|Fourth of July
Sonny sweeps through the crowd, his phone by his ear. I try to walk by his side, but he keeps his face away from me, moving ahead so that I feel the tug of his hand to keep up. The hot July air coats my body. Every now and then a test firework explodes into the night, whistling through the sky before fizzling out above our heads.
He casually checks his phone's display screen, although I choose to ignore this. Instead, I watch a young boy drop his ice cream cone on the ground, splat! I wait to see if he will cry like the children do on TV. First their lower lip trembling and then the tears welling up and rolling down their cheeks like giant drops of glue, but this boy simply shrugs and keeps walking, leaving someone else to clean up his mess.
Sonny and I have been together since third period Theater class. That was how many years ago? Two? Four? I count on my fingers and try to think back to the day we first met, shy glances across the aisles of seated students, and in doing so I feel my hand slip from his. I walk faster to match his pace and notice two girls looking our way. It seems simple enough. But then why are they staring at me like they hate that I exist? I scratch the rough skin on my elbows and tell myself that I'm paranoid as Sonny snaps his phone shut. I don't know the girl holding the lawn chair with curly black hair, but I do know the other one. The other one holds a phone to her ear and flashes a giddy smile when her eyes lock with Sonny, and then abruptly freezes when I appear beside him.
I smooth my hands down my jeans. I know this girl. We've never met, but I've seen her face on Sonny's computer, and then his picture phone when he slips downstairs to help his mother with the daal. In the pictures, this girl is always pursing her red lips, pulling her hair above her head, lifting up her skirt, bending down, blowing kisses to the camera. I know her name, too. Elle. It appears six out of seven days on his Recent Calls list.
"Hi, I'm Marissa," the curly haired girl says evenly, looking at me as if I'm actually someone to watch out for. I return the cold greeting, but no introduction comes from Elle, who shifts from foot to foot, a sly smile on her face.
Sonny's friend, Joe, slides between us, smiling like a magician. Marissa accepts this game and laughs, but all I can do is count the whistle and pow of explosions above my head. I look up, trying to find the yellows and greens and reds in the sky, but the show hasn't started yet. On another street, a car alarm goes off. The wheep wheep wheep rises high above the trees. A few children cover their ears, but no one else seems to notice.
Sonny says nothing when I glance at Elle and Marissa as they leave, bopping side by side and then vanishing behind a hot dog truck, and he says nothing when I fix my hair above my head, and then hook my fingers through my belt loops and walk behind him to talk to Miguel, who works at the United Nations and receives eight weeks of vacation a year, though he can only take six at a time.
Maybe I'll go home and apply for a job at the UN. I'll devote my life to the children, the ones that are too young to have been taught the art of deception. I'll travel to Mozambique and learn Portuguese and become exponentially exotic. On my return to New York I'll bump into Sonny at a trendy bar that sells fifteen dollar martinis, or perhaps in Grand Central Station underneath the ceiling of stars.
I'll wear a simple dress with a large bag slung over my shoulder and not a stitch of makeup on my face. He'll spot me first, and study me until our eyes lock, and then I'll smile one of my sideways smiles, and slowly walk towards him. No words will be spoken. Maybe he'll fiddle with my collar, or I'll pick a strand of hair from his shirt, but it'll be a quiet reunion.
We'll stop for tea. Our old ritual. It will be like I never left. He'll say I haven't changed, or maybe I'll say that about him. For just tonight we'll be two kids holding cups of sugared water. I'll be shy and simple, charming without being charming at all, and he'll be practical and detailed, his tie impeccably knotted around his neck.
He'll be successful. Probably engaged if not married, but he won't be in love. Lust maybe. We'll walk towards 14th street. I'll smile and ask him if he thought about me when we were apart. Did he think about meeting once again? And he'll reply that, yes, sometimes, though it was usually just an image of me laughing by the Hudson, in the park, or at the theater walking up the aisle. It was something he couldn't help, but as soon as he heard the car pull up in the driveway, and his wife sigh and slip off her shoes in the living room, he would instantly lock my face in one of the many dark rooms of his mind.
He'll invite me up to the hotel to talk. That's innocent enough. To catch up on what we've missed, the adventures we've been having without the other's company. I'll ask him why he never came to visit me in San Francisco and Mozambique and Italy and Puerto Rico, and all the other lovely places I've been, and he'll steal glances my way when I'm paying the delivery man for our Sushi, or when I'm washing my face after such a long good day.
Eventually, it'll be time to go, but he'll keep making excuses, finding more lost hours to share, and then we'll hug good night, a hug that will turn to a kiss, and then the fumbling of zippers and sleeves, and he will remember what he let go, that he had allowed the love of his whole life to leave, simply go go go.
We'll vow to each other to pick up where we left off. Our story will never be over, simply paused. But what about his wife? Would he really leave his wife if he did have a son? Would he even still want to be with me if I gave up my name?
We'd make it work.
Besides, maybe he wouldn't have a son. Maybe he wouldn't even be married. If anything, he'd have a fiancé, but they'd have one of those engagements that went on for years, and he'd find himself going on long walks, playing golf with his friends until the lights on the green blinked his world into darkness, and as for his fiancé, he'd be bored with her. Actually, he'd really hate her. And of course, he wouldn't have a son. Maybe his fiancé would try to get pregnant, but he'd be too smart for her, so very smart in his crisp shirt and blue tie. He'd tell me that I'm the one for him. The one, as in only, as in there's never been anyone else.
As soon as I go home I'll apply to the United Nations. I'll start my life. Move forward! And it's at this point when there's a loud whistle and everyone looks up.
Bright flashes bounce off buildings, fire on glass. A five-year old girl wedges between me and a chocolate skinned couple. She nestles up to the fence, her flat full face staring up up up. Together we watch the colors explode and fade as the star wars theme blasts triumphantly from the speakers, blurring the notes, the lights gloriously spinning, twisting, curving. And as I look at the crowd, their faces bright, I try to focus on someone I don't know. A little boy perhaps, any child, someone I don't have to think too hard about. I try to clear my head of all colors. I'll wash out the blue and the red and the yellow swirling below my skin, threatening to explode in front of everyone. I'll be the woman in the Edward Hopper painting, the woman in the back of the movie theater, the woman sitting on the diner seat, always alone. I'll have no time for colors, because I'll be too busy living in them. I'll have no time for fireworks, or men, or whispers in the thick night air.
The little girl vanishes beside me. I look around. Darkness and smoke sweep over the tidy Houses, everything in its place. Near the dumpsters, I spot Miguel and Marissa. They're talking to Joe, who is smiling, always smiling, but Sonny is nowhere to be found. I walk through the crowd. The children are laughing, and that's when I think I see Sonny's face, except this face is talking to someone else, that Elle girl. I watch him raise his eyebrows, grinning. A first for the night. And that girl, she is looking down and then up again, touching him lightly, picking a strand of hair from his shirt.