Saint John of the Five Boroughs

The  Other CIty

Edward Falco

Unbridled Books

October 2009, Paperback

432 pages


Kate lay in bed clutching the cell phone to her chest. Her hotel room, around the corner from Hank and Lindsey’s, felt like a coffin—a stylish coffin, with its polished wood floors and walls encasing elegantly designed furnishings, but a coffin nonetheless. She had already showered and was fully dressed after sleeping poorly through the night, starting at the sirens and squeals shooting up from the streets. She had gotten out of bed as soon as the dark started dissolving in the room’s only window—if it was really possible to get out of bed in this room, which was mostly one big bed. She had to think that the room was designed for honeymooners who had only one purpose for being there. The glass wall in the shower made her laugh. From the bed, on her back, it looked like a giant plasma TV, and she couldn’t imagine couples over a certain age wanting anything to do with it. She considered going over to Hank and Lindsey’s room and knocking on their door and decided, yet again, that she would wait for them to call her or come get her, as was the plan.

She was surprised at how unpleasant it was to be traveling with the two of them. The active pretense got to her, not the lying—because it wasn’t like subjects came up often that she had to lie about—but the acting, the pretending that there was nothing more than familial affection between her and Hank. It had been years since she’d spent any extended time with Lindsey. She saw her at every family gathering, so it felt as if she was always there, always around, but actually they hadn’t gone anyplace together or done something together, something more than sharing a meal or banter, in years. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, Kate had looked into the backseat, meaning to say something to Lindsey just to break a long silence, and found Lindsey stretched out with her sunglasses on, looking blankly out the back window—and it had hit her then how young Lindsey really was. She looked like a kid, like a teenager sulking in the backseat. She reminded Kate of Avery more than anything. Avery sulking. Avery unhappy. And then it seemed impossibly strange to her that Hank was Lindsey’s husband. There were fewer years between Avery and Lindsey than there were between Hank and Lindsey.

From someplace nearby, Kate heard the dull percussion of a helicopter, and she knelt on her bed and looked out the window in time to see a blue police copter swooping over the adjacent buildings. She found the city frightening. On the way in, on the radio, they’d listened to a story about a man who’d jumped on top of someone whom someone else had just thrown onto the tracks in front of an approaching subway train. Apparently the guy had covered the other person’s body with his own, and they’d both survived, because apparently there’s a deep enough space between the tracks for the train to pass over you. Lord. What kind of place? When Kate had asked Avery what she liked about the city, Avery had said, The culture. This was a phone conversation. The art, she had said. The people.

Kate knelt on the pillows and looked out her window at sunlight on rooftops and windows. She felt tears building. She felt a cry coming on—and she wasn’t a big crier. Even in the hardest times after Tim’s death, she hadn’t cried much. She was so low at points that she felt as though nothing in the world could make getting out of bed worth the trouble—but the meds helped her get past that. She guessed she was depressed, but mostly she felt a terrible sadness, and why shouldn’t she? Tim was dead. Avery was away. Then, when Hank came along, she let it happen. Tears started at the thought of Hank, and she wondered what was troubling her more, her baby Avery in the city with some gangster or Hank around the corner with Lindsey.

It was early still: a Wednesday morning; people weren’t even at work yet. Kate retrieved her cell phone from the bed and tried Avery again. When the phone rang, her stomach knotted the way it had been for weeks whenever she heard ringing on the far end of the line, out somewhere unknown. She waited, desperate for Avery to answer and fearing she wouldn’t, as if every ring vibrated somewhere in her heart. And the disappointment, the frustration, there they were again, every time. The ringing would stop and the message start, Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging service, and then the slight pause and Avery’s voice, Avery Walker, and Kate would hang up as the robot went on, is not available to take your call. She only waited to hear Avery’s voice come on the line, Avery Walker. She didn’t bother leaving a message. She had left message after message with no response, so she had to assume Avery had stopped bothering even to listen to them. With every phone call, there were so many things that hurt, she didn’t know why she kept calling. There was the not answering, and then the wondering where Avery was and what she was doing and how things had come to the point where Avery just clicked the button and disconnected her. And then there was the fear, the one she had to tamp down, that something was wrong, that there was some reason her daughter wasn’t answering the phone. It was that fear that had brought her to New York. The detective, Kelly, had said Avery seemed fine, that she took the subway to work in the morning, spent time with friends in the evening, and had a late dinner at a Thai place on Manhattan Avenue with the guy, the guy she’d left college for, Grant Danko. “Grant Danko,” she said his name aloud. Kelly said they seemed happy. They walked arm in arm from his apartment to the restaurant. They laughed over dinner. Grant Danko.

Kate stretched out on the bed, crossed her arms over her chest, and waited. All she needed, she thought, was a bouquet of flowers in her hand and she’d make a perfect corpse. Then she let herself, just for a moment, think about being dead. She scared herself a little when she did that, fantasized about being dead. Sometimes she could get elaborate in her fantasies, and there was a crazy mix of fear and comfort in thinking it through, thinking the whole thing through: how she’d do it, who’d find her, what Avery and Hank and the family would think. She wouldn’t do it. She could never do such a thing to Avery, for one. She loved her too much to inflict that on her—and she loved herself too much, had too much hope left—and then there were her religious beliefs. So she knew she’d never do it, but still, she’d find herself, at night mostly, before falling asleep, thinking it through. Sometimes she’d think about jumping from a high place, someplace like Dragon’s Tooth, a ridge of high jutting rocks with a steep drop to the valley. In those fantasies, it was the jumping that caught her imagination: standing on the rock ridge and doing a graceful swan dive into nothing. But she didn’t like the thought of some rescue squad having to carry her body out, and chances were good she’d be such a mess that she couldn’t have an open casket—and she wanted an open casket. Something about the idea of looking beautiful in her casket appealed to her. Sometimes she’d think through carbon monoxide in the garage, or cutting her wrists in the tub, and in those fantasies it was always Hank who found her. She imagined him crumpled in tears, kneeling by her body. Always she imagined that he’d keep their affair secret, that he’d never tell anyone, so it would be something between them for eternity, something he’d carry like a sweet wound.

Outside, another helicopter swooped by, this time so close that her window rattled. Kate closed her eyes. Her heart was beating hard, which didn’t mean anything, her doctor had assured her, but it was annoying, hearing her heart thump in her chest. She’d feel better, she felt sure, once she saw Avery. She needed to see her. She needed to talk to her and touch her. Maybe Avery would help her understand. Maybe they could talk about her choices, and maybe there could be some way to understand—but really, more than anything, she needed to see her, she needed to hold her and touch her and see her. Then they could scream at each other and rail or whatever, but really, irrationally, she had a terrible need to see her, to see Avery, just to see her standing in front of her, real and solid and there.

Hank watched the ceiling, his arms folded under his head, as Lindsey curled up against him under the sheets, her leg thrown over his thigh and her head low on his chest. They had both been quiet for a long while. Lindsey had said that she didn’t know why she had cried in the shower after sex, and that had left Hank thinking about the differences between men and women. He couldn’t imagine a man doing that, breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing without something precipitating it. Hank had cried at the news of his brother’s death. He had cried when he’d found out about Ronnie. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand crying, he just didn’t understand it coming out of nowhere. After sex? At that moment? This was the second time it had happened to him, just like that, making love and then the climax, and then she was crying. The other time was Kate. The second or maybe the third time they had sex, but the first time she came—just the same as Lindsey, she started crying out of control, deep sobs, gasping for breath. It wasn’t like Hank had a ton of sexual experience as a basis for comparing and analyzing sexual behavior. He’d always had long, committed relationships, so he’d only been with two other women before Lindsey—and nothing like that had happened with either of them.

“We should get going,” Lindsey said. “Kate’s probably been up for hours.” She patted his thigh and then pushed the heel of her hand into the muscle, massaging him.

Hank said, “I don’t know about this new plan.” He unfolded his hands from under his head and sat up when Lindsey rolled off him and onto her back. They were both naked. Lindsey lay with her arms parallel to her sides, her palms flat against the bedsheet. She had kicked off the top sheet earlier. Hank ran his hands over her breasts and belly. He said, “You’re beautiful.”

Lindsey laughed, surprised by the compliment, and turned on her side to look at him, her chin propped in her hand. “I’m still not going with you,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. We’ll look like a posse sent out to bring her in.”

“No,” Hank said. “I understand. Do you know where you’re going yet?”

Lindsey made a face that said she wasn’t sure. “Thought maybe Times Square. I have good memories of going there with my family.”

Lindsey said family, but Hank knew she meant Ronnie. As a kid, he was the one who’d loved Times Square. Hank had heard the stories. The flash and glitter of the place, as Lindsey’s father told it, attracted Ronnie like it was a massive video game that he could walk around inside. Plus he liked the stores, and he knew his parents would wind up buying him something or other. That Hank had heard from Ronnie. “If Kate gets through to Av this morning,” he said, “we might not have to go to the restaurant.”

“I still think just showing up where she works is a bad idea.”

“Maybe you can talk her out of it.” Hank threw his legs over the side of the bed.

Lindsey said, “I’m worried about Kate. I’ve never seen her looking so stressed.”

Hank fell back on the bed as if too tired to get up, “I think Kate’s said almost exactly the same thing about you.”

“I am stressed,” Lindsey said. She stood and negotiated the narrow aisle toward the bathroom. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Why wouldn’t Kate be?” Hank said, talking to the ceiling. “Her only daughter dropped out of college. I’m worried. Aren’t you worried?”

Lindsey said from inside the bathroom, “You know what?” She stepped out into the narrow corridor. “I’m really not worried about Avery. She’s twenty-two, she’s rebelling. I’m actually kind of excited about Avery.”

Hank threw a forearm over his eyes. “For God’s sake,” he said. “Please do not repeat that to Kate.”

When Lindsey didn’t respond, he took his forearm away from his eyes and found her standing where she had been, unmoved, staring at him as if she wanted to say something more but was having trouble coming up with the words. A small part of him wanted to encourage her to say whatever it was she wanted to say, but a larger part of him was taken up with looking at her, at her mouth and nose and the brightness of her eyes, at her breasts, at her belly and thighs and legs, at the triangle of downy hair between her legs and the youthful sheen of her skin. Then she was saying something more about Avery, and Hank was listening and letting the words in, but mostly he was just watching.

She might as well be blind, given how little she could see of the glass and steel and concrete howling around her with people and cars, carriages with babies going by along with costumed joggers and pedestrians and police—Kate glanced over at Hank walking solemnly beside her, his hands in his pockets, his eyes straight ahead. At Columbus Circle, he stopped to gawk at the lines of cars and taxis and the hundreds of pedestrians swarming what looked to Kate like a gigantic roundabout. She knew it was Columbus Circle because of the street signs, and thus she assumed the marble statue atop the granite column was Christopher Columbus—but she really was having trouble taking things in. She had to stop and concentrate and tell herself to look, otherwise it was all a bluish blur of glass and motion. Hank appeared mildly awestruck. His mouth was open, as if he were about to comment on something. He gazed toward the circle and beyond it, into the towering walls of glass acting like mirrors reflecting the city back to itself, buildings reflecting buildings and people and traffic under a cloudless blue sky. Kate noticed two police buses parked on the circle in front of another monument, this one topped with glittering bronze figures. They were long white buses with Police in pale blue letters, and they looked as if the two of them could hold a small army. She tried harder to see, peering over the streets at the green-and-white umbrellas of the curbside food stands and past them to the startling green canopy of trees that had to be Central Park—but all she could see were people and cars and motion.

Beside her, Hank finally tore his eyes away from the circle. “It’s this way,” he said, and pointed down 8th Avenue.

“Are you sure?” She touched his back and then slid her arm through his and walked close to him. When he didn’t respond, when he didn’t squeeze her arm a little or say something to indicate he was happy to be walking arm in arm with her, she was quiet. After half a block, she pulled her arm free.

Hank said, “It should be on the next block.” He took a slip of paper out of his pants pocket and checked the address. When they found themselves standing outside the restaurant, a green-and-white awning that read “Heriberto’s” on the fringes announcing the place, Hank said, “This is it. Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Kate said. She gestured toward the restaurant’s entrance. “It’s obviously closed. You think I should just knock?”

“Knock,” Hank said, “and if you don’t get an answer, call.” He handed her the scrap of paper from his pocket. The restaurant’s phone number was scribbled under the address. “I’ll be across the street.” He pointed to what looked like another small restaurant, a few tables and chairs out on the sidewalk under a blue canopy. “Call me when you’re ready.” He walked away without so much as an encouraging touch. Kate’s back went stiff and she almost called after him, but watched him walk away, his hands in his pockets, as if he were strolling leisurely along a grassy embankment somewhere. She watched him until he crossed the street, and then she knocked at a polished wood door. When her hardest knock clearly wasn’t making much of a noise, she banged on the glass. A moment later the door opened, and Avery was standing there. For a couple of seconds, they looked at each other, wordless.