The affair began in the summer when their skins were tan. They had the same eye color, too: a light bright blue. The lovers came together in the night when passing cars slid silhouettes of trees and lampposts up along the walls and over the ceiling.
As did his kin, he let her go. And as did her’s, she walked.
“We said from the start no matter what we’d always be friends,” she reminded him over the phone from far away, and then she did not hear from him again, not for a long time.
Her mind replayed conversations. Her torso felt his fingers as an amputee feels a ghost limb. She wondered if he thought of her.
He thought of her constantly. Yet he was skilled in creating distractions. He worked long hours and went to every concert and play of the season. He might just as easily have gone home. No one expected him, with his schedule, to see everything. But in the long months during which he did not hear from his summer lover, he attended absolutely everything, and didn’t see a thing.
He found a way to tell her he’d be in her neighborhood after Christmas. He was visiting family nearby, a sick uncle, and could he buy her a cup of coffee?
They sat in the corner booth of a turquoise and chrome diner set apart from the road. She ate grilled cheese on rye and he drank peppermint tea. They found a motel nearby.
It was not like before. In the summer, pine needles and sand and salt made their way into the sheets, and though it got cool a pool of sweat collected in the bottom of her back. Now snow fell on the other side of the locked-shut windows. Then the lovers lay under the layers: a top sheet, a wool blanket, and a flowered, foamy cover that folded around the pillows when the bed was made.
The woman’s foot resisted when the nurse put it in a loop hanging from the ceiling. It jerked and struggled in the nurse’s broad hands. The anesthesiologist told the woman to count backwards from one hundred. Between ninety-five and ninety-four, the woman felt consciousness slip out of her grasp like the last tendril of a plant disengaging from the side of a cliff.
She came to, swimming toward the day, the room, the light, as if from the bottom of a tar pit. She hurt badly. She was on a rubber bed, alone. A nurse explained they would have to repeat the procedure. They weren’t sure they got it. The woman was weak and discouraged, but in this far.
Briefly, she wondered what would happen if they abandoned the endeavor. She imagined a semi-child, a newt of two toes and one ear in the middle of a chest. The nurse said they would wait until she felt better to put her through it again.
Back in the pre-op room, the woman didn’t recognize her fellow patients anymore. She had been with others in the changing room, having blood drawn, lined up outside the double swinging doors. They must have all gone home.
This time when the anesthesiologist told her to count backwards from one hundred, the woman took off with a flying leap.
As she came to, she recognized the sensation of a salmon swimming upstream. She hurt again, worse. And again the nurse said they weren’t sure. She would have to go through it again. But not today. The woman thought, and lingered over this, that she was in purgatory, where she belonged.
"Good night,” we said, and kissed. I went down to the number 6 subway track. On the train, I squeezed into a corner loveseat next to a wide-sitting man wearing blue jeans. At 86th, the conductor announced, “This train is now express.” As we cruised through the local stops, he pulled the horn to tell the people on the platform: Wait longer.
We pulled into 59th, slowing. I mistook the sudden thud for a kick from a small boy on the platform near two women in long bright skirts. We stopped short and people got up, looked out the window. People on the platform were staring at the tracks in front of the train. I was in the second car.
“Something-something passenger injury something-something out of service,” a woman’s voice said over the loudspeaker.
“What happened?” we asked each other.
“Looking! Looking! Why you always got to be looking?” said a man as he made his way against the flow of curiosity.
“Someone jumped,” someone said.
A crowd gathered at the front of the train, behind the driver’s compartment.
“Some people – they just can’t take it any more.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Happens more often than you think,” said a man. “This is the third time someone’s jumped in front of a train I was on.”
We looked at him.
“So this is your fault,” a woman said.
The conductor climbed back up into the train through a door at the front of his compartment.
“Is he alive?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s alive.” He rummaged through a duffel bag. “My train!” he said. “Why he have to jump in front of my train?” He shook his head and cursed. “I saw him get close to the edge. And I pulled back. Then he jumped.”
“And I don’t know how I’m going to get to Queens!” The woman who spoke had a black eye.
“Is he going to be okay?” asked a man.
“He stuck! This train ain’t going nowhere,” said the conductor, descending the front of the train again, with a wrench. A group of orange-vested workers and a cop were there, all of them bending and looking, standing with their heads cocked, hands on hips, wondering at whatever it was that they saw.
He’s right under me, I thought.
I wondered if he felt happy to be alive or sad to have failed. The back door of the car opened and we filed out. The police blocked our view.
I caught the express downstairs, changed back to local at Grand Central, transferred at Bleeker, but the F was on the A line now, and I had to go back up to West 4th. Then at last I was heading south, out of the tunnel after Carroll, small town lights of Brooklyn below the rickety, roller coaster track.
Mojie Crigler writes plays and fiction.
Madeleine Bialke: Long SummerBy Elina Alter
DEC 21-JAN 22 | ArtSeen
Long Summer, the title of Madeleine Bialkes intriguing solo show at Huxley-Parlour Gallery in London, is both a promise and a threat. By now were all uncomfortably at home with the idea that the climate is changing for the worse, but what we actually experience from moment to moment is weather: climate is an accretion, the long view, while weather is what makes or breaks your day.
The Sound of America: Jeanne Thornton’s Summer FunBy Corinne Manning
JUL-AUG 2021 | Books
Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton is an epistolary novel that is as much mystery as cultural analysis and rewards the reader by never giving us what we expect or what we think we want.
After the summer of smoke and fireBy Enos Nyamor
NOV 2021 | ArtSeen
A spotlight pours yellow rays on an upright Mellotron encircled by socially distanced chairs, all wrapped in a dome of controlled darkness. An arresting silence lingers, occasionally broken as gallery guests hesitantly part the velvet curtain, enter the space, and interact with the organ. The Instrument of Troubled Dreams, 2018, is the acutely engaging centerpiece in Janet Cardiff and George Buress Millers After the summer of smoke and fire on view at Luhring Augustine gallery in Chelsea, which documents a selection of recent productions by the British-Columbia-based duo who have been collaborating since 1995.
Youssef Chebbi’s AshkalBy Farah Abdessamad
JUNE 2023 | Film
Ashkal won the highest award at the Pan-African Fespaco Film Festival. It premiered at the 2022 Cannes festival Directors Fortnight. Screened at MoMAs New Directors festival last April, it will be distributed in US cinemas this summer.