Off the Hudson
It was Colton’s proposition to leave the city for the summer and since I loved him I agreed to it.
I wasn’t enthusiastic just for Colton’s sake. I do enjoy adventure. This, though, had the whiff of something—maybe the pull of inevitability for us as a type of couple—that I had to stop myself from balking at.
We had taken the train up the Hudson for a day trip to a little hamlet in the process of rediscovery and refurbishment by exurbanites, those who wanted space to do their art installations or pursue their dream of selling artisanal shaved ice. The trace elements of a township that had hit the rocks some time ago were still present, but coated over, patched, not unlike like a wobbly, pocked wooden floor disguised with a bright, festive new rug (woven of cruelty free yak, here, presumably). Now the extant derelict storefronts alternated with the refashioned, those that entreated weekenders to buy their hand blown glass dildos or dine on locally-sourced vegan comfort food. Dreamcatchers abounded. There would be kale.
Colton was wearing his mint green J. Crew shorts and New Balance sneakers that afternoon, and I loved how he looked in those shorts, how they hugged his crotch, and during our ride back to the city, with our thighs pressed together and my head resting on his shoulder I drowsed as he monologued about the possibilities of spending a month or two out of town.
Sebastian, he said, we could probably find an affordable place equal to what we’d pay for like a week in the Pines or P-town. I could use the time and space to work on my film. We’d be close enough to the city that I’d go back on weekends if need be. We’ll get Marci to water the plants.
Though it was not even late May it was already wiltingly hot in Manhattan and if this weather was a harbinger of the summer to come, then the sooner we left the better. I nodded as he went on. I can cover most of the cost, he said. His proposed generosity made me feel like a grateful hostage to his largess, even though it wasn’t that large. He was funded by a grant to finish his documentary, and had some money stashed away from a steady run of editing work. I hadn’t planned to take the summer off necessarily, though I had done little to nothing to procure any employment. Still, this semester I’d taught two online classes for a somewhat shady educational property, on top of my adjunct position, and I had set enough cash aside to hopefully float me until the fall if need be.
So by the second week of June we were once again on our way up the Hudson Valley with our luggage, set to occupy a “homey” apartment built over a former soda shop. The building stood a bit outside the main part of town, offering more privacy but less of the glamor—if one could call it that—of being centrally located.
Colton had handled the rental details while I spent my time wikipedia-ing the town and investigating the Chamber of Commerce’s website: History, population, economic upticks and downturns. I clicked on articles in the Times about the area’s hipster renaissance and felt a mild sense of foreboding, including a piece about a former frazzled rock star now residing there in blissful repose, leading Reiki classes and music workshops for parents and tots. She claimed the town had given her back her soul. Oh.
I tried to temper a pang of disappointment as I sniffed at our lodgings, opening windows to chase the dust clinging to the surfaces and trying to rid the cloying scent of its rightful occupant. Colton was oblivious, instantly stowing his belongings and adapting his tall, lithe frame to the space. The apartment would grace no spread in a glossy shelter magazine or merit a feature on a design blog, but it would be inhabitable. It wasn’t quite what I imagined, but then it wasn’t overstuffed with embarrassing tchotchkes and crocheted samplers either. The owner, a forthright, middle-aged lesbian, was down in Florida tending to an elderly relative and happy to have us as seasonal tenants.
After unpacking, Colton lay down to nap. That is one thing that I envy about him, his ability to sleep anyplace, anytime. He pulled me down on the bed next to him, his long grasshopper legs tucked together. Stay with me, he murmured, already drowsy. I lay next to him, trying to settle, but I felt squirmy. Sensitive to my movements, he said, sleepily, or you could go for a run. I had quit smoking and taken up running approximately one year, four months, and three days ago. Colton was someone who could still manage to smoke occasionally, at a party say, or outside a bar, and then the need would not grip him again past the moment he discarded the cigarette butt. I was not built that way, so now I run.
I scooted myself close and began to dart my hand into the waistband of his shorts, but Colton was already near-asleep so I retreated, resting my palm on his flat stomach and inhaling the scent of his hair. He kept it long-ish; it was a honey blond color and it always smelled earthy and herby like a small patch of fertile garden and, sometimes at home when I found myself missing the scent of it and if he’d gone to work before me, I would press my nose deep into his pillow. I could not, however, drift off. So I took his suggestion, as I usually did, and set out for a run. It would give me a chance to see the town again.
When should I disclose that Colton hit me? Only once. And I forgave him. It did not, in that instance and contrary to the song, feel anything like a kiss. In the interest of full disclosure, it was because he thought I had been cheating. I hadn’t. Not technically. He forgave me. But that’s something each couple must parse for themselves, right, what constitutes fidelity; where do boundaries of propriety lie?
It had been a misunderstanding on both our parts. We had been a nasty fight in our kitchen, late one evening this past winter, shortly after we first began living together. It escalated rapidly from a light shove to the actual moment, the crack across my cheek and the reverberation of that sound, knuckles connecting with flesh, followed by tears and then we were a tangle of groping limbs on the linoleum which progressed to a tangle of limbs in the bedroom. The thing is, Colton is not at all violent and I’m not one to stray, at least in the way we both present ourselves, so I can’t entirely justify it but to say the season had been exceptionally cold and who does not go a little crazy by mid-February?
Why the incident came back to me as I made my loop around the town I couldn’t say, other than we were about to negotiate our “us-ness” in a new setting. My path took me once more near the river, then the irregular slope of green park, past a rushing watermill and up a small incline. I tried to stick to the back roads and side streets, to get a better sense of how the town was put together, how the pieces fit and where the seams showed through, removed from the scrim of a blissful weekend visit. I ran over disused train tracks and passed still-abandoned factories: one had a Banksy-esque mural on the wall, while most of the other facades were tagged with the amateur graffiti scrawl of disaffected youth. A college friend of mine currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany, and when I went to visit her, and she was guiding me around the town, she told me of a game played with the different buildings: Bombed Not-Bombed. It was the way of distinguishing any construction from the edifices that had survived from WWII. I thought of that as I turned down a back road near the South end of Main Street, behind the diner. From behind me roared a large 4x4 truck, coated in a Rorschach blot of dried mud. It came to an abrupt stop near a dumpster. A man, young-ish and loud who I felt appeared casually menacing, hopped out. He was tan, his dark hair kept trimmed close to his scalp. He spit on the ground after swinging himself out of the truck. I had paused to stretch and he now caught me looking at him. He appraised me coolly for a second before entering a screen door of one of the buildings facing the parking lot.
Colton was awake and staring at his laptop by the time I returned from my run. There was a little desk by the window, painted robin’s egg blue, that he had already commandeered, a yellow legal pad scrawled with notes and other important detritus from his current project spread out. He gestured to the Formica table in the cramped, L-shaped kitchen where several white cartons sat, ready to be opened.
Chinese takeout? Really?
Um, you’re welcome. I mean, unless you wanted to buy groceries and cook? He returned his attention to his laptop.
I didn’t particularly. Pulling off my running clothes, I tossed an air kiss towards him before muttering something about the one single Chinese restaurant in town and then ducking into the shower.
We went down to a small wine bar on Main Street, after putting away the leftovers, to toast the beginning of our little summer idyll. We killed a bottle of Sancerre and discussed how we’d spend our time. Colton had already amassed a collection of maps, marking the trailheads to hikes he thought we should take. We listed certain nearby galleries to visit, ones that we’d overlooked on our first trip, and omigod maybe we can score some shrooms for fun, Colton said. We briefly considered but nixed signing up for weekly transcendental meditation classes. There is only so far one can go native. As we were waiting for the check I brought up the guy I’d seen in the parking lot.
Cruising for town trade already, Colton joked, but with an edge to his voice.
It was the way he looked at me.
Not in that way. It was like he was taking note. Of my arrival.
Oh sure. Maybe he’s with the welcome wagon and will show up at our doorstep with a big basket.
Ha. No, but. I can’t quite explain but I thought. I mean, I sensed.
You’re drunk. Or paranoid.
Fine. Let’s drop it.
We sat in silence until our change arrived, and then I followed a pace behind Colton as we walked back to our little rental.
We should have fucked that night, to christen the new space. I started to initiate something but Colton blamed the wine and the greasy food as he shifted away from me.
The yarn we’d spun for ourselves, the one of green market weekends and leisurely strolls, had not exactly come to fruition. I barely made a dent in my ambitious summer reading list—now’s the time to tackle Proust I told myself—and Colton dug deep into his film, a piece centered around Frank O’Hara as flâneur. So I would attempt to read, take runs, shop, and Colton would be in front of his laptop, researching, logging interview footage and emailing and texting with his producing partner. Trying to get the narrative to coalesce. It was all very much like our life in the city, only with more fresh air and isolation, and seemingly more togetherness, but only because we occupied the same space more hours of the day.
I started to get creative in a manic happy homemaker way, experimenting with meals that were beyond my capacity to cook well, and devising a series of intricate cocktails based on the imported spirits at the one liquor store in town that provided such a stock—Aperol Negronis, or something with Lillet. Which is how we managed to fall into a routine within our break from routine. Colton would usually turn to me in the early evening, as I, apron-clad, was banging around and muttering to myself in the kitchen, trying to manage a recipe with ramps or sorrel, or whatever, kohlrabi, and ask something along the lines of what’s farm to table tonight Sebby? And I’d reply smartly, and then I’d say something like Colty would you like your evening cocktail and he’d reply ooh yes and I’d serve him that day’s specialty and we’d toast and drink, then he would return to his screen and I would go back to the kitchen to bang and mutter some more.
The cutesy “y” we appended to our names, that had begun shortly after we had started dating. I think it was Colton who initiated it, but we were in such a cocoon of bliss and single-mindedness early on I’m not certain where his thoughts ended and mine began.
I started watching Colton in bed at night—I found it hard to sleep minus the white noise of the city, the insistent thrum—marking the easy rise and fall of his breath. He would drift off to sleep and I would softly pad back into the kitchen, repeating my cocktail recipe or more often just pouring whatever liquor was at hand straight into a glass, and then finishing that nightcap fumble my way back under the sheets. I thought about the amount of time I had spent looking at him, how I knew the planes of his body, his dimples, the way he absentmindedly flexed his calves when sitting on the subway, the manner in which he scrunched up his face and tilted his head when I was imparting some bad news or unfortunate story to him, his pale lunar ass. What features of mine, I wondered, what attributes, did he know, notice, catalog?
Then, sometime around the end of the first month Colton returned to the city.
I finally secured an interview I’ve been desperate for, he said, the morning he left. It could only be shot during a very small window, he said, meaning tomorrow. Oh, ok, great, go, I told him, having a hard time masking my disappointment. You could come back too Sebby, he said, but I’m only going for like thirty-six hours so it doesn’t seem worth it. Stuffing clothes into his green overnight bag, he was preoccupied. No, no, I said, I shall remain here and swanned off into the kitchen to rinse and dry dishes.
Colton gave me a perfunctory kiss as I stood at the sink and promised to text upon his safe arrival. The moment the door clicked shut I fell into a mood. The thing is, I don’t mind being alone. I just dislike being left alone. The distinction is important.
I stood on the small woven rug unable to make a choice as to what to do with myself and the day. This was part of the arrangement after all, the idea he might shuttle back and forth, so why did it irk me? We had fought, a few days prior, over money. He made a comment about my wanting to purchase something useless and extravagant, and I should have let it pass but I didn’t. We were both sensitive and touchy for the remainder of the afternoon. It was our second fight of the summer about money.
When Colton contacted me, it was to say that the interview had been pushed back, and he’d be staying in the city for at least another day, maybe two. Fine, whatever, I replied. Don’t be mad, he responded, and asked if there were anything from the apartment I wanted him to bring back. Nope!!!, I wrote, hoping he’d read into my breezy response my intended sense of irritation.
Though it was only early in the afternoon I fixed myself a drink—an Old Fashioned—and began to obsess over Colton’s imagined movements through the city.
I awoke around eight that night groping at the bed next to me but finding it empty. I checked my phone and, not seeing any more messages, stifled my impulse to write to him. Instead I reheated leftovers, fixed myself a Manhattan, neat. I went to a bar, that first night without him, and then every subsequent one he was gone, which turned out to be four. It took some searching to find the right place. The place I settled on was not one of the newer drinking establishments but an old, grizzled thing nestled off a side street—a dive. A true, proper dive, not some designer’s approximation of one, not some cute simulacrum fashioned to lure young, trendy cocktail enthusiasts. This bar was the repository of the tears, sweat and fistfights of an untold number of blue collar boozers. Long, and faintly mildewy smelling, with a blinky neon sign out front. The only nod to cheer was the strand of Christmas lights strung up behind the bar, and even those were coated in a film of filth and dust. A fly strip hung from the ceiling. I likely would not have had the courage to come in had I not been fortified with my pre-outing cocktail. In contrast to the space, the bartender was shockingly young. We chatted for a bit: Her name was Rosie, she was Irish, and had moved to the town with her carpenter boyfriend. She was polite but adequately disengaged, as the bar seemed to require, and after she gave me those brief details of her life she returned to rinsing pint glasses.
The second night there I recognized the boy from the parking lot, the one with the mud-spattered truck. He had a beer and a shot in front of him, arm curved protectively around his drinks, head lolling from side to side. Something emanated from him, something prickly and caged-animal tense. Or the alcohol was just making me anxious. He lurched up from his seat and tottered towards me and I immediately began fumbling with my napkin, then stirrer, anything to look busy, but as he passed I realized his was only going to the toilet. Still, following that I finished my drink in one swallow and left.
The third night, after having communicated obliquely with Colton, and he had adamantly stated his return the next afternoon was definite, I still went to the bar. It had become the thing I did to occupy my nights without him, and it made sense (at least to me), my inhabiting this lost-in-time, unkempt space. Rosie acknowledged my presence with a half-smile, but then carried on with the task that occupied her attention this evening: slicing wedges of lime.
Colton was distant when he returned, there was a haze over his responses, a fuzzy nimbus obscuring his usual demeanor. I could have chalked it up to his being busy, or the difficulty with the interview, how the project was not quite coalescing, but I was not feeling overly generous.
He scrabbled through his bag, then flipped through his notebook, then grabbed his laptop and toggled through multiple the tabs in his browser after flopping onto the bed. We did not know how, here in this space, to negotiate each other’s temperaments. I began to tidy up—I’d let things become dismally cluttered in his brief absence.
I guessed he had seen Max, though he didn’t say it. Max had been on the fringes of the whole documentary since its conception. Max was also Colton’s ex-boyfriend. He and Max were now, he assured me, fervidly platonic. I found it hard to dislike Max, and I also found it hard to not. Colton was, well is, a serial monogamist. I was the first and only person he began seeing after he and Max parted ways. I was, prior to meeting Colton, the opposite, not quite so ready to nest. Which is why it surprised me when I did with him, the ease with which we came together. I had met Max only a handful of times, as he and Colton kept a cordial distance from each other’s social circles. Colton has a way of containing the different portions of his life, hermetically sealing off the different portions.
Since I’ve admitted several unpleasant truths already, I suppose I can admit that I felt superior to Colton, during those first giddy months, when I was falling for him and him for me. Alright, after too. Which is ridiculous. We generally read the same books, received roughly the same liberal arts education. Yet there it was. Maybe it was the way he downplayed his intelligence, or how he let his enthusiasm overtake him in moments, something I had difficulty doing. The fact that he was a terrific artist but wasn’t invested in his own success. Maybe we’re too similarly wired, and I needed some wedge—imagined, but there—to pry between us.
In bed that night I did the things—Colty, I whispered, would you like and shall I, and then before he could answer—to which his body responded, I knew the locations and methods, tongue in places. When he submitted, it was just that...a surrender. Hadn’t I always been the one, of late, to initiate things?
Do you think this was a mistake? He said the next morning, without inflection, over bacon.
I clutched the handle of my coffee mug tighter. The faraway aspect I had noticed had taken root. I knew he was obsessing over his film. In that moment I wanted him to go back to the city, and the instant I had the thought I regretted it, because I knew that was exactly what he was going to do. So naturally I suggested it to him.
It was with this second departure I began to think that this whole thing was a set-up, that he’d brought me up here to gaslight me. That this was an elaborately constructed ploy to break up with me (or get me to break up with him). I vowed I would not act like some nervous heroine, left to shred tissues and fret and take to bed in the afternoon, nervous and overcome. I was not faithful in my vow. What happened was, I did take to my bed. The bed, the rented one, in the rented apartment. When we texted the responses I sent were curt, tart. I wrote to mutual friends, however, how much I was enjoying my time away: how refreshing it was, how revitalizing. I was intent on muddying the signal.
From afar neither of us addressed the things that needed to be said. He ramped up his enthusiasm. I really needed to be back in the City. I want you to stay and enjoy the place. Enjoy it for both of us. Are you sure you’re ok? I mean, it’s paid for. So. Be back soon. This weekend. Next week. See you soon. Soon.
I entrenched myself, invested in my solitude. I began to move in the similar patterns of the locals, locating the ebbs and avoiding the swells of day-trippers. I learned new routes and took short cuts and side streets, I clung to the outskirts. I ran. I sunbathed in the park. I took a flyer for the meditation class. I still did not read Proust. I vamped, I marked time, I dawdled. I continued making elaborate recipes for dinner, and trying out new cocktails, despite my dwindling bank account, the balance I loathed to check. Evenings I generally found myself at the bar, the dive, which I’d taken to calling Doldrums. I appreciated that Rosie was pleasantly disaffected, and that there was a group of elderly men that played darts in the back often.
I returned from the restroom to find, seated on the bar stool next to mine, the boy with the truck. I had not seen him in some time, though I had seen the truck often on my runs, midnight black and mud-caked always, generally parked near the alley where I first encountered it, and him. He was concentrating on something. I saw it was a game on his phone. His squinting made him look I thought like a confused old man. His head jerked up when I sat down, then his focus went back to the shiny, staccato plinking. He gestured to Rosie for another drink, just two fingers thrust into the air, not breaking his woozy attention to his device, and after she’d brought him another bottle of beer I signaled for another round as well. I pretended to read a day old copy of the Times that someone had left at the bar but my attention was drawn to this guy, for no other reason than I wanted a distraction. I wanted something different than Colton: raw, unpolished, inconsiderate, callused. He might damage me, I thought, and the idea held a sick appeal. When he got up to go outside, I followed, first placing a napkin over my drink, to reserve my place and it, even though this was not Manhattan and the bar so occupied that to leave your stool was ceding hard-won territory.
He was standing under a lamp in a pool of yellow light and the whole set-up, it occurred to me, felt too cinematically porn-y to be dangerous. He had a cigarette clutched tightly between his thumb and index finger.
I bum one of those? I said. Or slurred. And there it was. How quickly when the chips are down we gravitate back to the comfort of our vices. He fished a pack of Winstons out of his pocket and when he offered it to me I noticed a constellation of freckles on his right hand. I took one, and he then offered me a light.
Thanks. Sebastian, I said, and already my named sounded too faggy coming out of my mouth. I should have made something up, Brock or Jake or Flint, something with one syllable, less precious and lilting.
He’d misheard, and now I was forced to repeat my name, and my embarrassment quickened.
Sebastian, I was introducing myself.
Oh, uh huh. Andy. He said, and hissed out a stream of smoke from between his front teeth, which I noticed now were large and square, like two marble tombstones side by side in a graveyard.
Thanks, I said, waving the cigarette towards him, trying to keep the conversation going for whatever reason, I quit but, yeah. And I let the sentence trail off. The burst of nicotine had made me woozy, and I wondered if I’d puke.
He did not seem to want a dollar for the cigarette, nor was he interested in engaging in the requisite small talk that seems to accompany these exchanges, the social currency I’d known at home. We stood in amiable silence. I nodded to myself, as if I were in some reverie of thought. He was fit, though more from actual labor I guessed than a gym membership. He flicked the spent butt of his cigarette into the night in a furious arc, like a dying comet. He was halfway back inside before I managed to sputter out thanks again, and spent the next second contemplating the burning end of the cigarette I should not have bummed and had not wanted to finish, before trailing back inside.
So this would be a reprieve, a vacation of indulgence, a return to vice and bad behavior. A walkabout, free of Colton and our stagnating roles. There was a time when the quickest way for me to get over someone was to have them profess their affection. I had assumed this flight behavior stopped when we began dating.
When I got back inside Andy was in conversation with a boozy Asian man of indeterminate age, a rotten front tooth prominent in his raw-looking mouth. I tried to psychically signal my return to Andy, but he was engrossed; his body language, his attention to this clearly sodden individual—a neighbor, a co-worker—could have also read as a hustler vibe? Or maybe he was just a good listener? Remaining attune to his conversation, I had another drink. Then another. Heady from the cigarette and the thrill of embracing something, or jettisoning something, or both. In the back of my mind I knew I was running out of money, and would have to limp back to the city, broke and shamed, but I did not want to acknowledge that fully, not yet.
I must have “rested my eyes,” or whatever euphemism is appropriate, but I came to when Rosie was tapping on my forearm with her black lacquered nail. I smiled, composed myself, and lurched off the stool, steadying myself for a second before heading out the door. There was some weather pattern rolling in, and the night had grown muggy, thick. I was orienting myself towards the apartment when I saw Andy opening the cab of his truck. Overeager, I called out to him, hey hey, and when he turned back I stopped, halfway between the door to the bar and his vehicle. I just...can I bum another cigarette?
He patted the pockets of his jeans as I moved closer.
This, I’m sure you’re thinking, is where the trouble starts. You’d be wrong. The violence we expect is seldom the violence we receive.
Here, finish these, he said, tossing a soft pack containing the two remaining Winstons. I watched his taillights weave down the road. I stuck a cigarette in my mouth, then remembered I was without a light.
I woke up late the next morning, well, early afternoon if we’re being honest, my mouth feeling gummy and foul, remembering I had forgotten to charge my phone. I plugged it in while I made toast, and when I looked over it there were a stream of texts from Colton, an escalating barrage of entreaties. Need to talk; project fucked; Saw Max; Miss you; Need your guidance; Coming up this Sunday; Sebby? Sebby!!! My finger hovered over the keypad as I waited for the coffee to percolate. I wanted to know how far we could hurt each other so we would never go that far again. I set my phone back down a poured a cup.
I showed up at the bar that night with a fresh pack of cigarettes and the will to see Andy again. I was up against a timetable, an inevitable reckoning, and I didn’t like being cornered. So, I ordered a whiskey neat and waited. And waited. And was ultimately rewarded when Andy did show up, sawdust-covered and tense-seeming; ready to unwind. He settled in and the bartender, not Rosie tonight, but instead a sour and puffy Greek man, pushed a bottle of beer towards him and collected the requisite bills. I let him collect himself before offering a gentle wave of recognition. He signaled back, a head nod, an affirmation. We sipped our drinks, and then another round, and then, when I caught his eye, I signaled with my pack of smokes. Would you care to, the meaning. He gave me a thumbs up.
We convened outside, under the yellow lamp, and this time I, the generous one, supplied him with cigarette and fire.
Stephen, right, he said.
Yeah sorry. He messed around with his phone for a minute, his thick fingers mashing out a text message.
You like to play poker? he asked.
Is that an attempt at euphemism, I said.
He responded with a blank look. Perhaps even blinking.
Never mind. Sure, I mean, why?
Got a game set up.
Then why not?
Come on. Let’s finish our drinks and go.
My feet rested on take-out bags and balled up paper towels and who knows what else as we rode the few short blocks to the apartment. We walked up a flight of steps outside the main structure and he rapped his knuckles on the weathered red door, which was opened by a witchy, blowsy woman, grey hair kinky and disheveled, wearing a loose black smock and thick jangly bracelets. Come on in, took you long enough, she said. Introductions were made, and while she busied herself in the kitchen, fishing out bottles of beer from the fridge, I scanned the room, which contained a few worn leather couches and some framed art prints. The only real light, aside from a few flickering votive candles on the mantle, came from the fish tank, where a collection of saltwater creatures sluggishly glided around. A door, from down the hall, banged open.
Kostya’s just leaving she said. Right kiddo?
Kostya, thin but jagged, all sharp angles, conveying a weariness with life beyond his age, dug his fists into his thin jacket and eyed me before he scooted out the door. Roommate? Relative? Boarder? The arrangement was unclear. I took a bottle of lager and was ushered onto the back porch, where on a forest green plastic table the game was arrayed. I met the other players, sort of: two guys in their mid-twenties to early thirties, if I had to guess, thick and hard and inscrutable—Joseph and Gil. Andy took a seat to my left, Callie, whose house we were at, to my right.
I know nothing about poker. Texas Hold ‘Em was what we were playing, and, being tipsy and intimidated, my strategy was just to wait until I came across a pair of cards. Otherwise I bluffed. This, as it turned out, was not a terrible strategy. The buy in was twenty bucks, I won more hands than not, and by about three in the morning I was up two hundred dollars. Gil had left by this point, frustrated, and Callie was yawning, Andy teasing her about her advancing age. I’m calling it, she said, and began to clean up the table. Andy shrugged and started to help, emptying ashtrays and scooping up bottle caps, and I pocketed my money. I’ll just, I can walk home, I said, feeling vaguely confident I could do just that. Andy was disappearing down the hallway, and said see ya, and I said thanks again Callie and was out the door.
Someone waved to me from the base of the staircase. When I reached the bottom to address the figure there were suddenly other shapes, bodies, limbs, hands groping and I was enveloped, caressed in a near-clinical fashion, then released, spat back, minus, of course, my winnings and my phone and my credit cards, the encounter punctuated by one final sharp blow.
I jogged after the figures for a few paces before tripping over my own feet. The fall knocked the wind out of me. Rolling over onto my back I lay staring up at the sky, dotted with stars. So plainly visible. I hadn’t bothered to notice the stars since I arrived here. Through the swelling slit of my left eye I was convinced I saw a UFO. It wasn’t a shooting star, or comet. This object, shimmery and in flux, remained, in my (albeit limited) field of vision for several minutes, moving not only left and right but up and down. It seemed intent on observing, commenting. It hovered like a poem. Colton was my immediate thought, I should tell him about this, he’d want to record it, and reached instinctively for my stolen phone.
Mike Dressel is a writer and teacher living in New York City. He has been published in Litbreak, OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, The James Franco Review, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other places. His work will also appear in the upcoming anthology Best Gay Stories 2016 by Lethe Press.