New York, New York, New York.
Boom, Boom, Bam.
She's smiling at me with her eyes and I have vertigo because of it.
It's getting dark outside and it's warm inside, with her. And I’m sweating now.
Maybe sweating it all out.
Sitting, rain like shards of glass slashing against the window, and she asks me if I want a drink, smiling.
Boom, Boom, and suddenly I’ve had another and my phone is ringing. The doctor is on the other end.
I miss the call, deliberately.
And I missed the next call, deliberately.
I don't care. I don't want to pick it up. And she is rubbing the back of her hand on my shoulder. My phone was miles away in interest. But then again she is also miles away from my interest.
I’m trying to articulate that opinion to her, the break-up as it were, as the phone rings again after some time and it rings and rings and I finally look and it's not the doctor, but him, and I don't mind talking to him.
“I need to take this call,” I say, pretending it’s important, walking out of the room.
He slurs as he talks.
He's been drinking again and it's only 4 in the afternoon.
Then again, I’m no saint.
"5 o'clock somewhere," he says, more or less the signature slogan of a career alcoholic. "Join for a round. Or five. Tomorrow won't be that great a day, anyways. We can afford a hangover."
His voice is raspy. But his invitation is wrapped in sinister appeal. And five rounds seem perfect.
Besides, I don’t think I’ll be staying around her anymore.
I walk outside and it feels like the death of the universe just happened. The sky is dark, ugly and smeared on the horizon, the air chokes me, the smells sour in the mega city. There is no breeze, no wind in the trees, there are no sounds, just dampness from the just-happened shower. A car coughs by, spiting exhaust, and I cough.
She starts calling me as soon as I leave, craving for me to come back.
“I thought you wanted to talk about us."
“Whatever,” I mumble.
In the bar he and I drink and meet a banker and he is drunk and keeps handing me business cards. He says he's getting out of business soon. He asks if I want his business. He laughs. He thinks it’s funny. And then he looks at his watch and notices it's ten past 9, and he's already late. The babysitter can’t stay past 9:30.
I wave goodbye.
To my left, at a bar stool that is a little shorter than mine, my friend raises his glass and toasts, "to the economy," and we both gulp. His next toast is to our hangovers.
The doctor calls again around 9 a.m. when I'm slightly hung-over and working it off.
I've come to suspect early calls as harbingers of terrible news, and I hate when I'm right. She says that she had already tried calling yesterday. She tells me that my father is ill. She sounds somber. I hate when doctors sound somber, uncaring.
Medicine isn’t bureaucracy.
It makes her sound so lifeless, so cold, so devoid of anything.
I make a joke but it doesn't feel like a joke. It feels like I just said something wrong, or that I've just done something I should be ashamed of. It was really a bad joke, too, I think.
She doesn’t laugh. I'm talking to a zombie. Why would it be a laughing matter, anyways? Even across the distance, connected only by wires and radio signals, I can tell she doesn't even smile at me, or the joke, and I think that this really all is a joke, the whole damn situation.
"When can you visit him?" Her question is sharp.
I sigh loudly and it crackles over the speaker.
Maybe the sun is suddenly cloaked by streaking clouds and everything is grey. There is something inherently wrong, something rotten to the core with the environment all around me, and I'm not at ease. It's too early to not be at ease.
My head is throbbing and I'm fumbling with an aspirin bottle, the child-proof top anyways.
I ask what is wrong. The diagnosis is the same as it has been for years: he’s suffered another mental lapse, a relapse, and has been admitted into what boils down to an asylum and that I should be advised that he can’t stay there long because she knows he is medically able to quit being mental and as such the hospital cannot treat him. Drugs don’t help. And maybe she doesn’t want to help.
I laugh it all off, and it's a nervous laugh, and tell her I’ll be there as soon as possible, and she hangs up on me.
The cap pops off but the pills don't really give any relief.
The next day I'm thinking about calling the whole thing off, the whole grand affair I’m having with the girl, and I'm laying it out to him, the whole sad strategy to do so, and he's selflessly, longingly trying to reconcile the relationship because, as he puts it, "he hates to see a girl as pretty as a painting cry."
"It's not like she's holding a torch guiding us to freedom in this crisis," I say.
"She doesn't need to. You should hold your own torch."
"I passed that torch a long time ago, right after I used it to burn bridges."
I'm drinking a bourbon coke and the ice has melted but beads of cold perspiration still gather and drip from the glass and I put the glass to my forehead to cool my burning mind and I feel as a bead tickles and glides down my face, catching on my eyelash and the rim of my eye, then runs down my cheek as I blink it away.
"Weren't there good times?"
"Of course there were good times."
"I won't forget."
"I won't forget."
There are sirens outside, rushing past.
I go to her apartment.
She asks if I want to come in.
I don't want to go, but it's getting dark outside and it's warm inside.
"I don't care where we do it.”
I guess things fall apart so quickly. I don't think she registers the end as I explain it to her. Maybe she's surprised. I half expect her to say, "Well this is out of the blue," because it is, on my end, because I didn't even see it coming until it was too late. Now it's kind of too late, and it's getting late, and I tell her it's getting late and I mutter my statement, my parting words, and tell her I really need to go. And I stand there, for a second, as it all crumbles.
She doesn't cry.
Of course I don't cry.
The TV is on behind her and the main character is in Miami and the character puts on sunglasses in one scene because it's sunny out and there is a pristine pale-turquoise sky, to use Crayola box terminology.
I think that tomorrow the weather man says it will rain. I grin at the irony. What is it that the Roman mantra says, "Great rains most typically occur after great battles."
This conversation is a battle, I think as she stares at me coldly.
The clouds are there. It was glittering sun today, like the sun on TV reflecting off the buildings and concrete. The main character adjusts her sun glasses.
Above a plane roars by. We hear it even inside.
Her phone rings. She doesn't answer. The TV cuts to a commercial.
Somewhere in the middle of it all we are a charred relationship, the two of us.
“Besides, I need to go to the hospital.”
I don’t go to the hospital that day, though.
I wake up early the next morning.
Cold sweat, nightmares, tossing and shaking through my sleep.
When bad dreams are on your mind, something is generally imminent.
The dream stays with me through the morning.
In the dream I'm somewhere, in some city, filled with lights and music. And the sky is falling, shards of glass-like rain slashing and splintering on the concert. Then there are the screams. The music turns into the distant sound of bagpipes. When did the Scottish get blended into the trip to the afterlife?
My throat tickles and I think I'm getting sick and I go get salt water to gargle. It's ten minutes after 9 in the morning and I won't be making work any time soon so I call in sick.
I need to go to the doctor.