulated so much, and I’ll buy Carl a farm, or an animal shelter, or a farm that is an animal shelter, somewhere in upstate New York, where I’ve never been, but people go, and I think it must be beautiful there. I haven’t put that on a post-it note, though. I’ll keep it as a surprise for Carl one day.

I have Carl, and I have my sneakers, and my camera. And I have this place. This city that runs in straight lines and sprawls, so you can’t ever get too comfortable with one or the other. Sometimes, when I’m crossing the street up here, I stop in the middle and look both ways, just to see the avenues run on in either direction. I love the perfect lines they make, the narrowing of distance to something you can see, understand. But I ventured further south yesterday, and one street turned into another, right under my feet, no warning, just a little veer to the right, and I wasn’t where I was before. That happens a lot, too.

It’s amazing how little I mind getting lost.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my walks. People sometimes, but the city mostly. Like I said, a place can feel like a person. Sometimes more like a person than the strangers blurring past in their sneakers and suits. I do not like this by the way. The quick legs and stiff arms of people in a hurry. I do not like the way they look unfinished. When I am 25 and 30 and 40, I will not wear a pencil skirt and sneakers. I will learn to stride along in lovely heels, or maybe never wear pencil skirts at all. This is something I haven’t yet decided.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Just 500 words, someone reminded me. So I wrote these 580 or so before breakfast. I may even keep a sentence or two, ha.

nychome

Take Three

loved

A comment on a forgotten piece. News of a friend’s much deserved success. A restless night after too much wine and rain. And suddenly-

Third time has to be a charm, right?

(It was always about being loved).

“This story is about love, mostly. The kind of love you find in movies and songs, and also in quiet afternoons. This story is about a girl. A girl who loved a man. It’s about how this man knew she loved him because she told him. Once, and many times after that, because you only stumble with such words the first time. So she loved him, and he knew it, and it was then that the battles began.

Because love can so often feel like war, don’t you think?”

 

 

Something small and true

He thinks about it like this. I am a song he can’t quite remember. A melody he used to know, but now he only hears the same fragment, a last clear note hanging in the air, until it turns back on itself, repeats what came before.

He knows that he knows. But he can’t get to that place yet, not far enough inside his own head to where other people, other men, reside. I see him try every day, see the times he places his thick fingers at both temples and pushes down hard, elbows against desk, eyes squeezed shut.

Someone took a photograph of him like that once. Printed it out, labelled it The Thinker. It’s still pinned on a wall, some busy wall, amongst dozens of other snapshots that document people and places and moments passed. No matter that the real Thinker man has his hand at his mouth. The photographer recognised the intent, the turning in on oneself, the folding of thoughts over and over. Until they’ve been reduced to something small and true.

The truth always wants to be told.

Come on Detective Matlin. You’re almost there. Press down a little harder. Here, I’ll help you. I won’t leave a mark. See, that’s a clue right there. I can’t help it. I never did like a mystery. Long before the question was me.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Riverside Park

Maybe it’s the weather. Something in the air …