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“Date” by TE Rossi

The car roars past the abandoned station. Beyond the windows a glimpse of the tiled artwork, then darkness. They settle in for the ride to West 14th. From there it’s a long walk to the theatre. The wind blows cold up the skirts they hike down, stride and tug. C’s hair cascades in graceful waves that M envies. C has the walk; men stare after her on the street. M bounces along. C says Stop galumphing. Remember how I told you to walk. Those are my best catch me/fuck me shoes, don’t waste ‘em. Yeah, C, but they’re 7.5’s. M is a nine, manages to hobble and galumph at once. By Ninth Avenue, her heels are bleeding. M, it’s a small price to pay for a night out. C models shoes and cheap clothes for a creep in the garment district. She swears he watches her change but isn’t 100% sure or she’d have to fuck him up. It pays cash and C gets to keep clothes. M is glad C dressed her for this. M needs all the help she can get. She talks like a boy, laughs like one, and the galumphing. They might go to the Saint after, so C makes her dress up just in case. She is a 6.5 on the hot scale tonight, C says—up from her usual 5. C does her eyes and lip, makes M into a hyena. C carries it off, a hot hyena, an 8.5. It’s the best you can hope for, with less than perfect noses and hair. But C can dance. C lives in something like an artist commune in a seedy brownstone. One of the other tenants is a musician and his sort-of-wife but also an ex- is a dancer at his shows.

The other weekend C invited M to a private show in one of the nicer brownstones on the park. C brought home a guy from the party in violation of the living agreement and also in violation of her invitation for M to sleep over. M slept in the dancer’s kid’s bottom bunk upstairs and C’s guest peed in a Dr. Pepper bottle in her room to avoid the artist-landlords in the morning. The kid whose bed M crashed in made her tell him stories while she waited for C’s guest to finish and leave.

Today it's M’s show. She knows one of the actors. From before. A funny guy, sad eyed. M laughs loud with her heart at the funny sad. There’s this boy in the audience. She sees him again outside afterwards. M and C are walking or galumphing or limping east—go dancing or home? M wants to go to the Saint. Needs a night out even if it’s the night boys do it in the girls’ bathroom so you can’t really use it. She has to take care of B, the guy in the hospital tomorrow. He is restrained so he doesn’t pick at the infected bedsores. He can’t speak, really, but likes to watch television all night. He moans to get you to change channels and cries tears when he needs to be changed. The indifferent nurses sometimes let him lie in his mess all shift, so M changes his gown and the sheets. His mother leaves, goes home when M arrives. The old woman has identical twin boys, aged sixty.

C can be persuaded on the dancing. She doesn’t want to waste the subway fare and not have some fun. M's show was funny, C says, but wow it was full of old people. They are walking east now, and they see the actor, one of the old people, and the boy walking together ahead of them. M thinks the boy is interesting. He has a face like a map. C catches her staring. You like him, don’t you, M? C shoves her into the brick wall as they walk and M nearly goes down. M laughs and her voice makes the boy and the actor turn around. M, the actor smiles, how are you? The girls catch up to them and C lets M talk a lot this once. The boy is older up close but not so much it’s creepy. He asks M for her number while C asks the actor how he got the idea for the show. M writes her number on the inside of a Violets wrapper and the boy reads it. He smiles, pockets it. Maybe I’ll see you soon. Yeah, maybe. M feels her cheeks boil and her heart galumph. She wants to dance all the way to the Saint. She takes off C’s shoes and carries them after 6th Avenue. Near Union Square she buys a pair of Kung Fu flats for three dollars and tugs down her skirt again. Nobody cards them even though M is in Kung Fu shoes because C is already dancing and M looks older than seventeen. M dances, drinks diet Cokes. After M’s fifth soda C is ready. Let's go. They lean on each other but don’t fall asleep the whole ride home. A homeless man with gangrenous feet gets on at Carroll Street and shuffles across from them but they exit at Seventh Avenue. A chihuahua escapes from one of the man's shopping bags as the doors close behind them.

M enters the pub lit amber. The boy waves from behind the bar, smiles, shrugs. I'm sorry, I tried to call. I have to cover until my da comes. The good news is, it’s all on the house tonight. M climbs onto the stool. Her stomach growls. She thought they’d get pizza and walk around, ride the tram or ferry. This, their date. The game on the TV casts green, red, blue onto her face. The man beside her turns to her; it’s the actor. Hello there, M. Fancy meeting you here. M smiles back at him, nervous here, now. The boy does not explain they’re supposed to be on a date. The man returns to his pint and the game. M orders a Meyers and OJ. She wants to sound like she’s done this before but she's just channeling C. The boy pours and wipes, mixes. In between orders he stands in front of her and they talk over the bar. He is learning to repair stained glass, like his father. He has graduated from Fordham. Sometimes, like tonight, he tends bar in his family’s pub. The stained glass is honest work. His hair falls over his face and he pushes it back as he talks. He is pretty. Why did he call her? I want a do-over. It's not going well, this night. Where is his da? The boy refills her drinks and she loses count because he removes the empty glasses, loads them in the rack to be washed. She feels lightheaded during Johnny Carson’s monologue. She notices the actor has left without saying goodbye. M switches to Guinness like C always does. It’s practically soda anyway. She nurses the second pint through Letterman. Stupid pet tricks. Whatever happened to his da? He’s not coming, is he? They are the only ones left in the pub. Okay, I have to lock up. She waits outside, drinks the fresh air. The wind on her face hard like a slap. You're such a fool. The five dollars in her purse would have been enough for pizza and soda but it won't even get her out to Brighton now. Would you ride home with me or spot me twenty for a taxi? I wish I could, but I have a job in the morning and I’ve already locked up. You could crash by me. M hesitates. The boy is nice and she knows his family, sort of. She consults an imaginary C: Don’t be such a pussy, it’ll be fine. C knows these things, unlike M. His couch is the safest option. He kisses her in the taxi. Don’t get ideas. I don’t want to do anything. She isn’t flirting. She's queasy. No. I just want to sleep. No, the couch is fine. No, I am good here. No. The couch is firm, tufted grey squares. There is a soft pillow and a quilt and so she sleeps.

In the morning he offers her a glass of orange juice in the kitchen. I’m sorry I don't have anything else. M is quiet. Class at ten, work four to midnight. She needs to get back to the dorm and shower. Her mind loops the quotidian. You don't know how to behave. She tries to understand what has happened. She wants to cry, mustn’t. She shivers, cannot stop. Are you cold? he asks. He hands her a rugby shirt that smells like Downy. The gesture feels out of place, like the orange juice. She pulls it over her head. He's normal, isn't he? Is this normal? M no longer knows. The night before, like a series of gaps staggering toward a black hole. She remembers certain drinks. She remembers the television, a world cup match on the screen with the volume silenced. She remembers, later, lying down on his couch but waking up in the pitch dark bedroom to—

The sun is bright. Daylight is safe. Outside the window, a squirrel runs across power lines. We should get going. And she does.

Tess is a writer, teacher, and recovering attorney who holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, a JD from NYU, and a third dan in WTF Taekwondo. Fiction editor @VariantLit. Words (poetry) @RedOgreReview.


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