“We lugged our wine glasses over to the couch. She pushed in the tape and up came a 40s detective story. Halfway through, our lips got too close, and we lost all interest in finding the real killer.”—Ross Konikoff
West Side Stories
By Ross Konikoff
(Editor’s Note: Read Parts I [https://weeklyhubris.com/love-on-east-13th-street/] and II [https://weeklyhubris.com/love-on-east-13th-street-ii-the-pursuit/] of Love on 13th Street here.)
MANHATTAN New York—(Weekly Hubris)—May 2018—Seven-fifty-nine finally ticked over and I tramped up the steps into the vestibule. Tracking her name, scrawled on a piece of tape next to the #2C buzzer, I gave the button a good thumbing. The door clicked and I pushed my way in.
I climbed the badly sagging staircase, wondering all the way up if I might be the last one to do that before the whole damned thing collapsed into the basement. Speeding up as I neared the top of a dark hallway, I approached her door and gave it three confident raps. The spy holes in the other apartment doors clicked open within seconds. I gave a reassuring nod in their direction, and then her door opened.
“Hi,” she said, opening up just wide enough for me to pass.
She was dressed to stay in: sandals, black pants, and a blue silk T-shirt that was lousy at keeping secrets.
“I made supper and rented a movie. Sound good?” she asked.
“Dinner and a show? Perfect,” I said, watching her set things onto the table.
Swing music was playing on the radio while she emptied a very good Malbec into two crystal stems. We sat at the table and took turns spearing olives from a white ceramic bowl, disassembling a triangle of Manchego, and decimating a fresh baguette.
All this was depriving me of my sitting at home alone time, but I was the forgiving type.
“Not to pry, but what is it that you do at work?” I said, finally broaching the next phase of whatever this was.
“I sell ad space for an art magazine. I fly around the country, wining and dining clients, and pitching to new galleries.”
“Sounds like a respectable livelihood. Any openings?” I said.
“As a matter of fact, I was grounded last week, and from what I’ve heard, our monthly mailers won’t be the only thing folding soon.”
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“How about you? Are you good at anything besides making music?”
I smiled at her and waited.
“Besides that, I mean,” she said, without blushing.
“No need, yet. So far, every time I play the trumpet, somebody hands me a check. I go on tour with a singer now and then, but I have a full-time gig in town.”
“A full-time music gig? So you’re not a starving musician?” she asked.
“Only when I go on a diet,” I said.
“I do all right,” I said, keeping it vague.
She didn’t push.
We lugged our wine glasses over to the couch. She pushed in the tape and up came a 40s detective story. Halfway through, our lips got too close, and we lost all interest in finding the real killer.
After several futile attempts at quadrating two bodies on the contours of her couch, we surrendered and made a run for the bed. The rest of the evening was spent in the phosphorescent glow of the blank television screen.
The next morning, she got up first, making the coffee and preparing for work, or what remained of it. Her place was larger than it had seemed the night before. The light wrestled through a pair of broken venetian blinds that had opened and closed more often than a bad vaudeville act.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” she said. She’d pulled on that T-shirt from last night, but there was no trace of pants. I wasn’t complaining.
“Sorry, but I have to leave in a half hour,” she said.
“I’ll just have a cup and then drift. How about tonight?” I said.
“I need tonight for myself, but call me.”
“You mean I’ll have to sleep alone?” I said, acting wounded.
“One night won’t kill you,” she said.
I hesitated, and then asked, “Is there another guy out there, about to get his heart broken?”
“Well . . . something like that. It’s been over for a while. I just haven’t made it official,
Yet,” she said.
I stayed quiet.
“Besides, I have things to catch up on, and you probably have to go home and clean your trumpet. Let’s do something tomorrow night.”
“All right. I’ll call you later.”
She finished her coffee while I got dressed. I hugged her and then eased out the door, stepping gently down the creaky old staircase.
“Listen, I only need to make this trip two or three more times, and then we’ll be rid of each other, OK?” I said, just loud enough for the stairs to hear me. I took the creaking that followed to indicate that we had a deal. I had plans for my future, and six months in traction wasn’t part of them.