Story first published in GLIMMER: An Anthology of Hope.
“Friends can be deeper than lovers, friendship deeper than love.” I read that in a book somewhere.
Yeah right. I don’t think so. I’ve never cried because some friend wouldn’t speak to me, or because someone I used to hang with won’t answer my calls. I’ve never felt my stomach muscles clench and my heart race like a trapped animal because I had a great conversation with my girlfriend in the checkout line.
I’ve never woken up in the middle of night and wondered what would have happened if I had stayed in touch with my highs school friends, or if perhaps I’m running in the right circles and need to move on.
No, it’s when your lover won’t answer your calls, or when you see someone that you know you want. It’s when you ask yourself where your first love is now and how something so brilliant could end so badly. Or it’s when you wake up at night looking at the man next you and think what the hell am I doing with you. That’s what’s deep.
We tell lovers things we tell no one else. We show them things that no one else gets to see. Do things for them we would not do for anyone else. Things they make us do, never mind if we want to or not.
How did I get here? It’s a question I ask myself. All alone with nothing except my suitcase. I’m walking through the city, I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing. I only know I’m not going back. I can’t. I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to.
Sure the concierge would let me in. He might even smile and doff his cap. Right now I must look like a tourist. A pretty girl dressed up and dragging a case, what else would I be. No one would think I was a runaway, an escapee, a fugitive.
I don’t go fast. He’s not going to come after me. I don’t have to worry about that. That’s all over. He will never treat me that way again, not ever.
The suitcase wheels click as I walk along the sidewalk. Where am I going? I don’t know, I don’t have a plan. I look around me and I’m not even sure where I am. How long have I been walking? It doesn’t seem that long. Where’s the street sign? There’s a junction up ahead. I walk and can’t help feeling that I’m being watched. 142nd street, I’m a long way from midtown. How long have I been walking; no wonder my feet are sore. I think about calling a cab, but were too? It’s a question I can’t answer. Besides, now I don’t have so much money. I took all the cash that was in the apartment, but I left the cards. They were in his name anyway. If I used them, I could be traced. I learned that from watching “The Hunt is on.” Who said TV never gave you an education.
There is some kind of play area up ahead. Just shows you how far I’ve gone. Kids, who thought there were really kids in Manhattan. Anyway, there’s a seat I can sit on so I’m grateful for that. Take a load off. My feet are killing me. I should have worn sneakers instead of these shoes. But these are my favourite pair. I couldn’t leave them behind.
I draw out a cigarette and light it.
“Hey, what you doing, you can’t smoke here.”
Some do-gooder comes over, a man.
“This is a playground, our kids lungs live here and they don’t want your smoke.”
That does not even make sense. But I put the cigarette out anyway. The last thing I need is more hassle. I look up at him from my seat. He’s short, fat, bald and scruffy. He’s dressed out as if he shops at Target. He’s prissy and I watch as one of the kids comes over. The kid is like him, chunky.
I get up and grab the suitcase. Keep moving, like a bag lady. Keep moving, there’s no place for you here. No place for me anywhere. At some point I’m going to have to find a place to set things down. The case weighs a ton. I don’t know how much longer I can drag it around.
I’m better off on my own. I always have been. Men just hold you back, hold you down. It’s been like that since high school. A pretty face is as much a curse as a blessing. One guy I knew asked me why pretty girls always go out with jerks. I guess he was asking why I wasn’t going out with a nice guy like him. Why don’t pretty girls go out with losers like him? But the real reason is because all men are jerks, every last one of them. They seem all so nice to begin with but once you’re with them it’s like the own you. Well, no one owns me. No one.
When I met Tod, he seemed different at first, but then the all do. He had a nice smile. That’s what attracted me to him first. I was out with my gals, and he came up to me and smiled.
“Hi gorgeous, what are you doing here.” Not that original, but he had this goofy smile that made me laugh. It was like, what else could he say. I told him I was there with friends.
“Okay, but not boyfriends?” No not boyfriends.
“So maybe I could call you?” I think I gave him my number just to get rid of him, but he was hot. And well dressed. I could see he was wearing a genuine Rado on his wrist. And his dental work must have cost thousands. So I gave him my number, why not. I gave Tod my number, and when he called I answered.
“Girl the rate you go through men, you better give them all your number.” Yes, not nice. Tracy said that. Well she got what she deserved. And she said she was my friend too.
He took me out, and we had fun. I mean Tod was good looking, we made a cute couple. We had a blast, we had a laugh. And when he called me again, I thought why not. He had money, had class. It looked as if I had finally struck pay-dirt. Got me a man with looks and money. I could tell he was really into me. And yes I was into him too.
Those eyes, and that hair, and that… Well never mind that.
How did it happen, I just started staying over at his place. Nothing was said, nothing decided, but more and more of my stuff ended up at his place. At first it was just the odd night here and there. Then the weekends and then, what was the point in paying rent on my crummy place, when I could stay in an apartment in midtown.
It was some apartment too, the sort of place you see in those magazines. It was big and bright and airy with a fabulous view. There was a great kitchen, but to be honest neither of us were much into cooking. Tod pretty much lived off protein shakes, and I don’t eat much. There’s a price for looking this good.
Mostly we were out anyway. I’m not sure what Tod did during the day. We never spoke that much when we were alone. I think he was some kind of fancy lawyer, but he had contacts too, good ones. The kind that got you into parties, the kind of parties you wanted to go to. I met a ton of guys in the business. Tod said he wanted to set me up. I can dance and sing. And I can act. All I needed was the right break and these guys promised me.
I shouldn’t name names. They never came right out and said them anyway, but I knew who they were. I had pictures on my phone. But I didn’t need to google them. There was always someone saying, do you know who that is? And they always wanted to meet me. Why wouldn’t they? I was always the classiest gilr there.
Of Course, they were looking for pay-back. I can always tell by the way they look at me. It’s part of it. Goes with the territory. I know his name. Tod introduced us.
“Woah, where did you pick her up?” he asked Tod.
Tod smiled. “She’s great isn’t she?”
“What are you boys talking about?”
I pretended I didn’t know. But I knew exactly what it was. I looked at Tod.
“It’s okay, babe,” he said, “There’s a room.”
I don’t want to think about it now. It made me mad at the time, but what else could I do. I smiled and followed Tod and Mr X, the big shot.
“You want this, don’t you,” said Tod. And I suppose I did, just not that way.
Afterwards we went back out and mingled. Did they even know what happened, maybe they did. The place was full of girls just like me. They all wanted something, all filled with hope. It’s then that it hits me. They’re not looking to help us, they are looking to help themselves. They don’t care about us. Not even Tod. He’s just using me. They’re just using us. They’re taking our hopes and dreams and using them against us.
I never thought that Tod was the one. I never thought of us growing old together, but I thought I meant something to him. I held his hand and smiled up at him. When he turned and smiled back I could see all his teeth and his eyes. I saw exactly what he was. Not a big shot lawyer, just a high-class pimp. I was his girl alright. He had caught me and now I was his.
There’s no point thinking about that now. I knew what I was getting into. No time for feeling sorry for myself. That’s all over and done with now. I can’t sit here for ever so I get up and start dragging that suitcase down behind me. Clickity-click the wheels go.
“Excuse me Mam some black guy shouts, “Are you lost?”
He comes over, I’m not afraid.
“You got far to go? That looks heavy.”
I give him the name of some crummy hotel in Hudson Heights.
“You got a ways to go. You should get a cab. Good luck with that in this neighbourhood.”
He offers to take my case for me. I shake my head; what if he runs away with it. Not that he’d get far pulling this weight.
“I’m ok,” I say. “It’s not that far. And really it’s not that heavy.”
Now that I get the chance to look at him, he’s younger than I thought, and not bad looking. He’s got one of those fez caps that Muslims wear. He smiles at me, and I realise he’s pretty good looking.
“I can’t see a lady in need,” he says.
That’s kind of him. It takes a few minutes to persuade him I’m alright. He’s not threatening or anything. In fact he’s kind of sweet in a serious way. Religious people often are. I wonder what he’d think if he knew the truth about me. They’re always sweet until they find out. He bows to me politely before he lets me go on my way.
When I reach the bridge, I’m kind of shocked. I guess in a way I knew this was where I was headed. I mean where else could I go. The south pedestrian way is closed for repairs. So I have to go under the road and up the other side. It’s late now, maybe seven o’clock and the sun is beginning to drop from the sky when I get on to the bridge. It’s quite a view. I’m looking over to New Jersey. Looking up the river, I can see The Palisades on one side and Hudson Heights on the other.
There’s a sign on the bridge, actually lots of them. Maybe one every fifty yard. THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE; CALL THE SAMARITANS. FREE PHONE NUMBER OR USE THE FREE PHONE AT THE CROSSING BOOTH. If I hadn’t been thinking about suicide before, then I am now. The signs are everywhere. I am thinking about suicide. The hand rail is only a few feet high, it would be so easy to get over it. I wonder what it would be like. A few moments of ecstasy, like flying and then it’s all over. Would it really be that easy, just to end it all?
I think of Tod and what he did to me. How he used me. But I won’t give up. I won’t do it, I tell myself. I won’t let them beat me. I won’t let them win. I’m better than they are. After last night and all that happened. Who could blame me if I did? But I won’t. I’m stronger than you Tod, I showed you that already. Even after all you did, I got my own back. I won’t throw that away now.
I stop in the middle of the bridge. This is what I have come for. Just do it and get it over with. Before I know it, I’m gripping the hand rail and hoisting my case over. The case weighs so much. It must be heavier than I am. But I don’t give up, I get it over the edge and it dangles there for a few moments. Let go, let go I tell myself. I can feel the weight of it pulling on me, pulling me over. I’m gripping the hand rail and bracing myself to stop me from being pulled over. It seems like forever, that case hanging there pulling at me, drawing me over. It would be so easy just to let it drag me down. It wouldn’t be that bad. Who would miss me? Not Tod, I say to myself and bitter laughter rises up. I’m laughing to myself and the sound of it is the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s as if I’m not really here, like someone else is laughing. Is it you Tod, are you laughing at me. Well, too bad, because you won’t win.
Let go, let go, a voice in my head is screaming. My arm is aching with the pain of holding the case, but my fingers won’t open. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. You can do this. One by one my finger slip and suddenly the case is falling. I watch it tumble down into the Hudson. That could have been me. Suddenly I have no desire to follow it. I step back from the edge. Time has restarted.
“Good bye Tod,” I say as I see the case splash into the river and sink below the surface. Finally he is gone. How far does he sink; deeper than lovers, deeper than friends. Deep into the water and the mud. Deep below the surface. He won’t be coming back. It’s over. He was not the one, we are finally over. He’s gone.
Not to worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea, or in this case, the Hudson.