by not jenny

I felt for a moment reaching towards me
finger tips against mine.

She likes New York because it is never silent. Never empty. Even in the middle of the apocalypse, New York would be loud and bustling and headstrong. The skater punk of cities; proudly flaunting his blue hair and smoking a joint. ("Fuck you, four horsemen," he would say, middle finger raised.)

She doesn't like to think about the quiet times. The deadly times. ("Fuck you," New York declares, "fuck you and the fear you rode in on.") The sidewalks echoing.

[New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island. Five boroughs, fifteen billion broken dreams. America, distilled and refined and stuffed into 320 square miles.]

The bar is dimly lit. In years past, it would be smoke-filled, full of women doing their best Lauren Bacalls and men striving to be their (just for tonight, baby) Bogeys. At least they still serve the good Scotch the bartender keeps hidden under the counter for "special customers." Like her. Like Jack (used to be, once upon a time; she pushes the thought back as she pushes back her hair).

She misses the tragic smoking girls, though. And the men, cigars in hand. The man: singular, past tense (passé composé ou l'imparfait?). She shakes her head. Raises her hand, it's time for another round.

"Grey Goose, neat, please." Baby steps, maybe, but at least she's moving in the right direction. (Passé composé, definitely. Non-continuing action, set firmly in the past. Il y a été un homme, une fois passé.)


You mice,
that ate the crumbs of my freedom,

She thinks of them, privately, as her goldfish days. One, two, three, four; she can see them, all too-big eyes and misshapen heads, peering into her bowl. Watching, "is this the day she stops swimming, floats to the top of the water?"

They think they're being subtle. Polite. Something. They're not.

Vivian smiles at her, all maternal compassion and something she can't quite put her finger on (guilt? fear? curiosity? compassion?), and asks, "Hey, Sam, everything okay?"

"Hey, Viv. Just fine, thanks." (Just peachy. Hunky dorey. Take your pick, she wants to scream, just leave me the hell alone already.)

She can feel Jack's eyes on her, from around the corner. Burning. Turning away quickly, too quickly, and the silence is palpable.

"So, I'm thinking that the boyfriend, wherever he is, is our best bet. What do you think, Sam?" God bless Martin.

"Definitely. Now we just need to track him down." God bless avoidance.

And then she will be too busy, for a while, to remember anything at all.


The clock strikes:
these are the steps of our departure.

Her coffee is cold, and she suddenly (desperately) needs a cigarette. Never mind that she quit. Never mind that it's minus twelve out there, with the wind chill, and starting to snow. She needs something burning and carcinogenic and tar-filled.

"I'll be-" she begins, but the office has emptied out in the last few hours. "Back," she finishes, to no one. At least she doesn't have to wait for the elevator.

Outside, the wind blows up her coat and her eyes begin to burn. She buys a pack of Camels (and a copy of Vogue, which she slips into her bag) from the newsstand on the corner and lights up.

The smoke sharper than she remembers, she coughs. Inhales again. (Je fume, tu fumes, il/elle fume, nous fumons, vous fumez, ils/elles fument.) And again. Her lungs burn; her shoulders relax. It is bitterly cold, and she finishes the cigarette quickly. Heads back to the office.

Sitting on the edge of her desk is Martin, a white plastic bag in hand. "I come bearing Chinese food," he says. "Shrimp fried rice, moo shu chicken, sweet and sour pork, and vegetable mei fun. Oh, and hot and sour soup, of course, and tons of extra fortune cookies."

She smiles; she can't help it. "That fried rice is mine," she warns.


A brown oak leaf
scraping the sidewalk
frightened me.

One night, it has been dark for hours, and Jack calls her into his office. "To talk," he says, as if that means anything, anymore; as if she hasn't already said all the words she knows. She is careful to close the door behind her.

When she sits down, she smiles. He does not; he is twisting his wedding band and staring at his hands. "Samantha," he begins, but she stands, suddenly, cutting him off with her "Jack, the thing is, I really... I'm fine, I am, and-"

"Agent Spade," he growls. And then his eyes are back on his fingers, on the strip of gold he is worrying into his skin, and he looks like he's trying to work himself up to something. "Samantha." She can see the moment he sinks back into himself. "Never mind, it's not important; go home, get some rest, we can do this tomorrow."


"That will be all, Agent Spade. I'll see you in the morning." (Dismissed. Aye aye, Sir. She feels like she should salute.)

Martin is just pulling on a knit hat when she gets to the bullpen; his coat is already buttoned and he's wearing leather gloves. "C'mon," she says, "lets go get something to drink. My treat." She can hear Jack's door opening behind her; she does not look back.

"How," Martin asks, "can I turn down an offer like that?"

Later, when she is bellying up to the bar, ordering her third vodka tonic, she will notice the shape of his lips against his glass and she will want to sit down. And he will smile, and he will invite her to dinner Saturday night. She will surprise them both when she says yes.


swallowed only six seeds
of the pomegranate
and had to stay six months among the dead--
I was a glutton.

She decides to wear her highest, most dangerous, heels. The ones with the really pointy toes and the straps around her ankles and the good Italian leather. She feels coltish in these shoes, and daring and sexy. Like a completely different woman, one with a life that doesn't end when she shucks off her service weapon at the end of the day. Her dress is small and black and clings in all the right places. Her lips taste like candy canes.

The buzzer rings, and she presses the intercom button. "I'll be right down," she says, a little too loudly, when Martin announces that he is standing outside and getting colder by the second. She buttons her coat and is careful to lock the door.

And suddenly he is right there, in front of her, trying to keep his scarf from flying away, and there is something childlike in the way he smiles at her that makes her smile back. "There's this Thai place in Williamsburg," he's saying, "or, if you don't feel up to the subway ride, we could just get Italian; I know this place that makes really great gnocchi." He is looking at her shoes, her completely impractical shoes, when he says this, and she leans forward to kiss him. He tastes like peppermint and stale coffee, so she kisses him again.

(Je t'embrasse. Tu m'embrasses. Nous nous embrassons.)

"I'm feeling reckless," she says, "so let's go to Brooklyn and eat Thai food. Let's get really drunk on cheap wine. Let's ride the subway all night long." She is giddy. Punch-drunk. Invincible. She is the queen of New York; she's the one with all the chips. She offers him her hand, and he takes it.

The snow turns to sleet. Her toes are cold.


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