You By Caroline Kepnes: Book Review
Since the world read Gone Girl, the publishing industry has been desperately seeking the next page-turner-cum-million-dollar-money-spinner.
Next came word-of-mouth sensation The Girl On The Train, which proved our appetite for fast thrillers with interesting women was not going anywhere.
Now, You is vying for the same bestseller top spot.
This book has had numerous comparisons – everything, from Gone Girl to a sinister Girls. Our take? “The Talented Mr Ripley meets American Psycho”.
The story starts when Joe spots Guinevere Beck as she walks into the bookshop he works in.
What follows next is a spiralling obsession. Order for your beach reading now.
You By Caroline Kepnes: Book Extract
You walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. You’re so clean that you’re dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte’s Web and where did you come from?
You are classic and compact, my own little Natalie Portman circa the end of the movie Closer, when she’s fresh-faced and done with the bad British guys and going home to America. You’ve come home to me, delivered at last, on a Tuesday, 10:06a.m. Every day I commute to this shop on the Lower East Side from my place in Bed-Stuy. Every day I close up without finding anyone like you. Look at you, born
into my world today. I’m shaking and I’d pop an Ativan but they’re downstairs and I don’t want to pop an Ativan. I don’t want to come down. I want to be here, fully, watching you bite your unpainted nails and turn your head to the left, no, bite that pinky, widen those eyes, to the right, no, reject biographies, self-help (thank God), and slow down when you make it to fiction.
I let you disappear into the stacks—Fiction F–K—and you’re not the standard insecure nymph hunting for Faulkner you’ll never finish, never start; Faulkner that will harden and calcify, if books could calcify, on your nightstand; Faulkner meant only to convince one-night stands that you mean it when you swear you never do this kind of thing. No, you’re not like those girls. You don’t stage Faulkner and your jeans hang loose and you’re too sun-kissed for Stephen King and too untrendy for Heidi Julavits and who, who will you buy? You sneeze, loudly, and I imagine how loud you are when you climax. “God bless you!” I call out.
You giggle and holler back, you horny girl, “You too, buddy.”
Buddy. You’re flirting and if I was the kind of asshole who Instagrams, I would photograph the F–K placard and filter the shit out of that baby and caption it:
F—K yes, I found her.
Calm down, Joe. They don’t like it when a guy comes on too strong, I remind myself. Thank God for a customer and it’s hard to scan his predictable Salinger—then again, it’s always hard to do that. This guy is, what, thirty-six and he’s only now reading Franny and Zooey? And let’s get real. He’s not reading it. It’s just a front for the Dan Browns in the bottom of his basket. Work in a bookstore and learn that most people in this world feel guilty about being who they are. I bag the Dan Brown first like it’s kiddie porn and tell him Franny and Zooey is the shit and he nods and you’re still in F–K because I can see your beige sweater through the stacks, barely. If you reach any higher, I’ll see your belly. But you won’t. You grab a book and sit down in the aisle and maybe you’ll stay here all night. Maybe it’ll be like the Natalie Portman movie Where the Heart Is, adapted faithlessly from the Billie Letts book—above par for that kind of crud—and I’ll find you in the middle of the night. Only you won’t be pregnant and I won’t be the meek man in the movie. I’ll lean over and say,
“Excuse me, miss, but we’re closed” and you’ll look up and smile. “Well, I’m not closed.” A breath. “I’m wide open. Buddy.”
“Hey.” Salinger-Brown bites. He’s still here? He’s still here. “Can I get a receipt?”
“Sorry about that.”
He grabs it out of my hand. He doesn’t hate me. He hates himself. If people could handle their self-loathing, customer service would be smoother.
“You know what, kid? You need to get over yourself. You work in a bookstore. You don’t make the books. You don’t write the books and if you were any good at reading the books, you probably wouldn’t work in a bookstore. So wipe that judgmental look off your face and tell me to have a nice day.”
This man could say anything in the world to me and he’d still be the one shame-buying Dan Brown. You appear now with your intimate Portman smile, having heard the motherfucker. I look at you. You look at him and he’s still looking at me, waiting.
“Have a nice day, sir,” I say and he knows I don’t mean it, hates that he craves platitudes from a stranger. When he’s gone, I call out again because you’re listening, “You enjoy that Dan Brown, motherfucker!”
You walk over, laughing, and thank God it’s morning, and we’re dead in the morning and nobody is gonna get in our way. You put your basket of books down on the counter and you sass, “You gonna judge me too?”
“What an asshole, right?”
“Eh, probably just in a mood.”
You’re a sweetheart. You see the best in people. You complement me.
“Well,” I say and I should shut up and I want to shut up but you make me want to talk. “That guy is the reason that Blockbuster shouldn’t have gone under.”
You look at me. You’re curious and I want to know about you but I can’t ask so I just keep talking.
“Everybody is always striving to be better, lose five pounds, read five books, go to a museum, buy a classical record and listen to it and like it. What they really want to do is eat doughnuts, read magazines, buy pop albums. And books? Fuck books. Get a Kindle. You know why Kindles are so successful?”
You laugh and you shake your head and you’re listening to me at the point when most people drift, go into their phone. And you’re pretty and you ask, “Why?”
“I’ll tell you why. The Internet put porn in your home—”
I just said porn, what a dummy, but you’re still listening, what a doll.
“And you didn’t have to go out and get it. You didn’t have to make eye contact with the guy at the store who now knows you like watching girls get spanked. Eye contact is what keeps us civilized.”
Your eyes are almonds and I go on. “Revealed.”
You don’t wear a wedding ring and I go on. “Human.”
You are patient and I need to shut up but I can’t. “And the Kindle, the Kindle takes all the integrity out of reading, which is exactly what the Internet did to porn. The checks and balances are gone. You can read your Dan Brown in public and in private all at once. It’s the end of civilization. But—”
“There’s always a but,” you say and I bet you come from a big family of healthy, loving people who hug a lot and sing songs around a campfire.
“But with no places to buy movies or albums, it’s come down to books. There are no more video stores so there are no more nerds who work in video stores and quote Tarantino and fight about Dario Argento and hate on people who rent Meg Ryan movies. That act, the interaction between seller and buyer, is the most important two-way street we got. And you can’t just eradicate two-way streets like that and not expect a fallout, you know?”
I don’t know if you know but you don’t tell me to stop talking the way people sometimes do and you nod. “Hmm.”
“See, the record store was the great equalizer. It gave the nerds power—‘You’re really buying Taylor Swift?’—even though all those nerds went home and jerked it to Taylor Swift.”
Stop saying Taylor Swift. Are you laughing at me or with me?
“Anyway,” I say, and I’ll stop if you tell me to.
“Anyway,” you say, and you want me to finish.
“The point is, buying stuff is one of the only honest things we do. That guy didn’t come in here for Dan Brown or Salinger. That guy came in here to confess.”
“Are you a priest?”
“No. I’m a church.”
You look at your basket and I sound like a deranged loner and I look in your basket. Your phone. You don’t see it, but I do. It’s cracked. It’s in a yellow case. This means that you only take care of yourself when you’re beyond redemption. I bet you take zinc the third day of a cold. I pick up your phone and try to make a joke.
“You steal this off that guy?”
You take your phone and you redden. “Me and this phone . . .” you say. “I’m a bad mommy.”
Mommy. You’re dirty, you are.
You smile and you’re definitely not wearing a bra. You take the books out of the basket and put the basket on the floor and look at me like it wouldn’t be remotely possible for me to criticize anything you ever did. Your nipples pop. You don’t cover them. You notice the Twizzlers I keep by the register. You point, hungry. “Can I?”
“Yes,” I say, and I am feeding you already. I pick up your first book, Impossible Vacation by Spalding Gray. “Interesting,” I say. “Most people get his monologues. This is a great book, but it’s not a book that people go around buying, particularly young women who don’t appear to be contemplating suicide, given the fate of the author.”
“Well, sometimes you just want to go where it’s dark, you know?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah.”
If we were teenagers, I could kiss you. But I’m on a platform behind a counter wearing a name tag and we’re too old to be young. Night moves don’t work in the morning, and the light pours in through the windows. Aren’t bookstores supposed to be dark?
Note to self: Tell Mr. Mooney to get blinds. Curtains. Anything.
I pick up your second book, Desperate Characters by one of my favorite authors, Paula Fox. This is a good sign, but you could be buying it because you read on some stupid blog that she’s Courtney Love’s biological grandmother. I can’t be sure that you’re buying Paula Fox because you came to her the right way, from a Jonathan Franzen essay.
You reach into your wallet. “She’s the best, right? Kills me that she’s not more famous, even with Franzen gushing about her, you know?”
Thank God. I smile. “The Western Coast.”
You look away. “I haven’t gone there yet.” I look at you and you put your hands up, surrender. “Don’t shoot.” You giggle and I wish your nipples were still hard. “I’m gonna read The Western Coast someday and Desperate Characters I’ve read a zillion times. This one’s for a friend.”
“Uh-huh,” I say and the red lights flash danger. For a friend.
“It’s probably a waste of time. He won’t even read it. But at least she sells a book, right?”
“True.” Maybe he’s your brother or your dad or a gay neighbor, but I know he’s a friend and I stab at the calculator.
“It’s thirty-one fifty-one.”
“Holy money. See, that’s why Kindles rule,” you say as you reach into your Zuckerman’s pig-pink wallet and hand me your credit card even though you have enough cash in there to cover it. You want me to know your name and I’m no nut job and I swipe your card and the quiet between us is getting louder and why didn’t I put on music today and I can’t think of anything to say.
“Here we go.” And I offer you the receipt.
“Thanks,” you murmur. “This is a great shop.”
You’re signing and you are Guinevere Beck. Your name is a poem and your parents are assholes, probably, like most parents. Guinevere. Come on.
“Thank you, Guinevere.”
“I really just go by Beck. Guinevere’s kinda long and ridiculous, you know?”
“Well, Beck, you look different in person. Also, Midnite Vultures is awesome.”
You take your bag of books and you don’t break eye contact because you want me to see you seeing me. “Right on, Goldberg.”
“Nah, I just go by Joe. Goldberg is kind of long and ridiculous, ya know?”
We’re laughing and you wanted to know my name as much as I wanted to know yours or you wouldn’t have read my name tag. “Sure you don’t wanna grab The Western Coast while you’re here?”
“This will sound crazy, but I’m saving it. For my nursing home list.”
“You mean bucket list.”
“Oh no, that’s totally different. A nursing home list is a list of things you plan on reading and watching in a nursing home. A bucket list is more like . . . visit Nigeria, jump out of an airplane. A nursing home list is like, read The Western Coast and watch Pulp Fiction and listen to the latest Daft Punk album.”
“I can’t picture you in a nursing home.”
You blush. You are Charlotte’s Web and I could love you. “Aren’t you gonna tell me to have a nice day?”
“Have a nice day, Beck.”
You smile. “Thanks, Joe.”
You didn’t walk in here for books, Beck. You didn’t have to say my name. You didn’t have to smile or listen or take me in. But you did. Your signature is on the receipt. This wasn’t a cash transaction and it wasn’t a coded debit. This was real. I press my thumb into the wet ink on your receipt and the ink of Guinevere Beck stains my skin.Next chapter
I came to know e. e. cummings the way most sensitive, intelligent men my age came to e. e. cummings, via one of the most romantic scenes in one of the most romantic love stories of all time, Hannah and Her Sisters, wherein an intelligent, sophisticated, married New Yorker named Elliot (Michael Caine) falls in love with his sister-in-law (Barbara Hershey). He has to be careful. He can’t casually make a move. He waits near her apartment and stages a run-in. Brilliant, romantic. Love takes work. She is surprised to run into him and she takes him to the Pageant Bookstore—are you catching a theme here?—where he buys a book of e. e. cummings poems for her and sends her to the poem on page 112.
She sits alone in bed, reading the poem, and he, meanwhile, stands alone in his bathroom thinking of her as we hear her reading. My favorite part of the poem:
Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.
Except for you, Beck. These past few days, I’ve learned so much. You put your tiny hands to work on yourself when the mood strikes, which it does, often, which reminds me of another joke in Hannah, where Mia Farrow teases Woody Allen that he ruined himself with excessive masturbation. You’re okay, I hope.
The trouble with society is that if the average person knew about us—you, alone, orgasming three times a night, and me, across the street, watching you orgasm, alone—most people would say I’m the fuckup. Well, it’s no secret that most people are fucking idiots. Most people like cheap mysteries and most people have never heard of Paula Fox or Hannah so honestly, Beck, fuck most people, right?
Besides, I like that you take care of yourself instead of filling your home and your pussy with a string of inadequate men. You’re the answer to every banal and reductive article about “hook-up culture.” You have standards and you are Guinevere, a love story waiting for the one, and I bet you capitalize The One when you dream of him. Of me. Everyone wants everything right now but you are able to wait with
Such small hands.
Your name was a glorious place to start. Lucky for us, there aren’t a lot of Guinevere Becks in the world—just the one. The first thing I had to find was your home and the Internet was designed with love in mind. It gave me so much of you, Beck, your Twitter profile:
I’ve never had an unspoken thought. I write stories. I read stories. I talk to strangers. Nantucket is my homeboy but New York is my homebitch.
Your revealing bios at various online journals that publish your blogs (unless you want to call them essays), and your thinly veiled diary entries (unless you want to call them short stories), and the poems you write sometimes have fleshed you out. You are a writer born and raised on Nantucket and you joke about island inbreeding (but you aren’t inbred), and sailing (you are petrified of boats), and alcoholism (you lost your father to the bottle and write about it a lot). Your family is as tight as it is loose. You don’t know how to be here, in the city where nobody knows anybody, even though you had four years of practice as an undergrad at Brown. You got in off the wait list and you remain convinced that there was some sort of mistake. You like polenta and cherry pie Lärabars. You don’t take pictures of food or concerts but you do Instagram (but really only old things, pictures of your dead father, pictures of beach days you can’t possibly remember). You have a brother, Clyde. Your parents really were assholes about the names. You have a sister, Anya (serious assholes, but not the kind I thought). Real estate records show that your house has been in your family forever. You hail from farmers and you’re fond of saying that you don’t have “a place” on Nantucket, but that your family made a home there. Full of disclaimers, you’re like a warning label on a pack of cigarettes.
Anya is an islander and she’ll never leave. She’s the baby who wants nothing more than walks on the beach and the clear division of summer and the desolation endemic to a seasonal tourist trap. Anya is fucked in the head over your dad. You write about her in your stories and you turn her into a young boy or an aging blind woman or, once, a lost squirrel, but it’s clear that you’re writing about your sister. You envy her. How come she doesn’t have the weight of ambition? You pity her. How come she has no ambition?
Clyde is the oldest, and he gets to run the family’s taxi business 12 on the island. He’s married with two kids and he’s the paint-by-numbers parent of the family. That much is clear from his picture in the local paper: a volunteer fireman, leather-skinned, standard-issue American man. Your dad has the record of any small-town boozer and he’s not above a DUI or a public intoxication and your brother responded by being the opposite—sober, extremely sober. If you had been born first, running the family business might have been an option. But you were a classic middle child and you did well in school and your whole life you were labeled “the hope,” the one who would get away.
The Internet is a beautiful thing and you sent a tweet an hour after we met that day:
I smell cheeseburgers. #CornerBistroIsMakingMeFat
And let me tell you, for a moment there, I was concerned. Maybe I wasn’t special. You didn’t even mention me, our conversation. Also: I talk to strangers is a line in your Twitter bio. I talk to strangers. What the fuck is that, Beck? Children are not supposed to talk to strangers but you are an adult. Or is our conversation nothing to you? Am I just another stranger? Is your Twitter bio your subtle way of announcing that you’re an attention whore who has no standards and will give audience to any poor schmuck who says hello? Was I nothing to you? You don’t even mention the guy in the bookstore? Fuck, I thought, maybe I was wrong. Maybe we had nothing. But then I started to explore you and you don’t write about what really matters. You wouldn’t share me with your followers. Your online life is a variety show, so if anything, the fact that you didn’t put me in your stand-up act means that you covet me. Maybe even more than I realize, since right now your hand is heading down to your cunt yet again.
The next thing the Internet gave me was your address. Fifty-One Bank Street. Are you fucking kidding me? This isn’t a frenzied Midtown block where harried worker bees storm to and from the office. This is tony, sleepy, ridiculously safe and expensive West Village real estate. I can’t just hang out on your block; I have to fit in with the la-di-da folk. I hit up the thrift store. I buy a suit (businessman and/or driver and/or kept man), carpenter pants and some kind of tool belt (handyman on a break), and a bullshit tracksuit (asshole taking care of his precious body). I wear the suit for my first visit and I love it here, Beck. It’s quintessential Old New York and I expect Edith Wharton and Truman Capote to cross the street hand in hand, each carrying a Greek paper cup of coffee, looking as they did in their heyday, as if they’d been preserved in formaldehyde. Princesses live on this block and Sid Vicious died on this block a long time ago, when the princesses were gestating, when Manhattan was still cool. I stand across the street and your windows are open (no curtains) and I watch you pour instant oatmeal into a Tupperware bowl. You are not a princess. Your Twitter confirms that you won some kind of real estate lottery:
Um, not to sound like @AnnaKendrick47, but I love you awesome nerds of the @BrownBiasedNYC and I can’t wait to move to Bank St.
I sit down on the stoop and Google. The Brownstone Biased Lottery is an essay contest for Brown University graduates who need housing for graduate school in New York. The apartment has stayed in the Brown family (whatever that means exactly) for years. You’re an MFA candidate in fiction writing, so it’s no surprise that you won a lottery that’s actually an essay contest. And Anna Kendrick is an actress in this movie Pitch Perfect, which is about college girls who sing in a cappella competitions. You see yourself in this girl, which makes no sense. I watched that Pitch movie. That girl would never live the way you do.
People pass by your parlor level apartment, ever so slightly above ground level, and they don’t stop to stare even though you’re on display. Your two windows are wide open and you are lucky this is not a well-trafficked street. This must explain the deluded sense of privacy you have. I return the next evening (same suit, can’t help it) and you walk around naked in front of the open windows. Naked! I hang out again across the street on the stoop and you don’t notice me and nobody notices you or me and is everyone here fucking blind?
Days pass and I grow anxious. You parade too much and it’s unsafe and it only takes one weirdo to spot you inside and decide to go and get you. A few days later I wear my carpenter costume and I fantasize about putting bars on your windows, protecting this display case you call a home. I think of this neighborhood as safe, and it is, but there’s deathliness to the quiet here. I could probably strangle some old man in the middle of the street and nobody would come outside to stop me.
I return in my suit (so much better than carpenter garb) and I wear a Yankees cap I found at another thrift shop (I’m that asshole!) to mix it up, just in case you were to notice, which you don’t. A man who lives in your building climbs the very small staircase (just three steps) that leads to an exterior door (it’s not locked!) and that door is so close to your apartment. If he wanted to (and who wouldn’t want to?), he could lean over the railing and rap his knuckles on your screen and call your name.
I come in the day, in the night, and whenever I am here, your windows are always open. It’s like you’ve never seen the nightly news or a horror movie and I sit on the steps of the brownstone across the tiny, clean street that faces your building and I pretend to read Paula Fox’s Poor George or pretend to text my business associates (ha!) or pretend to call a friend who’s late and loudly agree to wait another twenty minutes. (That’s for the neighbor who always might be hidden away, suspicious of the man on the stoop; I’ve seen a lot of movies.) With your open-door policy, I am allowed into your world. I smell your Lean Cuisines if the wind is right and I hear your Vampire Weekend and if I pretend to yawn and look up, I can see you loaf, yawn, breathe. Were you always like this? I wonder if you were this way in Providence, parading around as if you want your rarified neighbors to know you naked, half-naked, addicted to microwave foods, and masturbating at the top of your lungs. Hopefully not, hopefully there is logic to this that you’ll explain to me when it’s time. And you with your computer, as if you need to remind your imaginary audience that you’re a writer when we (I) know what you truly are: a performer, an exhibitionist.
And all the while, I have to be vigilant. I slick my hair back one day and wear it shaggy the next. I must go unnoticed by the people who don’t notice people. After all, if the average person was told about an often nude girl prancing around in front of an open window and a love-struck guy across the street watching, discreetly, most people would say I’m the nut. But you’re the nut. You’re just not called a nut because your pussy is a thing that all these people want to know about, whereas my whole being is abhorrent to your neighbors. I live in a sixth-floor walk-up in Bed-Stuy. I didn’t allow my nut sack to be raided by the College Loan Society of Bullshit. I get paid under the table and own a TV with an antenna. These people don’t want to touch my dick with a ten-foot pole. Your pussy, on the other hand, is gold.
I sip my coffee on the stoop across the street and grip my rolled-up Wall Street Journal and I breathe and I look at you. I never wear the tracksuit because you make me want to dress up, Beck. Two weeks pass and a portly dowager emerges from her quarters. I stand, fucked, but a gentleman.
“Hello, madam,” I say and I offer my assistance.
She accepts. “It’s about time you young men learned how to behave,” she rasps.
“Couldn’t agree more,” I say and the driver of her town car opens the door. He nods to me, brothers. I could do this forever and I settle back onto my stoop.Next chapter
Is this why people like reality TV? Your world is a wonder to me, seeing where you lounge (in cotton panties bought in bulk online from Victoria’s Secret; I saw you tear into the package the other day) and where you don’t sleep (you sit on that couch and read crap online). You make me think; maybe you’re searching for that hot guy in the bookstore, maybe. This is where you write, sitting so erect with your hair in a bun and typing at bunny-rabbit speed until you can’t take it anymore and you grab that lime-green pillow, the same pillow you prop your head against when you nap, and you mount that thing like an animal. Release. This is where you sleep, at last.
Also, your apartment is small as hell. You were right when you tweeted:
I live in a shoebox. Which is ok bc I don’t blow Benjamins on Manolos. @BrownBiasedNYC #Rebel
My #BrownUniversity mug is bigger than my apartment. @BrownBiasedNYC #realestate #NYC
There’s no kitchen, just an area where appliances are shoved together like clearance floor samples at Bed Bath & Beyond. But there’s truth buried in your tweet. You hate it here. You grew up in a big house with a backyard and a front yard. You like space. That’s why you leave the windows open. You don’t know how to be alone with yourself. And if you block out the world, there you’d be.
Your neighbors go on, like children—town cars pick them up from their enormous nearby homes and redeposit them at day’s end— while you fester in a space meant for a maid or a golden retriever with a sprained ankle. But I don’t blame you for staying here. You and I share a love of the West Village and if I could move into this place, I would too, even if it meant slowly going insane from claustrophobia. You made the right choice, Beck. Your mother was wrong:
Mom says no “lady” should live in a shoebox. @BrownBiasedNYC #momlogic #notalady
You tweet more often than you write and this could be why you’re getting your MFA from the New School and not from Columbia. Columbia rejected you:
Rejection is a dish best served in a paper envelope because then at least you can tear it up or burn it. #notintoColumbia #lifegoeson
And you were right. Life did go on. Though the New School isn’t as prestigious, the teachers and students like you well enough. A lot of their workshops are accessible online. A lot of college is accessible online, which is yet another strike against the increasingly irrelevant elitist system that they call “college.” Your writing is coming along, and if you spent a little less time tweeting and spanking the kitty . . . But honestly, Beck, if I were in your skin, I’d never even put clothes on.
You like to name things and I wonder what you’ll name me. You are attempting to have a Twitter contest for the name of your apartment:
How about #Boxsmallerthanmybox
A cabbie lays on his horn because some freshly showered asshole who crawled out of a Bret Easton Ellis rough draft that never saw the light of day is crossing the street without looking. He says sorry but he doesn’t mean it and he’s running his hand through his blond hair.
He has too much hair.
And he’s walking up those steps like he owns them, like they were built for him and the door opens before he’s there and that’s you opening the door and now you’re there, guiding him inside and kissing him before the door slows to a close and now your hands
Such small hands
are in his hair and I can’t see either of you until you’re in the living room and he sits on the couch and you tear off your tank top and climb on top of him and you grind like a stripper, and this is all wrong, Beck. He tears off your cotton panties and he’s spanking you and you’re yelping and I cross the street and lean against your building door because I need to hear it.
Sorry, Daddy! Sorry!
Say it again, little girl.
I’m sorry, Daddy.
You’re a bad girl.
I’m a bad girl.
You want a spanking, don’t you?
Yes, Daddy, I want a spanking.
He’s in your mouth. He barks at you. He slaps at you. Once in a while Truman Capote walks by and looks, reacts, then looks away. Nobody will report this to the police because nobody wants to admit to watching. This is Bank Street for fuck’s sake. And now you’re fucking him and I return to my side of the street where I see that he’s not making love to you. You’re grabbing his hair—too much hair—like it might save you and your stories. You deserve better and it can’t feel good, the way he grips you, big weak hands that never worked, the way he smacks your ass when he’s done. You hop off and you lean against him and he pushes you away and you let him smoke in your apartment and he ashes in your Brown mug—bigger than your apartment—and you watch your Pitch Perfect while he smokes and texts and pushes you away when you lean into him. You look sad and
Nobody in the world has such small hands
except for you and me. Why am I so sure? Three months ago, before you knew me you wrote this tweet:
Can we all be honest and admit we know #eecummings because of #Hannahandhersisters? Okay phew. #nomoreBS #endofpretension
See how you were talking to me before you even knew me? When he leaves, he isn’t holding Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. He is a blond misogynist popping his collar and blowing hair out of his eyes. He just used you and he is not your friend and I have to leave. You need a shower.
Before you, there was Candace. She was stubborn too, so I’m gonna be patient with you, same way I was patient with her. I am not gonna hold it against you that in that old, bulky laptop computer of yours you write about every fucking thing in the world except me. I am no idiot, Beck. I know how to search a hard drive and I know I’m not in there and I know you don’t even own anything resembling a notebook or a diary.
One possible theory: You write about me in the notepad on your phone. Hope remains.
But, I’m not gonna pull away from you. Sure, you are uniquely sexual. Case in point: You devour the “Casual Encounters” section on Craigslist, copying and pasting your favorite posts into a giant file on your computer. Why, Beck, why? Fortunately, you don’t participate in “Casual Encounters.” And I suppose that girls like to collect things, be it kale soup recipes or poorly worded, grammatically offensive daddy fantasies composed by desperate loners. Hey, I’m still here; I accept you. And, okay. So you do let this blond creep do things to you that you read about in these Craigslist ads. But at least you have boundaries. That perv is not your boyfriend; you sent him into the street, where he belongs, as if you are disgusted with him, which you should be. And I have read all your recent e-mails and it’s official: You did not tell anyone that he was in your apartment, inside of you. He is not your boyfriend. That’s all that matters and I am ready to find you and I am able to find you and I owe that to Candace. Dear Candace.
I first saw Candace at the Glasslands in Brooklyn. She played flute in a band with her brother and sister. You would like their music. They were called Martyr and I wanted to know her right away. I was patient. I followed them all over Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. They were good. They weren’t ever going to be top forty, but sometimes they’d have a song featured in a wretched show for teenagers on the CW and their website would explode. They didn’t have a label because they couldn’t agree on anything. Anyway, Candace was the prettiest, the lead of the band. Her brother was your standard drummer fuckup douche bag and her sister was homely and talented.
You can’t just bum-rush a girl after a concert, especially when the band’s music is ambient techno electro shit and when her psycho controlling brother (who, by the way, would never be in a band were it not for his sisters) is always hanging around. I had to get Candace alone. And I couldn’t be some guy hitting on her, because of her “protective” brother. And I was going to die if I didn’t get to hold her, or at least make a step toward holding her. So I improvised.
One night, outside of the Glasslands where it all began, I introduced myself to Martyr as the new assistant at Stop It Records. I told them I was scouting. Well, bands like being scouted and there I was, minutes later, in a booth drinking whiskey with Candace and her irritating siblings. Her sister left; good girl. But her brother was a problem. I couldn’t kiss Candace or ask for her number. “E-mail me,” she said. “I can take a picture of it and put it on Instagram. We love it when labels reach out.”
So I did what any Elliot in Hannah would do. I staked out Stop It Records, a sad little joint, and noticed this kid they call Peters come and go every day. Before and after work, he’d duck into an alley and smoke a little pot. You couldn’t blame him, what with the shit he put up with at work. Peters was the assistant to all the record label pricks in tight jeans who call their glasses eyewear and call out for Splenda and extra Parmigiano-Reggiano. So I camped out with a joint in the alley one day and asked Peters for a light. It was easy to make friends; people at the bottom of the totem pole are hungry for other people. I told him all about the dilemma with Candace, how I told her I work for Stop It and it was his idea to e-mail her from his account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and pretend to be me. Candace wrote back, giddy, hot. And of course, she gave me (asst1) her number.
I didn’t feel bad about using Peters; if anything, he finally felt like he had something resembling power. And sometimes you have to play around with the facts to get the girl. I have seen enough romantic comedies to know that romantic guys like me are always getting into jams like this. Kate Hudson’s entire career exists because people who fall in love sometimes tell lies about where they work. And Candace believed that I was a scout. I waited until we’d been together for a month before I told her the truth. She was mad at first (girls get mad sometimes, even when the guy is Matthew McConaughey) but I reminded her of the comedic, romantic truth at heart: The world is an unfair place. I know music. I’m smart. I think Martyr deserves to be scouted and worshipped. Had I gone to some liberal arts college and worn vintage socks and subscribed to the notion that a bachelor of arts qualifies someone as employable and intelligent, I could have gotten a nonpaying internship at a shitty record label and parlayed it into a shitty job too. But as it happens, I don’t subscribe to that antiquated notion. I’m my own person. She understood, at first, but her brother was another story, one of the reasons it didn’t work out between Candace and me.
The good news is that I have no regrets. My troubles with Candace were training for this moment. I had to get into your place, Beck. And I knew what to do.Next chapter
I called the gas company and reported a leak at your apartment when I knew you would be at your dance class and you always have coffee after class with a friend in the class and this is the only guaranteed time that you’re away from your computer. I waited on my stoop across the way for the gas man to arrive. When he did I told him I was your boyfriend and that you sent me to help out.
The law requires that all gas leaks be investigated and the law of guys indicates that a guy like me, having dropped out of high school, has a certain way of dealing with guys who work for the gas company. What can I say? I knew he’d buy that I was your boyfriend and let me in. And I knew that even if he thought I was a lying nut job, he’d let me in. You can’t just call in the gas man and not show up, Beck. Seriously.
He leaves, and the first thing I do is take your computer and sit on your couch and smell your green pillow and drink water out of your Brown mug. I washed it because his ashes lingered (you don’t know how to wash a dish). I read your story called “What Wylie Was Thinking When He Bought His Kia.” It’s about an old dude in California buying a shitty import car and feeling like that’s the last vestige of his life as a cowboy. The twist is that he wasn’t an actual cowboy. He just played cowboys in Westerns. But they don’t make Westerns anymore and Wylie never adapted. He never had a car because he spent most of his days at a coffee shop where guys like him sat around talking about the good old days. But they recently outlawed smoking—you italicize outlawed, which is cute—and so now the gang has no local place to smoke their cigarettes and tell their stories. The story ends with Wylie in his Kia and he can’t remember how to start it. He’s holding his key that’s just a miniature computer and he realizes he doesn’t know where to go so he buys an e-cigarette and returns to the coffee shop and sits alone smoking his e-cigarette.
I’m no genius MFA candidate in your workshops—seriously, Beck, they don’t understand you or your stories—but you yearn for what was. You’re a dead guy’s daughter, thoroughly. You understand Paula Fox and you aspire to make sense of all things Old West, which makes your settling, even temporarily, in New York a self-destructive move. You’re compassionate; you wrote about old actors because of the photography books in your apartment, so many pictures of places you can’t go because they aren’t there anymore. You’re a romantic, searching for a Coney Island minus the drug dealers and the gum wrappers and an innocent California where real cowboys and fake cowboys traded stories over tin cups of coffee they called joe. You want to go places you can’t go.
In your bathroom, when the door is closed and you sit on the toilet, you stare at a photograph of Einstein. You like to look into his eyes while you struggle against your bowels. (And believe me, Beck, when we’re together, your stomach issues will be over because I won’t allow you to live on frozen shit and cans of sodium water labeled “soup.”) You like Einstein because he saw what nobody saw. Also, not a writer. He’s not the competition, now or ever.
I turn on the TV and Pitch Perfect is your most watched thing, which makes sense now that I can see your college life on your Facebook. I’m finally inside, studying the history of you in pictures. You did not sing a cappella or find passion or true love. You and your best friends Chana and Lynn got drunk a lot. There is a third friend who is very tall and very thin. She dwarfs you and your little friends. This outsider friend isn’t tagged in any of the pictures and there must be something redeeming about her because you appear very proud of this friendship, which has lasted since your childhood. The untagged girl looks unhappy in every shot. Her nonsmiling smile will haunt me and it’s time to move on.
You dated two guys. Charlie looked like he was always recovering from a Dave Matthews concert. When you were with him you sat on lawns and did club-kid drugs. You escaped that drug-addled dullard and fell into the pin-thin arms of a spoiled punk named Hesher. On a side note, I know Hesher, not personally, but he’s a graphic novelist and we sell his books in the shop. At least, we do right now, but obviously, the first order of business on my next shift will be burying Hesher’s books in the basement.
You’ve been to Paris and Rome and I’ve never been out of the country and you never found what you were looking for in Hesher or Paris or Charlie or Rome or college. You left Charlie for Hesher. And you were cold; Charlie never got over you. He looks permanently drunk to this day in his pictures. You worshipped Hesher and he never reciprocated, at least not on Facebook. There are lots of posts where you praise him and he never responds. Then one day, you became single and your friends “liked” your status in a way that leaves no doubt that you were the one dumped.
Pitch Perfect has ended and I go to your bedroom and I am on your bed, unmade, and I hear the sound of a key entering a keyhole and turning, and a blitzkrieg in my mind, the landlord bitching to the gas man earlier today—
Smallest unit in the building, smallest fucking keyhole, always sticks
—and I hear you put a key into your keyhole and the door opens and the apartment is small and you are inside of it.
You’re right, Beck. It is a fucking shoebox.
I never go to Greenpoint, where people chase whiskey with pickle juice, but I’m doing this for you, Beck. Just like I hurt my back for you when I fell out of your window so you wouldn’t see me when I was trying to see you, trying to know you. And I hate that you could see me here now and think that I’m some dick who overestimates the cultural value of Vice and drinks whatever fucking Vice tells me to drink. I didn’t go to college, Beck, so I don’t waste my adulthood trying to recapture my time in college. I’m not a soft motherfucker who never had the guts to live life right now, as is. I live for living and I’d order another vodka soda but that would mean speaking to the bartender in the Bukowski T-shirt and he’d ask me again what kind of club soda I want.
I’m in a mood and you’re up there reading in yellow stockings and there are holes in them and you’re trying too hard. You left Charlotte’s Web but I don’t look so hot, either. I had to climb out your window and it’s a short fall, but a fall is a fall and my back stings and if I hear the word pickleback one more time, I swear.
Your best friends are at the table next to mine, loud and disloyal, real F-train types with the boots and the overprocessed hair that quietly insults all the Jersey girls that do that shit on purpose. The three of you were at Brown together and now you’re in New York together and you all hate Girls and complain about it incessantly but isn’t that exactly what you’re all trying to do with your lives? Brooklyn, boys, and picklebacks?
You sit with the other quote unquote writers, which allows your friends to go on about you and unfortunately, they’re right: You’re so much more invested in being a writer—accepting compliments and drinking whiskey—than you are at writing. But fortunately, they’re also wrong: Everyone in this room is too full of pickle juice to understand your cowboy story.
Your friends are jealous. Chana’s the big critic, a girl version of Adam Levine with beady eyes and unwarranted self-confidence. “Explain to me again what this fucking MFA shit does for you if you’re not Lena Dunham?”
“I think maybe you can teach?” says Lynn, and Lynn is dead inside, like a corpse. She Instagrams methodically, clinically, as if she’s gathering evidence for defense, like her entire life is dedicated to proving that she has a life. She loudly mocks your reading at Lulu’s as she tweets about how psyched she is to be at a #readingatLulus, and I’m telling you, Beck, I swear.
Lynn again: “Do you think this is like an art opening where you go once and you’re good or is this gonna be like . . . an every week thing?”
“Do I set up a fucking runway every time I finish a design?” Chana vents. “No. I work on it and work on it more until I have a collection. And then I work on it again.”
“Is Peach coming?”
“Don’t put that in the universe.”
They might be talking about the unsmiling tall girl but it’s not like I can ask them.
“Sorry.” Lynn sighs. “At least at art openings you get free wine.” “At least at art openings you get art. I’m sorry, but a fucking cowboy?”
Lynn shrugs and it just goes on, a machine gun that won’t stop, can’t stop.
“And can we talk about her costume?”
“She’s trying too hard. It’s kinda sad.”
“What the fuck are those tights?”
Lynn sighs and tweets and sighs and the machine-gun fire quickens for the last round.
“No wonder she didn’t get into Columbia,” Chana snipes.
“I feel like this is all cuz of Benji,” says Lynn. “I feel bad for her.”
“Well, this is what happens when you fall for a sociopathic party boy.”
All I hear is fall for and you love him and you lie to them, to your computer, to yourself and you think they don’t know it and they do know it and oh no. Benji. No.
I have to stay tuned, present, and Lynn sighs. “You’re being mean.”
“I’m being real.” Chana huffs. “Benji is a snobby little prick. All he does is get fucked up on overpriced drugs and launch pretend businesses.”
“What did he major in?” Lynn wants to know.
“Who cares?” Chana snaps and I care and I want to know more and I want to cry and I don’t want you to fall for anyone but me.
“Well, I still wish he’d be nicer to her,” Lynn says.
Chana rolls her eyes and crunches on ice cubes and disagrees. “You know what it is? Beck is full of herself. And Benji is full of himself. I don’t feel bad for either one of them. She’s got us here pretending she’s a writer and he’s got the world pretending he’s a freaking artisan. What a joke. They both just love themselves. We’re not talking about overly sensitive, tortured souls writing poems about the bleakness of it all or whatever.”
Lynn is bored and I am too. She tries to steer Chana away from her diatribe. “I feel so fat right now.”
Chana grunts. Girls are mean. “You see all this crap about his organic soda company?” she asks. “Brooklyn makes me want to move to LA and buy a case of Red Bull and rock out to Mariah Carey.”
“You should tweet that,” Lynn says. “But not in a mean way.”
You are hugging the other writers and this means you will come here next and Lynn is relentlessly kind. She simpers. “I feel bad for her.”
Chana sniffs. “I just feel bad for the cowboys. They deserve better.”
You are sauntering over to the table, which means they have to stop talking about you and I am so happy when you finally arrive and hug your two-faced friends. They make golf claps and sing false praise and you guzzle your whiskey as if you can drink yourself into a Pulitzer Prize.
“Ladies, please,” you say, and you’re tipsier than I realized. “A girl can only tolerate so many compliments and cocktails.”
Chana puts a hand on your arm. “Honey, maybe no more cocktails?”
You pull your arm away. This is you postpartum. You birthed a story, and now what? “I’m fine.”
Lynn motions to the waitress. “Can we snag three picklebacks? This girl needs her liquid courage.”
“I don’t need any courage, Lynn. I just got up there and read a fucking story.”
Chana kisses your forehead. “And you read the shit out of that fucking story.”
You don’t buy it and you push her away. “Fuck both of you.”
It’s good that I see this side of you, the nasty drunk. It’s good to know all sides if you’re gonna love someone and I hate your friends a little less now. They exchange a look and you glance at the bar. “Did Benji already leave?”
“Sweetie, was he supposed to come?”
You sigh like you’ve been here before, like you don’t have the patience now, and you pick up your cracked phone. Lynn grabs it.
“Gimme my phone.”
“Beck,” says Chana. “You invited him and he didn’t show. Leave it alone. Leave him alone.”
“You guys hate Benji,” you say. “What if he got hurt?”
Lynn looks away and Chana snorts. “What if he’s . . . an asshole?”
You can tell Lynn never wants to talk about any of this ever again. Of the three girls, she is the one who will eventually leave New York for a smaller, more manageable city where there are no fiction readings, where girls drink wine, and Maroon 5 plays in the local jukebox on Saturday nights. She will photograph her eventual, inevitable babies with the same gusto with which she photographs the shot glasses, the empty goblets, her shoes.
But Chana’s a lifer, our third wheel for the long haul. “Beck, listen to me. Benji is an asshole. Okay?”
I want to scream YES but I sit. Still. Benji.
“Listen, Beck,” Chana rails on. “Some guys are assholes and you have to accept that. You can buy him all the books in the world and he’s still gonna be Benji. He’ll never be Benjamin or, God forbid, Ben because he doesn’t have to, because he’s a permanent man-baby, okay? He and his club soda can fuck off and so can his stupid ass name. I mean seriously, Benji? Is he kidding? And the way he says it. Like it’s Asian or French. Ben Geeee. Dude, just fuck off.”
Lynn sighs. “I never thought about it that much. Benji. Ben Gee. Gee, Ben.”
There’s a little laughter now and I am learning things about Benji. I don’t like it but I have to accept it. Benji is real and I get another vodka soda. Benji.
You cross your arms and the waitress returns with your picklebacks and the mood has shifted. “So, you guys really liked my story?”
Lynn is quick. “I never knew you knew so much about cowboys.”
“I don’t,” you say and you are in a dark place and you pick up your shot and you knock it back and the girls exchange another look.
“You need to never speak to that fucker ever again,” Chana says.
“Okay,” you agree.
Lynn picks up her shot. Chana picks up her shot. You pick up your empty shot glass.
Chana makes a toast: “To never speaking to that fucker and his bullshit club soda and his fucking haircut and his no-show ass ever again.”
You all clink glasses but those girls have something to drink and your cup runneth empty. I go outside so I’ll know when you leave. Some asshole emerges, vomits.
Pickle juice, I swear.Next chapter
There are three of us waiting in the Greenpoint Avenue subway station at 2:45 in the morning and I want to tie your shoelaces. They’re undone. And you’re too drunk to be standing so close to the tracks. You’re leaning with your back against the green pole with your legs extended so that your feet are planted on the yellow warning zone, the edge of the platform. The pole has four sides but you have to stand on the side facing the tracks. Why?
You’ve got me to protect you and the only other person in this hellhole is a homeless dude and he’s on another planet, on a bench, singing: Engine, engine, number nine on the New York transit line, if my train runs off the tracks pick it up pick it up pick it up.
He sings that part of the song on a loop, loudly, and your head is buried in your phone and you can’t type and stand and listen to his musical assault all at the same time. You keep slipping—your shoes are old, no tread—and I keep flinching and it’s starting to get old. We don’t belong in this dump; it’s a minefield of empty cans, wrappers, things nobody wanted, not even the homeless singing dude. The kids you run with live to ride the G train, like it proves they’re down, “real,” but what your friends don’t realize is that this line was better off without them and their cans of Miller High Life and their pickle-scented vomit.
Your foot slips. Again.
You drop your phone and it lands in the yellow zone and you’re lucky it didn’t fall onto the tracks and I get goose bumps and I wish I could grab you by the arm and escort you to the other side of that pole. You’re too close to the tracks, Beck, and you’re lucky I’m here, because if you fell or if some sicko had followed you down, some derelict rapist, you wouldn’t be able to do anything. You’re too drunk. Your laces in your little sneakers are too long, too loose, and the attacker would press you down on the floor or against that pole and he’d tear those already torn tights off and slash those cotton panties from Victoria’s Secret and cover your pink mouth with his oily hand and there’d be nothing you could do and your life would never be the same. You would live in fear of subways, run back to Nantucket, avoid the “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist, get tested for STDs on a monthly basis for a year, maybe two.
The homeless dude, meanwhile, doesn’t stop singing engine engine and he’s urinated twice and he hasn’t gotten up to do it, either. He’s sitting in his piss and if some sicko followed you down here to finish what you started with those torn stockings, this dude would just keep singing and pissing and pissing and singing.
And you narrow your eyes at the homeless dude and growl but he’s on another planet, Beck. And it’s not his fault you’re wasted.
Did I mention that you’re lucky to have me? You are. I am a Bed-Stuy man by birth, sober, collected, and well aware of my whereabouts and yours. A protector.
And the bullshit thing is, if someone saw the three of us, well, most people would think I’m the weird one just because I followed you here. And that’s the problem with this world, with women.
You see Elliot in Hannah scam his way to be near his sister-in-law and you call that romantic but if you knew what I went through to get into your home, that I messed up my back trying to know you, inside and out, you’d judge me for it. The world fell out of love with love at some point and I know what you’re doing with that phone. You’re trying to talk to Benji, the club soda, too-much-hair, no-show motherfucker with whom you have encounters that are not casual, at least not to you. You seek him. You want him. But this will pass.
And part of the problem is that phone. You have that function on that fucking phone that enables you to know when your texts are opened and ignored. And Benji, he ignores the fuck out of you. He is more passionate about blowing you off than he is about being inside of you and this is what you want? You stab at your phone. Your phone. Enough with this phone, Beck. It’s gonna do you in, waste your voice, and cripple your fingers.
Fuck that phone.
I’d like to throw it on the tracks and hold you as we wait for the train to run it down. There’s a reason it’s cracked and there’s a reason you left it in your basket at the bookshop that day. Deep down, you know you’d be better off without it. Nothing good comes from that phone. Don’t you see? You do see. Otherwise you’d treat that phone well. You’d have put it in a case before it cracked. You wouldn’t stand here fumbling with it and letting it dictate your life. I really do wish you’d throw it onto the tracks and go offline and turn your head and look over at me and say, “Don’t I know you?” And I’d play along and we’d talk and our song would be engine, engine, number nine on the New York transit line, if my train runs off the tracks—
“Can you please stop singing?” You growl, but the dude can’t even hear you over the singing and pissing and singing and pissing and you whip your head around too fast and damn it you need to not lean back like that but you do.
It happens so fast.
You reach out your arms but you’re wobbling. You drop your phone and you lunge to grab it and in the process you misstep—“Aaah!”— and you slip and trip on that damn shoelace and you fall splat and somehow you land the wrong way and you roll off the yellow danger zone and down into the actual danger zone. You scream. It’s the fastest slowest fall I’ve ever seen and you’re only a voice down on the tracks now, a shriek and his singing doesn’t stop, engine engine number nine, and it’s the wrong soundtrack for what I have to do now, bad back and all. I run across the platform, look down at you.
“It’s okay, I got you. Gimme your hand.”
But you just scream again and you look like that girl in the well in The Silence of the Lambs and you don’t need to look so freaked out because I’m here, offering my hand, ready to pull you up. You’re shivering and staring down the tunnel and your head’s filling with fear when you need to just take my hand.
“Omigod, omigod I could die.”
“Don’t look that way, just look at me.”
“I’m gonna die.”
You take a step forward and you know nothing of railroads. “Stay still, half the shit down there can electrocute you.”
“What?” And your teeth chatter and you scream.
“You’re not dying. Take my hand.”
“He’s making me crazy,” you say and you block your ears because you don’t want to hear if my train runs off the tracks anymore. “That singing, that’s why I fell.”
“I’m trying to help you,” I insist and your eyes pop. You look down the tunnel and then up, right into my eyes.
“I hear a train.”
“Nah, you’d feel it. Gimme your hand.”
“I’m gonna die.” You despair.
“Take my hand!”
The homeless dude croons as if we’re a nuisance he’s got to outsing pick it up pick it up pick it up and you cover your ears and scream.
I’m getting impatient and an engine will come on these tracks eventually and why are you making this so hard?
“You wanna get killed? Because if you stay down here you will get run over. Take my hand!”
You look up and now I see a part of you that’s new to me, a part that does want to be killed and I don’t think you’ve ever been loved the right way and you don’t say anything and I don’t say anything and we both know that you’re testing me, testing the world. You didn’t get off that stage tonight until the last person stopped clapping and you didn’t tie your shoelaces and you blamed the world when you tripped.
Pick it up pick it up! Engine, engine, number nine
I nod. “Okay.” I reach down with my arms, palms up. “Come on. I got you.”
You want to fight. You are not easily rescued but I am patient and when you are ready, you wrap your hands around my shoulders and allow me to save you. I hoist you, loose sneakers and all, onto the yellow danger zone and then roll you onto the dirty gray danger-free concrete and you’re shaking and you hold your knees to your chest as you scoot backward into the part of the green pole that faces inward, the safe place to sit, to wait.
You still don’t tie your shoelaces and your teeth chatter more than ever and I scoot closer to you and I point at your useless, flat, nonathletic sneakers. “May I?” I ask and you nod.
I pull the laces tight and tie them in double knots the way my cousin taught me a hundred years ago. When the train sounds down the way, your teeth stop chattering, and you don’t look so scared anymore. I don’t have to tell you that I saved your life. I can see in your eyes and your glistening, grimy skin that you know it. We don’t get on the train when the doors open. That’s a given.
The cab driver was reluctant at first. I guess I would be too. We look crazy from the near death of it all. You’re a fucking mess. I’m so clean that it’s almost disturbing, pimp-clean to your whore-dirty. We’re a true pair.
“But the thing is,” you say, going over the recent events for the umpteenth time, your legs folded under, your arms flailing as you speak. “The thing is, at the end of the day, I couldn’t live if that guy wasn’t gonna stop singing. I mean I know I must have seemed crazy.”
“But I had a bad night, and at some point you have to set rules, you know? You have to say, I will not put up with this. I will die before I continue to live in a world where this guy will not stop singing and polluting a shared environment.”
You sigh and I love you for trying to spin this into some sort of strike against complacency and what fun it is to play with you. “Still, you were pretty drunk.”
“Well, I think I would have done the same thing sober.”
“What if he’d been singing the Roger Miller version?”
You laugh and you don’t know who Roger Miller is but most of the people in our generation don’t know and your eyes narrow and you stroke your chin and here you go again, for the fourth time. Yes, I’m counting.
“Okay, did you ever spend a summer working on a ferry?”
“Nope,” I say. You are convinced you know me somehow. You have said you know me from college, from grad school, from a bar in Williamsburg, and now, from the ferry.
“But, I swear I know you. I know I know you from somewhere.”
I shrug and you examine me and it feels so good, your eyes hunting me.
“You just feel close to me because you fell and I was there.
“You were there, weren’t you? I’m lucky.”
I shouldn’t look away but I do and I can’t think of anything to say and I wish the cab driver were the kind to babble intermittently.
“So what were you up to tonight?” you ask me.
“Are you a bartender?”
“That must be so much fun. Getting people’s stories.”
“It is,” I say, careful not to reveal that I know you write stories. “It’s fun.”
“Tell me the best story you heard this week.”
You nod and I want to kiss you. I want to take you onto the tracks before engine engine number nine grinds to a halt and swallows you whole and fuck the drunk out of you until the New York transit line swallows us both. It’s too hot in here and it’s too cold out there and it smells like burritos and blow jobs, middle-of-the-night New York. I love you is all I want to say so I scratch my head. “Hard to pick one, ya know?”
“Okay, look,” you say and you swallow, bite your lip, redden. “I didn’t want to freak you out and be, like, this psycho who remembers every tiny little social situation she gets herself into or whatever, but I was lying. I do know how I know you.”
“The bookstore.” And you smile that Portman smile and I pretend not to recognize you and you wave those hands. Such small hands. “We talked about Dan Brown.”
“That’s most days.”
“Paula Fox,” you say and you nod, proud, and graze my arm with your hand.
“Aah,” I say. “Paula Fox and Spalding Gray.”
You clap and you almost kiss me but you don’t and you recover and sit back and cross your legs. “You must think I’m a fucking lunatic, right? You must talk to like fifty girls a day.”
“Thanks,” you say.
“I talk to at least seventy girls a day.”
“Ha.” And you roll your eyes. “So you don’t think I’m, like, stalker-crazy.”
“No, not at all.”
My middle school health teacher told us that you can hold eye contact for ten seconds before scaring or seducing someone. I am counting and I think you can tell.
“So true. Which bar do you work at down there? Maybe I’ll come by for a drink.”
I won’t judge you for trying to reduce me to someone who services you, who rings up your books and delivers your picklebacks.
“I just fill in there. Mostly I’m at the bookstore.”
“A bar and a bookstore. Cool.”
The cab rolls to a stop on West Fourth Street.
“Is this you?” I ask and you like me for being deferential. “Actually,” you say and you lean forward. “I’m just around the corner.”
You sit back and look at me and I smile. “Bank Street. Not too shabby.”
You play. “I’m an heiress.”
“Bacon,” you sass and a lot of girls would have gone blank.
We are here, at your place. You are looking in your purse for your
phone that is on the seat between us, closer to me than you, and the driver shifts. We’re in park.
“Here we go again with me and the always disappearing phone.”
Someone raps on the car door. I jolt. The motherfucker actually knocks on the window. Benji. You reach across me and roll down the window. I smell you. Pickles and tits.
“Benji, omigod, this is the saint who saved my life.”
“Good job, dude. Fucking Greenpoint, right? Nothing good happens there.”
He raises his hand for a high five and I meet his hand and you are sliding away from me and everything is wrong.
“I can’t believe this but I think I lost my phone.”
“Again?” he says and he walks away and he lights a cigarette and you sigh.
“He seems like a jerk but, you have to understand, I lose my phone all the time.”
“What’s your number?” I blurt and you look out the window at Benji and then look back at me. He’s not your boyfriend but you’re acting like he’s your boyfriend.
I’m good, calm. “Beck,” I say. “I need your number or your e-mail or something in case I find your phone.”
“Sorry,” you say. “I just spaced. I think I’m still kind of freaked out. Do you have a pen?”
“No,” I say and thank God that when I pull a phone out of my pocket it’s mine and not yours. You give me your e-mail address. You’re mine now and Benji calls, “You coming or what?”
“Thank you so much.”
“I like that. Every time. Instead of ‘anytime.’ It’s pointed.”
“Well, I mean it.”
Our first date ends and you’re going upstairs and fucking the shit out of Benji but it doesn’t matter, Beck. Our phones are together and you know that I know where you live and I know that you know where to find me.