The following post, by Mario Zambrano, is the sixth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. It is being written by five authors, each of whom write two chapters each. You can read the first five installments, including chapter one, also by Mr. Zambrano, here. Check in each Monday for a new post.
Katherine woke up with her head over the edge of the bathtub. She had been dreaming about a boy, but she couldn’t see his face. She could only remember what his body felt like between her legs.
The ceramic was cold against her skin, and the muscles in her neck were numb, like her legs that were folded over each other. She was naked except for black trunks, and was soaking in a pool of vomit on the blue-and-white tiled floor. The taste of cotton was in her mouth, and bile, and as she peeled open her eyes she could hear a baby finch singing at the windowsill. A bus horn honked somewhere down the street, reaching her third-floor apartment as she lay in her drunken position from the night before. The walls reflected lemon yellow—obviously, morning sunlight.
She remembered how bright the fluorescent lights were in her bathroom, and how she had stared in the mirror while tracing her eyes with her forefingers. She had looked at herself for so long she became a stranger to herself, and asked, “How could I love you?” She must’ve collapsed like a building, she thought, a bomb set at the bottom of her heels that made every floor crumble. As she gained consciousness, she tried to remember what had happened. “What was it?’” she thought, “this liquid pool under my body?”
“Yes,” she remembered. “I got drunk.” Tears shot out of her swollen eyes, and her face scrunched like a balled-up tissue. She remembered touching herself as she sat on the toilet—how desperate she was to feel love. “Filthy…” she thought. “I yelled profanities about Mike with my hair in front of my face. I turned off the lights and had a bottle of wine in my hand.”
She tried to smile as she closed her eyes, thinking, “But I had fun, didn’t I?” She extended her legs and unglued her neck from the tub, not changing the position of her head. Her body felt decrepit. Pink vomit covered half of the floor, and just like a child—spoiled, ashamed—she cried. She opened her mouth and made a soundless expression as though she was screaming. She slowly discovered the joints in her body as she moved her limbs. The sound of the baby finch became more obvious to her as she held her head up—a headache throbbed to the rhythm of her heartbeat.
Katherine reached for the faucet on the shower and turned the knob. She crawled inside, and the water was cool, tapping like small knocks all over her skin. She turned the knob further and felt the warm water fall over her as she stood up. She took off her trunks and washed off the remains of that pink regurgitation that had become like a layer of second skin on the backs of her legs. Her hair was wet and her mind was warm; she remembered faint scenes from the dreams she had had while passed out on the floor: an overweight bum on the subway singing gibberish in mumbling whispers; that boy… Jeremi, from the bat mitvah she had worked at—he was older in her dream, but still, a boyish face—and he was on top of her. No, she had covered his face with a down pillow and made love to him. She was flying at one point; she dreamt of moving through the sky with breaststroke movements.
“Did any of that mean anything?” she wondered. The sunlight shooting through the window was a fire orange under Katherine’s eyelids. She turned her head to feel it on her face, and covered herself with lather—chamomile with fennel seeds.
* * * * *
After showering, Katherine slipped into a pair of clean jeans and put on a red, long-sleeve T-shirt. She walked to the kitchen and felt the urgent need to get rid of any evidence from the night before: the three bottles of red wine, the tequila bottle. It was the tequila, Katherine knew, that caused her headache.
She took two Tylenols and cleaned her apartment, putting every framed photograph of her and Mike face down. But when she checked her phone she noticed two missed calls from the night before. Mike had tried to reach her. The screen didn’t mark the time. It said: yesterday. She walked to the window in her living room and looked down to the street—a Sunday morning with mothers pushing strollers down the sidewalk. Her phone was in her hand, and she tried to decide whether or not to call him. “Yesterday was our anniversary,” she thought. “But what would I say?”
She felt like going to the nearest coffee shop. She needed to see people and feel people. She walked to her front door and grabbed The New York Times on her welcome mat, got her keys, and reached for her garnet hairpin—a red firefly with gold wings—knowing that even though Mike had given it to her she couldn’t throw it away. It was the one gift he had given her that seemed to complete everything she had ever wanted from him. He had given it to her one night at a restaurant in the West Village, and he had worn a suit jacket, which was so unlike him. He was proud of her because she had won first place in a short-story contest.
When she opened the small black box, the garnet firefly had seemed to reflect how he saw her—delicate, beautiful, and with wings. If one thing were to be salvaged from the story between them, it would be this, she decided, as she held it up towards the light that shined across her living room floor. A photograph of the firefly would be the book cover of her novel if it were ever to be written.
* * * * *
The coffee shop at the corner of Sackett and Henry attracted customers with laptops, and when Katherine walked in there was only one seat available in the corner. She took off her jacket and ordered a cappuccino at the bar while turning her head to all the laptops in the room, curious as to what a blond man by the window might be writing—a thesis, a biography?
There was a pen on her table, and she drew circles within circles in the margins of her newspaper. There was too much foam in her cappuccino, and after three sips there wasn’t any more espresso. She ordered another, and then sat down and opened the Times to the book reviews section. She browsed the news headlines to see if anything had been written about the boy that had jumped, but she found nothing.
The first novel in the fiction section seemed familiar to her: The Forever War. She drew a cliff bordering the book cover’s image—a mustard color—with a man jumping off the edge with his arms out to his sides, a swan-dive position. Then she remembered: it was the book the girl on the train was reading the day before. Suddenly, because of the word War, because of the word Forever, she wanted to call Mike. She stood up and walked outside to have some space to walk around as she spoke. She looked at her thumb over the call button, and then up to the sky, thinking, “One one thousand, two one thousand, three…” and pressed the button.