Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Out of Tribeca

In honour of National Short Story Week, we'll be featuring a short story from each one of our issues on our blog every day this week... starting from today. 'Out of Tribeca' was featured in our RED issue, March 2013.
We sat on the bus heading to the Upper East Side. It was the first time I had ventured out of our tiny Tribeca apartment in two weeks. It was the day I was going to turn my life around.
‘I can’t believe you have lived in New York your whole life and have never been to the Guggenheim,’ you said, ‘I’ve only lived here since I was eighteen and I’ve been five times, at least…’ you trailed off.
‘Ten years. So every other year on average?’
You messed my hair with your knuckles. It felt brotherly and made me think about Jackson. I ducked away and got that pain in my neck, it reminded me why I was there.
‘Besides,’ I said, ‘I’ve been to MoMA. Living in Tribeca is like living inside the Guggenheim, surely.’
You raised an eyebrow at me.
‘Do you still want to go to the Empire State Building afterwards?’ You asked.
‘Yes.’ I watched condensation run down the inside of the bus window.
‘Don’t tell me you have never been there either.’
‘Of course I have,’ I said, ‘with school in the fourth grade.’
‘Oh, man,’ you shook your head.
You had come to New York with an awe that had never left you, but this was my home town, as familiar and ordinary as the patch in Colorado where you were raised. Yet neither familiar nor ordinary as it turned out.
‘I’ll bet I have seen more of this city than you have.’ You leant past me, drew a heart on the dripping wetness of the glass, put an R for you and an S for me inside it.
‘You may know the touristy places but I know the real New York. The places to eat, underground music shops … foreign film cinemas,’ I stated.
‘You are so cultured, do you know that? For someone who hasn’t been to the Guggenheim.’
I elbowed you in the side. You wiped the heart off the window in retaliation. I huffed; looked out to the street. An old Asian guy sat outside his shop apparently unaware that it was not a summer day and that he had customers waiting inside. He seemed blissfully unaware that some people don’t have time to waste.
‘Do you want to get lunch?’ You asked.
‘No, I want to walk around a museum for hours, then queue for the Empire State Building for ages and fucking starve.’
You glared at me. I felt like crying, it was all I had done for a solid fortnight. I couldn’t stem the flow. That sharp pain on the left side of my head came back. The doctor believed it was due to tension. It always darted to that spot when I was stressed. The thought of dying was stressful.
‘There is no need to speak to me like that,’ you whispered.
I watched the people who scuttled down the street and the young kids in the seats in front of ours wearing trendy headphones. I tried to bat the tears away. You held my hand though you didn’t know why. I was being an emotionally demanding girlfriend again.
The miscarriage happened three months before I found the lump on my neck. The lump was the size of a pea. How long it had been there I don’t know. I waited a while, when it didn’t go away I went to see Dr Dawson. He thought it could be a swollen lymph node. I’d had no infections that my body had been trying to ward off; the miscarriage had been my sole health concern although I hadn’t felt unwell with that. It happened in the first trimester. You had held my hand then as we lay on the sofa, then in bed, with the blood pissing. Nature taking an unnatural course. You didn’t know about the lump. They were testing my blood for that.
‘Where do you want to get lunch? That is what I meant,’ you said.
I sniffed, felt that stab in my skull that made the skin over my jaw and shoulders go as cold as the window I leant on.
‘I know what you meant,’ I said, looked into your grey eyes, ‘sorry.’
You used your thumb to wipe away my tears.
I thought about Mom crying. Jackson had died aged seventeen in the hospice. When he had been diagnosed she had cried hard. Jackson took it like the tough guy he was. I never saw him cry once. One day, when we had no idea how aggressive the cancer was, they had fought.
‘Stop fucking crying, it's not you who has cancer,’ he had said.
‘It affects me. You are my child,’ she had said, ‘You’ll understand when you are a father.’
Jackson had lifted a cup and smashed on the kitchen table,
‘Fuck! It’s always about you, isn’t it?’
He had stormed off; his hand bled a trail to his bedroom. Scared, I stood outside his bedroom and listened. I hoped he would cry and become vulnerable so that he would need my comfort. I was useless. His games console had started to whir and then the click of his controls. I suppose everyone deals with their diagnosis differently.
In the hospice, one of the last things I heard Jackson say was: ‘When you are a father.’ A tired broken snicker, he had blamed mom.
Jackson thought she had broken her promise, as though she had a say in when he would go. I blamed her briefly too. I don’t know why. I regretted that when I lost my own baby, against my wishes and despite doing all the right things. No raw eggs. No shellfish. Still the blood had come.
You stood up to get off the bus. I followed behind, remembering why I was doing it. It was time to see everything I hadn’t seen. I had compiled a list to experience everything my city had to offer. Then we would travel to Italy, eat real ice cream and stroll up the Spanish Steps. Do the student-type things I hadn’t done when I had been grieving my brother gone too soon.
I would attempt to write a novel during my treatment, do a workshop in print-making if I had the energy. If I recovered I would run the marathon. If I was fine… well, I hadn’t allowed myself to believe it could be an option, I braced myself for the worst. If it turned out that I would have more than my twenty-eight years I would turn my life around; it began that day, out of Tribeca.
‘Here we are, Sophia. The Guggenheim,’ you said, still holding my hand. I felt a flutter of excitement that I hadn’t felt in years, apart from when I had found out that I was carrying your baby.
‘This is long overdue,’ I said as we walked through the doors.
We gazed at Picasso’s monochrome curves and Kandinsky’s abstract colours like tourists. When we were done, we walked to Madison Avenue and bought burritos that we ate in the street despite the chill. I realised how much I had missed having the air on me. I thought about the baby.
I had become obsessed with researching things on the internet; found a site that stated that pregnancy could accelerate cancer. Maybe the miscarriage had been a blessing in disguise.
I watched you eating your burrito like a child. You were engrossed, cold, hungry and lacking any self-awareness. I pictured you pushing a stroller and me gone. The thought of not being around for a child made my head thud. I would hear the results from my blood tests soon.
‘When summer comes around let’s try for a baby,’ I said.
You looked at me surprised and then smiled; your teeth all red.
‘Are you sure you are ready?’ You asked.
I nodded, you lifted me into the air and spun me around, I squealed at the shock of it. The shock of all of it.
‘Ok. Ok. Let’s do it. Planned this time. Wow, how very grown up of us!’
‘Wel, we are pushing thirty,’ I said.
‘Well, you are anyways, you are older than me.’
‘Only by three months!’ I shouted. I laughed. It felt great.
I hadn’t told you about the lump though I knew you would have understood; without doubt. You lost your mother in June. You had went back home to nurse her in her final weeks. I hadn’t mentioned Jackson to you, even during her illness. Of course you knew about him, my Mom always made sure to mention him when we visited her in the holidays, as though if she didn’t it would mean that he had never existed. You never pushed me to talk about him.
The baby had lifted your spirits as though your mother had put it there and not our emotional, heady reunion. We had decided on Penelope in her honour if it had been a girl. I wonder if her eyes would have been grey too.
‘Let’s get a cab,’ you said.
‘Someone feeling flush?’ I asked.
‘Why the hell not? This is a day for celebration.’ You hailed a cab and we got in.
‘Empire State Building please,’ you said.
‘You are so Colorado the way you speak to cab drivers,’ I said.
You frowned but laughed. You didn’t always get me but you were always amused nevertheless.
‘Does Penelope still stand for a girl?’ You asked, squeezing my hand in the back seat.
I looked at your boyish grin.
‘Sure it does.’ I smiled back.
‘And for a boy?’ You asked.
I wondered if I was supposed to say Jackson but I couldn’t. I never said his name; certainly couldn’t face calling someone else it every day for the rest of my life. That was if I got pregnant, if this one stuck and if I wasn’t dying of cancer.
‘Richard? After his daddy?’ I volunteered. You were taken aback.
‘Are you serious?’ You giggled.
‘Why not?’
‘Do you really want to become one of those types of couples? Who call their kids after themselves ‘cause they are so fucking awesome.’
‘We are fucking awesome and don’t you forget it,’ I said, watched the edge of your mouth curl and your eyes glisten.
‘I love you,’ you said, not caring if the driver heard. Not normally one for public displays of affection, that day you were.
‘It is good to see you happy again. I was worried you were thinking of leaving me.’
‘I’d never leave you, not by choice anyway.’ You laughed and kissed my hand. I could tell that you didn’t get me again. It didn’t stop you from loving me.
‘Empire State Building,’ the cabbie announced, we hadn’t noticed the monster in front of us.
I looked at you, you looked at the meter and handed him a fist of dollars.
‘Keep the change, ya filthy animal,’ you said before scarpering.
‘You are so stupid,’ I told you as the cabbie drove off slowly. Bemused, he watched us over his shoulder. 
After we made our way to the top we stood overlooking the city among the bustle of vacationers. I felt as though I was the only true New Yorker there, it made me laugh.
‘Well, is it like in the fourth grade?’ You asked.
I sighed and thought of everything that had happened since then, it felt like a lifetime ago. It had been longer than Jackson’s lifetime. I wondered if you and I would ever be back. I turned round to answer you, heard two women gasp. You were on bended knee.
‘Sophia,’ you said, pulled a Tiffany’s box from your coat pocket, flicked it open to expose a diamond ring.
‘Would you like to become one of those types of couples? You know, the ones who promise to love each other forever at the top of this strange structure?’
How could I tell you? It was everything I wanted. 

Kelly Creighton is Belfast born. She is a poet, fiction writer and artist currently living in Newtownards. She has published poems and short stories in literary journals A New Ulster, Lapwing Publications, Electric Windmill Press and Inkspill Magazine. She is on Poethead blog’s index of women poets. Find her on Twitter: @KellyCreighton

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