I'm waiting for Frederick Nesson to meet me. He'll be here in the morning. After all these months. I've been infatuated with him since I heard him read his work at the Select Poets Association on Broome Street. I've watched him leave with his plump blonde girlfriend for three months. A girlfriend ... why should that bother me? Wives and fiancees never have.
I took the train in from Queens. It's just about a week before Christmas. It's early Friday afternoon. It's my birthday. I rented a hotel room in Times Square. I'm going to spend the weekend. Tomorrow. Saturday. Frederick says he'll join me.
I pay the cab driver. I tip him too much. I have a habit of doing that.
The streets are crowded with holiday shoppers. Street vendors sell scarves, hats and gloves. Red white and blue dominates the landscape.
The hotel is old. A relic of Times Square. There are spider webs on the ceiling and holes from which thumping noises escape. I won't sleep tonight.
I change my clothes, put on fresh makeup, and a sweater coat. I head out to Broadway. The desk clerk is staring at me. I can almost hear him panting as I walk by. He's too young. I won't give him a second look.
I'm waiting for Frederick Nesson to meet me. He'll be here in the morning. After all these months. I've been infatuated with him since I heard him read his work at the Select Poets Association on Broome Street. I've watched him leave with his plump blonde girlfriend for three months.
A girlfriend ... why should that bother me? Wives and fiancees never have.
I call Frederick at his office a lot. Sometimes he talks to me for hours. One night he kissed me when I ran into him at an art show in Chelsea. The blonde wasn't with him that night.
I even brought him back an Elvis T-shirt from Memphis last month. He read a poem about The King once; it really blew me away.
He started calling me a few weeks ago. He never mentions her. Laura. His live-in. He acts as though she's not part of the situation. I wonder how often he's cheated on her.
He told me he's always wanted me, but the timing wasn't right. Starting this month Laura will be working on Saturday mornings. He can get away.
Now -- this weekend -- I finally have the man I've wanted for so long. Even if it's just for a short time. Maybe somehow I can make him love me.
On Fifth Avenue the air smells of roasted chestnuts, smoke, and the sweat of an old beggar. A jolly Santa rings a bell outside Macys. Broadway is crowded. A man catches my eye. He's walking a blue-eyed dog. The man's gaze moves to my breasts. He smiles as his shoulder brushes mine. I can still feel his gaze as I move away.
My name is Brenda Materi. I'm five-foot-six, red hair, and curves. I'm really smart. Most men -- hot men -- don't see that. They just see breasts and long legs. The ones who do see the real me are either geeky or too old.
I'd rather be alone than be with just anybody. Most times the ones I want aren't available. Sometimes they're not interested in anything but a once-in-a-while thing.
Both rules apply to Frederick.
I like to dream.
Walks down Broadway are always eventful. Shopkeepers hand out flyers inviting you to sample everything from hot chocolate to intimate body massages. Ladies dressed in fur walk their dogs and street people sit on blankets with tin cups in front of them. Some restaurants and delicatessens prop open their doors and the smells of exotic foods linger in the air. I can't stop right now. I want to see Ground Zero. I haven't been there since before the attacks.
I'm at Tenth. I hop a bus and ride the rest of the way.
The news said that in a week or two they'll be putting up platforms so that you can view the entire site. Today I walk down an alley where others are gathered. In the distance I see the forklifts. I smell the smoke and something else, something acrid and vile. I see the destruction. Twisted steel. Ashes billow in the air. Workers wade through rubble.
My feet feel as though they are nailed to the cement. I cry and am not ashamed. I look around and see others wiping their eyes and shaking their heads. Despite the pain there is a gnawing anger.
I stop at the wall where people have left behind flowers, prayers, poetry, photos and countless other articles dedicated to the dead.
I turn and begin to make my way toward the village. It's so crowded. I notice that soot is still piled on canopies and on storefront steps. I stop to take a deep breath and wonder if I'm inhaling deadly fumes.
A man is walking my way. A plainclothes detective. His shield hangs around his neck. He has unruly black hair. His face is freckled. He looks at me. I pretend not to see him.
I know him.
Then I hear his voice. "Brenda Materi."
"Haven't seen you since August. How are you?"
I met Tommy at the open-air flea market on Houston Street last summer. I got the impression he was on duty. Figured the plainclothes cops were on the lookout for crooks or those who dealt more than antiques, art, or clothes. I never asked.
He'd always been kind to me. He always stayed around my booth longer than he needed to. He bought one of my prints.
I can't think of much to say to him. "The sun. You said you'd hang it in your parlor."
"I did. It's over my couch. Looks great." He smiles a crooked smile. There's a dimple in his right cheek. He smells of good cologne.
"You patrol here ... now?"
"All weekend. Never know who could be lurking in the crowd."
"That's for sure." I notice that his eyes are blue. "Nice seeing you."
"Will you be at the flea market again."
"Yeah, in the spring. When the weather turns mild."
I know he wants to say more. Instead he just says, "Well, goodbye."
I begin my journey back.
I weave in and out of shops on Broadway. In a leather shop a tabby kitten crawls out of a barrage of Liz Claiborne purses. She rubs her pink nose against my leg and meows softly when I bend down to pet her. I buy a small change purse and tell my new friend goodbye.
I buy a silver pin at a jewelry stand: the sun setting and moon rising over a city. Bracelets, watches, and earrings glimmer in the afternoon sun.
Funny. I haven't thought about Frederick at all. Shopping is taking him off my mind.
I feel bad about brushing off Tommy. It must be a sign of maturity.
I speak to a jewelry vendor on the corner of Christopher and Broadway. Her name is Linda and I buy handmade necklaces from her: two for twenty bucks. My favorite of the two has copper circles hanging from a triple silver chain. Surreal faces are etched in the circles. I swear I dreamt about this piece. It was last week. I was walking by Saint Paul's, wearing a flimsy dress I'd recently bought in Saks. It felt like December, but I wasn't cold. The moon was hanging above me round and plump, shimmering just like the copper on my necklace. A man was walking toward me. He was smiling. I knew that smile.
I dream strange stuff now and then. Sometimes an incident in my real life echoes the dream. Like deja vu.
Sharon gives me her phone number. Tells me to call her next time I come to Manhattan. She's got some ceramic earrings she thinks I'd like.
I spot a street artist down the block. I stop and talk to him. He's painting buildings on stretched canvas, using bright orange and blue acrylics.
"The police can't arrest us, not since we took them to court. Despite what Giuliani says, the first amendment protects us."
He smiles and I notice a splotch of orange paint on his nose.
I stop at a deli. It's crowded. There's an empty seat at a table where a black couple is eating. The man stands to pull out a chair for me. I thank him.
I wonder if Tommy has eaten lunch yet.
Why am I thinking about him?
I feel bad. That's all.
I spend the afternoon strolling through the city, gradually making my way back to Times Square.
The hotel is quiet. Lovers and friends are probably out shopping and dining together.
Oh well, I have my prizes. I spread my bargains out on the bed. I have so much. I buy things constantly and then store them away, often forgetting about them. I guess shopping eases the loneliness.
I'll wear one of the necklaces tomorrow ... for Frederick.
I put on white silk underwear, black jeans and a tight black sweater. I clip on the necklace. I wonder if Tommy has had breakfast yet. What he'd say if he saw me now.
He's just a cop.
I know Fredrick's written poems for me ... about me. He'll recite them to me before we makes love. I imagine how passionate sex with a poet will be.
Frederick calls. He's in the lobby.
He's wearing old jeans with rips in the knees. He hasn't shaven. His long hair looks greasy.
Frederick makes love to me ... if you want to call it that. It's not slow and careful. It's hurried and without much emotion. There is no poetry.
He says he has to go. She'll be back and she expects him to take her for a late lunch. "Goodbye," he says. He kisses me hard. "I wish it could be different."
I'll go back to Queens tonight. No use paying for another night in this crumbling hotel.
I have something to do before I leave Manhattan.
There's a cab outside. The dark-skinned driver tells me that he can only bring me one block away from Saint Paul's. I know that. I know it'll be crowded too.
The fare comes to twelve bucks. I give the driver a five-dollar tip. He tells me to be careful.
The December air chills me. I forgot my gloves. I packed them away with my other things.
I buy a wine-colored pair from a street vendor as one of New York's finest tells him to pack it up.
"I have a permit," says the small Asian man.
"I don't care," says the cop. "Orders for today."
Saint Paul's. So somber this Saturday. The mourners cry. The acrid smell fills my nostrils.
This is so silly. Why did I come back?
I smell familiar cologne. Feel a warm hand on my face.
"That necklace. I swear I dreamed about ..."
He smiles his crooked smile.
I see so much promise there.