Why Don’t You
My father was born at the bottom of a hill: in a basement, where the landlord didn’t allow visitors. He had brown fingers, even then. At the top of the hill was where the mafia lived, or at least the rich people. It went down in wealth from there. He liked to say this at dinner. Feel more sorry for yourself, why don’t you, my mother said. She threw salad on his plate. My sisters had their forks and knives in their hands. I left, or I would leave, or I walked out again.
My girlfriend and I drank Coca-Cola in the oval in Marine Park. People played cricket there, but later it got empty, and we brought drinks from the Russian tea-house. Inside they only used plastic cups, even though it was a nice restaurant. We mixed the soda with vodka from the liquor store down the block. She had moved out of her dormitory apartment at Columbia to live in Rockaway, and I had gotten my first job. From her old dorm bathroom you could see the city in all directions. The way the building was angled, it was hard to tell where the rivers were. The city kept going, like it covered every curve. We used to stand on the toilet seat and watch the lights change on Broadway. In Brooklyn, in the middle of the park, the cars on the edges sounded like waves.
We would stretch out on the grass, so that just our heads were next to each other. We came here often. I worked indoors too long and the office had no view. She reached her hands behind her to cover my ears, and I did the same with hers, and reached farther down until they were on either side of her neck. She got up and we stood together, her hands clasped on my back, trying to push me through her. We didn’t kiss. With my head on her shoulder I could see the water, the Marine Parkway Bridge in the heat-fog, where the ocean started and the city ends. Let’s go to my place, she said. I couldn’t talk, so I just squeezed her wrists.
Avenue U, the cars on all sides, where I learned to drive the first time. The instructor had been a Vietnam vet who wanted to get into Republican politics. He let me into four-lane traffic even though I wasn’t ready. I told her about it. We made it to Kimball without letting go of each others’ sides. The 89 wasn’t running for the weekend, so we took car service instead. In the backseat, she sat in the middle, me on the end, and she put her bag on my lap. Her hand went underneath. I held it there for a little, then let it go. The driver was listening to a station with words we didn’t understand.
She was looking out the window. Motorboats went by on our left. Flatbush Avenue to the Parkway Bridge that goes to Rockaway and out towards the Hamptons. We didn’t want to know anyone who lived in the Hamptons. We’d thought about going there, somewhere right on the tip: bike out or borrow someone’s old Camry, sleep in the backseat; have one sleeping bag and throw it on top of us all unfolded like a tent we hadn’t battened down. We drove past the hangars, the empty Air Force land where nothing grew. Her apartment next to the water.
I paid the driver. We took the stairs up. Her keys in the door and the voices of her roommates, all three of them. I just walked straight to her room. On the edge of the sheets, she put a hand over my mouth. They’re having dinner, she said. I hadn’t taken my jeans off. We stand by the curtains and start all over again. We go slowly. The lifeguards are gone from the beach. Their chairs are bare and flecked with paint. Her hair smells like sand, like the worn seaglass my sisters collected when they were young, stringing them together in necklaces, the blunt edges bouncing on their cotton shirts. I see another, they would shout to each other, making constellations of their findings in their palms. There’s another, with the glass grainy in their hands, another, there’s another.
Mark Chiusano is a senior at Harvard University studying English and Mathematics and writing a collection of short stories for his thesis. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Utopian, The Harvard Review, plain china, The Bad Version, The Harvard Advocate and The Harvard Crimson.