John Gillespie CC
Bryant Park, a weekend in May, and I’m far from home, wearing small-town nerd hard in ballet flats and a discount camel coat. My host, a writer, has an appointment and alone, I approach this tiny patch of New York like it’s a tea party I’ve been invited to.
But it’s not, and I haven’t.
I turn into a café, or try to, its shopfront a funhouse maze of 90-degree glass. I run up against a wall, not a door, and bounce back into a businessman. “Good job,” he sneers, and cuts ahead of me. Inside, I order a coffee and moments later, spill it on my new coat. I rush back in, find the bathroom, splash too much water on the stain while someone bangs on the door. I leave for the second time, head into the park, thread my way through crowds of people who don’t look down or at each other, who swarm like ants from a kicked-over hill.
The sunshine is a liar and I shiver, the wet spot on my coat spreading up my shoulder. I spot another bathroom and duck inside, relieved to see hand dryers. I just get to the front of the line, feel the rush of warm air, when an attendant in a uniform yells, voice shrill, “You can’t be doing that in here, Miss!” Heads turn to stare, heat rushes to my face and I back out of the small building like I’ve been caught bathing in the sink.
Outside, I see a pigeon whose foot is caught in a scrap of thin plastic netting. It can barely walk, the injured foot curling in on itself like a tiny fist. I stare, helpless. I have nothing to trap it with, nowhere to take it if I did. I tell a woman pushing a garbage can, point to the area where I saw the pigeon. She says thank you like it’s a question and keeps walking.
The park is filling but I find an empty chair and sit down, alone but so exposed, hoping to hide in plain sight, and cry without sound.
Next to me sits a fat, shirtless man whose entire upper body, bald head too, is covered by a tattooed treasure map. Dotted blue lines cross and recross his skin, landmarks labeled. I want to stare but look away, too late. He sees me.
“Hi,” he says, more of a grunt than a word. He folds his hands on his belly, and I wonder how he can be warm enough. But he seems happy, cat like, with an eye open and then closed again, almost dozing.
I sniff. “Hello,” I say. Then I look back to the grass in front of me, wipe at my eyes.
He doesn’t say anything else and I don’t try to, either. We sit like that for ten minutes, maybe more. Until I’m done crying. I don’t turn my head but I know he is there, breathing slowly. From the corner of my eye I see his belly rise and fall.
Then, face almost dry, coat still wet, I stand. He opens an eye and tips his head, the movement barely perceptible. The eye closes again and I walk away.
Rebecca Cuthbert lives, writes, and reads in Western New York. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Slipstream, Neworld Review, and elsewhere. It is forthcoming in Blueline Magazine and Memoryhouse Magazine. She serves as managing editor for Leapfrog Press, and also as a content writer and editor for LiveWriters (livewriters.com).
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