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Beyond Its Architecture: A New York Story

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Joined: 13 Nov 2004
Posts: 1034
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Beyond Its Architecture: A New York Story  Reply with quote  

[Just a note- This isn't my best short story, or even my favorite, but in a way, it was very cathardic to write it. So please be gentle]

Beyond Its Architecture

She left and he stayed behind.
Normally, if this were any other place, when one member of a couple leaves their hometown, letting their lover off in the distance, they grow, with book smarts and worldly knowledge, and their lover stagnates.
This is not any other place.

If you have never been to the Park, stop reading this. Put this story down, get in your car, or better yet onto a train, and get into the City. I’d suggest getting on the A (nothing beats the A-train), and transfer at Broadway Junction to the Number 4, then to the local Number 6, and take that to the Metropolitan Museum of Art stop on 77th. Then, you walk a bit west. You can go into the museum, but don’t – instead head south, just a bit. There, is my second favorite place in the Park, third in the City (What they do with chocolate at Serendipity 3 should be illegal, and thank God it’s not). Here, Alice lives, forever at her tea party.

“I knew I would find you here.”
Alex paused, looked up, and refocused his eyes. “Your hair is different.”
“Yours’ too. You cut it all off.” She bit her lip. “Can I…” Her voice trailed off, hand drifting upwards.
“Everyone else does. Susanna says it’s for good luck.” Alex pocketed his charcoal and leaned forward, her hand rustling up and back through the short bristles on top of his scalp.
“Does it tickle?” Robin squatted down, ever so unlady-like over a mossy stone, looking deep into the sketchpad of her former-fiancé; a brown loose leaf slipped between her exposed toes.
And that was that – rift healed, schism whole, mostly. On the surface, it was all patched up, but on the inside, but it was still jello only hour in the fridge. You wouldn’t know it by looking at these two from a distance. Robin, in a chic, sporty business suit, with hair up and tied to magnify her mood – helping her go from sweet and coy, pulling in the deal, to steely cold, to sign. All Alex had was nothing, nothing but jeans, an old white button down, and worn-through sneakers – all stained with time, ink, blood, charcoal, tears, paint, clay, and dried solder.
You laugh at the thought of these two polar opposites together. If this scene even made it to the background of another City resident, before their attention shifted back to their own business, they’d only think, And again.
A mother and brother show their son and brother how to cartwheel, or at least try to. One sister struck a pose, hanging onto Dinah, while the younger sister adjusted the camera’s shutter speed.
So, of course, her head, primped and shined with the finest of products, fell into place onto his stained shoulder. Wiping his sooty hands on his pants, which only made them that much dirtier, he traced her collarbone with an errant finger, back and forth, filling in and out a soft gray horizon on cloud white skin.

A quick history of the Park, because it’s necessary.
Some would say Times Square or the area around Penn Station and the Garden or even the ruins toward the southern tip of the island are the heart of the City, but they’re wrong. They’re wrong because the heart, your heart, my heart, all hearts, are filled with warmth and memories. You step into your heart to reflect, to smile, to take solace in your grief. On that dark September morning, so many of us retreated to the Park, a safe haven complete with a guardian angel and castle for refuge.
Like most things, especially pretty things, it has a dark history. The long and short of it is the aristocracy of the City, shortly before the Civil War, wanted their own refuge from the dirty poor in the heart of their metropolis, so they, along with eminent domain, bulldozed a prospering black community. Origins and births are always this messy, this unpleasant. Still, it blossomed, bloomed, and changed. After that war, a memorial was erected, with the Angel of the Waters at its center. West of that is Strawberry Fields. South of the Met, the Queen is calling for a beheading, most likely for Alice, who is sitting at the center of the Hatter’s tea party, just north of Holden Caulfield’s pond, filled with floating boats. North of the Met, an ancient Egyptian Obelisk stands silent. Opposite of that, on the west end, the Delacorte Theater waits, holding Theatre in the Round annually.
What I mean is in this age where we have long given up magic for science, and if you know how to look, wonder still very much exists.

Three years earlier, we had a perfect day. Almost.

“Keep the change.” Alex winked at the ice cream vendor and handed him a twenty in exchange for two cones.
Robin couldn’t say anything. Her eyes only focused on her finger, the new addition pulling her down and she didn’t want to know why. Diamonds are formed by pressure, just like ulcers and orgasms. I want this oh-so much. Why does it feel so very wrong?
Two children chased each other around and around and around the fountain. It still isn’t clear who was chasing whom.
Alex read her face, her mind. “Here.” In that single syllable, his voice went from gentle and truly understanding though he did not know why, to icy and angry, and back again. Jaw clenched, lip trembling, his breath let out an exhausted gasp, the deflated, defeated sound of a leaky tire.
“Honey.” She reached up for his wrist, guiding him down. Her voice shook, echoed with softness, tenderness. “I got in. Law school. In Boston. I mean just north of Boston. I wasn’t supposed to. You know that. You told me I was supposed to get in. And I did. And I think I have to go.”
“That means you can’t stay here.” Nothing was in his voice.
“No, love. I can’t. I want to, but I can’t.” She lifted up his head, the pad under her left thumb, softly lifting his chin, his face upward, eyes meeting eyes. “If I stay, and you know this because you know me, just like I know, that I’d blame you and you’ll boil and blame yourself and we wouldn’t love each other anymore at all. And that I couldn’t stand.”
“So you’re saying no to marrying me because you love me?” He couldn’t understand; you sacrifice everything for love. It’s what you do.
“Yes, sweetie. And no.” Robin stopped him before the words left his lips with the slight of a raised finger. “You shouldn’t come with me. Here, with your Angel,” she whispered into his ear, nodding toward the splashing fountain, “is your place. It’s always been your home.” Reflections of the high trees of the Ramble watched, passing judgment, along with the eyes of passing strangers.
“Is this forever-goodbye?”
And she kissed him. “On our first date, you took me right here and we had a very similar conversation, and I kissed you just like that. So no, it’s not. Never.”

Between then and year One, they rarely spoke. A check in phone call. A quick email. Only three drunk calls; two were his. Two two-hour calls playing damage control when their friends had their break-up crisis.
Between year One and Two, the climate lifted. Their damage control calls worked so well they made into a solid plan, written out and typed up, with a ladder of contingencies, formed by bottle of cheap red wine on each of their parts and two severely overcharged cell phone bills. Monthly calls became biweekly, which became weekly, to every other day. Souvenirs from road trips were mailed straight from the road.
And in that final year’s span, more healing, more reconciliation, and moving on, perhaps?

Things fall apart. Entropy is the natural way of things, but that’s really only half the story. Life is it’s opposite.
This little secret is the Tao of the City; it’s how and heart beat. It’s what other “Where’s” lack: balance.

“I owe you an ice cream.”
He slid the pencil inside the metal coils of the art pad, slipped the faux white eraser into his pocket with the charcoal. “How could I say no to a pretty girl and ice cream?”
Arm in arm, they walked. To see them like that is to understand the Grand Order of Things. Yin and Yang. Magic and science. Law and art. Progress and motion. Love and whatever its opposite is.
“I’m surprised you came. I wasn’t sure if you could.”
Robin lifted her hand pulled a stray pine needle out from behind his ear, flicking out into the wind. It circled its way down the path, down to the pond where the boats, their young captains, and their smiling grandfathers stay.
“Of course I came. Tonight’s your night. It’s your first gallery show. Why wouldn’t I come?” Old hurt rose, hurting her in just where it mattered.
Eyes shifting downward, he felt it as well. “I don’t know. I think part of me is still angry.”
“I know,” she said, letting a smile form from the natural rose lipstick, her favorite, as it was a classic shade. “Suz sent me some pictures from the gallery set up. They’re beautiful. Scary, but gorgeous.” Her tongue caught the dripping of chocolate soft serve at the cone’s edge. “‘The Orange Girl in Blue’ – she’s me?”
Alex laughed. “They’re all you, Robin. In way or another.”
“Even the dark ones?” she said, with the shaking voice of insecurity, the kind that forms over years of self-analysis over past actions.
“Oh, especially the dark ones. They’re so you.” The flatness in his voice only compounded the sarcasm, and he knew she knew. “Because, of course, you are symbol of wrath, darkness and all evil thing, like clowns.” And he laughed again. “That is something I will never forgive you for.”
“How was I supposed to know you had a clown phobia?”
“I told you in our most intimate of moments that I was afraid of clowns and –”
“No,” she said, interrupting and stealing the remainder of his cone in one breath. “You said you didn’t like clowns. I thought it was like the way I don’t like Thai.”
“And so you took me to the circus for my twenty-first.” And again, he smiled, content.
Somewhere, someone grooved to something. A grandmother let her little ward race ahead, waving back every so often, right on cue.

An Indian summer in the City is a very strange thing. In a place that lives, breathes, and breeds tension, it relaxes, like a sore shoulder in a Jacuzzi. The attitudes of its residents lift with the smog fumes of exhaust, hot dog vendors, and excitement.
And people’s mind open, with their lungs; not like it was a hard thing for us to do anyway.

“I haven’t smiled like this years.” Alex pulled a paper napkin out from his back pocket and wiped away a chocolate smudge from the corner of her rose pink lips. Standing back and then stepping forward again, he dabbed away the gray stain he had trailed along her neck. He stared, marveling at the masterpiece.
She caught the look in his eye, that look, and clutched her elbows, shaking her hair down to avoid eye contact. “I should have stayed. I made a mistake.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.”
“No. You didn’t.”
“Yes. I did.”
“You can’t possibly have me believe that thing were at a good time for us then? Part of me is still heartbroken, but even I know that.”
“Do you hate me? I hate me.”
On the small vista, overlooking this scene and the tea party below, a father sipped coffee with one hand and blew bubbles over a basinet with the other.
“Walk with me. I want to show you something.”
And down they went. Not really down. It was more like west, and a bit south, though it was down a few steps, but that’s of no consequence.
“Here we are. You remember this place, right?”
In a few, the City will shut off the water, but even without the fountain flowing, it is still more than beautiful. In the winter, you can walk up to her and touch the Angel.
“Of course. First date, wedding proposal; who could forget?” She meant it playfully, but only the hurt came out.
“I think we were meddled with. I think when you were sent those pictures of the gallery, I was given word that you were leaving the Great White North.”
“It doesn’t snow always up there. And yes, this reeks of those meddling kids.”
“If you’re coming back, to stay, you’d need a place to live. And it just so happens I’m ready to move.”
“Really.” They shared the same smile, a joy-filled, shit-eating grin. “What about the whole ‘you’re hurt and I hate myself’ thing?”
“Well, I don’t want you to hate yourself and you don’t want me to stay hurt, so I guess we’ll move on. That’s why you came and found me, didn’t you?”
Her hand slid into her pocket. “You never asked for it back, after. You just walked away. I saved it though, but haven’t put it on since I took it off.” Her hand slid out, diamond sparkling on her ring finger. He lifted her hand up, and for a moment, they just stared. “Huh. It fits better.”
“See? Three years later and we have some progress.”
“I guess so.”
And behind them, water bathed the marble at the feet of brass angel. She stands just above Man.

If this were any other place, this story would be unique. But again, it’s not.
The reason why so many love stories like this one come out of this city is because it is this City. And it’s not because of the park. A dozen other cities have their own municipal parks like this one; the same can be said about the restaurants, artist colonies, and architectural masterpieces.
The secret is that it’s alive, shifting and amplifying itself. It can’t spread; it’s an island. So, it grows inward and upward, but beyond its architecture.
And its children feel it as well, doing the same in their own lives.

“This feels good. I forgot how good this felt.” They walked south, letting her finger sparkle, catching everyone’s eyes. Everyone and their eye, like they tend to do, saw the end of this story, smiled, and walked along.
“It’s your fault; you should have known better.”
“Maybe. We have to go now. We to get ready.”
“I like that. ‘We.’”

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From a fortune cookie: Only those who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.


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