Karen Regen-Tuero ~On the Corner of August and 19th

I was on my way to the office one morn­ing, walk­ing up August Avenue, wear­ing my gray suit cut so nar­row I had to take short steps. With my pais­ley silk scarf tied in a bow, I sup­pose I looked like any oth­er bank man­ag­er in the city. I had no nee­dle marks left any­more, no vis­i­ble signs under my cuffs that I’d once been a user.

You’re on a roll, Sue!” my hus­band Pat had remind­ed me with a minty peck on the cheek before I grabbed my tote. “You’ve just been pro­mot­ed. You should be happy.”

I tried hold­ing on to this. But, instead, I was think­ing of L. I often did. What if I bump into her? What’ll I say? She wouldn’t have any rea­son to be walk­ing on August. She had­n’t lived here, she had lived in a house­boat on the water. She hadn’t worked near here either. She hadn’t been work­ing at all, except for an occa­sion­al trick when short on cash. But she could be on her way some­where else. What would I say? The last time I’d seen her was before I got mar­ried six years ago. Then I moved. Pat didn’t like her. “She’s a bad influ­ence,” he said. I nev­er said good-bye.

We met after I first came to the city when every­thing was new. The clubs. The lights. Each moment unknow­able, dis­con­nect­ed, and alive like sparks. It wasn’t like it was now, soft and predictable.

I had just five blocks left but as I approached 19th Street I sud­den­ly became weary from walk­ing in the suit and had to sit down. There was a church on the cor­ner, made of time-worn lime­stone. I passed it each day. Today I saw a man on the steps, cloaked in a thin brown blan­ket like a monk, and I sat down beside him. He was shiv­er­ing despite the sun. I reached into my tote and gave him the bag with the cof­fee and Danish I’d bought for break­fast at my desk.

Thank you,” he whispered.

I felt a bit bet­ter. I freed my throat from the pais­ley scarf and my feet from the black pumps. Watching office work­ers pass and turn the cor­ner, I heard Pat’s voice in my head hur­ry­ing me on so I wouldn’t be late, remind­ing me that with the pro­mo­tion came respon­si­bil­i­ty: I had peo­ple under me now wait­ing for my direc­tion. Thumbs press­ing into my shoul­ders, his breath a sluic­ing mint, he drummed into me, “You should be happy.”

I thought of L and smiled. The last time I’d seen her was at a par­ty, the lights in the hall­way low­er than din­ner can­dles. I saw her on the stairs, lean­ing toward the man beside her. She’d pushed her skirt up to her hip in an offer­ing but the guy just kept tok­ing away. “Shit,” she said lat­er on, grin­ning at me as she gath­ered her red hair into a thick pony­tail. “What’s wrong with men?”

Was she clean now? I won­dered, or was she still, well, her­self? Look at me, I thought, I’m so clean in these clothes, I’m like a retouched pho­to I can’t find myself in.

You okay?” the man beside me asked.

I wiped my messy mas­cara-black tears and mum­bled, “Yes,” try­ing to stop more from coming.

I noticed he had tak­en off his blan­ket and wasn’t shak­ing as much any­more. He had fin­ished both the Danish and the cof­fee, set­ting the emp­ty cup on the stoop in the space between us. A passer­by dropped a coin inside. His sad look seemed direct­ed at me.

I hadn’t until then real­ized what a sight I made. I had tak­en off my suit jack­et so I could breathe and pushed up my blouse sleeves. The mas­cara must have cast half-moon shad­ows under my eyes. And the cry­ing had incit­ed such a headache I need­ed to hold both hands to my head to con­tain the pounding.

There was no point in going to work now, I had suf­fered too much dam­age. I would think lat­er of what to do. I leaned against the side of the church and closed my eyes. The shade of the eaves was like a com­forter. I heard the man I’d sat with whis­per his thanks for the food, then “good-bye.” Or was it “good-night?”

Before I awoke I heard the clink of anoth­er coin in the cup, then my old nick­name, “Skate!” Even Pat didn’t know that name. “Is that you?” the voice said, reach­ing me as if through a tun­nel. It was low, grav­el­ly. L’s voice.

I opened my eyes and saw a woman in a gray suit turn before she moved on.


Karen Regen-Tuero’s short fic­tion has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, North American Review, The Literary Review, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. A grad­u­ate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA Writing Program, she works in long-form TV and is fin­ish­ing a novel.