It Starts Here (14th/8th)
by Melissa Goode
Nate walked towards me, lit only by the television playing above the bar and low lamps behind the army of liquor bottles. If he raised his hand to fist bump, I would cry. He didn’t.
“Hey, Meg,” he said. “You want a Coke?”
He knew that I worked the overnight shift at the Marriott Hotel and would be fired if they smelled liquor on me.
He poured the drink using a soda gun. I imagined his apartment, him taking us there and pouring us each a glass of wine. I gave him three dollars and he gave me one back, as he did every time.
“It’s only a Coke,” he said.
Nate stood behind the bar, watching for a finished drink, a raised finger, a new arrival. I sat on a stool, sipped my Coke and the ice cubes clicked. He was one foot away.
At a neighborhood party earlier in the week, Nate and I talked about music—in particular, how shit it was at the party and how much better it could be. Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” came on and we both smiled.
“It just got better,” Nate said.
“Are we too young for this?”
“Probably,” he said. “We could dance to it. Old style. Me leading. Want to?”
Before I could answer, an older black woman, Shirley, came over, took his arm, and said, “Nate. You need to meet Angela. Excuse us, Meg”.
She drew him towards a black woman in the corner who was so beautiful, she had to be famous. Nate glanced back over his shoulder at me and I smiled, my face burning, go, go on. She is stunning. Have babies.
I left the party and walked back to my apartment—a box above the CleanSuds Laundromat on 14th Street. A blind man crossed the street with his white cane and the traffic stopped for him. My heart did too for at least a few seconds.
The Laundromat was still open at ten o’clock. It smelled of detergent and was warm with machines washing and drying. I went to bed, still clothed. The gentle rumble and hum was soothing and I floated away as if in a little boat.
I was drinking my perfect Coke, when Nate said to me, “Did you want to—?”
“What?” I said.
What? Go to the rooftop of the Met? Get lost with me in Central Park? Catch a train on the subway and stand pressed against each other even though we don’t have to? Even though the train is almost empty at five AM?
“Did you want to get some food?” Nate said.
People ate burgers further down the bar.
“I’ve already eaten.”
He smiled. “I meant another time. Not here. Not now.”
“Oh,” I said. “Yes. Yes.”
Four o’clock, Saturday afternoon at Chelsea Markets. We were meeting up and I should have remembered it would be like this, crowded with too many people. I faced the fluorescent pink waterfall, wanting to slow dive into it. Someone touched my back and I spun around.
“Breathe,” Nate said.
“Three people have already asked me for directions.”
“You’re a white girl. You’re approachable. It’s your cross,” he said. He smiled. “Did you want to eat?”
Walking down 14th Street, approaching Eighth Avenue, a black couple moved slowly before us.
The man shouted, “I got nowhere to go. I got nothin’ to do.”
“Jesus,” Nate murmured. “I hate that shit.”
I gripped his upper arm—it was stiff, unyielding and I let go. As we passed the couple, Nate took my hand. The man behind us yelled and, although I couldn’t hear what he said, I knew it was derogatory and it was aimed at us.
“This whole fucking country needs to change,” Nate said, quietly.
He looked over at me as if from far away, but he didn’t say, it won’t change, it never will. All of that immense history bore down on us and it was still going while my hand was enclosed in his.
I raised his hand and kissed his palm. Shock travelled all the way down his arm—it was electric—I tapped a current in him.
We walked down the street until we reached my apartment—it was automatic, as if we were led there. It was even tinier with two people inside. The twin bed pushed against a wall with a sash window above the bed, and a single chair at the desk.
“There is really nowhere to sit,” I said.
He said nothing.
The room was warm. I shoved open the window and that toasty, laundry smell wafted up to us, delicious, like something we could eat.
We drank vodka. It was all I had. We stood beside each other, leaning against the desk. He radiated heat. He took up the whole room, the whole building, the entire city. I switched on the stereo and it played “If I Needed You”. I wasn’t able to stop playing that song since the party and forgot it was on repeat.
I went to change it, but he said, “Meg. Don’t,” and smiled over his glass at me and it was gradual as if we had all day. Downstairs, from a subterranean depth, the machines whirred and rumbled, over and over.
“How long do we have?” Nate said, and closed his eyes. “That sounded bad.”
I shrugged. “We both have to work. I start at nine tonight.”
“Seven,” he said. It was almost five. “Work is only around the corner for me.”
Tonight I would fly to Midtown, all the way down Eighth Avenue, either beneath it on the A train or three feet above the earth. I drank the vodka, I didn’t sip it, and fire tore through me all the way down. Nate laughed. I put the glass on the desk and it could have been the crack of a starter pistol. Now.