Here in March the predawn runs had already become the heaving axis out from which her many moods bloomed. They drove her daily beneath eastern high-rise mirrors blanked without light, left her tousled and flush in the elevator that slid up the spine of the building, itself a one-way glass jar looking out on the angular urban sprawl sliced by the river. Because only a force geologic could stop the frothing of real-estate in a place like this.
She breathed in heavy pulls upwards over the water. This was a ritual ascent already wracked by the strobe of endorphins that would keep her apulse throughout the day. And she’d noticed it long before, how the closer the streets got to the water, the more the buildings became towers of mirrors.
As if of course you would make the things more reflective, a natural market impulse to mimic, to create this constant ocular echo between glass and river. Possibly nothing more than camouflage on naked cash hunger since, if questioned, it presented you with what?
Yourself. Standing there and dumb for stopping to look.
Saying money and desire makes you complicit in all the many deaths of nature.
Rory showered twenty-eight floors up and made coffee from the brushed-steel contraption that operated exclusively in single-serving increments. The newscast playing from her phone on the counter said, “new evidence suggests.”
She sat on her settee in a silk kimono and drank her coffee and thought about the information of the day. She woke up to screenshots now, Kimmarah every morning filling her inbox with further evidence of her banishment from the groupchats. These young titans. People worth millions talking shit via text and dm.
“sis u about to get excommunicated…..wyd”
It was back in November when the thought had occurred to her that yes in a city where even the people you know are strangers, why wouldn’t you want to look constantly at yourself? This had seemed not a very profound realization to her but a pivotal one nonetheless. Some subcutaneous fact that had always been there and whose exposure delineated a new way in burning light.
A new era in all these mirrors.
So that now this: Kimarrah some faithless messenger for the old crew saying Rory had changed on them. Which was true. She’d stopped appearing in whites on Saturday and in rare fabrics that hugged her figure for marathon lobbyist fundraisers enkindled on three strains of speed. The glittery squares of sidewalk on Madison in front of Versace gone. Constant brand identification that functioned at the clickstop of instinct halted. All that weight of architecture upon every loaded conversation. Gone. No longer forces that attended her. There was no more cocaine off furniture with handcarved acanthine legs. She’d stopped ordering drinks for prices that could feed families nine miles away.
Rory grabbed her phone and scrolled through the new photos. Their confusion had turned into savage malice, as she’d known it would. She read on their castigation of her move out the Upper East Side, into fake-hip, fake-slum Brooklyn. A place that did not truly understand money. Could not, could never be meaningful because it was terminally dwarfed by adjacent power. They called her a dumb slut tourist. They called this a tantrum, just a phase.
“I mean fuck leave the country for a while, a plane ticket is cheaper”
“normal people go to the islands if they want the natives, or like east”
Her phone screen darkened asleep after a minute. She didn’t go into the city much at all anymore., no. Something about Manhattan had come to feel, slowly, almost imperceptibly, contaminated over time. Basically, she’d fallen in love with the impersonal sleek safety she now livedin. Her East River highrise, this well-lit incubator of speechless calm and removed from the centers that used to rule her. Four grand a month, cheaper by a factor of ten than what she used to pay, and insulated against the assault of all former expectations.
The phone lit back up with a text from Dennis saying he’d be over soon.
There was a lot of time now. She read about cultures on the island nations of the world. She read the first published translation of The Odyssey by a woman. Rory spent hours wondering to what degree she was totally evil by consent.
That and she’d been seeing someone. A girl named Nefeli who lived way east on the border of Ridgewood. Fresh from some no name town on Long Island but otherwise the historical facts were still a little out of focus. Nefeli seemed the type prone to the keeping of secrets. Maybe given to self-mythologizing even. A type that thrived in New York City.
All of this was fine for Rory. She’d learned to appraise rather than vilify the elaborate personas people built out here and how in different spheres you could be someone completely else. Whoever Nefeli was around Rory, however true that figure fit with the unspoken facts, they were for the time simply enjoying eachother’s company, and that was enough.
She’d even taken the train last week. With her of course. Under no other circumstance. The fucking L with everyone packed tight going home from the city and how it roared up above ground just in time to present the sprawling hillside graveyard at the Wilson stop. Nefeli’s stop. Evening light and tombstones, columns of orange sun stabbing out between the trees.
The monitor by the door blinked and chimed in neutral belltone. She stood to buzz Dennis up before pulling on a pair of chocolate Vince leggings and a ratty crop-topped Reatards t-shirt she’d worn home from Nefeli’s last week.
He seemed agitated. Damp and windblown in his pressed suit shuffling through the door a minute later, no tie, Dennis never wore a tie.“Eli is coming in on Friday.”
“Is he?” She sipped kava tea as contact profiles and calendars flashed by on his tablet.
“He wants to see you.”
“How about Verona on Saturday he says. Eight.”
“I’m busy all that night.”
Dennis looked up at her. “This is Eli.”
“You do remember your father, right?”
She curled the corners of her lips downward like, maybe.
“The type of man he is?”
“What type is that, Dennis.”
“Elevated, I’d say. Immune from being told certain things.”
“Things like no.”
“Things like you thought maybe about thinking no.”
“When’s the last time I saw him?”
“Check,” she said.
The dull taps of fingertips on the touchscreen. He was mid-thirties still looking youngish, a good face that would save him from the heavy wine paunch he was developing. She knew he resented the fact that he had to cross the bridge to meet her now. Funny to think too, but while he shuffled through the digital history of her whereabouts, she realized that Dennis had probably been the most steady male presence in her life, since ever.
“May 2016. He flew in for Jill Hurwitz’s gallery unveiling.”
“The woman he wasfucking when mom got sick.”
Impatiently, “One of them, yes.”
“And I went to that?”
“I think we agreed that you would make an appearance.”
“I don’t remember speaking to him.”
“I don’t recall that you spoke to him.”
“But it was important that I be there, right?”
“He asked you to be there, yes.”
“What was he wearing?”
Dennis scratched his cheek. He thought for a moment. “Navy turtleneck, black dress pants. Handmade. He still had the beard. The Hemingway beard you called it.”
“I can’t remember.”
“You’re lying, Rory. But that’s not important. What am I going to tell him? Because full disclosure I’m hearing stuff like he’s coming here because of you. Your little reinvention.”
She smiled. “Tell him I live in Brooklyn now.”
“As if he doesn’t already know.”
“They’re all going to hate me now.”
“Less than that,” he said in a sigh. “It won’t be hate. They’ll just make it so that everyone forgets about you.”
Rory nodded. “That’s good too.”
“You’re not listening. Maybe forget isn’t the right word.”
“Well take some time to think about what is the right word.”
He shook his head. “We need to talk about your money now.”
“Alright,” she said. “Let’s talk about my money.”
The car came around for her. She was in the t-shirt and leggings still, with a pair of Gucci oversize sunglasses hovering in front of her articulate face. Slate Mercedes sedan, one of the older pneumatic models she’d insisted upon and the driver today was Claude, brooding and quiet Claude, a man whose devotion to their carefully unspoken animosity she treasured.
“Where would you like to go, Ms. Esposito?”
She had her hair pulled back, smoothed sleek to the scalp and tapering into a tiny black bulb just above her neckline. She was thirty-one years old and looked twenty-five or younger. “The office. The one here, not in the city.”
A calm takeoff, smooth on the gas as always. She took the moment to close her eyes, wrapping two fingers in the shirtsleeve of the t-shirt. She brought it up to her nose and breathed. Vaguely citrus. Musk of sweat not her own. It gave her fortitude.
The office was a warehouse unit in Fort Greene barely a month out of renovation. Part of town with brickwork streets lobed by clusters of divebars and neo-hippie coffeeshops that during the daytime drew skaters who smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk.
Nondescript white boys most of them, interchangeable, bailing on big spins while pretending not to lust after her as she walked past.
Felix reclined in the large cubicle with his feet on the desk.
“Morning,” she said.
He sat up rapidly at her entrance, nearly knocking over a stack of printouts. “Hey, Rory.”
“Anyone else in yet?”
“No Kat is still at home. But to be honest she works better from home.”
“Where’s it at?”
“Still smoothing the two OS features, all looks pretty good yeah?”
She already wasn’t listening to him. She sat at the rearmost desk and pulled up her emails then the Atom docs. None of this mattered. Boredom hissed behind her eyes. Anxiety of a dire nature immune to the usual coping mechanisms. She closed the document. Back in the apartment Dennis had told her about the maneuvers they were making against her at Reeves. A slow ice-out. He’d talked about her options. He’d mentioned the name of her lawyer and said “preemptive measures.”
“What were you working on?”
“What?” said Felix.
“What were you working on before I walked in. I saw an image editor on the screen.”
“Oh uhhh. Nothing it’s…”
“I’m not gunna bitch you out. I don’t care. What was it?”
Sheepish smile, half-proud. “It’s just a meme I was thinking of. Me and my friend Alexis were talking about it the other day.” He clicked around and pulled up an over-busy clash of images. “It’s like the dating flowchart here. The New York hierarchy. Take a look. The indieboys want art girls, art girls want band dudes, the band dudes want alt-girls, alt-girls want DJs and SoundCloud rappers, DJs and SoundCloud rappers want ass models, and ass models want basically the absolute biggest pieces of shit they can find.”
She was amused by the accuracy of its comically cropped portraits but remained otherwise expressionless.
“I don’t normally make them, so visually it’s kinda crude,” he said. “But funny, right?”
“Everyone tries to punch above their weight, get someone they know they can’t have. The endless clout-chase. And at the top of the list? Tip of the pyramid?”
“The worst kind of people.”
Rory shrugged. Nefeli had just texted her a picture of her nails, blinding overwrought emeralds attenuated to points at a length of two inches. She’d said “wya?”
“But that’s like all of life, isn’t it?” he said. “The worst fucking people get it all.”
Rory sat back. She wanted a cigarette. “Firsthand experience. It’s true.”
She had the driver stop at a bodega near Myrtle where she bought a pack of Marlboro 27s, a lighter, and a bottle of Hal’s as two men berated each other in front of the deli display. She remembered last weekend, walking back to Nefeli’s from the party with the sun coming up, the crazed white mother loping down the street with her babe under chin, mouth practically foaming as she held forth on the madness of their time. A woman cursed on the day itself and Nefeli had pulled Rory quickly into a coffee shop because she knew the woman and could not “deal with that energy right now.”
Hadn’t she loved that. That Nefeli knew a woman like this.
Claude had gone to make the block since there was no parking anywhere and she smoked in the cacophony of the intersection, visored and safe from eye-contact behind her sunglasses, untouchable behind the membrane of her money. Temporarily. All the weight of her commercial sins would be falling upon her soon enough. There would be a fantastic retribution for her inability to remain accessory to certain contracts, this gravest of betrayals having unfolded all season to mutual disbelief. Her own as much as theirs
She’d held it to many lights, many angles these past months. A certain way of looking at it would be to say that Reeves Bloc was party to the destabilization and plundering of a foreign country now decades deep in civil war. A slightly more detailed way of looking at it was to say that the company had contributed partial code whose purpose was to siphon off money at high level transactions. National bank transfers, government funded infusions with military destinations. Though technically no longer a partner, her father still maintained some nebulous tether to the company. Records denoting his input did so under the term “advisory capacity,” a label she found funny because “advisory” still implied some manner of autonomy in the one being advised.
She was ensconced in the greenroom of a bar called Long Legs, three p.m. and gin drunk. Two carefully unkempt boys lounged from across the coffee table in tryhard slouches. Rory sat down on the couch beside her. “Do you like them?” Nefeli asked. “You never said.”
She grabbed Nefeli’s hand and looked at the nails. “They’re heavy. I like that they’re heavy.”
“What’s your name?” one of the boys asked. He had a tattoo of a spiderweb over his right temple and wore a gold chain, so fake she could almost smell it.
“Debo,” she said.
“Yup.” Shaved head, his arms scabby.
“You got these last night?” turning back to Nefeli.
“This morning in the Bronx. Can you believe.”
“More like late, I never slept.”
“All the way to the Bronx?”
“Buses,” she groaned. “The fucking worst. But worth it. It was Nicki’s old nail tech.”
“Buses,” Rory repeated. “I can’t even remember the last time.” Though of course there was no last time. This was a thing that never. Buses.
“I’m feeling claustrophobic,” Nefeli said, nuzzling into Rory’s shoulder. “Take me away from here.” The boys frowned under eye rolls and looked at their phones.
“Alright, let’s go.”
They walked in the wind. A mild heat, hinting at what was to come in a few months, wetter and worse.
“Where we going?”
“I don’t know,” Rory said. “We’re on your drag not mine.”
“Oh and those boys?” Nefeli said. “You don’t have to worry about them.”
She exhaled a single laugh with her hand out, “Hey listen, that’s not what this is here. We’re not a thing that we have to reassure each other. Do what you want.”
“Ohhh,” Nefeli said, gripping her arm. “Okayyy.” Around the corner the sidewalk was sprinkled with a pool of window-shaped glass clearly made from a car burglary. “You smell like smoke, daddy. You got cigs?”
Rory pulled the pack from her bag.
“Have one with me. Actually let’s cross here, there’s a shitty cafe bar up the block with outdoor seating.”
Nefeli was cripplingly pretty, even lolling around like this on the tiny wooden patio. They smoked and sipped coffees between cigarettes. She had long black hair, hazel brown skin, too many rings to count. Part of Rory wanted to replace all of her, swap her fake jewelry and piercings with the real article, adorn her in fashions unfathomed, pieces of design each one of which could pay the girl’s rent twice over. Drape her in jewels, then set her loose. Never speak to her again.
The way that everyone here eventually disappeared back into their own worlds without a word.
“So what do you do exactly anyway?” Nefeli squinted at her. Rory switched her crossed legs. The money was constantly present with them but had still remained an unknown. Rory paid for everything when they were together, no longer even a question, and she liked this grayness, this ability to leave her flex ill-defined but omnipresent.
“You’d hate me if you knew.”
“Can never hate any girl who’s getting the bag. That would be, like, against everything I stand for.”
“What I do is a bad word to people like you.”
Nefeli laughed. “Damn, sis. People like me.”
Rory smiled. “Meaning class. Not race.”
“What is it though. For real.”
“I’m in tech.”
Mock wide eyes, “Does trigger the gag reflex, not gunna lie.”
“But I don’t hate. How could I hate daddy?”
“It’s not that hard. I’ve been hating mine for years.”
“But you’re different.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Serious. And I don’t know what it is about you. You really are different though.”
Rory thought. Then she said, “I’m a sociopath still on the fence.” Which made Nefeli laugh. The girl went inside to the bar and came back out with cocktails. Rory felt tired. Her chest hurt and she could feel it coming, the moment when he would be in the city. The dread and dragged history moving tidal. He would upend the gravity of her entire world overnight. He’d reverse all her momentum. In the end the only thing she could do was leave. She would flee to Greece. Or maybe Singapore. These past months she’d become fixated on islands for some reason, as if water were any real barrier to men like him. But leaving was the most final message she could send. To intentionally remove herself from his presence, from the work, the required silence. The subtext would be unmistakable.
And of course they would erase her for it. Her fake little startup in Fort Greene would be crushed within the month. She would not be able to move her money around fast enough or hide it deep enough and she’d wind up penniless in a country whose tongue she didn’t speak. A tourist. A stranger without a bank account.
She knew this. It was irrevocable, it was already written.
The red syrupy drinks beaded on the plank table between them. Nefeli gave her a look, a sort of spilled-out smile that seemed to catch her by surprise. “I like you,” she said. “I for real can’t even remember the last time I said that to someone.”
Rory imitated one in return. The girl was drunk. Nefeli did camwork she knew, long late hours to pay for her studio apartment. The colored clamp lights, the laptop apparatus on a rolling metal cart hinted at it before she’d fully let on. Rory didn’t harbor false fantasies of “saving” her, which is what Dennis had intimated when he found out about the situation. She simply wanted to give the girl everything she ever wanted then ask her, How do you feel now?
“You’re going to ghost me, aren’t you,” still smiling, straw in her tattooed fingers. Rory saw in the girl’s eyes certain reservoirs of feeling she herself could no longer access. Haunted pools in the brown orbs. Notions of uncorrupted joy. “Maybe not today. But you will.”
In the car coming east from Myrtle she’d begun looking at international flights, round trip just to put Dennis off her true intentions. Because even he was an other. They could all be turned. Not that it really mattered though. It would end the same for her regardless of what anyone thought today or tomorrow or next week or five years from now. There was a kind of imminence to her own destruction that she’d warmed to for its qualities of simplicity and certainty.
Rory said, “Whatever happens, you should at least see my place first.”
“Oh I get to meet mother?”
“Wear something nice.”
“Look who’s talking. That shirt, Jesus Christ.”
That evening Nefeli slept off her daydrunk in the bedroom as Rory watched the city changing out the window. Ferries scudded the East River under a pink sunset. Smokestacks and glittering traffic. Insane for it to be this pretty, she thought. All of life warming again after winter.
On her phone the news said, “militant parties have infiltrated.” Her head hurt, and her chest too. She knew she would miss the apartment. This moment probably. She knew the spring would be bad.
Jonathan Trosclair is a writer and musician from Louisiana currently living in Lafayette, Louisiana. His writing has previously been featured in the 34th Parallel, Scarlet Leaf Review, Southwestern Review, and the e-zine Beguiled. In 2012 he won the Judge Felix J. Voorhies Award for Creative Writing while earning an English degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is currently seeking an agent for his first novel.