Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
First Friday in June
Stephanie and Karen were drinking Frascati while seated at Karen’s kitchen table. She lived in a railroad apartment across the street from the Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Karen was a painter who’d just been dropped by her gallery and that disappointment had nagged at their conversation over dinner. Stephanie and Karen were close friends, partially because Stephanie wasn’t an artist, and she was one of the least cynical people that Karen knew. What was left of the grilled chicken and asparagus pasta remained on the mismatched plates before them. The yellow Linoleum floor glowed beneath the circular fluorescent light in the center of the high ceiling. A framed reproduction of Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel hung on the wall above the green Formica table. “So what was he like,” Karen placed her glass on the table, “your architect?” Stephanie winced with a grin, “he was really charming,” and her enthusiasm was still blushingly obvious. “Yeah …” Karen nodded encouragingly, “And, and, and?” “And smart …” Stephanie didn’t need much encouragement, “not self-consciously smart, but really smart.” “Why …” Karen was tired of listening to her own litany of complaints, “isn’t that romantic!” Stephanie thought of the man who had chatted her up on a Soho street corner, “we had a bottle of wine with lunch as well,” closed her eyes and claimed, “he is so, like, drop-dead gorgeous,” then picked up her glass, “but it would be just too weird,” and sipped the fruity white wine. Karen leaned back in the chair, “you just said that you liked impulsive people.” Stephanie exclaimed, “I said I liked spontaneous people,” with a forced laugh. “No,” Karen pointed at her, you just said impulsive.” “Well,” Stephanie was still a bit tipsy from her lunch with Alan when Karen opened the bottle of Frascati, “I meant to say spontaneous …” and her initial conversation with him, “in a Cary Grant kind of way …” reappeared in vibrantly contrasting fragments, “besides, he’s married.” Karen shook her head, “men can be so fucking stupid.” Stephanie frowned, “of course he’s married,” while examining the strands of pasta, “and it was all pretty brazen on his part,” slivers of garlic and blots of greenish olive oil on her plate, “as well as mine for going along with it,” then looked over at Karen and quietly asked, “Are you feeling any better?” The water dripping from the kitchen faucet had filled the saucepan in the bottom of the sink. Karen ignored her question, “Do you think he’ll call you,” while thinking about the video artist that she had been dating for a month, “or do you think that,” and who had stopped returning her calls last week, “seeing him once is going to be enough?” Stephanie noted her sullen expression, “I take it that you don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Karen topped off her glass with the rest of the wine before asking, “How old is he?” Stephanie hadn’t been involved with anyone since her fiancé abruptly ended their five-year relationship the year prior, claiming that he needed to be closer to his family, and moved back to London. Since then she hadn’t met anyone interesting and hadn’t really been dating. “Your age I guess,” Stephanie considered Karen’s reaction before quietly adding, “and his wife just had a baby.” “Ewww,” Karen made a face, “he’s just another creep!” “I know,” Stephanie held up her hands, “I know,” and grinned, “that was when it got really weird!” Karen prodded her, “A boy or a girl?” Stephanie sighed, “A girl … she’s three months old,” with a skewed smile, “and no he didn’t break out the photo album.” Karen nodded, “and he’s loaded,” then concluded in her cheesy game show announcer voiceover, “the unhappily married new daddy and our favorite, single-gal-Friday about town.” “He didn’t seem all that unhappy to me,” Stephanie defensively stated. Karen regarded Stephanie’s dark brown eyes, “well,” bordered by long black lashes, “there’s obviously something seriously wrong with him,” her full unpainted mouth, “or it’s just some weird Oedipal thing,” and her thick wavy hair that she dyed with henna at least once a month, “So why did you go along with it?” “He made me laugh a lot,” Stephanie scratched her upper left arm, “and besides, the kid thing was initially left out,” then studied her fingernails before asking, “And how is that Oedipal when he is older than me?” Karen shrugged, “maybe you look like his mother when he was a boy,” as her speculative tone grew condescending, “and he was jealous of his younger sister.” Stephanie rolled her eyes, “I can see those therapy sessions are finally starting to pay off,” and rested her elbows on the table. “It’s good to know that I’m finally getting my money’s worth,” Karen grinned, “you know I heard a really funny joke in therapy yesterday.” She tried to remember Alan’s last name while asking, “Oh really?” “I’ll tell you later,” with a dismissive wave of her hand, “you’re not going to call him are you?”
Stephanie sat before the broad storefront window and removed the pair of blue satin open-toed heels from the black shoebox. “No,” she took her glass off the table, “no way,” and finished her wine. She slid her bare feet into the shoes and then carefully buckled up the thin ankle straps. “It would make your summer a bit more interesting,” Karen prodded her with raised eyebrows, “and how many months has it been since …” She blushed again, “you’re terrible,” before quietly conceding, “nine months.” Stephanie stood and walked toward the full-length mirror, “but maybe all this means is that,” the shoes accentuated her exquisitely turned ankles, long legs, and broad hips, “something good will finally happen.” “You’re looking fine with the weight you’ve lost,” Karen smiled, “and as far as distractions go this one would rate pretty high.” “Would you ever get involved with a married man?” Stephanie asked. She was framed in the tall mirror, wearing a knee-length black cotton skirt and a light blue blouse that was almost the same color as the shoes. The crowded showroom with thumping techno served as an animated backdrop. “I might now that that video boy has unofficially bitten the dust,” Karen grinned mischievously, “what was the architect’s name?” A Deer Park truck came to a slow grinding stop alongside the curb just outside the window. Stephanie noticed the man staring at her in the mirror, “his name is Alan,” as he stood on the sidewalk, “he’s Jewish as well …” and smiled at his reflection, “tall and dark with beautiful skin.” Alan turned away from the window to remove his wedding band and watched a wiry Puerto Rican load four 18-liter water bottles onto a hand-truck.
Karen placed her elbows on the table, “And you got new shoes?” Stephanie removed her purse from the back of the chair, “the shoes are on my Visa,” took a check for 200 dollars out of her wallet, “and this is for you,” and handed it to Karen, “thanks again for the loan.” She studied him in the mirror and decided that he resembled a younger version of that actor who became famous by playing the role of a dynamic surgeon on television. Karen looked at the date on the check, “Do you need me to hold this for you?” Alan sunk his hands into the front pockets of his black jeans as the water bottles were wheeled down the street. The money Stephanie owed Karen and the two thousand dollars she owed her father had been accumulated over her three-month stretch of unemployment. “I can hold it for a few weeks.” “No,” Stephanie shook her head, “thanks though,” and smiled, “you know that the only good thing about working again is getting paid.” The crunching sound of the credit card machine processing her purchase accompanied the realization that she had just charged a month’s worth of groceries and that yesterday she had 14 dollars left in her checking account. Karen frowned, “but this job is only going to last for another six weeks.” “Mid-July,” Stephanie sighed, “don’t worry,” before wondering, “they really like me at the agency,” if Alan would call her, “and besides I really needed a new pair of shoes.”
She walked out of the store while clutching the clear plastic bag in her left hand. “Hello there,” he removed his hands from his pockets, “I wouldn’t normally do this,” and glanced at the watch on his left wrist, “but you remind me a lot of someone I once knew,” as if he’d been expecting her, “haven’t we met before,” then studied her eyes for a reassuring sign, “Haven’t we?” “No,” she shook her head, “I don’t think so,” while trying to decide if she should walk around him, “and I would have remembered,” because she hated being accosted on the street, “if we had,” though he was very handsome. He stepped toward her, “Maybe out at Montauk last August?” inadvertently blocking her path. She gave him a charitable, “that isn’t very likely,” yet dismissive smile. “I mean,” he looked fleetingly at her legs, “and this might sound weird, and I wouldn’t want you to take it the wrong way, but you look a lot like a woman that I was once really close to,” and then eyed her mouth, “if you know what I mean.” “I think so,” she glanced at his left hand, “but, I was only out there once and that was years ago,” and missed the faint tan line on his ring finger. “You’re certainly not the sort of woman that should be approached on the street,” sincerity coated his tone, “but, it was the only way I could speak to you.” “It doesn’t happen to me all that often anymore,” she stated before suggesting, “but you could have asked me for directions.” “That hardly seems plausible,” the sleeves of his light green designer shirt were rolled up past his elbows, “and it isn’t very original.” She shrugged, “you could have asked me for the time.” “You aren’t wearing a watch …” with a broad grin, “but I guess that’s the point,” he conceded the obvious with a nod and extended his right hand, “I’m Alan.” She offered hers, “I’m Stephanie.” The firmness of his grip, “it’s a pleasure,” on the softness of her palm, “So how would I get to Central Park from here?” She wasn’t sure if he was serious, “hail a cab on the corner,” and quickly decided that he wasn’t. He looked over her shoulder, “Which one?” She laughed, “on Broadway I guess,” while letting go of his hand. He cleared his throat, “Can I take you to lunch?” “I don’t know,” she was daunted by his audacity, “and what sort of type,” yet admired his courage, “might I resemble the most?” The Puerto Rican reappeared wheeling four empty bottles along the sidewalk. “That’s a difficult question.” Two nearly identical blondes wearing mirrored sunglasses walked by. “How so?” He slowly rubbed his hands together, “based upon my initial impression,” as if to warm them, “and your exquisite taste in footwear,” before thoughtfully adding, “I’d have to say for now that it isn’t one type in particular but rather a composite.” Disco from the open windows of a passing car accompanied her question, “Do you have a shoe fetish Alan?” “I’m afraid that I do and you have beautiful legs, but, this is hardly the place to confess it.” “That’s okay,” she smiled, “most men have a fetish or two.” The truck pulled away from the curb. “But my lack of a real definition for you clearly warrants a closer inspection.” She raised her eyebrows, “Over lunch?” “Exactly … now, are you interested?” She transferred the shopping bag from her left to right hand, “Yes I am,” then added, “although I need to be getting back to the office in about … what time is it?” He looked at his watch again, “it’s a quarter past 12.” She bit her lower lip, “in another 45 minutes,” as they began walking toward the corner, “that doesn’t give us very much time.” “We can make it Stephanie,” his forearm brushed her hip, “it’s only a few blocks away.”
It was a quarter till ten as Stephanie and Karen walked along the sidewalk by McCarren Park. “So this little old lady buys a vase at the thrift store and takes it home.” An orange half-moon was visible between the patches of clouds. “And when she dusts it off a genie appears.” The leaves on the broad plane trees lining Bedford Avenue rustled in the humid breeze. “The genie thanks her for freeing him from the vase and then grants her three wishes.” The crowds gathered around the well-lit baseball diamond were watching a night game. “She says that she wants to be rich.” The cracking sound of a wooden bat as it connected with a fastball that sailed deep into left field. “Poof … she is rich.” Stephanie watched the ball being caught by the outfielder. “She says that she wants to live in a palace.” He threw the ball to the shortstop and that kept the runner on second from tagging up. “Poof … her dingy apartment is transformed into a beautiful palace.” The shortstop threw the ball to the pitcher. “And for my third and final wish I want my cat turned into a handsome prince.” The pitcher inspected the ball while the next batter walked toward the plate. “And poof … wish number three transforms her mangy old tomcat into a handsome prince.” The pitcher threw another fastball that the batter swung at and missed. “They fall into each others arms and then her handsome prince asks, ‘So aren’t you sorry that you had me fixed?’”
A livery cab finally took Stephanie back to Jackson Heights around two in the morning. “I hope that I didn’t get you into trouble this afternoon,” she stood before the answering machine in her living room, “and I really enjoyed our lunch together,” swaying a bit from the mojitos she had with Karen at Pete’s Candy Store, “and I’d like to do it again …” with glistening eyes and a broad smile, “that is, if you want to,” and listened to his message three more times, “call me at this number or at my office tomorrow,” before turning out the lights and crawling into bed, “I’ll be working till the late afternoon.”
Fourth Thursday in July
Stephanie picked the phone up before the second ring, “Hello,” hoping that Alan was finally confirming for tonight, “oh hi, mom.” She studied the overcast sky and considered returning to the apartment to get an umbrella. A Manhattan-bound F train pulled up to the platform as she descended the stairs. “Okay,” the alarm clock on the night stand, “actually I was,” indicated that it was one o’clock, “on my way out the door,” therefore it was ten in California where her mother was calling from, “I really don’t have much time.” The clouds gradually revealed patches of blue sky. A crowd stood before the open doors while the people exiting the train shouldered their way past. Her mother had recently moved from Philadelphia to San Diego, where her third husband owned a camera store. The three young Indian boys from the first floor were gathered around an overturned mountain bike. She entered the air-conditioned train just before the doors closed. Stephanie had met her second stepfather only once, at their wedding in ’98, and always had trouble remembering his name. They looked up from the detached chain and waved hello with grease-smeared palms. “I’m taking the day off,” Stephanie cleared her throat, “I’m not feeling very well,” and ended her sentence with a sigh. She crossed the street before Vincent’s Hair Design and then walked toward the corner. “No,” she pulled away the sheet, “it’s not that,” swung her bare legs off the bed, “I’m probably getting my period,” and stood on the hardwood floor, “but I have an appointment in Manhattan that I can’t be late for.” The Chinese man from the liquor store was leaning on a parking meter with a blank expression on his face. The conductor announced the next station stop before the train pulled away from the platform. Holding the phone away from her ear, “well,” away from the laughter on the line, “I’m glad that amuses you,” as she crossed the bedroom. Women in flowing saris were pushing baby strollers down 37th Avenue. A Hispanic man reading the Daily News was dressed in a navy blue security uniform. DEADLY DRIVING LESSON “Why would you call me during the day,” she opened the closet and yanked a black skirt off a hanger, “if you thought I was at work?” The gray cat from the newsstand ducked between the wheels of a parked car. “Isn’t it a little early in the day for you to be doing this?” Stephanie’s passing reflection in the furniture store window was superimposed upon a living room set. Brooklyn Man Dies, Teen Critical As Minivan Jumps Barriers Into Water “No, I’m not,” she examined herself in the mirror above the dresser, “I’m not attacking you,” in lacy black panties and a snug pink t-shirt that outlined her yellow bra, “But when did you start drinking again?” The grainy, black-and-white photograph of a minivan being pulled out of New York Bay. A blue haired retiree in a lime-green polyester pantsuit weighed a half-pound of cherries outside the Korean grocery. She overheard the voices on her mother’s television while they shared an awkward pause. Madonna Rocks the Garden on Her Drowned World / Substitute for Love Tour A blind man and the woman clutching his arm were talking about where they were going for lunch while waiting for the light to change. The black and white photograph of Madonna in a plaid miniskirt and a tight top adorned with thin patent leather straps. “Does everything,” Stephanie turned away from the mirror, “have to be a test with you?” She walked by the table displaying battery operated plastic toys and their cacophony of canned rhythms, sirens and whistles. She pulled the skirt up to her waist, “What am I supposed to say?” Indian women and their children stood outside the grocery store on 74th Street as the smell of fresh basil mingled with tamarind and curry powder hung in the humid air. “Fine …” her blue heels were in the closet, “I’ve been just fine.” The sun emerged from behind the clouds and cast diffused shadows on the sidewalk. She stepped into the shoes, “I’d really like to visit,” and leaned over to buckle the thin ankle straps, “you know that,” around her narrow ankles, “but I am so busy at work.” Woman Hit with Brick, Man Busted The smell of cooking oil and rotting vegetables mingled with car exhaust. The table displaying gilded passages from the Koran and framed color photographs of pilgrims in white robes kneeling towards Mecca. Bronx Girl Was Killed by Cousin—Boy Admits Shooting She walked out of the bedroom, “it’s fine,” with the telephone tucked beneath her ear. A shop window displaying gold filigree jewelry made her think of the earrings she had bought several months ago, the ones with tiny flowers woven to the tails of songbirds, that she rarely wore. A colorful poster of Ganesha, the boy god with the elephant’s head, was taped to a glass door. The F train swept through the 65th street station and the crowds waiting on the local watched it pass.
Stephanie really missed Alan; it had been a week since they had seen each other and then it had only been for dinner. They had watched the sun set while sitting at a candlelit table at the River Café drinking Gewürztramminer. She had asked about the two weeks he spent with his wife and daughter in Martha’s Vineyard and he described it in a few laconic sentences. “You never talk about your wife,” Stephanie quietly mused. He leaned back in the chair, “I can’t imagine that she is of any interest to you.” “You’re right,” she laughed, “she isn’t.” He smiled, “Then why did you say that?” She raised her glass in a toast, “I was paying you a compliment.”
Stephanie retrieved her purse from the kitchen table, “I spoke to dad last week and he sounded fine.” She was offered a seat as the train pulled out of the 21st Street/Queensbridge Station. “Listen, mom, I’ll call you later but I really have to go,” she pressed the end button on the phone after adding a curt, “goodbye.” The young man sitting beside her was engrossed in a guide to writing fiction.
Elements of Plot in a Narrative
Alan and Stephanie rarely spoke on the phone and infrequently exchanged emails, yet she often found herself obsessing over him. There were times when it felt like she was falling in love with him.
The plot in a dramatic or narrative work is constituted by its events and actions, as these are rendered and ordered towards achieving particular artistic and emotional effects.
Or could easily fall in love with him, she knew better of course, and it was only when the distance between them stretched out for weeks and grew insurmountable that it felt like she could be falling in love.
1. Initial Situation—The Beginning. It is always the first incident that makes a story move.
Stephanie hadn’t been involved with anyone since her fiancé abruptly ended their five-year relationship the year prior and moved back to London, claiming that he needed to be closer to his family. She had learned on Christmas day that he was living with another woman, since then she had convinced herself that she would never find anyone with whom she was so compatible and reluctantly endured being alone although it was often very painful.
2. Conflict or Problem—A goal the main character of the story has to achieve.
Her relationship with Alan often made her happy and it gave her a confidence that she never knew she possessed.
3. Complications—Obstacles the main character has to overcome.
Alan paid her rent, covered her bills, and had repeatedly promised to get her a highpaying receptionist job at his friend’s law firm in the World Trade Center. He made no unreasonable demands on her and the sex was usually satisfying, provided he was sober. She was treated like an equal—not like property—or, as Karen recently claimed, that she had become the occasional plaything of a wealthy alcoholic.
4. Climax—Highest point of interest in the story.
And so what if their relationship wasn’t going to last? He had made it clear to her from the very beginning that they had to keep things casual and had even encouraged her to date other men.
5. Suspense—Point of tension. It arouses the interest of the readers.
Love doesn’t last either. She now understood that her marriage, assuming it would have ever happened, would not have survived. Her ex-fiancé couldn’t face conflicts or challenges, he always fled them, and his cowardice invariably followed.
6. Denouement or Resolution—What happens to the character after overcoming all the obstacles/failing to achieve the desired result and reaching/not reaching his or her goals.
In retrospect her failed engagement was nothing more than a useful life experience. For Stephanie the time she spent with Alan, however infrequent it may be, was its own reward.
7. Conclusion—The end of the story.
She removed a quarter from her wallet while walking up the stairs at the West 4th Street station. The crowds gathered around the high chain-link fence were watching the basketball games. She dropped the quarter in the payphone slot while clutching warm the receiver in her left hand and dialed his office number from memory. Cabs sped along 6th Avenue or slowed to abrupt stops to drop off and pick up fares. She asked Alan’s secretary if he was available and then gave her name. Stephanie stated, “I am becoming my mother,” after he said hello. His warm laughter caused her to smile, “Would you ever call your mother,” as she imagined him standing in his office with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, “and apologize for being a bad liar?” A group of teenagers ogled her breasts as they sauntered by. “You know,” Alan closed the door to his office, “I think I have done that,” and sat on the edge of his desk. She turned away from the crowds and faced the silver keypad on the payphone, “How did you do it?” He glanced at the digital desk clock, “I’ll tell you later,” and watched a few seconds pass. She swallowed hard before asking, “Tonight?” Alan sighed wistfully, “I’m afraid I can’t tonight … I have meetings until seven and dinner with a group of potential investors who just might be up for backing some choice property in Williamsburg,” before half-jokingly suggesting that she drop by the office later in the afternoon for a quick fuck on his desk. “Sure,” while rolling her eyes, “but what would your secretary say?” Paying no attention to his giddy explanation and simply waiting for him to pause long enough to change the subject. They talked about their upcoming weekend together in East Hampton. He described the house overlooking the bay where they were going to stay as modest and added, “that it’s just far enough away from everything else.” When her quarter ran out she had enough time to tell him that she really missed him before the call was terminated.
Second Tuesday in September
The front door slammed behind Stephanie as she stepped off the brick steps. It was a warm cloudless morning. She walked to the 74th Street station in a knee-length black cotton skirt and a light blue blouse. Her oversized black canvas purse was slung over her left shoulder and contained her pink cashmere cardigan, leather wallet, house keys, and a tuna fish sandwich that was packed in a pink Tupperware container. It was five after seven and a few people had already gathered outside the newsstand to buy lottery tickets. Campaign posters for the primary election had been stapled to the poles of the parking signs—both Fernando Ferrer and Mark Green wanted her vote that day. The black and white cat in the drugstore window watched her pass. An elderly woman scrubbed the sidewalk before the diner with a bucket of sudsy brown water and a push broom. A few workers outside the Korean market were filling the bins with peaches, plums, tomatoes and ears of corn. Muslim men with prayer mats rolled up beneath their arms were waiting for the bus. The advertisement on the side of the bus stop for a new antidepressant featured an attractive brunette in her early thirties standing in the center of an elegantly furnished living room, dressed in a beige business suit and speaking on a cordless phone. Four delivery trucks were idling outside the grocery store. A rat was lying motionless on the sidewalk with its eyes open.
The warmth of the sun on her shoulders and the glare flashing off the hoods and windows of the passing cars reminded her of meeting Alan for the first time. She waited near the curb for a livery cab to drive through the intersection and recalled their meeting in front of that shoe store in Soho last June. The pale salesgirl with the blue-black bob and almost British accent who rang up Stephanie’s shoes complimented her purchase by claiming that she owned the exact same pair except in silver. Stephanie slipped her Visa into her wallet while the salesgirl slid the shoebox into a clear plastic bag. She crossed the showroom while eyeing the patent leather pumps on display, then pulled open the door and passed from the near-arctic air conditioning into a humid afternoon on Mercer Street. The man she had noticed just outside the window stepped forward. “Hello there,” he removed his hands from the front pockets of his black jeans, “I wouldn’t normally do this,” then glanced at the watch on his wrist, “but you look very familiar,” as if he had been expecting her, “we’ve met before,” then studied her eyes for a reassuring sign, “haven’t we?” She shook her head, “no, we haven’t,” and quickly walked around him.
Stephanie crossed against the light and continued walking toward the 74th Street station. A sanitation inspector stood before an irate butcher in a bloodstained smock and endured a torrent of insults while writing up a summons. A large black garbage bag had been torn open and pieces of rotten meat and blackened vegetables were strewn along the sidewalk. She didn’t want to get angry when she thought about Alan because that meant she still cared about him; what she really wanted was for the memories of their time together to vanish. What would her summer have been like if she had ignored him? She would still be temping in a downtown or midtown office, worrying about how long the job was going to last and what work would come her way next. Her rent was due to go up a hundred dollars when her lease expired at the end of October. If she had simply walked by Alan that day, she wouldn’t have gotten an abortion.
Alan had called her at work last Tuesday, was told that she had taken a personal day, and left a message on her voicemail. She returned his call on Wednesday, after her boss had left for the day. She was unresponsive when he asked her out, yet he persisted, and she finally agreed to meet him after work on Friday in Bowling Green Park.
He saw her standing by the railing and facing the harbor. She was silhouetted by the silver glare of the sun reflecting off the water. He made his way through a group of tourists milling around the war memorial. Stephanie turned around when Alan called her name. She gave him her right hand, “How are you?” His reflection was cast in her circular sunglasses. He noted her thin smile, “I’m fine,” and when he kissed her, “you’re being so formal,” she offered him her cheek. Stephanie turned toward the harbor, “I like coming here after work.” A police helicopter flew past them. “Why is that?” She waited for the noise to fade, “it makes me feel grounded after being in the office all day.” He regretted leaving his sunglasses in the glove compartment, “How is that working out?” Gulls hung on the breeze and wheeled overhead. “It’s fine,” she nodded, “I can’t thank you enough for doing that for me.” Sirens were caught up in the distant noise of traffic. “Well let’s celebrate,” he sank his hands into the front pockets of his khakis, “I’ve made dinner reservations for us at—” “—I haven’t had much of an appetite lately,” She pursed her lips. “What’s wrong?” Alan thought of the call he made on Tuesday, “Are you trying to lose weight?” A ship’s wake washed against the wall beneath them. “I can see your building from my office.” “What floor are you on?” “I’m on the,” she turned around, “the 92nd floor,” and leaned against the railing, “I didn’t realize that I was so afraid of heights until I started working there.” The twin towers dominated the Lower Manhattan skyline. “Isn’t the view from up there a lot better than the panorama at the Queens Museum?” “Yeah, I guess so,” Stephanie nodded, “but my desk doesn’t face the windows anymore,” then quietly added, “and I haven’t been out to the museum since we were there in June.” A group of elderly women strolled past conversing in Polish. He shifted his feet, “that seems like a long time ago.” Their shadows stretched across the shimmering asphalt. She brushed a lock of hair away from her mouth, “I guess it was,” and tucked it behind her ear. “Not really,” Alan clenched his jaw, “it was only three months.” A group of teenage boys on rollerblades wove between the groups of tourists. “You weren’t afraid of heights when we had dinner at Windows on the World.” A few pigeons were pecking apart a hot dog bun. “That was a different time,” she shook her head dismissively, “But why are you saying this?” He turned to her, “because I really miss you.” Raising her eyebrows, “now I’m confused.” Alan removed his hands from his pockets, “we had a lot of fun together,” and placed them on his waist. “You haven’t even …” Stephanie took off her sunglasses, “when we last saw each other you made it clear to me that it was over,” and fingered the tortoise shell frames, “you do remember that don’t you … You were a total asshole to me the last time we were together, and now, and now we’re going out to dinner to celebrate?” “Sure,” he shrugged, “Why not?” “What could we possibly be celebrating Alan,” her heart was pounding in her throat, “you were only interested in me when I was a convenient distraction,” as she looked at him, “so what are we celebrating … did you just buy a new car to drive me around in?” “Elaine and Olivia are out of town,” he glanced at his watch, “and our dinner reservations are for 7:30.” She thought of all the time she’d spent by the phone waiting for him to call, “So what?” It was 6:45. “And I really miss having sex with you.” She had wasted the summer on him, “you’re a pig.” He looked closely at her eyes and smiled, “that shouldn’t be news to you.” “You know that,” she folded her arms across her stomach, “speaking of news, I have some for you … Did you know that I had an abortion on Tuesday … that’s why I wasn’t at work when you called.” He didn’t blink, “Was it mine?” Shaking her head in disbelief, “what a stupid fucking question.” He took a step back before asking, “Why did you agree to see me then?” “You know why Alan,” she reached down and grabbed her purse, “because I really don’t care about you anymore,” then slung it over her shoulder, “and I really wanted you to know that.”
Stephanie waited for the signal to change as a slow moving street-sweeper gathered garbage from the gutter along Roosevelt Avenue and a Chevy Nova raced by in the opposite direction. The woman who sold tamales from a shopping cart waited beside Stephanie and when the light changed they crossed the avenue beneath the elevated tracks. Stephanie removed the MetroCard from her purse and swiped it at the turnstile. She descended a flight of recently reconstructed stairs. Stepping onto the platform and walking through the crowds gathered by the stairs as a Manhattan-bound E train pulled into the station. She continued along the platform as the train came to a slow screeching stop. A group of teenagers ambled out of the car before she could enter it along with two bleary-eyed Indian men in threadbare suits. She found a narrow place to stand and enough of the overhead bar to hold onto as the doors closed. A Chinese girl seated beneath her was sandwiched between two heavy-set black men. The girl’s black hair was pulled back into pigtails and she was wearing a pink T-shirt with a grinning panda on the front, pink shorts with a smaller version of the same panda and a pair of scuffed pink sneakers that almost touched the floor. The smell of coffee filled the humid car while the surrounding bodies pressed into Stephanie and the train pulled away from the platform. The girl was engrossed in a copy of Goodnight Dora with illustrated cardboard flaps that pulled back to reveal sleepy woodland animals wishing Dora and her monkey sidekick Boots, “Goodnight,” and “Buenas Noches” on the facing pages. The girl’s older sister was seated nearby and listening to Madonna on a pair of headphones that were held together with Snoopy band-aids. Stephanie squeezed the bar with both hands while swaying to the train’s rhythm as Dora and Boots continued their walk through the darkening woods. At 42nd Street Stephanie sat between a man who reeked of cigarettes and a young woman engrossed in a romance novel.
The woman with the romance novel got off at Canal Street and the seats on either side of her remained empty after the doors closed. She leaned back and clutched her purse in her lap as the train gradually picked up speed. Stephanie ignored the barefoot man panhandling for change, even though he was one of the regulars she sometimes gave money to, and closed her eyes. She was sitting cross-legged on a blue beach towel and watching a group of sandpipers pursuing a receding wave. The lightness in her chest that had replaced Alan caused her to smile. Sunlight glistened on a broad expanse of the sea as a few cumulus clouds hung motionless above the horizon. Stephanie opened her eyes as the train came to a slow screeching stop and yawned into her left hand before standing up. The conductor announced that it was exactly eight o’clock and reminded the passengers to take all of their personal belongings with them as they filed out of the car. The doors closed as she walked along the platform. A Queens-bound E train on the opposite track slowly pulled out of the station as she climbed a flight of stairs. She rode an escalator up to the bank of express elevators and one of them carried her to the 92nd floor.
Donald Breckenridge is the author of the novella Rockaway Wherein (Red Dust), and the novel 6/2/95 (Spuyten Duyvil). His novel You Are Here is forthcoming from Starcherone Books in the spring of ’09. He is the fiction editor of The Brooklyn Rail.
Originally published in
Featuring interviews with Claire Fontaine, Nayland Blake and Rachel Harrison, Roman Signer and Armin Senser, John Giorno, Kelly Reichardt and Gus Van Sant, Alan Vega and Matt McAuley and Brain McPeck, Richard Maxwell and John Kelsey, Chris Lipomi and Kathryn Andrews, and Peter Cole.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.