Anne woke to the sound of him in the kitchen, and a blade of light cutting through the high, narrow window and dividing their bed in the basement apartment. She made no effort to move, and when he came into the room, she closed her eyes. She heard him pick up the paint-stained pants he’d worn yesterday, and the click of the belt buckle. Feeling him walk over to the bed, she tried to level her breathing and relax her face as he kissed her forehead, “Bye hun, I know you’re awake. Don’t sleep too late.” She waited for the door upstairs to shut before she sat up, and wrapping herself in the sheets, she ventured into the kitchen for coffee. It was burnt like he always made it—thinking the more bitter the taste the more effect it would have.
She dressed in a long skirt, knee-high boots, and a wool sweater. She would have passed as one of the orthodox Jewish women that worshiped at the synagogue four blocks west if it weren’t for her unruly brown hair that, loose, snaked down to her waist. Outside the wind was busy breaking the last red leaves from their hold on the maple trees. She walked to Mama Elena’s, a Colombian restaurant where she could get coffee sweet and heavy with cream, thinking of what she would say she did when he got home. Certainly not buy coffee when they have it at the house already. Certainly not take the bus into Manhattan just for the hell of it. Not when there’s laundry to be folded and groceries to be bought and friends who would be happy to meet up with her, if she would just call first for once.
She had only been in the city two hours when she found herself at Katz Deli with no money to pay for her pastrami on rye and cream soda lunch. She dug through her purse a second time, laying its contents out on the table. Assessing the pile of wrappers, coins, and scribbled paper, she deemed each item useless. Leaving her meager collection, she went up to the counter, pushing through the line. “You gotta phone I could use?” she asked. The man, bulky and red as the meat he was cutting, didn’t hear her but saw the disruption and said, “Hey lady, line’s down there.”
Anne did borrow a phone from a boy who noticed her situation, and had decided lending it to her would look good to his date, a girl from the Midwest with big eyes who had spent most of the meal talking about the sad, crazy man she had seen on the subway and her disapproval that no one—not one!—of the people on the train seemed to care, or make an attempt to help. The boy was clever enough to not mention that his date hadn’t made any attempt to help either and, after Anne handed back the phone, the girl smiled and leaned across the table to touch his arm, “That was so nice of you.”
Anne's brother arrived a half hour later, wearing khakis and a button down, face flushed from the wind.
“Hey,” he said, hugging her briefly, then looking at the check, “Why do you not have $15?”
“Well, I didn’t realize how much the bus would be, and then there was this guy asking for money in Port Authority, and another by the park, and then you know…”
“So, you gave all your money away. You know, you don’t have to give someone money every time they ask for it.”
“I know, I know, but people used to give me money.”
“Yeah.” He thought a moment. “Anyway, let’s go. It’s too hot in here.” Outside, Anne had to almost run to keep up with her brother who walked decisively through the crowd, pushing past tourists, and then winding down into the subway, through the rumbling darkness, and then up again in the cool air. She was just about to ask where they were going when he said, “So I have tickets to a concert.”
“Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic.”
“Oh, no, you know that’s not my kind of music, besides I can’t go, I have to be home before Joe. Don’t you have someone else to go with?”
“Alexander was going to come, but he’s not. He has a date, or something.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
“It’s not like that”
“Well, ok, but if it was…”
“Well, it’s not. Don’t give me a hard time, Anne, I just saved you from washing dishes at Katz to pay for your food”
“Alright, you’re right, I would’ve been there all night.”
They had stopped, huddled in a doorway so she could light a cigarette. He tapped his foot. “You want one?” she asked, jokingly.
“Yeah sure” He rolled his eyes. “I’ll take up your diet of eating once every three days for my health, too”
“Hey, I ate almost two meals today.”
“Was one of them coffee? Because putting cream and sugar in coffee doesn’t count.”
“And neither does a slice of toast”
“Yeah, yeah, at least I have enough common sense to put on a sweater when it’s cold.”
“It’s not cold yet.” He looked at his watch. “You good? We’re gunna be late.”
In the concert hall, Anne pulled at the cuffs of her sweater while her brother read through the program. Finally, the lights dimmed, and the orchestra began to play. Music filled the space and forced the debris of daily living out of the audience's mind as they settled to stillness. Anne first tried to attribute each sound to its instrument, but they blended, rising and falling in smooth precision so that the music became its own source. Each musician was a black dot before her, swaying in sync. She then closed her eyes, and let the colors come to her in waves. There was a field of green, sparkling with dusty air. There were ominous purple clouds that seeped through the blue sky with simmering intensity, and these were shattered by a red explosion of horns. She kept her eyes closed through the pauses in between movements, when someone two rows ahead would clap, and her brother would shift in disapproval. She remembered listening to the symphonies he had written as a teenager, his hopeful face as he asked for her opinion, and his gentle explanation of movements. “They are all the same piece,” he had said, “like seasons, all different but all in the same year.”
That year, she had stolen a hymnal from church for his Christmas present. They sat at the piano together, him playing and attempting to teach her to read music. “It’s too much like math,” she would say. “I’m not left-brained like you.” But he would insist, “It’s not that hard. Here, this one is c, sing that note. Ok, now that’s home. So just look at how many up or down you have to go. You don’t have to know the name of the note you’re singing as long as you know how far away from home you are.” In that way, they sang through the Unitarian Church hymnal, much to the disapproval of their mother, who hoped she hadn’t accidently raised Christians by bringing her children to church once a year on Christmas eve.
The music swelled in a great black mass before her, then faded as the people around her clapped. Her brother nodded, applauded briefly, then motioned for her to stand. “Let’s go, before we get stuck behind everyone.” They made a quick exit as the crowd stood for a standing ovation. The sun had set, and the night was cold and clean with possibility. They sat on the steps for her to smoke, and her brother smiled. “What are you laughing at?” she asked.
“Not your music?”
“Well, you know. I am kinda glad Alexander had a date. That was cool, thank you.”
“Told you. Oh hey, he just called me. What are you doing?”
“Going home, I guess. Shit, what time is it?”
“Almost midnight. I’ll pay for your cab, you don’t wanna be walking in Paterson this late.”
After hailing several down, her brother finally convinced a cab to make the long drive out of the city. “Ok, you’re good?” he asked, as she reluctantly climbed in.
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, have fun with Alexander tonight.”
Looking out the window, wrapped in the remains of the music, Anne watched the people and lights of the city melt together. She had the cab stop a block away from the house and she walked home, listening to the scraping of leaves against concrete and ringing of her footsteps, aware of every shadow's movement. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she had forgotten something important, something she had remembered from a long time ago.
Joe was asleep when she tiptoed in and took her boots off, cursing the tile floor. He had left the light in the kitchen on, and there was a plate of spaghetti covered with plastic. What a sad meal, she thought, to eat alone. She turned off the light and got undressed silently, positioning her body gently next to his figure. She watched him sleep by the orange glow of streetlights and passing cars above, wondering what he would do if he woke up without her. He was like a statue of a knight atop a tomb, hands folded neatly over his chest. The nights he couldn’t sleep he laid the same way, claiming his body got rest even if his mind didn’t. She counted his tattoos, trying to memorize them. There were twenty-two in total—stick and pokes with fading green ink and lopsided lines, all she knew about his time in prison. He didn’t talk about it, and she didn’t ask, but she was always careful to put the knife he kept in between the mattress and box spring back in the exact same place when she made the bed, as a matter of respect. She felt sharply the great distance in the two inches between her arm and his. It had grown in their mouths twisting away unspoken words and in their hands, each impatiently drumming, and now made heavy the air of their home. It made no sense to be lying next to him, and she wanted desperately to be outside, walking and conversing with the moon.
She considered her options with an invigorating calm. There was at least a grand in the underwear drawer. She didn’t have many belongings, a few clothes and old photographs. No job to go to, no one she cared to say goodbye to. There was only him—simple, precise, and caring in a measured way. If I stay, she thought, I bet he’d marry me. Then she remembered what she had forgotten, and the decision was made by some inner self. She got up and put the spaghetti in the fridge, washed her hands and face and climbed back into bed. If she left now, he would wake and reason with her in a patient, tired way until she gave up, gave in, and stayed. Waiting for morning, she tried to lay still like he did. But this only made her aware of her own body, and the way the sheets felt slightly damp and the way the bed sloped inward towards the middle, so that she would unconsciously roll towards him on most nights. She fell into slowly into fitful sleep only to be woken shortly after by the whisperings of dawn and chirping of an impatient blue jay.
In the weeks that followed her disappearance Joe was told over and over that there was nothing he could’ve done differently, that Anne was not quite all there to begin with, and that he deserved better. As she got a job waitressing at a diner in the small upstate town of Red Hook, he quit his to start a contracting company. He worked 80 hours weeks and lost weight. He made money faster than he could spend it and kept the small apartment spotless, hoping he would come home one day to see her there, reading on the couch or asleep in bed. Gradually, this hope faded to a rare nagging thought, and she became just another mistake, followed by others, and one his friends knew not to mention by name.
Anne learned, too, not to mention his. “Well, he must’ve been an asshole,” Chrissy, another waitress, had said, “to make you just up and leave like that.” When Anne tried to explain that, no, he was good, he just didn’t know how to see beyond black and white, she looked at her in that way people do just before they begin to treat her differently, speaking in lower tones or touching her arm in mock sympathy. “Girl, if you find a good one, even if he’s not perfect, you stay,” her coworkers agreed, standing in a row behind the counter, watching the customers eat and counting what they’d made so far. Not bad, for a Wednesday. “Mine’s not perfect,” the veteran waitress, Patty, chimed in. “I’ll tell you what, it’s a wonder I sleep at all, the way he snores, but we got ourselves three good kids. Oh, and did I tell you what he did last night? Well,” she turned her round body to face the others, making sure they were listening. “I was working close, you know, and when I got home he had left me out a plate of dinner, and,” she paused for effect, “all the dishes were done. Now I’ll take that over some pretty boy any day.” When they had all nodded and “mhm-ed” she considered her point proven, and marched into the kitchen, returning with a bowl of lemons. “Anne cut these up after you get those impatient ones that just walked in a table. Oh, and honey, don’t give up any more of your tables to Chrissy, she takes the good tippers.”
Following Patty’s advice, Anne made even more the following Wednesday, and even more as she learned the differing language to use with the regulars and the tourists, and eventually got her pick of the schedule. She rented a room in the seated high in the attic of an old farmhouse, with windows she could lean out of to talk to the mountains and the moon. Sometimes on her day off she went into the city and stopped at Mama Elena’s on the way back to get sweet coffee and watch the people go by, paying special attention to the ones who dressed so clean and walked so confident down the dirty crowded street.