Katherine was on the F train dressed in a black button-down shirt, black pants, black tie, and black tux jacket. She could’ve been going to a funeral. Chestnut curls fell down the middle of her back and the rest of her hair was held together with a garnet pin in the shape of a firefly. Looking at her cell phone, she read an email she had sent to her husband a year earlier telling him to call her whenever he was on a business trip, especially after his plane had landed. He only needed to make a single phone call, she thought, and he should have known she always worried. She read the words under her breath and questioned if she had been selfish: “Until you take this more seriously, it’s best we not be together,” she had written. Today was Katherine’s two-year wedding anniversary.
A student sitting across from her was reading a book, The Forever War. Katherine rocked in her seat as the train moved and thought it strangely coincidental. It had been a year since her separation but still she was married, and emotional tremors continued to rock her. Cannons were still being fired in a battle that could never be won. Her eyes were glued to the word Forever, as if it defined her entire relationship.
A Chinese man boarded the train at East Broadway and sat next to the student. He placed his hands on top of his knees. They were glove-like hands, big, certain, full of hard work. He leaned his head back and stared down at Katherine. His nostrils were two hollow circles, perfectly paired, two shapes inseparable from each other. Her gaze traveled over the features of his tanned face, from his chin to his cheeks, and when she caught him staring, she lowered her eyes back down to his hands. She imagined them catching her, holding her, keeping her together if she were to shatter into a million pieces. He had the kind of hands that could put things back together.
At 34th Street she wrote a text message to her husband, “Two years.” Strangers walked past her as she put her phone back into her pocket. She looked up at the buildings as she told herself she was right to tell him to go his way. Her pale, baby hands couldn’t hold on to what she considered “us” anymore.
The party she was catering was a private affair for the glitterati—those who could afford Sunday afternoon concerts for their children. It was a twelve-year-old girl’s Bat Mitzvah and a teenage band by the name of The Jonas Brothers was scheduled to perform. Katherine assumed they’d sing love songs with rambunctious drumbeats.
In the basement of the concert hall a crowd of cater-waiters gossiped about their latest part-time performances. Katherine sat next to a Caribbean woman talking about a parade she had danced in the previous year. Nothing had felt better than hearing an enthusiastic crowd for twenty-three blocks as she twirled in a jeweled skirt imported from Jamaica. She repeated the story over and over again, each time describing her outfit as having a different color.
Katherine stepped into the hallway and waited for the cue to serve beef sliders and chicken fingers. She checked her phone and found that her husband had not replied; she told herself to stop calling him husband.
As guests filled the concert hall upstairs, teenage girls with Jennifer Aniston hairdos tapped messages on their iPhones. Their friends did the same with BlackBerries. They dashed from one side of the hall to the other holding hands, as if nothing could be done alone. Katherine extended her tray and asked with an insincere smile, “Would you like a brownie?”
A boy with blond hair ran into her and pieces of chocolate went flying. She picked up the pieces and not a single person leaned down to help her. Children ran to their mothers, who then looked away as if they hadn’t noticed. Girls made that sort of, “Ah, that sucks,” face and turned their backs.
Soraya, a short, plump woman, leaned in and yelled in Katherine’s face with a heavy Bolivian accent, “Hola, Kathy!”
They had met a week before at a party in Times Square. Soraya had cornered Katherine, telling her she used to work for Al Pacino. Her sister was Pacino’s personal chef, and when Soraya would assist her she’d peek in his bedroom. “Just a bed and a nightstand. That’s all. Very simple man. Very nice,” she told her. After discovering that Katherine understood Spanish, her face lit up and she started rattling on about life in New York: how she was a social worker as well as a cater-waiter because being a social worker didn’t pay well and being a cater -waiter is good money. She bent over and helped pick up the brownie pieces.
Katherine tried to say thank you, but nothing came out of her mouth. She stared at a blue spotlight circling the pieces of crumbled brownie on the floor and closed her eyes.
In the basement Soraya pulled Katherine into a secluded stairway where the catering captains couldn’t find them.
“You need to relax. Pretend it’s a cigarette break,” Soraya said.
They sat on the top stair, and Katherine gazed down at the floor. She could sense Soraya staring, almost as if she was looking into her ear. Her open, auburn eyes signaled she was ready for a conversation.
“So, what’s up?”
Katherine mumbled, barely shaking her head. She didn’t have the will or reason to speak; she felt as though she was slipping.
Soraya shook the bangs from her face and focused her eyes on the beige wall in front of them. “You know, these people upstairs, they have their own jets. They have this thing called Jetnet. It’s like a timeshare for flying. You pay $30,000 and get a private jet for twenty hours. Cabrones, verdad?”
Katherine noticed the echo of Soraya’s voice, how it bounced from wall to wall with the rhythm of the music heard faintly from upstairs. Katherine whispered softly, as though she didn’t want her voice to echo, “Wanna hear something funny?” She was about to say, “Today is the birthday of a thing I once thought was love.” But she heard high-pitched screams from the concert hall above them—like lightning formed from the shrill children’s voices. The two women jumped to their feet and rushed out of the stairway, following a swarm of waiters up the stairs. “What’s going on? What happened?” News trickled down and Katherine had to read Soraya’s lips because she couldn’t hear anything besides the screaming. The music had stopped. Her stomach felt as though it was expanding and disappearing. She stared bemused at Soraya’s mouth, her round eyes and round face, her lips.
“Someone jumped off the balcony,” she said.
Soraya turned and followed the mass of black shirts and black pants as Katherine stood still against the traffic while wearing a horrified expression and thinking, “How instant, how melancholy.” She thought of the book the student was reading and tried to remember the word, the one word. What was it? Forever. If only someone could punch her, punch her hard, than maybe she could start screaming. She could scrunch up like tissue and ball herself in a knot as the panic circled around her. But she felt empty, like a cannon, and was motionless even though her knees buckled. She caught her weight with her left hand, and tears started falling out of nowhere.