I need to slow down my breathing.
I can’t slow down my breathing.
The subway car rattles, whipping me side
to side in my orange, flimsy plastic seat. It screeches to a halt. All trains
in New York have the same howling brakes. A soggy newspaper sticks to the
I focus on the
positive. It’s only noon. I’ve already applied to ten jobs. I can apply to ten
more tonight. I’ve written twenty pages of work already, which I did before I
applied to jobs. God created me to write. Creating stories happens so naturally
to me that I have to write them down or they’ll swell up inside my head. It’s a
mental anaesthetic. An escape from this world to a place where I can control
things. And I’m good at it—better than any published author. I can weave
sentences together to awe. I’m going to be remembered millennia from now. I
know this in my bones. It’s a certainty I’ve built my life around.
To distract myself, I read over the
texts I sent to Laura.
So we doing the career fair?
there be McDonald’s?
McDonald’s will be there.
Meet me at the Kimmel Center.
A Hispanic woman in a brown coat boards
the train. She stands at the center pole, eyeing everyone in the car. Harsh
wrinkles curve around her frown. The doors shutter shut; the car jerks forward.
She speaks out in a prepared drone.
“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry for bothering you, but I’ve just
lost my job and become homeless. I have two beautiful daughters, and I’m trying
my best to support them, but times are very hard, and we’re living a shelter
with little food to eat.” Her voice wavers as she realizes that everyone is
doing their best to ignore her. People with headphones close their eyes and nod
their chins to a rhythm. Others just stare out the window at the darkness
flashing past. “Fact is, I’ve not eaten at all today. I’m just trying to keep
my girls okay. So if you could find the kindness in your heart, please donate
anything you can, a quarter, a nickel, a dime, anything to please help me feed
my girls. Once again I’m sorry for bothering you all but I really need help.”
She starts meandering slowly through the car.
Our eyes meet. “Anything, please help,
quarter, nickel, dime…”
My stoicism quivers, and I look away.
She keeps going down the car.
She gets out at the next stop. As the
subway car stutters forward again, a recorded announcement plays from the
speakers. A friendly man’s voice reluctantly says, “Ladies and Gentleman,
asking for money on the subway is illegal. We ask you not to give. Please help
us maintain an orderly subway.”
At 42nd Street, I transfer to
the N train and take it down to 8th Street. I weave through the
tight blocks that surround Washington Square Park until I cut through the park
itself. Crowds conglomerate around street performers drawing murals in sidewalk
chalk. The circular fountain flushes out water in a wide spray. The grass
smells like spring. The Kimmel Center is a beige, smooth building across the
street from the park. Like all college buildings, it has the sleek sheen from
Laura appears down the street wearing an
orange-knitted beanie, a smatter of scarfs, and a black t-shirt. She carries a
blue folder under her shoulder.
“What is this?” I gesture to her general
“This is the
just-rolled-out-of-a-dumpster look I’ve been sporting this week,” she replies.
“That’s hardly professional.”
“Exactly. All these dumbasses are
wearing formal attire, whereas I will stand out with my grungitude and Oprah
Chai-scented body odor.”
“You should’ve at least come here Classy
Casual.” I dress in a smart black-and-grey-striped shirt with a black vest and
windsor-tied tie. Unlike most boys, I understand fit.
“This fashionista phase is adorable.”
Her eyes sparkle with a sibling’s mischief.
“This is how I dress now. Like an adult.
A fashionable adult. I’m a new person.”
“Sometimes I straighten my hair and
become a new person.”
I roll my eyes. “I roll my eyes. I roll
my eyes at you, Laura Donoghue.”
She scoffs. “I scoff. I scoff at you,
We enter the Kimmel Center. Students
herd inside a stuffy meeting hall compact with tables topped with corporate
displays. Grinning HR people advertise their company. They spread pamphlets,
free pencils, buttons, and business cards over their tables. Video
presentations play on Macs. Long lines hound the biggest names—Starcom, Morgan
You can taste the awkwardness. The kids
dress in uncomfortable suits and dresses. Their suits are baggy and sloppy.
They try to appear formal, but their faces are pinkish red. They speak
hesitantly with quivering smiles. Their arms move stiffly at their sides. Each
movement has slow trepidation. They shuffle through the aisles of tables in a
lethargic, laborious procession.
Laura folds her arms over her chest.
“You lied to me. You said there’d be McDonald’s.”
I point across the hall. “McDonald’s has
a display right here. I didn’t lie. I mislead you. It’s like lying, but more
Laura glares at the red-polo-shirt-clad
men manning the McDonald’s stand. “It’s just a mass of sociopaths.”
“No, that’s the HR department.”
“Like I said. Mass of sociopaths.”
We join the slow Bataan Death March.
Laura opens her blue folder. Her resumes stuff the right pocket. “I spent an
hour formatting this thing. I had no idea what I was doing. Professors need to
get their heads out their asses and realize they need to teach us more about
“Especially at $50k of debt a year,” I
reply. “I get the frustration. I apply to 20 jobs a day.”
“It’s bullshit. Such bullshit.”
“We go to college because we’re promised
high paying jobs, but all we get is a mountain of debt.”
She brushes a dark bang off her eye. “Our
parents valued a degree so much because it was rare in their day. Now it’s so
common it’s useless.”
The herd slows to a near halt as it
winds around a corner.
“And the only difference is where you
got it from,” I add. “Yale’s better than Indiana. Harvard’s better than
“The rich will always find a way to put
themselves above the rest.” She rubs her palm over her cheek. “God, I need an
espresso. This is why we are a wasted generation, Calvin. We are more educated,
intelligent, and better off than anyone in the past, yet all our potential will
be wasted in cubicles, making money for some dying old man.”
A dozen kids wait to hand a clumsy resume
to an overstressed HR coordinator for Cheerios. We angle our way around the
long line disrupting the aisle.
“Maybe that can change.” I slide through
two people. “Technology is going to automate most jobs, and surely there’s
enough money to provide a basic income. Maybe, in like, 30 years, we’ll only
work for what we want.”
She shrugs. “Calvin, the rich will
squeeze the blood from the poor like leeches. That’s the way it’s been since
“I don’t know about that.”
Laura smirks. “Let’s say for
illustrative purposes that I am wrong. That is ridiculous. I am right. Nothing
I pause as I squeeze through more crimes
against formal fashion. I brush into Laura’s shoulder. “Back in Waukegan, I
needed a job. So I applied to every store—Hot Topic, American Eagle, Best
Buy—got none of them. Those managers relished it when they turned me down. Seeing
a college grad apply to be their employee justified their decision to settle
for a high school diploma. I got a job in Whole Foods’ meat department. But
that didn’t pay enough, so I looked around for months, and got a full time job
at EconoLighting. You know how boring it was to field call after call from
moronic electricians trying to order lights? But I did get $15 an hour. And I
got to play around with my phone cord. It was the fun spiral kind. I got enough
to move to New York. I kept trying. I moved forward. Things change.”
She returns her signature shit-eating
grin. “And as you know, I just transferred to another Starbucks and was totally
fine. I get it, Calvin, you’re got this epic story of yourself, but you’re just
as mundane as everyone else.”
“Most people live within fifty miles
from where they were born,” I reply.
Laura groans as we’re separated again by
the panicky seas. “Let’s divide and conquer. Meet you outside in a bit.”
I nod, and we part ways. I survey the
displays as the crowd moves forward in stuttering paces. Most tables just
advertise the company, but not actual jobs. Barclay’s display discusses vague
things about Corporate Culture, accompanied by the office basketball team photo.
I don’t fancy just working for a corporation because it has a big name.
Just for the hell of it, I approach the
woman at the Pepsi table, who’s standing alone by herself. “Hi, so what sort of
jobs are you offering here?”
She wears a pixie cut, a nervous smile,
and a generic white sweater. She holds a clipboard against her stomach. “Well,
I’m Pat. What’s your major?”
“Calvin. I majored in English.”
Here face scrunches in reluctance.
“English? Well, I don’t have anything for an English major. You can maybe be a
truck driver and check on the displays in stores and make deliveries.”
I stare flatly at her.
She withers in the silence.
“Not interested, thanks.” I leave. She has
no idea how much she insulted me. I didn’t go to school to be a truck driver.
I walk to the conference hall’s fringes.
I watch the students’ nervous faces and the stoic expressions the HR people
offer in reply. A frustrated rugby player nearly pushes me into the wall. He
storms through the crowd, using his physicality to nudge aside anyone in his
way. Even still, he ends up stuck in a winding line behind the American Express
table. The gyre crawls through the hall, widening and tightening in between the
I edge my way to the door. I cross the street and collapse in a bench in
Washington Park along a path winding through the greenery. I toy with the my
Five minutes later, Laura collapses onto
the bench beside me. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life or when
I’m going to graduate and this whole ‘Career Fair’ thing is just rubbing it in.”
“I need drugs,” I reply.
“Let’s get McDonald’s.”
We both get McWraps.
holds more nostalgia for me than any food. I always remembered that warm French
fry and McNugget scent coming from a greasy bag.
sit at a tiny plastic table with green and red seats. I down my wrap’s last
bite and start on the fries. Laura isn’t orderly in her eating like I am. She
has half the wrap eaten and half the fries consumed.
you read my short story yet?” I ask her.
it was okay,” Laura replies. “I’ll send you a Word doc with all the comments
later tonight. I don’t know how I feel about it being present tense.”
wobbling back and forth between that and past tense.”
can tell. There are a few tense errors. I pointed them out.”
I just feel like, the character is experiencing all of this right now, so it
needs to happen in the present tense. Past tense only works when you’re
narrator is coming from a future point.”
if he was looking on it from the past, he definitely would be viewing the whole
situation in a different light. He might be blaming himself for leaving her alone.”
The story would be a whole regret, about leaving his mom alone, and there would
have to be more foreshadowing. It would just be natural.”
also get way too abstract in the scene where he describes finding the body.”
was hoping to show how his mind couldn’t process it. He’s grasping for ways to
compare it to his established knowledge, but he can’t.”
do that. Go Hemingway. Be extremely stark and matter of fact. That way, it’ll
seem like he’s detaching himself from the event. The detachment will suggest
that he can’t process the emotions around it, so he only describes the feeling.
Remember, you’re not in your character’s subconscious. You’re in his conscious
mind, which, from what I can tell by his actions, means that he only focuses on
the facts of the situation.”
right, I’ve been feeling like I need to rewrite that scene.” I twirl a pale
yellow fry in the blood red ketchup I’ve pooled on my napkin. “It’s good that
my instincts can start picking out my mistakes ahead of time. I guess that
means I’m getting better.”
Laura continues, though. “There was one
part I really didn’t like. You said ‘Mom’s alone tonight because Ryan’s out
driving an Amazon shipment up to Madison, but at least she has Macaroni to keep
her company,’ and you don’t really go into describing the situation. You just
act like the audience knows she’s divorced and has a pet French bulldog and a
boyfriend who drives truck.”
“Yes they will. When you say, Mom and
Ryan, people know that’s the situation, otherwise you’d say Mom and Dad. And
Macaroni is clearly a pet. It’s too weird a name to be anything else. And the
audience knows they’re not wealthy because Ryan is a trucker. It’s subtext,
“No one’s gonna understand it.”
“Just because you need to be spoon-fed
doesn’t mean everyone else does. I’ll assume my reader is intelligent, not
“That’s a bad assumption.”
“Well, you’re not a writer, so just let
She scoffs at me, but eats a
ketchup-dappled fry instead of responding.
I feel the need to apologize. “I
appreciate the advice, though. I know you’re straight up with me. It’s why I
can’t really value anyone else’s opinion. I feel like they’d just compliment me
to avoid offending me, or skip over the flaws, thinking they’re not smart
enough to understand that section or something.”
“Then take my advice.”
“I’m taking your advice, just not all of
it. And if the section about Ryan and Mom is shit, you can tell me you told me
“It’s shit. Do you want my
opinion or not?”
“I want your opinion, but I’m
writing the story, not you. If you want to write the story, go write it
Laura locks eyes with me. She’s on the
verge of replying, but then, she grits her teeth. She looks down at a fry,
stabs it into the ketchup, and swallows it.
I take the 1
train one hundred blocks to one-hundred sixteenth street. I pass by a Duane
Reade on the way to my apartment. Generic cucumber music plays over the speakers.
I think it’s Sara Bareilles. I make things quick. I nab milk, bread, cheese
slices, and bologna.
I head through the liquor aisle towards
the coolers, looking for a soda. A tag catches my eye. Jägermeister is on sale
for only five bucks. I debate whether to get it or not. Really, I mean, it’s
the cost of two sodas, and I’m already planning to buy a soda, so if I just
don’t buy another tomorrow, I’ll equal the cost. I buy it and leave with a
The cashier rings me up for $15.91. I do some quick math. 15 times 5 is 75, plus
$1 for a banana at Starbucks to get to use its Wi-fi every day, 106, and plus a
$113 monthly Metrocard is $219. 2,000 divided by 219 is about ten months. May,
June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February.
March 1st is D-Day. But by then I’ll have a job. Even if I’m making
sandwiches for middleclass white women in under five minutes at Panera Bread.
My apartment is a creaky building. The
lobby’s marble flooring is cracked. The elevator has an old black gate behind a
thick blue door. It’s mostly seniors and Columbia students here. I’m subletting
for an Indian grad student, Amey, who’s off interning for Facebook this summer.
I approach the apartment door, and the
closer I get, the stronger nasty Indian spices burn my nostrils. When I enter
the apartment, it’s almost overwhelming.
The apartment is a one bedroom. The
bedroom has two beds, each with a makeshift desk and dresser. I sleep in the
living room on a cot. Another roommate, Jai, sleeps in the cot across the room.
There’s no furnishings. My bulky suitcase is the only decoration. The walls are
dull white. The wood floor is dusty. I take out my groceries and grab two
bologna slices from their package. The rest I stack up. I’ve carved out a niche
in the fridge for myself, a small corner on the top shelf. Spoiled meat,
dripping juices, and crusty stains fill the rest of the fridge. I stuff the
bologna in the corner and shut the door, but the smell wafts into my face. I
tear off a paper towel to use as a plate. The plates in the sink are weeks
dirty and colored in yellows and oranges from Indian dishes. Fruitflies hover
around the sink. I open a tightly packed bread loaf and slide two slices out.
I pull my laptop out of my backpack and
sit on my cot’s edge. I start searching through jobs, moving my cursor with one
hand and holding my sandwich in the other. I think while I chew.
As the sun sets, my insect roommates appear.
I wasted an entire Raid can my first night here. The roaches sneak along the
ceiling and walls. I know they like to hide in the cupboards, so, with Raid
held tightly in my hand like a revolver, I snatch open the drawers and spray as
the roaches wildly try to crawl away. I’ve become quite good at exterminating
them. Maybe it’s the German in me.
I’m thirsty and sick of the metallic
tinge in the water from the kitchen faucet. I unscrew the Jägermeister bottle.
The drink tastes like a sharp mint—not at all what I was expecting. I take
another sip out of curiosity. I return to my nineteenth application of the day,
arduously filing out my contact info, work history, references, and phone
numbers, knowing full well they’ll be ignored. I don’t even have references. I
list my stepdad as a “mentor,” as well as a few of my friends as “former
coworkers.” I also throw in a few coworkers from my internships who honestly
might not even remember who I am. I type out a cover letter with help from a
little Jägermeister. I attack my resume. I hit some Jägermeister. I upload my
resume. I take a hit of Jäger.
I click “Send.” Instantly, I’m
overwhelmed with the feeling that I just sent my resume into space’s black
void, where it will float undisturbed for eons. I open a document called “List
of Applications.” I scroll down to the bottom.
add #303, Account Executive, Sawyer Studios, to the list. May 18, 2014.
I take a hit of Jäger. I’m lightheaded,
and thoughts flow weightlessly through my mind. I sip on Jäger rhythmically as
I lay on my cot. I have no idea where my roommates are. They often disappear
for days. I close my eyes.
had a small mental breakdown ten days ago, and I wasn’t able to look at an
application for a while. I got so discouraged that it swallowed me whole.
I wanted to be a copywriter. And not because I’ve seen every season of Mad Men.
I’m a writer, and writing for a living would work for me. I think getting a
career is simple—you find a skill and you become elite at that. Whether it’s
plumbing or sales or writing, you find what you like, develop it, and become
exceptional at it. That’s how you get money.
breaking into copywriting is next to impossible. You need a dense portfolio to
get an internship at a major ad agency. At the very least, maybe I can get a
job that’s in advertising that’s not that stressful, like an account executive
or something, where you just talk with clients and leave at five. There has to
be a job out there that I’ll enjoy. I used to think I’d just have to buy my
time at a job and write in my breaks and afternoons, but now, I think I can
actually have something that makes me feel fulfilled.
I see the horde turning and turning
around the career fair. The confused, frantic expressions.
I open my eyes. I run my hand through my
hair. My forehead feels warm. I take Jäger. I sit up. I’ve only applied to 19
places today. One more. I search Indeed, weave my way through purple links
until I find a blue one. It’s a copywriter for Huge. I saw it posted a couple
weeks ago, and I applied to it. I guess they didn’t find anyone, so they’re
trying again. I click through.
Their career page begins with “Get paid
for giving a shit.” I give a shit. I have a plethora of shits to give.
I start filling out my cover letter
using the same old forced formal writing.
am writing in regards to your copywriter posting. I believe that I have the
writing ability and marketing experience that makes me the ideal candidate.
you can see from my resume, I am a very experienced writer. I have written for
everything from a theater blog to an ad agency. Although I am still a recent
graduate, I have spent the last four years honing my craft in creative writing
classes and internships. My wide variety of experiences means that I can come
to Huge with a fresh perspective that an older copywriter will not have.
is my dream job, and I will work hard to become an asset to creative team at
Thank you for considering me.
I stop. I hold down the backspace button
until the whole thing disappears. I start again.
writing again to apply for your copywriter position. I applied before, but I’m
doing it again. I shouldn’t be overlooked.
college, I barely qualified for financial aid, and I worked 40 hours a week. I
biked between class, internships, and work day after day (Even in the snow.
It’s worse in the Midwest). I can do this job. It’s just writing
advertisements. I’ve dealt with much heavier things in life.
written every day of my life for the last four years. I’ll have a class taught
about my works in every university 500 years from now. I know that my writing
experience isn’t what you want on paper, but I know that I can be a great
copywriter. It takes hard work to master a craft, and I put in those hours
every day of my life. No one you have on staff writes as well as me or is as
strong a writer as I am. That is a fact. I’m developing early carpal tunnel
because I write so much by hand.
give a shit. I should get paid for that.
I stab the submit button. I feel clarity
wash over me. I toss away the empty Jägermeister bottle. I shower. The summer
heat dries me almost immediately. I decide to go to bed, but really, I just lie
there, my mind racing with thoughts. Finally, I can’t bear it, and I reopen my
laptop. I find the cover letter I sent to Huge and read it five times.
Reluctantly, I swivel to my side and
I wake differently in the morning. I
swiftly pack up my notebook and laptop into my shoulder bag. I make another
meager sandwich. I wear my blood-red shirt, with my black hat, and
black-and-white-dotted tie. Black jeans match everything else. I step outside,
my Converse vigorously taking the sidewalk beneath them.
Laura meets me at Herald Square.
Broadway and 23rd and 4th cut together into an awkward
intersection beside Madison Square Park. The Wafels and Dinges cart takes over
a curb by the Flatiron building. We munch on chocolate-bathed Belgian waffles
“You’re in a good mood.” Laura has
become eternally frazzled. I can’t tell if it’s from late nights or early
mornings at Starbucks.
“Yeah,” I reply with a mouthful of
head down Broadway. I want to ask her opinion of my Huge application, but it bubbles
up within me and doesn’t release. I know she’ll think it was idiotic. I just
don’t want to deal with the reality. Broadway opens to a short street before
reaching Union Square. We whip around the corner and into the four-story Barnes
and Noble, which, despite its size, seems to contain the same amount of books
as any Barnes and Noble.
“Don’t you feel weird in here?” Laura
asks as we pass by the new releases table, which is layered with books that
have minimalistic cover designs, following the latest design trend.
I reply, “It’s a little masochistic, but
seeing all these crap authors reminds me that I will be published, since I’m
better.” Of course, if I’m in the right mood, they discourage me rather than
Laura picks up Factotum from a table. She flips through the thick pages and smells
them. “I have so much nostalgia for Barnes and Noble. Even the smell. Remember
when Mom would drop us off here while she ran errands? We would take books off
the shelf and read them in the back because we thought it was stealing.”
“We were hardcore.”
I sigh and just get it off my chest. “I
got drunk last night and sent an emotional breakdown of a cover letter to
Laura shrugs. “We’ve all been there,
don’t feel bad about it. You haven’t lived until you’ve sent a resume coated in
your own dried tears.”
I pluck On Writing off the table just so I have something to play with.
“Their HR motto was, ‘Get paid for giving a shit.’” I flip through the pages,
letting them swiftly run under my fingertips. “I give a shit. I give so many
shits I have diarrhea.”
Laura chuckles. She holds the Slaughterhouse Five’s edge and leans it
out from the shelf. “But they don’t want diarrhea. They want a ninja coder.”
“A rockstar designer.”
“A social media guru.” She releases the
book, and it plops back into the row. “Somebody wrote that with a straight
face. I can’t fathom the lack of soul it requires to do that.”
“But I’m proud I did it.” I say, “It was
me. It was desperate, awkward, painful, but it was me, and when HR reads that
letter, they’ll know I’m a real person.”
Laura shrugs. “They might even give you
advice on being a copywriter.”
“Exactly. I’m sick of business-speak
because it takes away who you are as a person and replaces you with this
“You’re not afraid it’ll embarrass you?”
“That business-speak lands people jobs. Business
is built around turning humans into capital. By showing you’re a real, feeling
person, you probably won’t get it.”
“They’re not corporate. They definitely
want people, not androids.”
“I guess. I don’t really know. I work in
“Corporate structures are changing. Look
at Facebook. They value their employees as people. It’s totally going to be a
Laura looks me in the eyes. “You’ll be
I sigh. “I’ll believe that when I’m
dead, after living a fulfilling life.”
We head for the second floor. Laura
leans against the escalator’s side, holding the sliding railing. “A four year
degree and 50k in debt, and all I can get is a job as a barista.”
I stand on the step below her. “I’m
“How much savings do you have left?”
“Enough to last until March. Then I’m
kaputt here and return to wonderful Illinois.”
“At least rent is cheap. Dave even said
we could stay at his new place.”
“But the boredom withers you away into
nothing.” We reach the second floor. It’s only pastel children’s books. We head
up the escalator to the third floor. I pass by Laura and stand on the step
above her. “I mean, there is always the money from the policy.”
Laura looks down at the YA shelf as it
disappears beneath us. “I don’t want to touch that money.”
“Her debt barely took a chunk out of it.
We even splurged on the ceremony and still have a lot left.”
She keeps staring at the white wall
below us. “Then have it all, Calvin.”
“I’m not going to use it unless I’m
really desperate. And I’ll get something, even if I have to work two jobs.”
She looks up at me. “Be prepared for it.
I roll my eyes. “You haven’t even
graduated yet, and you’ve given up.”
not like you’re a ringing endorsement for post-grad life. How many applications
is it now?”
“318. Not a single interview.”
We aimlessly wind through the nonfiction
aisles. My phone vibrates. A new email.
“Shit.” I stop. I sit down in a
Laura looks over her shoulder. “What?”
“Calvin, Thank you very much for your
interest and enthusiasm in Huge. At this
time, we do not have an ideal role suited to your experience and skills. Please check in with us from time to time as
our needs evolve. We will keep you in
our records for future potential opportunities. We wish you the best of luck in
your job search and please feel free to apply again in the future. We’d love to
keep in touch, you can find us at: Twitter.com/hugeinc.
Warm regards, The Huge Recruiting Team”
“What did you expect?”
“A human being.” I start reading over
the email again.
“Despite their legal status,
corporations aren’t humans.”
“I don’t think they even read my letter.
They probably put my resume into a filing program, saw that it didn’t have
enough keywords, and booted it out.”
“I’m sure someone read it.”
“And if they did, then they ignored me.
They couldn’t just help me out with a little job search advice?”
“Nobody cares, Calvin.”
“Maybe if I bomb their offices, they’ll
give me attention.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. They can’t hire
you if they don’t have an office. Send anthrax to the senior copywriter.
Assassinations create job openings, not terrorism.”
I tap my phone against my forehead and
groan. “Now I need liquor, and job applications blew my budget.”
“I’ll pay. But next time make sure to
budget for the pre- and post-application binges.”
move towards First Avenue, where we find a tiny corner liquor store on 15th
street. Laura buys me a small Jack Daniels flask. She purchases Jim Bean for
herself. Brown bags cover both bottles, expect for the cap. “The liquor nulls
the pain in my legs after a shift,” she adds. An old customer lingers, talking
to the old cashier behind the counter. Regulars always mill about these delis
and shops and bodegas.
we turn down narrow 15th Street. Laura quickly glances around,
unscrews the cap on her bottle, and, clutching the brown bag tightly around the
bottle’s neck, leans back for a swift, but deep, swig.
a quiet street, for New York. There’s only five people on it. We pass by a
corner bar, then apartments, whose window lights are vivid in the night.
“I’m sorry I bitch a lot. It’s just that
I want things so badly.” I decide to join Laura in the no-fucks-given party and
unscrew my Jack Daniels. “Especially just getting published. It burns in me. Do
you, like, have a passion?”
“I have goals and a passion.” Laura
takes another sip before shuttling across the street.
I catch her as we hit the next block.
“What are they?”
“I don’t really want to tell you.”
“You can trust me.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“But we’re twins.”
“We’re supposed to open up.”
Laura stops. She stuffs the brown bag
under her arm as she fishes out her lighter and Marlboros. She lights a
cigarette. She puts her lighter and cigarette box into her pocket. She holds
her brown bag against her chest. She takes a deep drag.
She stares at a faraway place.
I’m about to talk before she cuts me
“I feel like my leg is cut off, and I’m
begging for death so that the pain and agony and bleeding can finally end.” She
falls back against the brick wall behind her. Her head cocks to her shoulder,
and she stares at her sneakers. “The whole world isn’t at our feet. It’s out of
I shake my head. I know where she’s
going. “I can’t quit. I can’t entertain the thought. I’ve had to scratch and
claw for every shred of happiness in my life, and I’m becoming very good at
scratching and clawing.”
Laura looks up, her head still cocked to
I pace, burning off energetic
frustration. “I just want to end the struggle. I’d love to be mundane. I’d love
to be normal and have a wife, two daughters, and a big house in the suburbs.
Just live in financial and emotional security, never really having to struggle
for anything anymore.”
Laura traces her cigarette like a crayon
on the bricks. “I just want a peaceful oblivion.”
We walk in silence
back to Union Square. It gets busier. Now, there’s swarms on the sidewalk. A
homeless man prowls the curb. He chucks incoherent babble at passerby. He
throws his entire will into each scream, his body rippling as his voice gutters
out from his throat. “YOU. I SEE YOU KID. I SEE YOU. YOU DON’T WALK AWAY FROM
ME. YOU HAVE A RED SHIRT ON. YOU DON’T GET INTO ANY TROUBLE.” Laura and I join the
crowd in passing him without a glance.
Tommy Partl has been published in Illumination Magazine and The Pennsylvania Literary Journal. He also writes for A Place To Hang Your Cape and NY Theatre Guide.