We’ve been strolling for about twenty minutes when we again circle the benches at the fountain. This time when Sharp raises his brows in the question, I nod in agreement, so we stop and take a seat. He sighs in contentment as he settles in.
Sharp looks good today – relaxed and even a little dashing in his jacket – so I make the mistake of telling him. He looks away with a scowl that does little to hide the smile that almost lit on his features.
I squint up into the sky. “Well, you look as good as a guy like you can look, anyway. Your hair is at least combed and I don’t see any mustard stains on your shirt. New lady in your life? Something you’d care to discuss with the group?”
“Some group. Me and some shithead.”
I laugh right out loud. It’s fun to get his goat and I long ago decided he can’t tell it’s a kind of flirting. Sharp is a brilliant man but he has his blind spots. It’s clear he isn’t going to tell me if he’s dating someone. We sit without talking for a while, studying the other people, listening to the music of three jazz musicians standing in dappled light.
It’s Sunday in Washington Square, warm for this late in October. Cardigans have come off and are tossed over elbows or knotted around waists. The leaves are all stained glass and back lit. This is an impossibly beautiful, Hollywood kind of day.
Sharp taps my shoulder, says, “Look.”
He has spotted a woman and her son arguing near the fountain. The woman is yoga-and-kale-juice thin, wearing one of those dresses that looks like bicycling clothes. Her blond hair is short and messy and something about her looks familiar. She might be an actress I should know about. Her son has stylishly disheveled hair and wears skinny jeans rolled up to show off striped socks and rugged little boots. Peeping out from under the jacket he is twisting out of is a vintage-looking Blondie concert tee sized for a five year old.
“What do we think of that shit?” he asks.
“Well, I think it’s dreadful.”
“Dreadful,” he mocks not unkindly. “I agree. You know you’re a little Victorian, don’t you?”
“Dreadful has been retired?”
“Eh,” he says. “Looks like mamma wants Timmy to keep his jacket on.”
“Well, Timmy’s winning,” I say. “There should be a rule. Until you are pretty much a teenager, no one gets to dress you up cute and trendy. You just wear some old shit off the rack at K-Mart.”
He laughs. “Then when you get your first pube, someone throws you a bone and takes you to a J. Crew outlet in Jersey.”
“Yeah.” I ponder it a moment more. “I guess it’s annoying because you know that kid is going to be such an asshole.”
The boy we’ve named Timmy has wrestled free of his jacket, leaving his mother holding the sleeves with a frustrated and slightly astounded look on her face. Sharp shrugs. “Looks like he already is one.”
I laugh, warming to the theme, and say, “Timmy’ll be that guy who always knows exactly the right new bands to mention at parties. Bands you haven’t heard of yet.”
“He’ll quote Camus incessantly,” Sharp says, not missing a beat. “One by one, his traits will be perfectly fine – almost admirable – but collectively, they’ll make him the absolute worst.”
But now I’m bored with making fun of Timmy. He’s fallen and he’s crying while his mother checks him over. He’s become just a little kid again and it’s time to let up. Sharp must agree because he has an old couple in his sights. They are sitting on a bench on the north side of the fountain.
“You name them,” he says. “I did the last one.”
“But you call all little boys Timmy.”
I study the old woman, who is scribbling in a Sudoku book with a purple fountain pen. She is tallish, you can tell, with hair that hasn’t been taking calls since Carter was in office. It’s flame red and curls stiffly against the popped color of her tweed blazer. Her slacks look expensive but slightly high-water, as if they refuse to meet her curious choice of huge white tennis shoes.
“She is definitely a Marion,” I say. “Or else something romantic and feminine that never suited her. Like Gwendolyn or Genevieve.”
“Genevieve,” Sharp says. “But then he’s given her some big red nose of a last name that totally wrecks it. Like Rosenblatt.”
We laugh. Sharp taps my arm, “You’re not done yet.”
I squint at the man now. He sits far enough from her that a child or a small person could plop down between them. His hands are empty, loosely woven together on his lap. He is shorter than his wife and not just because he’s so old – this guy was always shorter than her. You can tell. He dresses exactly as bad as Norman Fell on Three’s Company, so I take the easy way out.
“Stanley and Genevieve Rosenblatt,” Sharp says. “I can buy that.”
“You know she has a prolapsed uterus.”
“You say that about every woman over sixty.”
We’re silent a moment more. The breeze has shifted and you can smell food from the neighborhood: briny franks, spicy gyros and something a little like brown sugar and butter, too.
“Let’s get brunch,” I suggest.
As we stroll along, I return to the subject of the Rosenblatts. “You know, I have this thing where I always imagine older women having prolapsed uteri but being unable to talk about it to their doctor. Like it embarrasses them so they won’t get treatment.”
“What is this? A fucking PSA?”
“No.” We step around a small man in Daisy Dukes, tugging the leashes of three dogs. The littlest dog is a shih tzu and the biggest a great dane. I dig my hands in my jacket pockets, wishing I’d worn only a t-shirt and jeans. I’m only ever happy in a t-shirt and jeans. Anytime I try to add another component, I live to regret it.
“Can’t you just see her daughter coming over and saying, ‘Ma, you’ve got to go to the doctor about this. It’s going to get infected, you know?'”
“Now I can,” Sharp says, wincing. “How come your version of her daughter sounds like Rhoda? Whenever you do a New York woman’s voice, it’s Valerie Harper all over the place. Don’t look, but your suburbia is showing.”
“Fuck off,” I say. “In my dreams, they do all sound like Rhoda.”
We stop on the corner of Waverly and MacDougal while the traffic moves against us. He grins at me, saying, “This still about what happened to your sister?”
Sharp remembers everything you tell him. His mind is a steel cage. I laugh as I recall the story my sister told me. She said she went over to our mom’s house to check on her one Saturday. Mom was in the shower when Julie got there so she made herself a roast beef sandwich and then threw herself over Mom’s bed, looking through a magazine and eating the sandwich. When Mom got out of the shower, she said, “Julie, I want you to take a look at something.” Julie got up and stepped into the bathroom, the roast beef sandwich in one hand and the magazine in the other. Our mother was standing in front of the bathtub, toweling herself dry with her legs about shoulder width apart.
“Look at this, honey,” Mom says. She lets the towel go and points to herself down there and where her legs meet up, there is something that looks exactly like a huge wad of chewing gum – that weird color called burple – blown into a bubble and then stuck there, half deflated. “It’s my vagina,” Mom said. “My insides are coming out.”
My sister said she literally threw up. She puked the roast beef sandwich right out over the bathroom floor and some of the throw up splashed up on both her and my mom. Then my mother, now as shocked and grossed out as Julie was, pukes in turn. And this puke, as Julie tells it, had walnuts and Craisins in it. “You know,” she added. “Those dried cranberries. But now they were reconstituted, so they just looked like normal cranberries.” She said it was the grossest thing that ever happened to her and I bet she’s not lying about it. Of course I called up Sharp at the time and told him first.
That was last year, when Sharp and I were in the thick of our friendship. We’d only been friends a year or so at that point and, his divorce over and him shy about dating again, we spent a lot of time together. That was back when I was a little bit in love with Sharp. The night I figured it out, we were walking back to my place from a bar. It was two or three in the morning, but we weren’t really that pissed. We’d been drinking slow and talking all night and we’d never switched from beer to liquor, though we talked about it.
I saw a mirror on the sidewalk someone had thrown out. It was cracked in one corner, but it had an interesting frame. Sharp could tell I liked it as soon as I paused to give it a look.
“Want me to carry it?” he asked. It was a big mirror and he is a bigger guy than me, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t manage. Maybe he could see I was a little peeved that he offered. He said, “Or we can take turns. It’s still five blocks.”
“Okay,” I said. So we took turns carrying it back to my place. He held it when we got to the apartment door so I could get out my key and let us in. The hallway is small and its easy to stand too close to someone in it even when there isn’t a mirror pushing the two of you together to get through. I could feel the heat coming off his body he was so close to my side. It made getting the lock a clumsy task.
When we got inside, I told him to throw the mirror up on the mantle shelf. The chimneys have all been bricked up, so the mantles are just relics now. He put it up and turned to face me, his stupid face a little red from coming up the steps, his eyes shiny and dark, the only bright things I could see at that moment. He was smiling at me warmly, as friends do in those rare moments of quiet we allow ourselves. I knew in that instant how much I had come to rely on him for feeling happy and it just kicked me in the stomach. This was a real pain I’d felt once or twice before in my life. I turned away with a cross brow and said flatly, “Thanks, Sharp. I think I’m gonna go to bed, so you need to go home.”
He left with a scowl on his face and I cried myself to sleep. But that was a year ago and since then I’ve folded those feelings up until they fit our particular box. It was that or no Saturdays like this one, where we walk and talk this way, opening up strangers and deciding we know the shape of them on the inside. We’re very clever, we like to think, and that is how Sharp and I work.