Uptown Girl

Emma sat cross-legged on a white leather couch staring at the flowering trees of Central Park through the floor to ceiling windows on the east side of the apartment where she was cat-sitting. She cradled in her lap an ancient Persian cup filled with hot coffee.

She watched the colors change as the sun rose, and she drank the coffee.

Around noon, Carmen knocked on the door.

“Marvelous!” said Carmen as she meandered through the apartment.

Emma returned to the couch.

It was quiet for a while, and then Carmen said, “Look!” She dumped a pile of fabric on the couch next to Emma.

“You’d better put those back the way you found them,” said Emma.

Carmen took off her clothes. “Try them on with me.”

“They won’t fit me.”

Carmen put on a black dress with hard lines and nearly invisible lacework. It fit like it had been painted on. She leaned backwards against the window, closed her eyes, and spread her arms so that her knuckles rested on the glass. It seemed like there was nothing behind her, that she would fall backwards.

Carmen tried on dress after dress, sometimes walking around the room, sometimes standing still.

The last dress was yellow and had crystal buttons crossing from the left shoulder to the right hem. “Isn’t yellow the most erotic of the colors?” Carmen asked Emma, sitting down next to her. Carmen sat straight and crossed one ankle behind the other. She put her palms on her raised knee and squeezed her shoulders together.

“Isn’t red?” asked Emma.

“Don’t be a fool,” said Carmen. “Invite Tara over. She’ll show you.”

“No way,” said Emma. “She’ll steal one.”

“She’ll steal them all,” said Carmen. “As for me, I’m taking this one.”

“Nope,” said Emma.

“I’ll wait for them to come home so they can see me in it. They’ll realize I deserve it.”

“What should we eat for lunch?” asked Emma.

“Hors d’oeuvres, canapés, Champagne.”

“I was thinking Korean.”

Carmen’s phone chimed. “Tara’s on her way.”


Play Things

Tara stepped away from the long black car she had just crashed into a short yellow car that was parked close to the sidewalk on 59th Street in Manhattan. It was somewhere between one and four AM on Wednesday.

She pushed her hair out of her eyes. The street was empty.

She went into the subway at Columbus Circle. 

There were two guys talking loudly in the middle of the platform.

Tara walked up to them, fishing in the absurdly oversized trenchcoat she was wearing for her last Black and Mild.

“Do you have a light?” she asked them.

One of them stared into her eyes. Shark eyes. Dead. Void. And still vaguely challenging.

The other one handed her a blue plastic lighter.

After she lit up and handed it back, she stared at them in turn just long enough to make everyone a little uncomfortable. Then she walked towards the tracks and leaned against a pillar.

There was a note on her apartment door when she got home. She went in without reading it.

She walked directly into the shower and stood under the water until it went cold. She took off the coat and everything else and left it all in the tub.

She walked across her apartment to a space heater. She turned it on and sat in front of it.

She watched it turn from one side to the other and thought about the car. She smiled and then she laughed a little.

Tara looked at her apartment and decided to clean it. 

It was clean already. There was a table with two chairs in the middle of the room. There was a freestanding bookshelf. In the bedroom there was a bed and a rocking chair and an imitation Native American rug she had stolen from a gift shop in Santa Fe. There was a mural on the bedroom wall that she had painted with six shades of wood varnish. In the kitchen there was a white refrigerator with one decorative magnet holding up a poem by Carmen’s HIV positive uncle.

Tara took the sheet from her bed and wrapped it around her. She took down all her books and wiped the shelves with her hands. She opened all the books and blew into them and shook them and put them back. She took the clothes from the tub and tossed them out the window. They hit the street with a splat. She dried the water trail from the bathroom to the window with the bottom of her makeshift toga.

She opened the front door to create a crossbreeze. The air was unseasonably warm.

Tara took out the things from her fridge. Romaine leaves and homemade salsa. She wiped the shelves.

She opened an app on her phone and ordered a case of rosé wine.

She lay down on the bare kitchen floor and slept.

She woke three hours later and walked downstairs to a tiny coffee shop.

“Did you make that yourself?” asked the barista.

Tara smiled and spun in a graceful circle.

She drank her espresso at the ledge facing the window and took deep breaths through her nose. 

Her skin, caressed by the bedsheet and the warm air, was barely able to contain her soul.


Crying Train


In the morning just after rush hour, Carmen and Emma boarded an Amtrak train headed south for New York.

Emma unwrapped her breakfast sandwich on the table.

“How can you eat?” asked Carmen.

Emma squeezed ketchup onto the wrapper and dipped the sandwich in before taking her first bite.

Carmen rose from her chair like a vapor and walked down the aisle toward the doors in the back.

She walked through three sets of doors before she found the bar car.

“Do you have Tito’s?” she asked the person behind the counter, a sad woman in her twenties.

“We don’t serve alcoholic beverages until after twelve,” she said.

“What time is it?” asked Carmen.

“Ten,” said the woman.

“So what do you serve, then? Coffee, I guess?”

“Sure,” said the woman. “Do you want that?”

“Give me your hand,” said Carmen.

The woman said, “Excuse me?”

“You have an interesting face,” said Carmen. “I’ll read your palm for free. I usually charge, you know.”

“No, thanks,” said the woman.

“I’ll have a coffee then,” said Carmen.

“What size?”

“Ugh…” said Carmen. She stared at the different sized coffee cups for a long time. Then she said, “Last night I saw God.”

The woman rolled her eyes and poured her a large coffee. “It’s on the house.”

“We’re on a train,” said Carmen. As the woman put the coffee on the counter, Carmen grabbed her wrist.

The woman frowned and her pupils dilated.

Carmen traced her palm gently and then let go of her hand.

“Thank you for the coffee. Do you live in New York?”

“Can’t you tell from my hand?” asked the woman.

“Clever,” said Carmen. “See you at noon.”

Carmen walked back to where Emma was finishing her sandwich.

Carmen said, “How can you eat?”

Emma said, “Why didn’t you bring me a coffee?”

“The bartender is a demon,” said Carmen.

“Are you still high?” asked Emma. “Tara should’ve known not to give you that shit. You stay high for days.”

Carmen laughed. “Baby, when I’m high, I stay high, for days.”

“Shut up,” said Emma. “I’m going to take a nap.”

“Not right after eating! You’ll get fat…well, fatter, that way.”

Emma knocked Carmen’s coffee over. It sprayed over the aisle and a little of it stained Carmen’s white sweatpants.

“Bitch,” said Carmen. She threw the empty cup in the seat across the aisle.

Emma stared out the window. “Where do you think Tara is?”

“Somewhere great,” said Carmen.


Still Counts


Carmen’s hair was spread out on the concrete next to the pool.

It was Tuesday morning, very early, and they were at Kelsey’s parents’ house in the Catskills.

Carmen laughed as she had been doing.

Emma sat next to her wearing only Carmen’s thick cardigan; her naked legs were in the pool.

“I can’t believe that shit about Candice,” said Carmen. “I still can’t. I won’t.” Carmen pointed up towards the sky.

“I’m getting in the pool,” said Trevor. “One of you ladies should join me.”

Trevor was tall and looked too young to drink.

“Quiet,” said Carmen. “Go put on that song I like.”

“What song?” asked Trevor.

Carmen looked at Emma. “Fine,” she said, “more vodka. How did you get here anyway?”

Trevor laughed. “You’re drunk! I came here with…”

“Vodka!” shouted Carmen. To Emma she said, “Who is that guy?”

Emma smiled and looked out over the pool. If she leaned back just right, she could see the moon in the water.

There was a thud against the glass patio door. Carmen turned her head to look. She could see nothing.

And then a heavy chair crashed through the glass and landed on the concrete. There was some yelling and then there was a loud, obnoxious laugh.

Emma’s entire body spun. She felt her heart against her bones.

Tara stepped through the broken door holding a bottle of Tito’s. She was wearing a beautiful green evening dress with matching gloves that stretched to her elbows. Tara picked up the chair from the concrete and threw it into the pool.

The water splashed over Carmen and Emma.

“Come on!” said Tara. She took a swig from the bottle. “Where’s Kelsey?”

“Easy!” said a man behind Tara. He was older and wearing an expensive tie.

“Give me your keys,” said Tara. “You’re wasted.”

“You’re wasted,” said the man.

“You shut up,” said Carmen, standing up. She walked over and hugged Tara. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Tell me everything,” said Tara. “Who is that asshole in the kitchen?”

“We all hate him,” said Carmen. “Right, Emma?”

“Emma!” said Tara.

Emma and Tara hugged and then the two of them and Carmen went inside.

Kelsey was asleep on the gray purple couch in the sitting room.

Brett was rubbing her feet.

Tara shooed Brett away. “Get out of here, creep.”

Tara took a blanket from the recliner and put it over Kelsey. “Sorry about the window,” she whispered and kissed Kelsey’s head.

Carmen took the vodka from Tara and drank.

Emma said, “Who’s that guy you brought?”

Tara said, “Come! Outside!” Before they left the room Tara pointed at Brett. “You!”

“Huh?” asked Brett.

“Stop being creepy!”

“Ok,” said Brett.

“Right!” said Tara. “Come on!” She led the two others, jogging drunk towards the front door.

In the driveway was a red convertible Chevelle.

Tara took the bottle back from Carmen and said, “Emma’s driving!”

“Who’s car?” asked Emma.

Tara reached inside her bra and pulled a small bag full of what looked like pieces of glass. She pulled a shard out and, her face within inches of Emma’s, rubbed it around Emma’s lips.

Emma closed her eyes and stuck out her tongue.

Tara put a shard on Emma’s tongue, and then she did the same for Carmen.

Then Tara said, “And the blood of the holy ghost,” and put one on her own tongue. She put the bag back in her  dress and then gave Emma the keys to the car.

“Where are we even going?” asked Emma. She laughed at the stupidity of her own question.

They got into the car without opening the doors.

Emma started the car and revved the engine.

Carmen shouted.

Tara slapped Carmen across the face and kissed her mouth.

Carmen pushed her over the front seat into the back.

The man in the expensive tie came outside.

Emma waved and smiled. The car jolted forward into Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey’s expensive front lawn.

Dirt went into the air and into the car and everywhere.

Tara, laying on the floor in the back, tried to light the bottle of vodka on fire with a black Zippo.

Carmen tried to stop her.

Emma found the pavement and off they went into the dark.


No Matter How the Wind Howls

Carmen sat in a park off of Clarkson Street watching teenagers play baseball. She drank wine from a plastic carton and swayed in the wind. No one could play very well in wind like that. Sometimes it was calm for a little.

Carmen was wearing a yellow dress that touched the ground. Her light brown hair was everywhere.

Emma walked up behind Carmen and sat next to her, facing away from the game.

“Why don’t you watch?” asked Carmen.

“Aren’t you afraid to get caught drinking that?” asked Emma.

“What do you mean?” asked Carmen.

“Never mind,” said Emma. She breathed through her nose and closed her eyes. She was short and wore the same pair of jeans all the time.

“Have you seen Tara?” asked Carmen.

“No,” said Emma.

One of the kids hit the ball and the bat rang out clear in the wind.

Carmen cheered and laughed. She drank more wine and offered some to Emma.

Emma drank some wine and passed the carton back. She said, “I was going to work tonight.”

“Don’t work,” said Carmen. “Watch the game.”

“I hate sports,” said Emma.

“Then go away,” said Carmen. She drank more wine and then asked, “What happened yesterday with Candice?”

“What do you mean?” asked Emma.

“Oh,” said Carmen.

The pitcher caught a ground ball and threw it to the first basemen. The first basemen missed it and ran off to get the ball. The runner advanced to second.

Carmen clapped her hands and laughed.

Carmen’s laugh made Emma feel a little better because it was a pretty laugh. Not like Tara’s laugh, which was so loud and obnoxious. It was fine for Tara to laugh like that, though.

Emma said, “What about Candice?”

“I ran into her at the store and she was talking about something happened last night. I don’t know what. Who cares.” Carmen drank more wine. “Isn’t it so nice? Out here on the bench?”

“It’s cold, kind of,” said Emma.

Carmen looked at Emma and then looked back at the game.

Emma said, “I heard you were thinking of leaving town.”

“How could I leave?” asked Carmen. “When it’s so nice. Out here. On the bench.”

“I never cared for this park,” said Emma. “We should go to a different one some time.”

“Emma,” said Carmen, “turn around and watch the game. You’re making everyone uncomfortable, looking that way.”

Emma turned around and Carmen gave her more wine.

“Don’t worry,” said Carmen, putting her arm around Emma, “tonight you w0n’t work. We’ll go to Brooklyn and drink cheap beer. We’ll play pool with boys and maybe find Kelsey. She can take us upstate or something. You won’t be cold and whiny. I’ll bring you a thick cardigan that my mother used to wear.”

“Ok,” said Emma. “But can we not stay here? It’s cold and this game is boring.”

“Well,” said Carmen, looking down through the opening of the empty carton, “why not? I hate baseball anyway.”


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