There was an hour left of sunlight. The paved walks were crusty snow at the end of a long winter, and they sat in the tunnel as he poured most of a fifth of gin into two bodega juices. The drink was a prop, one more thing to balance as they walked. The drink was a way to introduce a conversation about not wanting children with the girlfriend of four years who left for the Middle East after they broke up the previous weekend. He said he never wanted children, the way they compromised your career and free time. She sipped the awful drink and wondered what she would send them when the birth announcement arrived in a year’s time.
She wished he had warned her before he took a train to New York. Of course you can visit, she had answered the text, the guest room is yours this weekend. It wasn’t like she was canceling the hair appointment. He needed the city itself as much as a weekend with old friends, probably. The salon rustled as he walked in, and she opened her eyes as the scissors next to her face paused. All the blow dryers shifted down to a lower speed and the red chairs stopped swiveling back and forth. Her colorist made a show of walking to the front desk so he could identify the curious visitor, and threw her a long look as he returned to the back to check on the tinfoil heads. She blushed deeply and introduced her friend to the woman who had cut her hair for the past five years.
The black smock came off in the dressing room, and she rolled her eyes at the straightened hair in the mirror. Her stylist had assumed this tall man with the gruff voice was a love interest and taken extra care. Saturday night, date night for amateurs. Her colorist whispered that her friend was waiting outside the storefront and he wondered was she really into facial hair? Her stylist raised her eyebrows, questioning. She gave them both a hug. Just a friend, she said. They watched her as she walked away, matching his long strides down the sidewalk toward the subway.
They stood next to a Lubavitcher on the train into Brooklyn, and her friend’s beard was the longer one. She wondered why guys her age took such pains to grow signature facial hair. It was as if their constructed masculinity depended on it. As if a soul patch signified they were in possession of one. This particular effort on her friend’s part had grown past steampunk, and way past pourover coffee barista. She looked at him on the subway and thought he looked like ZZ Top.
He put his heavy bag down in the main room, then made a neat pile of books on the table. He had spent the afternoon at a bookstore, as was his habit. There were two books for her, one that he had chosen weeks ago, and another from that afternoon about the history of formica. His apartment in another city, it was always another city, had walls of bookshelves organized by topic, everything in its place, just like the code he wrote. Often when she saw him he would be wearing a shirt from their favorite Detroit band, one she wanted him to take off. She did not want him naked. She wanted the shirt.
When they cooked next to each other, she knew without looking which side of the cutting board would have his bowl of chopped onions. Sharp knives and cold onions meant fewer (if any) tears, and they preferred not to talk or cry while they cooked. After a trip to the butcher that afternoon, he proposed a walk in the park near where he used to live. They had walked pretty far, beyond families and dogs, until it was just them. The sun was setting and soon it would be harder to see how to step around the ice on the footpaths.
He put down his drink and opened his bag. She took out her phone, checked the timer, and took a photo of the trees. Look at me, he said, and she saw he had a real camera. He was focusing on her. They all do this, she thought, they drag their broken hearts to other cities and take portraits of women in natural light. Most of those go into their private collections to be studied later, some are offered up publicly, evidence of interactions with potential objects of affection.
“Do you remember that fancy Hearst Tower dinner you took me to as your date years ago?” he asked casually, checking the exposure.
“Sure,” she said. But she had forgotten that, and the drinks afterward near his apartment (she didn’t live in the city yet), his invitation, the opportune cab just then, the on-again, off-again guy working on a client proposal in her hotel room who smiled as she walked in from her work event.
“We should check on the roast,” she said.
“Yes,” he agreed. They headed out of the park debating what spices to pickle with red onions and radishes, ordering the kitchen tasks just so, as if the other’s intentions were knowable.
A few more days
A final Hi meeting
The local neighborhood bar has a quiet time between six and nine. It is a place that specializes in coffee, beer and seasonal menus. There is just enough of each for a satisfying snack and effective buzz. After the time when the laptop lids close and before the social gatherings start -- there is a sort of twilight*. Often this time is a fugitive ground rife with creative inspiration and meditative work -- of the kind that results in personal reward.*twilight may refer to civil, nautical or astronomical variety depending on your social or terrestrial condition
A man positions his mouse on the edge of his browser window. He clicks, holds and drags the viewport first left then right. The content of a video game promo micro site responds and adapts to the available space. To the man, this is more delightful than the game itself.
A man laboriously moves his piano down three levels onto the subway platform. Classic vocals and strided chords -- he played so well I swore he was blind. Oblivious to the heat on that August stage, he was most in touch with his audience -- whom he elevated with his music.
A woman should do exactly as she pleases no matter what a man may think.
As the Dalai Lama once said, "It is a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room."
"No one understands me," she said. Her grandmother was silent for a minute. It seemed she was searching for an answer in the star speckled sky. "But no one understands anyone in this world, darling. We are all unique. It is what gives us a sense of wonder."