Rusted forges of guilt and abjection mold my thoughts. The thick, sticky air of industry is stagnant as loud reverberations ring through my consciousness. My life steams towards a hidden iceberg and behind me, the music continues. A crowd of people sway at the bar, their arms are stretched over one another’s shoulders, waving tens and twenties at the barman. A railing runs along the balcony, keeping the dodos in check. The shiny, polished silver is impervious to the greasy, alcohol soaked hands that latch onto. It feels cool and I hold it tightly. Twenty floors below, in the narrow space between the sidewalk and the side of the building, I watch people drift past, ignoring the crowd pulsing around me. A breeze comes off the river, it pushes my hair back and I close my eyes.
I was born in Arizona in an oven of heat. Large cactus surrounded my house, they cast elegant shadows as the sun set lazily on the horizon. I would lay in the shadows and look up into the sky as it transitioned from blue, to orange, then purple; stopping at black. After a cloudless day, the earth was hot to the touch and I could feel my body soaking up the suns energy from the warm sand. Lying in the shade of a great thorny cactus, I dreamt of overpasses and neon signs.
Says the man to my left, leaning against the railing with a drink in his right hand. He has a short haircut and a dark beard that’s been growing for several days. His face is average, except for the nose. It’s magnificent size leads him into rooms, well ahead of his body. A green shirt fits loosely, but fails to hide his muscular demeanor. His face and arms are golden brown, lending him the look of a consistent construction worker. A toothpick juts carelessly from his mouth. This man, who must surely take orders from his prominent nose, drawls this introduction without turning to me.
After a deliberate glance at him, I turn back to face the river and return the greeting to New York at large, caring little if he receives it or not. I watch a fishing boat move leisurely towards the ocean and my thoughts drift towards the future. A moment passes and then the man’s voice, a force of nature, grabs me and pulls me into the deep water. The current is too strong to fight as he turns to face me, staring at the side of my head.
“I know why you are here.”
His shoulders are relaxed and his eyes hold onto the sun that disappeared hours ago. With a flick of his tongue, the toothpick moves from one side of his mouth to the other. I pay attention to him peripherally, preferring not to give him an encouragement.
“You’re looking for someone ‘aint you.”
He says this with the casual assurance of a statement. I swivel my head and we hold true eye contact for the first time. I select my words with care, like a grandmother choosing fruit at the supermarket.
“Yes, but I’m not sure that I will ever find that person.”
He looks at me. His eyes are curious and mocking. I continue.
“I came to New York looking for someone. I’ve been looking in the bars and cafes, and around every corner I expect to find this person, but he seems to be alluding me. I’ve been in New York a week. It feels like a month.”
As I speak, my attention drifts out onto the streets below us. Yellow taxi cabs pull up and people get out. Expensive cars restrain their speed as they drive over the uneven cobblestone street. My eyes latch onto a girl in bright silver as she walks down the street. Inexplicably, she is walking alone and I feel a rush of emotion, a lust to go meet her. I want to ask her why she’s alone, what do we have in common? I track her progress, never losing sight of the silver dress, forgetting about the man to my left.
“I have been looking for you, you know.”
My shoulders tense and my grip tightens on the railing. His words snap me back into the present. I look up from the streets and when I look back down, the silver girl is gone. Feeling as though I’ve been forced to lose something valuable, I turn to the man and address him with agitation in my voice.
“Who are you?”
“Billy sent me. He wants me to make sure your having a good time in the city.”
He says it and before I have time to react, I feel a muscular hand under my left armpit. A smile creep onto his face and the toothpick quivers at the corner of his mouth. His face is now inches from mine, our noses nearly touch as I stare into his cool blue eyes. I can feel his sticky warm breath on my face, wet with the smell of rum.
“Skipping town was a bad move. You knew he’d find you, it woulda been better if you’d stayed and worked out a deal.”
Under his iron firm grasp, I can’t muster the strength to fight back. Understanding the gravity of my situation, the blood drains from my face and my knees feel weak. I look deeper into the blue eyes, looking for a sign of humanity. Aware of my effort, he lets me look. When we are both satisfied that there is no remorse to be found, he offers a final sentence.
“Well, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. I probly’ never would have gotten the chance to do this if you had stayed put”
Drink and all, he deftly flips me over the polished railing, sending me down to the pavement. I fly past balconies and catch momentary reflections in polished glass. Ten stories from the pavement and I find the girl in silver. She’s walking away from me and her dress is flowing behind her. In a different world, in a city without dangerous men and unpaid debts, we would have been together.