It’s a night like any other. The slow winding down of a work day, saying goodnight to my coworkers, and stepping out to the edge of the street.
Perched at the curb, I light a cigarette and begin a ritual.
So many small little gestures, stretching back over the years, back through years working dead-end jobs and soft summer nights in lamp-lit parking lots.
Back through years spent in Philadelphia, laying on a park bench on campus, late at night, with no one around to hassle me, talking to someone on the phone while I watch the smoke snake up into the sky.
All the way back to childhood, and my father, big and tall, with a pack of Camels pushed into the chest pocket of his blue work shirt.
All those little gestures, the inhale and exhale, the twitch of my fingers as I flick the ash away, the gulp of tea to sooth my parched throat. The slow gaze down the street and my yellowed teeth sliding into a crooked smile.
It’s a night like any other.
I’ve said good night to my coworkers, and they are gone. Gone to Harlem, or Queens, or back to Brooklyn like me.
But they still linger, their presences still standing out against the night.
Across the street, a pub roils with laughter, the doors opening to let the noise out into the street, rolling across the asphalt, and lapping at my boots.
Steel toes I got one Christmas from a girlfriend.
“They look so fresh on you, baby,” she said.
But now there are two cuts in the right toe – not enough to show the toe underneath, but enough to make me feel somewhat sad at the thought.
I wish I could have kept them looking nice.
But that’s me; always getting tossed about and torn up.
Across the street, leaning against the metal shutters of a jewelry store, a waitress from the hotel next door smokes a cigarette.
Like me, but she’s cool and distant. Her body twists into a silent challenge to the people walking by.
Her whole body screams it, out into the night, up into the sky, and across the street.
Her body is always screaming; I’ve seen her before.
And it’s a night like any other.
“Come get a drink with me,” I want to say to a coworker. “Just come along and chat.”
But I never say it. I never say any of it.
There’s no use in explaining it – in explaining it’s harmless, in explaining it’s okay to let your guard down for an hour or two in the company of someone like me.
But underneath that facade, underneath that idea of Someone Like Me, maybe there’s another Me looking to ruin something good.
Maybe she knows it. Maybe she’s wise like that.
A voice like sand on velvet. A silky scratch at your ear. Breathy and breathless. And the way her lips form a crooked smile like your own.
But you wear steel toes and stand at the curb of the street. Smoking cigarettes that yellow your teeth. Looking out at neon signs and strangers in the night. Thinking about facades. And what you really are underneath your own.
It wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Money/time/love down the drain. Just let ’em go.
Turn away, and catch a train back to Brooklyn.
Just a night like any other.