Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass
by Grace Jung
“Cigarette. I need a cigarette. I can’t take a shit without a cigarette.”
Antoine walks around the room lifting books and moving papers on the coffee table, the desk and the bed.
“Check the kitchen counter,” I say to him.
“Ah.” He picks up the carton then heads down the hallway. A second later, he returns.
“Where are the matches?”
“I don’t know.”
Antoine puts a cigarette in between his lips and leans over the stove. He turns the knob and the stove clicks twice before lighting up into flames. He lifts his head, turns the stove off then walks down the hallway towards the bathroom, as a trail of smoke follows his head.
We ran into his ex-girlfriend earlier in the afternoon. It was freezing cold, the air was so dry, and yet he insisted on a walk beneath the overpass.
“D-U-M-B-O,” he said over the sound of trains. “Do you know what that stands for?”
“Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It used to just be called ‘Down Under Manhattan Bridge’ but they added the ‘o’ to avoid calling the neighborhood ‘dumb.’”
“Makes sense,” I said. I rubbed my hands then shoved them into my pockets. Antoine reached into my pocket, grabbed my left hand, and stuffed it into his coat.
“There’s a beach here,” he said.
“Yes. Let’s go look at it.”
“Let’s go look at it then we’ll eat.”
We walked through some black gates. Past the gates was a park with snow-covered grass. Every once in a while a gust of wind slapped our faces. I had to turn my body and fight through it. I did not hesitate to complain. I grew angrier at the cold and at Antoine for making us come here.
“Right smack in the middle of January. Who does this?”
“No one. That’s why it’s nice. Stop. Look. There are people here. See?”
Antoine pointed at a young couple walking their bicycles through the frozen path. They were in tight bright biking gear, helmets and sneakers. I couldn’t understand them. The couple looked at us while Antoine pointed at them. When our eyes met, I shook my head. The woman grinned at us.
“The lighthouse over there up the path sells ice cream. We can get hot fudge. They have great hot fudge.”
“I don’t want ice cream, Antoine. It’s freezing.”
On our way back towards the black gates, he still managed to lead me towards the water. The beach.
But it wasn’t really a beach at all—just a bit of sand, rocks and the river’s tide lapping up against the shore. Above us, a Q train roared in from Manhattan. I saw a young woman standing by the shore. Whenever the tide came in, she hopped away from the water. Her dark hair and black hat covered her face. A young man stood a few feet away from her, watching.
Antoine and I turned away and headed back towards the gates when we heard a woman’s voice.
The woman in the black hat was walking towards us. She had a small face and dark eyes.
“Antoine,” she repeated.
“Sophia, hi,” he said. I looked behind Sophia and saw the young man walking leisurely up towards us.
“Sophia, this is my girlfriend Sylvie.”
“Hello,” I said, and pulled my hand out of my coat pocket to reach hers.
“Hi. Sophia. That’s Thomas,” she said, turning, her hand touching his elbow as he closed in, joining the circle.
“Hello Thomas. Antoine. This is Sylvie.”
The exchange didn’t last long. Moments later, current partners would be briefed on the past even though nobody in the parties really want to tell or be told. It’s just that everything requires some amount explanation.
I didn’t ask, although I was very curious. I’m quite sure that Antoine and Sophia were happier and a better fit for each other than Antoine and I will ever be. I knew this the minute I heard her greet him in that familiar way. Sophia would probably agree as she entertains the same thoughts while walking alongside Thomas beneath the overpass and into some restaurant, away from the sound of trains.
My one wish is that none of the members involved would be affected by what occurred this afternoon. My hope is that we’ll all walk away without having learned anything new about ourselves, nor of one another. At one point, I watched the small tides of the river’s surface and crash against a rock like some big surprise only to recede and join the body soon thereafter.
Antoine and I excused ourselves first. We went to Bubby’s and got sandwiches and beers. We talked about the Fellini movie we’d seen the other night. We talked about the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. We talked about getting a dog, and what to name it.
Antoine is in the bathroom now, smoking his cigarette, letting himself into the deeper, larger body of memory that moves gently inside of him. I am here by the coffee table, waiting.