A Writer’s Fantasy
This is my first reading for the book with actual pages, but not my first appearance. Rows of people only here to escape the cold, but listening. One is eating a power bar, one is texting, but both chuckle when I say vagina. Two of my friends, long traveled, come in late, sit on the back row. He stands smiling, almost as if his heart is going to explode right there, leaving the crowd bloody and distraught. I smile at him between stanzas, he sits. She holds her purse in her lap, smiling, mouth partially open, looking at me like a ghost. I consider us all friends, almost family, but a digital family can be misleading. She seems genuine. They sit close, her beige fluffy parka rubbing up against his black coat.
I read until I am clearing my throat too much, choke myself up with chuckles because it is always difficult for me to be straight faced for too long. The crowd is pleased, I am surprised almost. They stand, nod at each other with big smiles, push around chairs and escape to the street, most going back to offices or tiny apartments with multiple cats.
As I close the small spine, I’m careful to avoid paper cuts. My hands are dry; I forgot to put lotion on before I left the hotel, and I stare at the white cracks behind my knuckles. I hear shuffling feet, friction of parkas, mishappen whispers and giggles. I look up to see my friends, look down to grab my coat, fallen during the reorganizing of a makeshift stage, and look back up again to see an orange jacket that does not fit in with the sea of black New York scarves. A winter hat is removed and a head shakes gently. I squint, expecting a famous Jewish comedian coming in for an undercover book adventure. My friends cannot help themselves: they hug and gasp, clear their throats, too, she is almost crying. He stares at me; he is taller than I expected. She is my height. She is beautiful, as she has displayed for almost a year now. He is handsome, hair growing out from a mid-summer buzz cut.
I am emotional, excited, elated, all of those happy things you feel when you get to touch someone after a long year of quarantine. He kisses my hand, like a man you’d find in a magical forest, with a bow and arrow strapped across his back. I feel like Cinderella, or one of those other mysterious girls wearing a long dress.
The orange jacket is now standing still, hat in hand. I lean left to catch a glimpse of the famed creature and I gasp. What is it? she cautiously asks; and she turns too, he turns too, jackets swooshing.
It is you. I tell them. We all stare. He drops his bow and arrow and runs over like a school boy, seeing his teacher in a supermarket. You are real. You stand, a smile creeps over as the school boy lunges with a hug, you cannot reciprocate the hug, as I am looking into you. You give in after the abruptness wears off and enjoy his commentary on your new book. She paces a bit slower, not sure exactly the nature of your appearance, but looks at me and mouths, Wow, he came!
I am stunned, fumbling my fingers for an accidental papercut, picking at flaking skin. I am glad my nails are done, and that I spent extra time on my eyebrows this morning – they are killer. I cock the left eyebrow at you and you understand this gesture. We smile.
For a few minutes I forget there is life outside of this bookstore: she can be my sister, he my brother and you the king. I cannot decide if I can rule as queen, so I assume the role of servant, so I can see you most all hours of the day, delivering you wine, whiskey, and plant-based snacks. I remember your diet, your drinking, and the way you write short choppy sentences behind the wall of social media.
I begin to melt, and am already overheated, I worry that I am sweating underneath a sweater, a t-shirt, and a long john shirt. I move strong past the two, and you put long arms around me like you saw me a few days ago. I am glad your jacket is on and that I cannot feel anything besides down and zippers.
The chatter begins again and dinner is decided. I cannot speak, so I smile and do tiny laughs to ensure I do not appear ungrateful for their presence. We decide to walk to the restaurant, Italian food is good for all of us and you and I both know there will be lots of expensive wines. The air is cold on the walk but I am still sweating underneath the layers and worry about my toes feeling numb. My feet are warm, but things are not behaving as they normally do, and I walk close to the storefronts to avoid bumping in to strangers, my mind refuses to leave your orange jacket.
The mist is hitting my face and my nose begins to run. She is wiping her nose with a tissue, and I check my pockets. There is no tissue, just a bobby pin and a quarter. I use my glove on my nose and we enter the tiny holding cell of the restaurant. The lights are low and the crowds are comfortable in chairs around small tables covered with white plates and sauce. I wish for a moment there was an issue with our seating, and that we are asked to leave, but everything goes as it should and I wonder if I should say my head is hurting again and I must go lay down in my hotel room, 15 blocks south. You are behind me and I follow the pair, winding between waiters and customers, the smell of a blown-out candle hits me and I imagine smoking a joint with you behind the bookstore. You are quiet, and I wonder if you smell the candle, too.
We are seated now and our jackets are not removed by the hostess so we hang them behind us. She fumbles with her purse and I laugh as we both attempt to tuck in her purse, my bag full of books, and an extra pair of boots I have paid too much for on my way to the bookstore, boots that I can use to tell someone one day, Yes, I bought these in New York.
Of course, you order a bottle of wine, to which I whisper to your neck, I can’t drink red wine, it makes me sick – that’s why I drink cheap champagne. You toss your head back and chuckle, that’s right, and rush over to the waiter who seems confused. The three of us left at the table hold hands, mentioning again that we can’t believe fate has brought us together, it seems so strange. I feel tears in my eyes, I truly am happy. And then there is you. You are holding a tiny bottle and we all laugh. This is the cheapest champagne, they have, C. and you and I get a good laugh, and the two others laugh, unaware of the humor, but are in good spirits.
Everything is fine with dinner and the drinking. My face is now warm and I worry my right eyelid is showing signs that I’ve had too much to drink, too soon. I open my eyes wide, hoping to loosen the muscles and even bring this up over the table hoping you do not think I look strange. Everyone laughs and drinks more, my toes are still numb and I forget my address.
It is too good for me and I stare at everything: her beautiful face, his eyes – and I’m so thankful for so many reasons. They know it. You are handsome, older than all of us, and I wonder why you are really here. I wonder what I will say when you leave, if I will miss you when you are gone. I stare at your hands, resting on the white table cloth. I wonder how fast your hands can type, I wonder about your mother and how she is doing.
I force the waitress to take my credit card, I am happy to pay this bill, to keep the receipt and use it as a bookmark. We huddle around the vestibule of the restaurant, we have all called an Uber, mine is the furthest away. Ride with me you mumble. I am drunk, I assume I created the syllables, but you shake your head no and repeat, ride with me. I look into your eyes and you tell me the license plate to look for. I shiver, you are warm, I move towards you and am embarrassed. Your hand rests on the structure we are waiting in. I am nervous when she makes big eyes at me and he asks me for a kiss. Of course, and he leans, kisses me on the cheek. I laugh, as usual. Breakfast in the morning, and you say you will be there, too.
There it is, the Uber Black, and you push open the door. We have already said goodbye, but I kiss her on the cheek. She winks. I shrug my shoulders like I’m accepting an award I have not earned. There is no place for that, she says. He blows me a kiss goodbye. The suburban is large, dark leather, strong cologne and a loud radio. We both laugh and I don’t know why. The driver is not serious, he is jolly, he thinks we are lovers. I realize I am sitting too close; I scoot closer to the window. You lean on your window, and I hope you are not too drunk yet. I hope you think I’m still pretty with smeared mascara. You smile.
Horns are honking, our driver, too, and the streets are bright with tail lights. We pass Times Square, a place I was never impressed with, and I ask you to repeat the Broadway plays you’ve seen. You are answering but I can’t understand you, your low voice fades into the radio and I watch your eyes move around as you describe your favorite acts. There is a wife mixed in your answer, but I pretend she is lost in a forest, as I know there is someone there to find her.
The driver approaches a string of lit bars, what is this, I ask and you push me towards the Suburban door. I open the door and you trip as we wave thank you to the driver. I thought we could get a drink, you say, shoving your hands in your pockets, steam escapes your nose. I bump your arm and am immediately regretful, there is nothing sexy about an elbow bump between jackets. I am happy to drink again, I want to kiss you, but I want to do it so that maybe I can forget if it goes badly – to be able to say, I did not kiss him, because I can’t remember. Too much vodka. Too many tiny bottles of champagne in a midtown Italian restaurant.
There is something sexy about this bar, too. I growl as I walk in. I know you are thinking this too, and I know we will both write strange poems about this night one day. The bartender is young, hair slicked back and I tell you he is from Jersey Shore. I have never watched Jersey Shore but I want to seem cultured with things like this, even though I know you have just studied about Bukowski, and I failed to read any of his work.
The glasses are thick, straws are short and I order more limes. You wonder if I like the taste of liquor and I say No, I prefer pills…Those things I write about are more ‘true’ than ‘fiction’ and you stare at my long black nails. I curl my hands, hoping you do not see the dry skin. You blink slowly and ask me how the reading went. It went well, and I go on with my answer, no mention of you being late, I do not care. I am glad we are here in a bar. I am glad you are not sitting in a back row, planning to leave before I accidently papercut myself on the cover.
There is a bar in the back, the bartender leans. What? we ask in unison. Are you asking us or telling us? I ask the bartender. You are intrigued, this is your thing, and mine too. We look at each other, and I forget the Uber driver thought we were lovers, we are friends, and this is what friends do, this is what we do. We abandon our thick glasses and the bartender directions his dirty towel towards a corner of the bar, we follow, you turn to me and whisper, There’s stairs! You take the first step down and reach for my hand and I pretend not to see it, but I can’t leave your hand there, in midair, hip’s height, unattached to me. I reach for the hand and squeeze. I want to melt and drip down the stairs.
This bar is lined with mirrors, with vintage things and I can see you are in love. A man takes our coats and we find a corner booth, red velvet lining and a marble top table. You eye the table and I wish there was another table available, this one is too romantic, too red, too full of secrets had by other people. I want to kiss you again, but I can still remember my zip code. I think about your wife wandering around in the forest after dark. I order a double.
There is something good about you and this table, something that does not make me feel ashamed or worried. There is nothing about drinking and reading, talking about book deals and other people we have never met. I study your face, burn it into my memory, as I know part of it will be faded before too long, and I will want to be here again, I will want to go back in time to this moment and do something I was not brave enough to do when I was really here.
I smell the air in the bathroom as I straighten my bra, push things up and over, wipe between my legs to keep anything from coming through. I think about the affair I had before, about the way I could not control myself, the way I drove hours to meet a man who didn’t love me. I hoped this was different. It wouldn’t change tomorrow, but I could come back to this one day and not feel guilty.
You are drunk by now, me too finally, a tasteful drunk, and I make you tell me stories about your grandmother, her cigarettes, and the drinks she made you. She is famous now, lots of stories circulating about her nature, everyone loves your stories, you are a mystery, and so am I.
I do not want to leave, but the bar is closing. I feel like bursting in to tears at last call, but that is not something I am known to do, so I swallow another shot of vodka, room temp, and you giggle. I give you the name of my hotel and I help you key it in on the app. Do the black, do the black, you say. We don’t need black, we are going home, its fine. I think about the word ‘home’ and want to apologize for saying that word, this story will have an ending, just like all of the others, but it will not end with anything comfortable like ‘home’, it will end with no warning and no solace.
We pile in to a Toyota Camry, low music now, it is late, the driver has just started his shift. He does not care if we are lovers, he hums to the song, ignoring us both, and I feel it all begin to unravel. I remember the first two digits of my address, and I remember how I forgot to move the laundry to the dryer before my flight a few days ago. I imagine the rotting smell and the mildew creeping its way up my favorite sweater. You tug at my wrist. I turn to see you, a brownstone background, and I stare. I hold your thumb. I want to kiss you, again.
The ride is calm and quiet, we are enjoying the alcohol and I wonder if the bodegas would sell me three bottles of cheap champagne or if there is some sort of cutoff, I think about pizza and how cliché it would be for us to eat pizza. The driver hums.
The car pulls to a hotel, and the driver says nothing. I look at you. It is quiet besides jazz sneaking out of a front speaker. The engine hums, steam rises from the ground outside. You pop open the door and stand outside of the car. Edges of the green hotel awning flaps in the wind. You motion, like a driver, for me to step out. You wait.
I look at you, and I know my smeared mascara does not keep you from staring at me. I tilt my head, as if asking, why me, but I look at the clean orange jacket you clench in your hand, your body hot with whiskey and beer, and I am at peace with whatever answer you give. Your hand holds its position, and a smile begins in your eyes. I look at books spilling out of my bag on the floorboard and the driver waits. I think about your wife, lost in the forest. I try to remember my address, but the name of my street is gone forever, so I gather up my book bag, my purse, and those expensive boots I didn’t really need in the first place.
C. Cimmone is an author, editor, and comic from Texas. She’s alive and well on Twitter at @diefunnier.