The End of Spring
I walk into Guns, Gold, Pawn and put five twenties
on top of the handgun display case. Ring payment
26 of 26 is complete. Ed picks up the disheveled
money pile and arranges the bills face up before stuffing them into the drawer. He produces a tattered notepad from his back pocket and writes “noon tomorrow.” I’m going to be late for Natalie’s. I wave to Ed, nod to the big guy in the corner and rush out the door. A dented cowbell clangs against the door in my wake.
My trip to Natalie's takes 30 minutes, requiring one subway change. There’s no shortcut from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan. I start my journey as the setting sun creeps between the buildings of New York City. The spring breeze clears away evidence of the work day lingering in the streets. This is my routine every Friday since we moved to the city, or rather since I followed Natalie.
Waiting for the subway, I check-in online.
@Jacob2211: Friday night w/@Natalie66, wine in hand, weekend has arrived!
@Natalie66: Paper finished, semester over, interview done, great weekend!
When the subway doors open, I move toward the front and push into the cramped car. Ever since Natalie and I started dating three years ago, Friday is a relaxing dinner for us. Hiding away from the world is the perfect end to our week. While I could live with a lifetime of Fridays, Natalie balances my selfishness with her social desires. That means Saturday she is out with her friends. I hang out at home passing time with some take-out, cheap whiskey, and porn waiting for the weekend to be over. The sound of squealing brakes race through the car before the approaching turn. The violent battle slows our progress. I brace myself early for every familiar shift of the subway.
I reach Natalie's building and adjust my backpack from one shoulder to the other. I have two bottles of red wine for our evening. A hand written sign in the store described them as a spicy Rioja from Spain and lush Chianti from Italy. According to the in-store expert both were priced well below their quality.
Growing up I never imagined I would pick out international wine and converse with a doorman on a regular basis. I love Natalie’s building. The lobby is neat and crisp, like a museum. Looking around you expect to see massive modern art or room-dominating-sculptures. I think the floor is real granite and no stale stench of vomit or urine in the elevator. Friends have described my studio apartment as “generally not unhealthy, but still risky.” Nothing in close proximity to Natalie’s place is in my price range.
Her 24th floor apartment is at the end of a clean beige hallway with flowers arranged in vases centered on little tables. It's like a fancy hotel but people actually live here. I knock and wait. I will have a key soon. Her parents hired a decorator to perfect the interior of her one bedroom plus den with a city view.
Last month I asked Natalie about moving in together, after she finishes law school at Columbia. Marriage was also a part of that conversation. I think the discussion was well received. I’m relieved to finish her ring payments, preparing to backup my words. The diamond is not large but the platinum setting makes the stone shine, even if it’s used.
Natalie opens the door and yanks me into her slender arms. Her warm body, wet kiss, and sweet voice erase any remaining thoughts of my work week. Like a puzzle piece finding its place, I succumb to Natalie’s embrace and return her kiss.
"You’re late, how’s the subway?" she says, as we move to the kitchen.
"Sorry, standing room only."
“Yeah I know, everyone’s out today. Maybe it’s the perfect spring day.”
“Work sucks; I need the entire spring off.”
“At least you have a job. I’m still in school, it’s mandatory I’m distracted.”
Natalie is required to continue the family tradition of successful lawyers. Her parents’ money gives her many options. She grew up in a big city, San Francisco. Streams of people, cement sidewalks, asphalt streets, rooftop pools, and potted plants surrounded her. Someday I will show her my small town near a lake in Michigan. There’s a single traffic light surrounded by scattered tourist shops. I think the differences in our lives make us a perfect match.
We met at the University of Wisconsin our sophomore year. I took classes every other semester to save money. Natalie was going all year, trying to finish early. She didn’t have time to be anything but my friend back then. Now she’s still in school but makes time for me. I have a job at a financial services company, to pass the time I’m away from Natalie.
"Saw your post. Bet it feels great to be done." I say.
“Still have to take that shitty lawyer exam."
“You’ll be a regular working girl after that.”
“Ah, yeah, right. I’m looking to get a real job Jacob. International mergers and acquisitions is serious, making real money. My parents didn’t fund this endeavor for me to end up someone’s clerk or a paralegal.”
“Well, you can do great things from New York, like the interview today?”
“Nope, they were small-time. I’m thinking bigger, longer term.”
“I’m sure there are other options here in the city. Everyone will want you.”
“Or other parts of the world. I don’t want to limit myself. I have choices.”
“Yes, you do.” I say, slouching against the kitchen counter.
Natalie presses her perfumed body against me while reaching for wine glasses over my shoulder.
“Let’s stop all the nasty job talk. It’s bringing me down. May I pleasure you with lasagna tonight?"
She lingers and breathes. I nod and look into her softened eyes. She turns around and opens the wine. I’m sure she will keep us in New York. I don’t want to have to move again, but I will.
“Sure, that works for me. Last weekend's Thai takeout didn't sit well,” I say.
“And later some adult fun; if you obey,” Natalie says while checking the oven.
I sip my wine and walk into the living room. The fact that Natalie's place has an actual living room makes her apartment the logical choice for our Friday nights. I compliment her music choice and take another sip of wine. She nods, sips, and walks over to me, tapping her heels across the tile floor with the ease of a young ballerina. Nearing six feet tall, her lanky body covered in a loose fitting black dress, she meets my gaze with her green eyes. Reaching the carpet she kicks her shoes off to a perfect landing in the corner of the room. Natalie doesn’t need to dress up; even when she is in her sweats and ball cap I have intense desire. Her style and presence drive me to think about her often, when I’m alone. I imagine ball cap and sweats was her school outfit earlier today, which was the fantasy I chose to start my day.
Natalie’s nimble fingers work over the keypad on her mobile phone. Does everyone need to know the coffee shop line at school is unbearable? Or that the fucking cab driver missed the light? And the smell in the subway is noxious and might kill her? Not sure about everyone else, but yes, I do. Last weekend I was reading her online post about the insufferable morons at the next table. By the time I arrived to meet her at the coffee shop she was sitting at their table. They were laughing, telling stories, and sharing pie as if they were grade school friends. I would have kept quiet and to myself, but Natalie makes friends with anyone, even after destroying them online.
Our evening moves through familiar territory. We enjoy the tasty meal, exchange spirited conversation, and finish both bottles of wine. I pour us whiskeys to finish off our drinking. The conversational intensity grows as we cover diverse topics and solve all of the major world problems such as the economic dominance of China, the legalization of marijuana, and how the DH ruined baseball. The National League plays more exciting baseball.
Natalie and I were friends at U of W. Our intimate relationship didn’t start until the day we moved to New York. Natalie initiated a mutual kiss. I stayed strong, resisting an aggressive reply, to see if she would continue. When she grabbed my neck to pull me toward her I hoped my stalking and following were about to become successful. Even if this was only one night, it would be worth it for the lifetime of thoughts that would follow. Her touching me, rubbing me, was my cue that it would be acceptable to reciprocate. I followed her touching with my own, trying to mentally store the feel of each new area. By the time we were naked, I stopped thinking everything through. I became comfortable initiating my own actions without worrying everything would stop. I kissed what she wanted me to kiss. She rubbed what I motioned for her to rub.
The next day was uncomfortable. I confessed to wanting to be with her since we first met. That was three years ago, we have been together but in separate apartments.
I’m drunk. I have to go to the bathroom, now. When I return I see Natalie's empty dress on the floor. I hurry to meet her offer with my own, throwing clothes off like a blender. I pour into her warm embrace.
“I was so uncomfortable with all those clothes on,” she says.
I kiss her neck. I kiss her shoulder. Natalie pushes my head further down her body. Kisses ending at her feet with a pause for a foot rub move Natalie into complete relaxation. On the way back up, I bury my face in her neck, whispering how much I want her. We both become aggressive, using the full weight of our bodies, each taking turns on top. Despite one drink too many, we maintain enough dexterity to provide each other pleasure; twice for her then once for me. We fall asleep in a connected sweaty heap of flesh. Our limbs are askew with an array of appendages hanging off the bed. I roll towards Natalie and whisper "I love you." I fall asleep smiling, relaxed, and content with the foreseeable future.
~ ~ ~
The next morning I leave early, Natalie prefers I am out before breakfast. Later that afternoon, I meet Natalie at the half-way coffee shop. We named the place because it’s between our apartments, more towards the high-rent side.
“You packed and ready for your trip?” I say.
“Not thrilled about the morning flight. No one should have to go to that shit hole LaGuardia so early in the morning!”
Natalie visits her parents between semesters; sometimes I go with her, if they pay for my trip. When she returns I’ll be waiting at the airport with her ring. I think we agree on most things, at least the important ones. We like good food and wine, kids maybe, pets no, and we will live in New York. I take another sip of my mocha and take in the last moments of our irresponsible dating days.
"So what's with this interview on Monday?" I say.
"Oh, that. I need to look at all my options, not limit myself."
"Thought we’d be staying in New York. I’m sure the firms here are begging you."
"We’ve always taken it day by day, right?"
"We talked about marriage, a few times."
"Of course. You know I care about you."
"Let's drop this and enjoy the afternoon, early flight tomorrow, you know."
I kiss Natalie goodbye and leave the coffee shop. I stop by Guns, Gold, Pawn. Ed has Natalie’s ring ready. He even put it in a little fuzzy box. On my way home, I protect it in my front pocket with a nervous grip. My sweaty palm rubs against the firm felt covering, thinking about the words I will say. I know showing I’m serious about us will bring us together. She won’t say no.
~ ~ ~
Sunday morning, 7 a.m., and I can't sleep. Trying harder makes me more restless. I roll off my mattress and stumble to the other side of my room for breakfast. I move the coffee maker in front of the hot plate and initiate the change over from dinner to breakfast. Natalie should be on her way.
@Natalie66: WTF where’s my cab? Late! LGA security better be quick!
Six a.m. flight, she should stay up all night instead. Natalie has a travel intensity that involves pacing, toe tapping, constant phone checking, and other physical expressions of agitation. I know she was a handful in the cab.
@Natalie66: Made it! And no one was killed, LOL. Homeward bound!
She should be home in a few more hours. Our next trip home to San Francisco will be together. I have a quick lunch and finish a work assignment. It’s convenient having my bedroom, living room, and kitchen all in the same room. Despite the overcast day in the city, I wander the streets until I reach our half-way coffee shop. I grab a cappuccino, Natalie’s favorite, and settle in for some virtual Natalie. Should I just show her, or do I ask her then show her, or bam! Simultaneous question and ring?
@Natalie66: Landed SFO ;-)
@Jacob2211: Glad you made it, say hi to your parents!
Heading back home my steady walk becomes a nervous halt on the sidewalk. An older woman and her Chihuahua run me down from behind. I brush off their glare and step out of the way, untangling my leg from the dog leash. Staring towards the window of an electronics store I watch a plane slide across a foggy runway. Like a tentative child at the beach, the plane dips a wing into the rough water of San Francisco Bay. After a tumbling landing, the plane breaks apart into the misty air. The exploding pixels accelerate through my brain with destructive force. I rest my head against the display window to keep from falling down. I recognize the runway, the water, and the skyline. An agitated news anchor appears to describe the scene.
Vibration from my phone pulses in my pocket. The replay on the TV repeats, now in slow motion. I take my phone out with my shaking hand, like digging my own grave. The display says “Natalie Dad.” The plane is now being destroyed a single frame at a time. This is the third video repeat. The phone continues its startling vibration. I know she is always online well before landing. I stifle it by answering the call with a reluctant "Hello?" Before the other end responds, I sink to the ground and begin to cry.
~ ~ ~
A month later I’m able to show up for work two days a week. Friday I reward myself with a fifth of Maker’s Mark on the way home. I stop at the mailbox in the entryway to my building, remembering that I forget about the mail most days. With my whiskey appetizer, I sit on my bed and throw out the mail one letter at a time. A San Francisco address stands out. The envelope is thick and heavy, the print is bold with raised ink cursive letters.
What happens when a friend of my dead daughter from New York keeps calling, keeps writing and will not move on? I’ll tell you what happens, her father writes a letter, and will escalate to dangerous levels if necessary.
Jacob, its imperative you leave us alone. We have nothing for you and nothing more to say. Everything you need to know was conveyed in the situational summary sent certified mail. You signed for the letter a week after Natalie died. We had every right to hold a private funeral for our daughter. You were friends, she was our family. We had every right to take everything from her apartment. There was nothing there for you. Legally it became our property the moment she died.
We insist you refrain from any further contact. Do not force us to take legal action. We will have no trouble shutting you down.
William Sutherland Jr., MBA, JD
The letter is full of lies. They don’t know her. I wish she was on that trip to tell them to fuck off. We were going to be married. I just want something of hers. I only have her ring.
~ ~ ~
I wake to another dreadful day, at the end of another depressing week, in the middle of my first tortuous year without Natalie. Rolling off my mattress onto the floor, I hoist my body to my feet, like a fallen tree struggling to become vertical again. I take out my favorite picture of Natalie. She’s wearing sweat pants and a Giants long sleeve shirt. Her hair is in a pony tail and she’s sitting on the floor of her New York apartment. Everything is still in boxes. We had just opened the first beer. The photo is a little worn now; I have been overusing it the past few months. After a few more beers we made love in between her still-full boxes. We wrestled in piles of her clothes, sharing a rolled-up sweatshirt for a pillow.
I take her picture to the bathroom. Self pleasure is never a sure thing anymore but I continue to try. Walking through the highlights of that day in my mind starts me in the right direction, thoughts of touching, kissing, and undoing each button and every clasp. I look up from kissing down her stomach and see rows of plane seats. I try to get it back and think of holding her naked breasts in my hands but end up with a visual of screaming people. Even seeing her kiss me and move down my body is destroyed by a plane on fire. My fantasy is gone. Pissed off and frustrated I lean back against the tub. I give up on Natalie and reach for a magazine from behind the sink. I give it another try with pictures of anonymous naked women; they are most likely still alive and available. This effort ends in failure too, with visions of all the unknown people next to Natalie as the plane tumbled out of control. I throw the magazine behind the sink; it lands on Natalie’s picture. I abandon all attempts at pleasure. I can’t even fuck myself. I turn on the shower to get this Friday over with.
Friday afternoon I leave work right after lunch to skip my workout. I replace my run with a stop at the bar for a drink, or five. I order a beer and sit in the corner hiding from the light. The beer is delivered with an unspoken shot of whiskey. A guy at a table under the TV is a few drinks ahead of me. He pours his fresh beer into a used glass. With his index fingers he taps the beat of the Motown tunes on his table. His intensity and carelessness increase, sending the full glass tumbling. Beer cascades across the table and down to the floor. I smile and avert my eyes as his dart around the room. The guy cleans up and gets a replacement but his vigor and enthusiasm have turned to embarrassment. Now he fits in and I feel satisfied. His good mood has been crushed. I retrieve another beer and shot from the bar to celebrate his stupidity. I stare at the baseball game on TV to blend in with the rest of the drunks. Yankees are winning. Fuck them.
Chuck from work, @chds: Band is playing tonight at 9. Who's coming?
Sarah from the deli, @SkyArt: Gallery opening, finally! All are welcome.
@chds: @Jacob2211 you have to come tonight! Not optional!
@chds: @Jacob2211 OMG, what a pussy! stop this shit now!
@Jacob2211: @chds fuck you!
I motion for one more shot. This one will wash away my desire to care. I navigate to Natalie's old posts. I continue this torturous routine every Friday, for over a year now. I don't know what I’ll do if her account is removed. I saved Natalie's entire history on my laptop; I have voicemails too.
~ ~ ~
On the subway, I find an empty seat away from people. With a struggle, I reach Natalie's place. Gathering myself with a deep breath and a full body shiver, I walk over to Earl to prove I can keep it together today. He is like some fucking gatekeeper ever since I had a meltdown in the lobby.
"Got a score for me Jacob?"
"Fuck yeah, Yankees winning."
Earl and a few of my coworkers are the only people I talk to since Natalie died. After my previous online post I may have reduced it to just Earl. He opens the door for me and gives a slight nod. I walk into the lobby and sit in one of the euro style chairs. The lack of padding and curved plastic keeps me on edge. I place my backpack between my feet. The bottles of Spanish and Italian wines bang into each other as they settle to the bottom of my pack. I slip Natalie’s engagement ring around my pinky finger. Twirling and rubbing calm me down. Diamond up, then diamond down. I continue my little game, staring at the diamond set in platinum. I don't make a scene. I don't cry. I don't fall asleep. And I don’t get kicked out. Not wanting to abuse my privileges, I pick up my pack and head out the door. Earl is talking to a limo driver waiting for a client. I give half a wave and head back home.
~ ~ ~
A week later, Friday is threatening me again. I roll over to the side of the bed and stare at 3:07 a.m. illuminating red on the worn carpet. I still can't sleep through the night, everyone says I should be better. I stare at the clock, daring the numbers to change. Can Natalie feel my thoughts? Does she know I can't sleep? The clock defies me and now reads 3:10; I grab my phone and roll over in bed. I have no interest in my life; I send an email to work. "Not coming in today." I’m sure to be fired soon. If I type "I love you Natalie" can she read it? I try thinking about her, I try searching for her presence, I try to hear her voice, I try to feel her again but remain alone. It’s 3:14; I’m exhausted. If I yell will she hear me?
Friday afternoon, I’m restless and exhausted. I load up my backpack as if I have a plan. I decide to see Ed at Guns, Gold, Pawn. Walking to the back of the store I interrupt Ed sorting through a box of useless shit.
“Hey ring guy; it’s been a while,” says Ed.
“I want to sell back the ring. How much can I get?”
“She died in that San Francisco plane crash. How much or maybe trade?”
“Oh no, so sorry. Sure we can buy it back, maybe more in trade. What were you thinking?”
“I need a gun, like a handgun or something.”
“Ahh, ok. Well we could do that but you’ll need a permit.”
“What if I need it today?”
“What’s the hurry? You might want to think this over.”
“Break-ins; there’s fucking criminals everywhere. What if I really need it now? Lots of break-ins at my building.”
Ed leans over to a large man sitting on a stool behind him. He whispers and motions towards the back door. Ed faces me again and writes a number on a piece of paper sliding it in my direction over the counter. The massive man stands and disappears towards the back hall.
“This is what I can give you for the ring.” He says. “If you like I can give you the cash. You might meet Big Rick out back and he’ll help you count it.”
“Ahh ok, thanks for helping me Ed.”
I take the cash and leave the ring. With my backpack I head out the back door for some assistance from Big Rick. I smell the stench of the alley even before reaching the dented metal door. A couple of dumpsters hold up broken pallets. Big Rick is leaning against one of the dumpsters, looking my way, holding a paper bag. Walking over to him, I start to say something but he grabs my hand and the cash before I can finish a sound. Our silent discussion continues with Big Rick taking the money, handing me the bag, and indicating, with shake of his head, that I shouldn’t open it until I get home. He gives me back a fifty and pushes me towards the end of the alley.
I walk home spinning on every car horn and jerking my head toward every voice. Sitting on the edge of my bed, with the door locked, I take out the crumpled bag from my backpack. I own a gun now. I reach in and verify, pulling out my revolver. It’s heavy. If I dropped it on my foot I’d have a nasty bruise. First time I have held a gun. This is a substantial piece of metal. My hands explore the weight, holding it by the handle, then the cold barrel. I set it next to me on the bed and pull out a box of bullets. I wonder if this gun, my gun, has killed anyone. Night is reaching into my room. I figure out how to load the gun. Leaning back on my bed, I grip the handle with my left hand and cradle the body with my right resting both on my chest. Can Natalie see me sleeping?
I get up and add my new purchase to my backpack. The metal clangs against my wine bottles. Agitated by my late start, I run most of the way to Natalie’s. I glare at the anonymous people on the subway who look happy. After passing Earl’s test at the door I sit in the lobby. There’s no ring to calm me down. I am out of breath and feel confused. Can Natalie hear me breathing? No one notices me in shadows of the corner lobby. It’s comforting to hold the gun. I see Earl greeting residents on their way in from a night of fun. The couples are laughing, the single people smile. The weight feels real, the metal radiates cool against my palm. I close my eyes with my finger on the trigger.