• New York, December Twenty-First

    Cally Fiedorek

    Winter 2022

    He had tattoos up and down his arms that this morning, getting up, in the seconds before pride attached itself seemed very stupid to him. Aces, shamrocks. Lurid glyphs. A crouching panther on his shoulder—’cause why not. A pinup girl he might’ve gotten on a naval ship in Polynesia, when he’d hardly ever left the tristate. Some Latin phrases—Honoris et Virtus et Something-or-other, which . . . honor? Virtue? Whose? His? At least he’d stopped himself before that STEPHANIE FOREVER bit.

    Rudy turned on Broadway. He was due to open at the bar. There was Christmas crap in windows, bells ringing, not for him though. ’Twas the season to be robbed, dumped, jumped, kicked out of love. Threatened eviction by his landlady, a Russian ogress in Bulgari shades, paid for with a blind old tenant’s stolen disability checks. It was the season to be sick with drink, and bursting with regrets, no less real and wretched for how fictional the world seemed. This pasteboard town, its codes and quotas, loudly ticking clocks… Maybe that was it. Maybe the city was the problem.

    New York. He was sick of it. He was fed up with the myth of it. Everybody always telling him how great it was. Helluva town, New York! So vibrant. Culture! He remembered some talking head in a PBS doc they’d shown in school once, some total virgin in a bow tie and suspenders losing his shit over Walt Whitman. The Bridge, ooh. Central Park! The Park was the least Manhattan could do to hold you back from murderous despair. To him it was all fin de siècle. Like Rome before the sack. Weimar Berlin. Glitter and doom, not even—Pret and doom. It was scaffolding and pigeonshit and when he’d walked just now into the soup ’n’ sandwich place near Macy’s to get his egg and cheese, no bacon—you had to try and be healthy, some days, keep the death away—he was spooked by every face he saw in there: the bearded ladies, their piehole eyes, and he knew for sure that God had pulled the pin. Never had the city felt so jagged to him. So tuneless, so uncharmed. Seemed to know itself so little. Doggy daycare, Lotto shops, gleaming plazas out of Dallas. It’s not that it was ugly—though there was plenty of that—it’s that he didn’t even know what he was looking at no more. What was it? Whose idea was it?

    Rudy opened the metal gates. Just the sight of Liffey’s in the daytime with no one in it gave him major deep-in-childhood creeps. It was filthy in here. It stank like rum and dirty pants.

    He opened the register and changed the kegs and filled the ice and put the TVs on. There was memorabilia caked to the rafters. It could bury you alive. They wouldn’t find you ’til the spring. Corncob pipes and top hats from Tammany Hall times, and Jimmy Coonan’s holster, and Dean Martin’s fedora, and a workman’s helmet from Ground Zero, and keepsakes left behind on loan by soldiers shipping out to France, Korea, Vietnam. Hankies and harmonicas like collateral to doom. On the wall were signed glamour shots of random-ass celebrities, and pictures of his dad—he owned the place—with Bono and The Edge, and with Connie Chung, for some reason, and one photo Rudy liked of his cousins once removed, known hatchet men for the IRA: deep in the seventies, groovy-shirted, muttonchopped, smoking away on some farty-looking mustard couch in County Clare, with murder in their eyes. All this New Yawk-Irish crap, the stuff that pinned his world to space, and today he didn’t know whether to barf or cry or tear it down. It was all just so . . . so over. It was junk. Finito. A bum replacement for a life.

    She had a life. Allison. She was moving west to go to law school out in Colorado, and he was not invited anymore. She had canceled the party on him—at nine—when he’d just arrived, with bells on his boots, ready for love. They’d been playing “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun in the Duane Reade earlier and he’d had to leave. Just left his basket with his milk and Preparation H and shit he really needed and vamoosed. That beautiful song, it—stop it. Not now with that shit again. He had his shift to get through. Saturday night, a big one. There was a UFC fight on down the street at MSG, plus some basketball games he had money riding on. Something would work out. He should fix himself a little nip of something—that’d help.

    Why was he in such a tizzy? Why these vicious, hopeless, no-good thoughts? It was Christmastime—he loved Christmas—and he was still young and healthy, with a steady job. And friends. Friends, friends . . . 

    He had gone to see one guy from high school last week, Matt Galapo, trying to get back out there, reconnect. All nervous to go see him, jumpy on the subway there. Nervous to go get a drink with Matt Galapo, the least intimidating biggest goober individual on the face of Planet Earth. Rudy thinking he was gonna have a heart attack just walking in the restaurant, and his voice all weird and shaky saying hi, and then pretending he had to take a piss just to go to the bathroom and catch his breath a second—what the fuck was that about?

    He used to be the most social, most natural guy around. Life of the party. Leader of the pack. But it was one thing to just listen to folks talk, like behind the bar—he had no problem with that, he liked it sometimes, even—but friends, friends had to put you on the spot. To be polite. “Enough about me, I’ll shut up now! What about you? What’s new with you, man?” And then, oh . . . then you saw it. That dull look in their eyes as you trotted out your little spiels, your crackpot plans, your stupid-ass ideas for start-ups. Walking home forty bucks poorer on some crappy tapas, running back the tapes of conversation like a crazy person, feeling so . . . so trapped in their perceptions of you, like you’d just let some awful phantom self out of the bottle for them, some holographic, undead Tupac-at-Coachella self out and now it was just . . . out there with them, unauthorized, doing God knows what, and when other people asked Matt Galapo, “Oh, you saw Rudy? How’s he doing?” Matt Galapo would say, “Well, you know . . . he’s . . . weelll, let’s just say he’s Rudy. He’s still Rudy.” Meaning what? . . . Meaning WHAT?! Your life, your blood, your dreams, your name, the chambers of your beating heart, just another bit of chump change in another nothing conversation.

    Were other people . . . worth it? Rudy wasn’t sure today.

    Cally Fiedorek's fiction has appeared in Narrative and the Southampton Review. She lives in New York with her family.

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