Like a Family


The city is always moving its pinkie to tell me it's alive.  One day it smells like steaming artichokes—another day, lapsang souchong tea.  My friends, other secretaries, gather on the sunny bench like a bouquet.  From a block away it looks as if they are complaining, bending backwards and yawning.  He never liked them, or even wanted to know them, but now that he's not around, they're what I have.

I live on Carl Street near the park in a room big enough for myself and maybe a ferret, a half block from the express train.  I work downtown in an office complex where I keep schedules for three generations of architects.  For Christmas they gave me a robot dog, and a gift certificate to TravelSmith.

My stomach twists like an earthworm after the rain.  I tell myself I won't wait for the phone to ring anymore, but have waited all Saturday morning again.  When it rings, I count to three, touch "talk."

"Yo Yo Ma," I say.

Calling me is probably on his "to do" list, which I imagine includes trying on new running shoes in preparation for his next marathon, meeting his training coach in her live/work space, upgrading his phone or his GPS running gizmo, catching up with his ex-wife over Dragonwell tea.  Taking the kids for the weekend, so she can play.

"What's new," he asks.

He's lighting up—I can tell because his breathing sounds ragged and doggy.  Rain starts drumming on my roof.  I look at the ceiling, which seems to be sagging in on itself.  It's not my ceiling, so let it crumble.

"I miss you at lunch," I say.

"The world is your oyster," he says.  He said the same words when I told him my period was late, very late, and that we had a pink color from it all.  Still he said, he was moving to London to help raise his elementary school kids.  The main thing, he told me, was that his brother would never fire me—that I was like family.  As long as I remained with the firm.  His cheeks looked puffy, like he'd just received Novocain.

"So we're a firmly?" I'd said, blood warming up my face like a space heater that really worked.

He didn't laugh.  He never laughs.

On the phone there are silences and delays—words that could have been taken from flash cards.  My voice echoes back at me, and I hate the sound of it.  I imagine the glow of his cigarette littering London.  I hang up and it all comes out.  After I clean my mouth and face, I take a walk.  

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