His heels clacked as the concrete rose to the bottom of his shoe. He watched for cracks, grates, and other pedestrian hazards with eyes fixated on the ground.
Michael could taste the lipstick as he ran his tongue over his lips, though the color had since worn off; Raspberry Rhapsody. His black leather gloves hugged his wide hands. They were shaking, but from the bitter fall season or from revival, he wasn’t sure.
The streets were busy, bustling with commuters grumbling and rebuffing one another. Michael walked through them, rebounding from each shoulder-to-shoulder collision. The air was dense with mist that was painful in its dilatory approach from the East River. The balls of his feet ached while he plodded past his favorite coffee shop, beyond the barber he used to frequent, and to the mouth of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Tourist’s cameras clicked in his direction, gathering the streets and avenues behind him and transforming them into digitally-filtered hypocrisy. They might note the existence of freedom in their admiration of the structure in which they stood, but Michael wondered if a ceremonial hashtag was enough.
Michael deplored tourists.
“Sure,” he said, thankful they at least spoke English. “The lighting is better from this angle.” He pointed for the couple to turn and face Brooklyn. “The skyline is better behind you.” Manhattan sat perfectly still and tall in the background. “There,” he said as he handed the camera back to them.
The two thanked Michael and continued to snap selfies; fixing their cleavage, sucking in their tummies and duck-lipping.
Michael pushed his blonde hair out of his eyes and began to walk farther across the bridge.
Their voices followed, whether purposely or because there was only one direction to go, but Michael lacked tact.
“Are you following me?” he asked the couple.
“We are enjoying this satisfying view,” one responded.
“I don’t like your fucking tone,” Michael said.
“New Yorkers really are dicks,” the other said.
“Just walk ahead of me, for Christ’s sake.”
His feet were throbbing having walked up and down Dey Street in shoes that were two sizes too small. He took them off and leaned against the railing. He watched the couple until they became inchoate and muddled in with every other body on that bridge.
Michael removed his gloves and shoved them into the deep pockets of his black raincoat. He could smell cherry blossom lotion.
Her cherry blossom lotion.
He wondered how she was doing. Was she lonely? Was she talking?
Michael checked his cell for texts; even if they were admonishing. That means she was processing and he would have preferred evangelizing profanity and resignation to silence.
Their argument began like most do. She didn’t feel appreciated. She didn’t feel sexy. She didn’t like his drinking or staying out late or his lack of financial prowess, given his job was in accounting. He didn’t like constantly rescuing her from the boat he sardonically nicknamed “Shipwreck;” his tasteless attempt at poking fun at her self-consciousness.
“You never tell me I’m beautiful,” she’d say.
“I want you to want to say it, Michael! Not because I am forcing you to,” she’d say.
Today’s argument, though, began last night after his return from the gym and had lasted until he parked his car this morning.
“I found this,” she said, “in your briefcase!” She threw a turquoise, lace, padded bra at Michael’s chest. “Do you mind telling me who the hell this might belong to?”
He stood there in a towel in the bathroom of their 650-square-foot apartment.
“I can explain,” he began like so many men do.
“Don’t bother,” she said. She grabbed what she could fit in a paisley printed carry on.
“If you’ll just--” he said. He extended his arm to stop her from closing her luggage. “Let me just explain it to you. Can I do that, please?”
“You have one minute.” She gritted her teeth. Her cheeks were no longer rosy, her gaze acquiescent.
“Great, okay.” He sat down on the edge of their bed. “I am not cheating on you. And I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.”
“You’re not listening. You told me I had a minute, now let me have it.”
She crossed her arms, fastidious and taciturn.
“I am not cheating on you. I need you to know that.”
He waited for her interjection, but it didn’t come.
“Okay?” he asked for receipt.
She nodded in affirmation.
“I bought it for me,” he said, “to wear.”
She let out a hearty, nearly gelastic laugh.
“Just go,” she said. Still laughing, she picked up his green bra and threw a pair of red heels at him. “Take these, too. Red’s more your color.”
Michael got dressed while she called his mother, sharing with her his heaviest secret. She laughed, they laughed together. Before he slipped on his leather gloves, he put a dollop of cherry blossom lotion on his palm and rubbed it in. He skillfully dabbed lipstick on the center of his bottom lip, coloring in the lines and puckered.
Michael closed their apartment door behind him.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Those voices again, calling to Michael from across the pedestrian walkway.
“No,” Michael said. “No, thank you.”
“Honey,” one said, “red is so not your color.”
Written by: Alicia Randazzo
Photograph by: Anthony Delanoix