You'll never guess.
You know the girl you said I'd meet someday?
Well, I've got something to confess.
She picked me up on Friday.
Asked me if she reminded me of you.
I just laughed and lit a cigarette,
Said, "That's impossible to do. "
My life's gotten simple since.
And it fluctuates so much.
Happy and sad and back again,
I'm not crying out too much.
Think about you all the time.
It's strange and hard to deal.
Think about you lying there.
And those blankets lie so still.
Nothing breathes here in the cold.
Nothing moves or even smiles.
I've been thinking some of suicide.
But there's bars out here for miles.
Sorry about the every kiss.
Every kiss you wasted bad.
I think the thing you said was true;
I'm going to die alone and sad.
The wind's feeling real these days.
Yeah, baby, it hurts me some.
Never thought I'd feel so blue.
New York City, you're almost gone.
I think that I've fallen out of love;
I think I've fallen out of love...with you
New York City,
You're Almost Gone
On the morning of her wedding, Erin sat on a cement bench in the church courtyard and watched the smoke from the tip of her cigarette melt into the January sky.
The courtyard had been constructed from the awkward patch of grass that ran between the chapel and the annex building that housed the Sunday school and kindergarten classes. A fountain with a tiptoeing cherub stood at the far end, its basin clogged with flaking dead leaves. For three years Mrs. Janine 'Janey' Baxter (the head of the Ladies With Christian Morals League and co-chair of the Think of the Children Annual Bake Sale) had a vision of a glorious, rioting flower garden blooming against the chapel wall but the narrow courtyard let in little sunlight and the roses and pansies and daffodils rotted in the damp soil. Now the only thing in the flowerbeds were wet cigarette butts from nervous smokers who weren't brave enough to stand on the front steps and fend off any panhandlers who might walk by. The concrete bench, with its richly entertaining graffiti, was pushed against the annex building wall and faced the splotchy brick side of the chapel and the ashtray flowerbed. However, if seated correctly, like Erin was, the bench also provided a partial view of the sidewalk through the cast-iron gate that capped off the end of the courtyard.
A Snickers wrapper from the vending machine in the dim annex basement brushed against Erin's ankle, bare in spite of the weather. The tiny alcove where her bridesmaids were busily curling their hair and stepping into their fluffy gowns had been stifling and Erin was desperate to get away from the heat and her fiancé’s pouting niece; the girl hated her dove-gray bridesmaid dress and that her daily dramas were not being attended to. Smoking a cigarette was the only thing that would guarantee that any well-meaning person would leave her alone for five minutes. The fact that Erin didn't normally smoke went unremarked by anyone in the bridal party; they were all Brandon's family and had only just met her a few days ago. Erin hoped that going outside in just her lacy underthings and her father's huge wool overcoat would be attributed to wedding day jitters by her future in-laws. Or maybe they would think she was plain old crazy. Either way suited her just as well.
Erin took a shallow drag off of the cigarette and continued to watch the sidewalk, but it was still too early in the day for any guests to arrive at the church. She flicked the glowing tip against the bench, letting the spent ashes float away in the winter wind. She felt her own heat radiate towards her face from inside the collar of her father's coat and wondered if she could bum another cigarette from the janitor, or if she could dare walk down to the gas station to buy a pack of her own.
At that very moment a young man, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his dark jacket, turned the corner and began to walk in front of the church. As he came to the cast iron gate to the courtyard the familiar smell of burning tobacco and damp winter air engulfed him, making him think of the Christmas he spent at his grandfather's cabin when he was six years old, watching the old man whittle a toy train out of a hunk of blond wood with a Pall Mall dangling from his lower lip. As he broke his hypnotic gaze with the sidewalk to look for the source of the cigarette smell his eyes caught Erin's through the iron bars.
With that dark, careful glance Erin was suddenly in New York City six years ago, standing at the center of the world with her lover and the hot red glow of pulsing neon. They reached for each other's hands. It was ten o'clock at night. Steam gushed from the yellow lip of the Ramen Cup O' Noodles that crowned Times Square. Children poured in and out of Toys 'R' Us with faces bubble-gum pink. Taxis. Starbucks jammed full. Mediocre chain restaurants with bright white signs pouring over the sidewalk. A bus passed them; the sour smell of underground subways followed it. A girl in a purple tank top stood underneath the MTV Studios with a hand-lettered sign in Japanese; a shadow passed in front of one of the windows and she bounced on her platform shoes. Twin girls in matching green sweaters ate greasy french fries out of a McDonald's bag that their mother held down to them. Someone honked a horn at a tourist taking pictures in the middle of the crosswalk. Another horn answered four blocks over, and another. A drag queen brushed past, talking in Portuguese on a sleek cell phone, her accent and walk like warm marmalade. Erin reached out with her other hand and grabbed her lover's arm, wanting to keep him in this exact spot for as long as she could, within the buzzing heart of everything she'd ever seen and smelled and heard and touched in her life.
From the deep tunnel of the past Erin could see herself so clearly, standing in the swirl of Times Square, the saturation of that day spreading into the next and next, across the trip back home and the next year they were together. That lonely year: the time she threw a coffee cup at his head, the move across town, bronchitis, the stray cat, pawnshops, temp agencies, cold floorboards, too many funerals to count. New York City fading across the end of that relationship and the last time she felt his hummingbird heart against her chest; finally gone now, on this very day as she sat on the concrete bench with a smoldering cigarette pinched between her knuckles, two years of sobriety done and his final curse of loneliness on her head.
The young man's eyes remained locked on Erin's while his left foot struck the sidewalk in front of the cast iron gate, rightleftright and with a short nod he was gone, leaving her alone in the courtyard perched like a strange bird in an oversized charcoal coat, her hair pinned up in curls and baby's breath, her fingertips twitched towards his retreating, slouching back. She sighed, watching the cigarette burn down to the filter and slowly stood up. She flicked the butt into the Marlboro-studded flowerbed and walked inside.