“Godless,” a greyed man says. His thick dark eyebrows furrow with some bad kind of tension. He sips from a cup. The weight of a man compacted in 70+ years of life and what lies before him is the pleasure born between a man and woman resting one body top of the other – me and my female companion.
The swirling vapors from the hot coffee blow with his words. “This whole goddamn society is godless.” He steps away and walks a path that leads to Fifth Avenue. The grass does a nice impression of his boots hunkered down into the ground and it’s the ghost of his footprints that haunt me.
Myra laughs and her naked breasts bounce with every heave. I didn’t cover myself either but am more bothered by what he said. “Wasn’t Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden?” I ask Myra. She balances a cigarette from her lip and digs into her jeans, which are spread across the grass.
“You want more?” Myra opens her palm and inside the small of it is a bag half way filled with sweet white cocaine. I needed more to stay awake and watch the sun.
I dug a key into the bag and snorted from it. “Fuck, shouldn’t we have had some kids by now? I don’t mean you and me – we’ve just met but shouldn’t we be doing the American Dream?” I wish I could remember why I had moved to New York.
“Look around you, Nico.” Her smeared mascara circles small bruises around her brown eyes. “The American dream is fucked.” She passes the cigarette to her other hand and inhales deeply into the bag I’m holding. “The American Dream, just like you and me, is fucked.”
The sun sheers through the clouds and little birds whistle through them like flying knives. The smog lifts from the streets and the heat from the day before makes the whole cityscape appear like a post-apocalyptic survivor.
I didn’t want to think that the American Dream was fucked. Being naked with a stranger and lying on the Great Lawn should mean something. I wonder if I could repopulate the world with Myra if everything were to implode.
A flash of memory from last night – we were in the street. We had a heart-to-heart for the first time about nothing that I can remember. It was a vibe we shared. There was a dream hidden in the alleyway near a stony Lower Manhattan street and the shadow of a tall tenement kept the Norman Rockwell nightmare in the dark. There was something in the past that made the future seem imminent and all prospects bleak.
“We’re human,” Myra begins. “We’re not that special. Our conscience dooms us.” Her glassy eyes were focused on a bush.
Myra has been working as a prostitute for the last few years. She told me last night that she hadn’t developed any skills to make an honest living from. This was easy for her she said.
“I count the holes in the ceiling,” Myra tells me. “The whole time they’re fucking me, I’m not even there. I’m watching from above and afterwards, they throw me some money and it’s done. Over. Easy, right?”
She must have been beautiful once. There’s still some sparks of innocence pocked in her sunken cheeks, her thin arms, her natty hair. Out there somewhere is a father, her dad, her god maybe thinking of a place she might be. What she’s up to. With me here, those memories must be a long ways away in her mind.
My rumination returns to us in the present, Myra grabs my hand and helps me up. “I want to take you somewhere,” she says. I exchange her bra for my shirt. My shoes for her fishnets. She pulls her long curly hair back. In the glow of the sky, the sun crowns her head like a halo; as if she’s some golden goddess who’d lost her way to the heavens.
“I want you to meet someone.”
We’re walking through 32ND Street in Midtown Manhattan, close to Penn Station, watching the people climb out of the subway station, battered and butchered from a New Jersey whatever. Men in suits with their coats hanging by threads wear the wretched cologne of stale beer blowing from the street.
“When you walk in, I want you to pull me closer to you like you mean it.” Myra says to me. I can hear our destination before she tells me what it is. I don’t ask. I all ready know.
A door blows open and two men stagger out, clutching onto each other’s shoulders, breathing in each other’s foul air. My cocaine dreams running out of steam. I need another bump, something to numb me. I reach into Myra’s pocket and she stops my hand short of pulling out the bag. “What happened?” I ask.
She pushes the door open and inside is a disorderly shit house. Men drunkenly croon over the sleeping old body of a woman, beer bottles broken on the floor while people slip in their own vomit. I didn’t know that bars like this still existed in New York.
I tell the bartender to deliver to us a pair of brown bottles of beer so we can sit, chat; let our minds settle onto the scene. The bartender might have been a pretty woman once but the smoke rising from these scum bag’s backs stained her skin with premature age.
Myra’s foot thumps on the floor like a looned rabbit and she’s tapping the top of the bar with the tip of her finger. There’s a man who sits alone at the end of the bar wearing a grimace and a hollow face. His hair is tousled while one eye looks one way and the other looks at me.
“Have you ever seen anyone paint a scene like this before?” Myra asks.
All I can think about is that bag that she has in her pocket and how I’m going to get it out and use it on myself. I want to feel beautiful again.
“Hey, little girl,” a man in a blue pea coat says to Myra. “Wanna hear my rattlesnake shake? Sssss.” He looks like Earnest Hemingway had he survived the suicide. I can smell his whiskey-laden breath when he bellows laughter. The bartender climbs over the bar, holding a beer bottle in hand. She yells, “Frank you sit your ass down.” She motions her head over toward the other side of the bar where the man who’d been staring over at me for the last half hour sits.
“Jesus, Margaret. I just wanted her to hear my rattlesnake. Sssss…” He laughs into his glass of whiskey, his breath pushing bubbles from the drink.
“I told you to pull me in close like you mean it.” Myra says. I draw her in and can smell the all night sweat on her neck. Some of it might be mine. Some might belong to other men. I can almost taste the salt.
Myra grabs the bottle and chugs its contents down in three swift gulps. I motion the bartender for one more.
“I grew up around men like this my whole life. All of them had something, lost something. You understand that this is all I know.” Myra tells me.
All I can think about is how I got here in the first place.
“I mean, why do you think I do what I do?”
I know she has my fix in her pocket.
“I wish I could just end this. Start over. That kind of thing. Nico are you listening?”
My thoughts elsewhere like the bottom of her pocket.
“Yeah, I’m listening but maybe we should go into the bathroom for just one bump. Two?”
“We can’t go just yet. There’s someone I want you to meet so you can see who my role model is.” She laughs and takes a swig from her beer.
A beer mug slams hard against the bar and the man who did it grunts and stomps out of the door. He’s the one who was staring at me earlier, looking for a pause, I guess to swirl in his anger. Myra looks at him through the window as he walks down the street, her eyes swell with what might have been a clogged pool of tears had she not become so dry herself.
“OK. Now we can go use some of those bumps,” she tells me.
My heart swarms with the buzz of delight, warmth and all of those euphoric sensations of a starving man about to eat. It’s better than getting sex after watching strippers grind against your buddies all night. It’s better than hearing a good Rock and Roll song the first time. It’s better than falling in love.
We close the door behind us. No one sees but their voices, hollers, still reverberate through the walls; a bunch of clumsy old men, retiring underneath the shredded doubts of inebriation. I’ll be joining them soon with my song, my love, my drug.
She takes a long whiff from the bag, another one and another and she squeaks out a whimper but holds it back. “Here,” she says, her voice broken but I’m too damn fixated on my fix to ask why her voice went weak.
A door slams open and there’s the man who had just left the bar. One eye staring at Myra, the other staring at the toilet. Her face did something new. It went soft, it went limp and her lips curled into a sour sad hope. The man’s face wore the same lips, the same mouth…his nose, slightly crooked matches Myra’s.
“You whore! You slut! How many times did I tell you not to come in here?”
Myra’s silence looms larger than the man’s thick frame. His hardened hands curl into a fist and then turns his large bull head to me.
“You’re lucky that I wasn’t around enough to act like her father.” Spit flies in my face and I can taste the vodka from his gut.
“But you,” he continues looking at Myra. “You’re the slut that dragged this piece of shit in here. My place. My home. My own…” and with that he opens the door, slams it closed.
Myra straightens, wipes a single tear, and strengthens her face then she’s back to her stoic self; hardened like an egg whose soft shell had been broken and taped back together.
“That’s my dad,” Myra says. “Your American Dream.”
Myra, me…her father and all of those sad old men out in the bar — we’re all tragic children picking apples from some utopian garden waiting for an unpleasant god to tell us we’re wrong.