A Life in Ambles

by Carissa Halston

We migrate south.  Best not to stray east or west; best to stick to the direct path down Broadway.  Side streets exhaling sooty miasma deviate from our untouchable ideal.  Their dusty reality, hanging in the sun, distances us from the shiny, glittering apple we know exists.  A hundred movie shots and postcards and billboards and novels and commercials and anecdotes can’t be wrong.

She points out girls as they pass.  Unfairly stunning demiurges, blossoming from exotic foliage which clings to their waists, but floats against their thighs and backsides and nethers.  “How pretty,” she says, and I know what she means by it.  On that same street in a different year, she yelled her mouth sore, yelled it sour, yelled that great beautiful tunnel of sound wretched because she was seven shades past inebriated and convinced that I wanted to bed down the bartender.  “You think I don’t know,” she said.  “You think I can’t see.”  The dim, damp streetlight illuminated her teeth, sharpened her words.  Now, at the other end of daylight, the sun highlights the very tip of her crown, setting apart what would be a crimson halo on anyone else.

A man with dirty feet and a filthy dog lazes against a cement pillar.  A paper cup, bottom rimmed with a modest number of coins, announces his presence to the street.  She bends to tuck a folded bill into his recycled, round wallet—a thing she never would have done when we lived here because money from the government was money under scrutiny.  “We can’t go out,” one of us would remind the other.  “Too expensive.”  Never mind that we shopped organic instead of frugal.  Never mind that we drank wine instead of water.  “It stops heart disease,” we’d reason.

Just never mind.

“Do you mind?” she or I would say.

“Never.”

We beat our flat feet south, always south, to almost tropic climes, past, almost past the building that we’d shared.  I exchange guilty glances with our former window, seeing it for what it once was:  clad in orange drapes which colored the walls and the room and the mood and our lives (at the time) in sherbet tones; prettying up a sty, illuminating the craggy notes she’d jot along the hem of the skirt of the room.  Jumbly misspellings—possibly purposeful—were her way of rebelling during the days when she felt comfortable enough to do so.  On other days, stained with regretful second-guessing, she’d blot out every other word with inky-thick Wite-Out.  It smudged her fingers and her forearms and her face, as if she bore the mistakes of Everyman across the surface of her mealy skin.  It might have covered her completely if not for the next thought she needed to put down.  Eventually she gave it up entirely.  Gave up the jotting; we gave up the building, dismantled our pre-conceptions and retired from the city.

It was like ending a toxically intoxicating relationship, the sort where the good times are practically perfection and the bad times lay to waste everything that came before.

Yet here we are, paying a conjugal visit.

I watch her move from behind, watch her glide over the life-stained sidewalks, watch her grow with each step forward.  I glance at my watch and count the hours and minutes and moments until we can step away from this nostalgic retreat and return home to our current days and deeds.

She turns to glance back at me and, as if reading my struggles, she asks, “Why did we ever move away from New York?”

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Carissa Halston was honorably mentioned in the 2008 New York Book Festival and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  She currently lives in Boston.
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