“What are you doing?” Martin asked. He was a portly man with a bad combover, half-hidden behind an oversized city map.
His wife Dee waved him away, as if she was swatting away a bee or fly or some other pest she didn’t care for. She was short in stature, neither fat nor thin, but oddly shaped like a chemistry flask.
“Panhandling for bus fare. What’s it look like I’m doing? Excuse me do you know where–”
“Dee, stop, we look like tourists.”
“Oh you’re one to talk with that ridiculous looking thing.”
Martin grunted, wrestling with the map as he struggled to stretch it wider.
“Besides, we certainly aren’t from here, that’s for sure. Look at these people.”
They were coming off of a short set of steps onto a pathway in Bryant Park. A sea of grass was surrounded by a moat of slated concrete and gravel that crackled beneath the other pedestrians’ shoes. The pathway was littered with flimsy, forest green tables and chairs, occupied here and there with couples drinking overpriced coffees and families eating home made sandwiches. A troupe of street performers banged on bongo drums alongside men who danced fiercely for a semi-circle of easily captivated tourists, eager to soak up a less-than-authentic, real New York experience. A pair of college-aged women sunbathed topless on the grass, alongside other groups of young people grazing in the unseasonably warm March weather.
“Doesn’t mean we’ve got to look as naive as the lemmings,” he said, gesturing to the tourists engaged by the amateur street performers.
“Well what should we do Martin? Just pretend we know everything and hope our destination appears before us like friggin’ Narnia?”
“Relax! I know my way around well enough. Came here everyday for twenty-five yea–”
“And never once,” she interrupted, “deviated from the rigid routine of going from the train to the office, and then back again.”
“I sure do remember doing so, and you, bitterly complaining whenever I had a social engagement.”
“Oh sure you did, because when I think New York party animal, I think Martin out on the town, describing the evening as a social engagement. That’s why the Empire State Building is in the wrong place according to your map from 1986. Would you put that thing away already?”
He cleared his throat, “Just because this map is old doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
“The old map doesn’t bother me. The old man, on the other hand, too stingy to up the data plan a few bucks a month for an $800 phone does,” she shouted, waving her iPhone high in the air, like she was showing it off. “What do you know! Google Maps. Still…Not…Loading.”
“Do me a favor. Just stop. Just for today. And put your phone away for Christ’s sake. The bongo drummers could take off a week if they get their hands on that thing.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she rolled her eyes. “It’s New York. My phone costs about the same as three cups of coffee.”
“Fine, but don’t complain to me when they–when your phone is pilfered–Whoa.”
A greasy-haired teenage boy on a skateboard weaved his way between them.
“Sorry dudes!” he offered. He moved swiftly, and was long gone before they could respond.
Dee looked at the boy longingly, and started sobbing. Hard. Her shoulders moved up and down with each weep, and she hid her face within her hands. She seemed to get smaller as her body shook, like she was melting.
“Dee, it’s okay… You’re right. I’m sorry,” he came closer to her, and his hand hovered awkwardly above her moving shoulders. “I overreacted. Here I’ll put away the map. Let’s just compartmentalize until after we see him, okay?”
“It’s not that. What if- what if he won’t see us?” she stuttered, wiping her face, spreading her mascara everywhere.
“He asked us to come.” Martin pulled a handkerchief out of his breast pocket. “Here, you look like you just got out of a coal mine.”
“What-oh, thanks. But Martin, he asked us to come last time and changed his mind. Oh and we got lost then too. I don’t know about this, I’m starting to feel nauseous. Maybe we should go back,” she said, taking a step in the direction of Grand Central.
“What are you feeling nauseous about?”
“One doesn’t feel nauseous about something, Martin,” she quipped.
“The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
“Can you just not today?”
“Not be so goddamn pedantic, throwing around Shakespeare quotes!”
He chuckled, shaking his head.
A breeze ruffled the leaves on the park’s few trees. It wafted the stench of a man affected by homelessness, pushing a shopping cart full of trash–all his possessions. Policemen on horses examined the man, but seemed to regard him little to not at all. They trotted on.
The couple moved over a bit to let him pass, covering their noses.
“Why don’t we sit for a moment?” Martin suggested.
Dee nodded, trailing behind Martin like a shadow. He pulled out a seat for her first, dusting it off with his sleeve, regretting the loss of his handkerchief. It seemed that the trees had begun releasing pollen early this year, along with the premature warm weather. His once white sleeve now looked like it was covered in some sort of algae. He made a face similar to a toddler being confronted by a taxing piece of broccoli.
“We got lucky with the weather, not a bad day to be lost in New York, eh?” His eyes tried to find Dee’s, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her head was turned slightly, towards the direction of the dancers. Her eyes moved back and forth, like she was reading. One of the dancers, was doing something that Martin considered more along the lines of Olympian gymnastics than any sort of dancing he was acquainted with.
“It’s amazing a human being could move that way without cracking their head,” he commented, shaking his head.
“How can you be so cavalier?” she responded, still not making eye contact.
“How else would you like me to be?” he said, straightening up in his place, like a small child trying to stand taller to get a seat on a roller coaster they just didn’t measure up for.
“Damnit Martin.” She shook her head, finally focusing on him, tears welling in her eyes once again. “For so long, me and you both. We– we were so ignorant to what was going on, right under our roof!”
Her right arm was resting on the table. Martin reached out, cupping her hand within both of his.
“Dee, we’ve been over this. You’ve got to stop beating yourself up.”
“We could’ve done more!” she said, yanking her hand out of his.
“Dee, it’s okay. Calm down, you’re upsetting yourself.”
“Don’t do that– accuse me, I’m not doing anything. The situation is upsetting. Reality is upsetting. Our son–” she trailed off, looking away, this time down at the ground.
“Even if we did more. Checked in more. Really pressed the question of things like how was your day today, all of the experts, the doctors agree, it’s not something people can easily know.”
“Jimmy seemed to think that better parents would have known.”
“Even if we were the world’s best parents, whatever that means, we couldn’t have known.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. You can never know what if, so why torture yourself?”
“So it doesn’t happen again.”
“You don’t know that!”
A family speaking in a language neither of them recognized stared at them as they walked by. The two groups did their best to avoid eye contact once they noticed each other.
Martin sighed, “It wasn’t a fair thing for Jimmy to write all that in the letter, to plant that idea that we were at fault. You have to forgive yourself even if the day never comes where he does.”
“You sound like Dr. Moskowitz.”
“Hey that Jew has had a few good points every now and then. And he better. If there’s any couple who single handedly bankrolled his second vacation home.”
“Shush!” she whispered, loudly, looking from left to right. “We’re in the city, there are so many of them here.”
“Oh come on, I didn’t mean anything by it. I like the doc. Honest!”
“Like bypassers would know that.” She shook her head.
“No one’s listening to us.” He frowned, and then began projecting, loudly, like a teenager playing the penis shouting game, “I am being serious! I really do like him!”
“Shhhh, okay, stop. You win,” she laughed, throwing her head back.
Martin seemed pleased with himself.
Dee said, “Please, you’ve never liked a doctor, ever. Our entire lives, it was easier to get Jimmy to mow the lawn then to get you in for your annual.” Her face fell and she sighed. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”
He smiled, and lifted her chin up with two fingers. “I’m not either, if I’m being completely honest.”
“And you’ve never admitted something like that,” she said, grasping his hand.
“That you’re afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” he insisted, leaning back in his place.
“Okay,” she snorted.
“I’m not, I’m just not sure I’m ready.”
“I think we should decide,” she announced, rising from her spot. Martin followed.
“Well, no, I think we should go, I’m just not sure if I’m ready, ready. You know, psychologically.” He searched his pockets for his old map.
“No, no, no, I get that. We’re on the same page. I meant if we’re ever going to get there, we should probably decide if we’re going to ask for directions.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Hey–” he trailed off.
A man in a three piece suit holding a briefcase walked by. Dee got his attention with a quick wave.
“Excuse me sir, do you know which way’s Bellevue Hospital?”
Francesca enjoys reading and writing poetry and short fiction. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, walking dogs, and frolicking in the grassy knolls of Golden Gate Park. She is terrified of birds.