A stubborn bout of duodenitis brought me to a “do-wonders” herbalist recommended by a coworker. This was in Chinatown. I rarely go to that part of Manhattan, with its crowded streets and live-wire smells. Dr. Anna Liu had a second-floor office on Mott Street across from a sidewalk fish market. I left with herbs for a custom tisane and a bottle of small black pills.
Heading back to the subway in the August heat, I was lured by a table full of stone figurines tucked in the shade of an awning. Examining a small jade rabbit in my hand, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face a woman slightly shorter than me with piercing blue eyes and brown hair.
“Loreen?” she said, her brows hiking up. She looked my age, late thirties. The bagginess of her clothes and her free-ranging hair—frizzed here, matted there—suggested some kind of fundamental instability. “Loreen.”
I was about to tell her she had the wrong person but was met with such a look of hope that instead I corrected her: “Lynn.”
Her dewy face slackened. “Lynn. Of course. I’m sorry. I’m Glenys. From Boston College. Remember?”
The name, if not the face, resonated.
“Glenys,” I mumbled. “Seligman?”
“Allen.” She was sweating through her blouse, which was brown with old-lady ruffles down the front. “Glenys Allen. We were housemates.”
I still couldn’t place her. “You mean the dorms or off-campus?”
“In Somerville. The house. I can’t remember the street. It had a bend in it and then forked. We were right in the crotch.” Her lips made a pert little smile, and she shrugged her shoulders in a cutesy manner that seemed familiar by the way it so instantly irritated.
“Well, I did live in Somerville for a year.” I still doubted she had the right person. “Quite a few came and went in that house.”
“Totally! There were, what, six bedrooms?” She dabbed her brow with a tissue. “We shared the top floor with three girls from Lesley. We hated them.”
These prompts triggered little. That my face looked puzzled, as it must have, didn’t dampen her apparent conviction or eagerness to engage.
“Remember that leaky roof? When it rained. We called ourselves the bucket twins!”
“You had the rabbits?” I ventured, working from a flicker of memory: rabbits loose on a three-season porch. I glanced at the piece of jade in my hand.
“My boys!” she whinnied. “Herodotus and Thucydides!”
At the market across the street, a man emptied a bucket of what looked like red eels onto a bed of ice. Over the horns blaring on Mott Street, I asked Glenys if she lived in Manhattan.
“Used to. Upper East for ages. Now I’m across the river in Nyack. Three years.” Her expression drained off. “Married three years. Now divorced.” That shrug again. Her smile sprang back. “Anyway, I come into the city once a month or so. We should get together!”
The figurine in my hand was snatched away by the proprietor, a scoop-faced old woman. “You buy! You buy!” she scolded, and returned it to its place on the table.
Had I been thinking, I would only have given Glenys my email. Instead, queasy from the smells steaming up from the pavement, and feeling an odd twinge of guilt or embarrassment, I watched her tapping my number onto the spiderwebbed glass of her cell.