Ninth Street, and your sleeping body on the bed in the middle room. Months when we barely spoke to one another, endless summer months I spent waiting, working, scraping together the money to leave you. How I walked across town every morning to save the subway fare, one long walk from Avenue B to Hudson Street; how I always arrived with my blouse wet from perspiration and with blisters on my feet from the cheap plastic shoes I wore. And always holes in the toes of my nylons, always the anxious hope that the runs wouldn’t spread above the tops of my shoes by the end of the working day. A handbag with a sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil and the instamatic camera I carried around with me like a precious secret, anticipating the moment when I would find what I was waiting for and press the little red button, once each day, one photograph each day. Rust stains spreading out from a spigot and patterns of erosion on a building’s façade, and sometimes just garbage on the street or a swirl of oil in a dirty puddle. On some days I found nothing at all, having waited too long and the light having grown too dim, but I always took the picture anyway, even though the film couldn’t record much more than a murky blur; a lesser day. And how difficult it was to get those blank days developed; how the laboratories automatically skipped over them, and I had to make a special request each time, had to explain that I wanted these worthless pictures developed too, and in the end I had to pay for a hand development because the machines couldn’t be made to print the underexposed negatives, but that came later. Searching for clues, searching for myself, for patterns that seemed to carry some kind of meaning, to contain something that might lead me to who I am. And the job, paste-ups and mechanicals, blurred vision and headaches from the fluorescent light, and at lunch time, sitting on a bench outside, eating the sandwich I’d brought with me and adding up the hours I’d worked, always double-checking the multiplication, always worried about making a mistake. Calculation upon calculation in ball-point pen on a napkin, this is how much I will have earned by August, this much by the end of September, this much every hour, every second. I’d finish my lunch and take a walk over to the jetties on the riverfront, scrutinizing every surface along the way, the cracks in the asphalt, the scraps of litter along the curb, or what had once been a winding snake of spilled paint on a sidewalk of granite stones, long since dried and hardened, the fluid line fragmented now, the stones having been dug up at some point to fix a gas pipe, a water pipe, and then replaced, fit back together again, but in a different order, cutting the flow into segments of equal length going first this way and then that; how happy these things made me. Sometimes I worked late into the evening and called the driving service, company policy extending to anyone who worked overtime, and thus even to me, and I would sit in the back of a chauffeured limousine and let myself be driven back to our apartment, thinking about the absurdity of this misplaced luxury and wondering what the driver might be thinking, a young woman with oil paint under her fingernails, hair a wild mess, and a heart torn between staying with you and leaving, staying and leaving.
A Lesser Day. Novel. Spuyten Duyvil Press, New York 2010.