Photo by phillip kalantzis-cope
It was like the prom. Only it wasn’t the prom. It was Hurricane Sandy. All the anxious preparation, the heart slightly aflutter, the pure angst and nervous excitement all at once. What to buy in advance, who to spend the night with, hell, even what to wear. It was Monday afternoon on the Lower East Side six hours before the storm was expected to hit New York City. It was long after Bloomberg shut down all the subways and buses and declared a state of emergency. Most of my neighborhood was required to evacuate because they were in Zone A. The flood zone. According to the Hurricane evacuation map, I was three blocks away from any sort of danger.
My phone rang. An automated voice came on from Con Edison. It very calmly—in that mechanical sort of way, because I suppose, it was, after all, not a person—notified me that the power was going to be shut off from my building “very shortly.” The very calm and mechanical voice didn’t say when, and the very calm and mechanical voice didn’t say why. But despite the very calm and mechanical voice that attempted to prepare me, or, rather, maybe it was to assure me that there was a sense of “we got this” attitude, it was, nonetheless, the first time I started to feel…. a sense of panic. Or, perhaps, one might call it a rush that pierced away and coursed right through me. I couldn’t be sure if it was terror or if it was dread or if it was simply the sense of not wanting to deal with any sort of threat or irritation…. well, to be frank, alone. I guess it always came back to that in the end. What we were willing to sacrifice, what we were willing to do, and what we were willing to not do. Alone.
Yesterday I asked my old friend from college, Felix, if he would be my Plan B. He had no idea what the hell Plan B was, but he said yes. I explained, “You know, if I start to freak out. Or if a window busts. Whatever. Plan B. Will you do it?”
“OK,” was all that he had to say on the matter. Felix wasn’t much for words. Sometimes I wanted him to say more, to do more. To help me fill the holes. All those goddamned, slippery holes.
I started to think about the Italian Guy and wondered if he would be alone in the storm. He was the first guy I seriously dated after my last big break up. The first guy after seven years with the same guy. After the one person who you thought would be your last. Then I thought about what happened with the Italian Guy, what exactly led to the I-need-some-space-and-this-is-moving-way-too-fast-for-me conversation.
I thought about the day Italian Guy called me six times in thirty minutes before our date. And I thought about me hiding in my apartment while he buzzed my door over and over again, after our date. I thought about my body curled up, hiding in the corner of my kitchen, away from the living room windows overlooking Allen Street. Where I couldn’t be watched, couldn’t be found.
Despite the incessant calls, forty-five minutes in advance of the time we were to meet, I had finished what I was doing and walked out of my building. The Italian Guy was outside my door pacing along the sidewalk, sucking on a cigarette.
I walked over to him. “Hi. I thought we were meeting at 7:30? Is everything OK?” I asked confused. Knowing something was probably very not okay. And by the look at the glaze in his eyes, I started to realize, He was very not okay.
“I hehhdd to go to tehh bett-rhhhoom. I hehhdd to go rhhh-eaally behhdd.”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear my phone. Why didn’t you just go to one of the bars around here?”
“Evvrrhhy-ting eehz sooo crawhh-dehdd overrhh heehhrr. Ehhtszehh sooo crhhh-zhheee and bee-zhheee. I wehtt and I wehtt ferrhh you but—nooo-teenghh. So I go to pee in the parrhhhk.”
“What?? You peed in the park. Why the hell did you do that?”
“I hehhdd to go rhhh-eaalll, rhhh-eaalll behhd. Buttt. It’s OK.” He waved his wrist in the air, as if to dismiss the whole thing, and said to me, “Ciao cucciolotta.” He put one hand on my cheek and tried to kiss me on the lips but I moved my head off to the side. I was seriously afraid that I was going to vomit in his mouth.
I suppose that had been the beginning of the end. And before I knew it, I was cowering in the dusty corner of my kitchen. Praying, praying, praying for him to go away. To be back in the safe arms of alone.
That was the week before. Now there was this Sandy to contend with. With a name like that, I thought this storm was going to be a pussy. Maybe they should have called it Hurricane Rocco or Hurricane Xena. Something with a little more bite. But, you know, the only other Sandy that came to my mind was the main character from that 1970’s film, Grease, played by Olivia Newton John. She was hardly the vision of menace.
Yet there I was packing an overnight bag to be somewhere else. I took a cab and was at Felix’s place by 4:30pm. We had no real plan so Felix and I did what we usually did when we got together: we had a drink. Some white wine for him and hard cider for me. I was playing around with my iPhone. Felix got up and put the news on. I tried to stop texting; but, goddamn, I was hearing from people from Montreal to Long Island City. The entire world seemed to be texting that night. Twenty-two ounces of cider later, I asked Felix if I could have a glass of wine instead. I always seemed to want what I wasn’t having.
Felix didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no, but he left the room and returned with an enormous, plump-shaped glass and gave the curved bottom a flick with his finger. “I love the sound of tapping against crystal,” he said, as he held the glass over me. Felix cupped the smooth round bottom with the palm of his hand and poured the shimmering liquid into it. I didn’t exactly know what I was putting to my mouth but I knew that it was going to be better than good and, between the both of us, was not going to last very long.
Dead leaves began to whip against the window. We were on the ninth floor of a high rise in the Stuyvesant Town complex. I didn’t know what I’d expected to find, but I went over to the large, picture window and looked down to the street. I saw nothing peculiar: only a hunched man who was walking his dog. The dog raised one leg at a stop sign by the corner of Avenue B, then put the leg back down when he was done with his business. The man and his dog walked away until I couldn’t see them anymore.
I went back to the couch. Felix asked if I wanted to watch Moonrise Kingdom. I couldn’t remember what I had heard about the film but knew that it was mostly good so I said OK. The film opened up to a painting of a sweet little country home. Then the camera panned through a house and swept across each of its sweet little rooms. Adults made strange faces, small children laughed, and a twelve-year old girl slithered from room to room.
About thirty minutes later, Felix dropped onto my lap, his head facing the TV screen. I didn’t pay it much mind and thought to myself, “This was what friends did.” A few of Felix’s fingers began to circle my left hip bone. A pre-adolescent boy and girl kissed quickly and awkwardly on the screen. Then they stopped. And the girl told the boy what a French kiss meant. “When you use your tongue,” she explained to the boy. A hand moved from my left hip bone and down my left thigh. Then it moved between the inside of my thighs. I did nothing to stop it. The girl on the screen was standing on a beach; she wore only a white bra and panties. The young boy’s hands moved over the white bra. And I felt a hand continue to move in between my thighs and on top of my spandex pants, over the part I just shaved that morning. It stopped where it was. Then moved some more. His fingers made me feel as if I wasn’t wearing anything at all.
A dead dog appeared on the screen. I remembered the blood and the empty glaze in the dog’s eyes. But I didn’t know how it happened or why. The only thing I knew was that there was a hand moving over the elastic of my spandex and then along the skin that formed over my rib cage. Fingertips brushed against the curve of my lower breast. And, because of this, because I did not stop any of this, I knew that this could be the defining moment where everything between us—the fifteen years of friendship, of beers at the local bar, of talk about old lovers and new, or the comfort of a Plan B—could all be gone.
Then out of nowhere, blinding lights blazed outside. “Oh shit,” Felix said. “The ConEd plant must have exploded.” I thought Felix must’ve been nuts because I knew the ConEd site took up at least five blocks and figured we would have been long dead if that was the case. We were a half block away. “What the hell do you mean?” I screamed at him. Then everything went to black. Inside, outside, along the streets. I screamed some more. Felix told me to, “Shut the hell up and just relax.” I did neither. And, instead, I ran over to the window to see how much time we had left. I was convinced: we were going to die. There were ConEdison vans, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, more fire trucks driving down 14th Street toward Avenue C. Then that same line of traffic sped backwards in the opposite direction toward Avenue B. I couldn’t figure out why until I saw a small river forming west on 14th Street. Soon there were helicopters, boats, people in uniform waving around flashlights. It was as if we had gone into war.
“Felix, you have to do something. The water keeps rising,” I yelled out.
“You’re being crazy,” he yelled back. “We are on the ninth floor. Nothing is going to happen.”
“Why aren’t you lighting any candles?” was all I could think to say back.
We used the light from our cell phones to find flashlights and candles. One by one, Felix lit about twelve candles and soon the apartment was aglow in golden flickering flames. It looked pretty fucking gorgeous, I had to admit. But, still, I thought we were going to die and said as much.
“OK, just stay where you are.” Felix left the room and came back with a wrinkled Ziploc bag filled with cookies that were the color of cigarette ashes.
“What the hell do you want me to do with that?” I asked.
“Chocolate chip pot cookies. Have one.”
I took a bite. It didn’t taste bad and it didn’t taste good. Felix left again and came back a bottle of cold Dom Perignon in his hand. “It’s gonna go bad, so we may as well drink it.” It was at the first sip of my sparkling new friend that the panic stopped. Felix and I told stupid stories, we laughed like marvelous fools, and decided that Sandy could go fuck herself.
By about midnight, the room was spinning in bitty circles. I was giddy and dizzy all at once. I went to go pee, then walked to the bedroom, and the spins started to take over. The room seemed to become smaller and smaller, until I was off to some far away slumber.
When I woke up, the first thing that I felt was Felix breathing against the back of my neck. Then I felt his naked body fold over mine. The storm was still raging. I turned around and asked Felix if we were dead. He said no and then shut my mouth with his own. Everything seemed to be happening without me. There was the same sensation that I was falling and falling. Felix’s head was somewhere I couldn’t see, moving between my legs. Then there was a brief moment of wonderful, idiotic trembling…. and I stopped thinking about anything at all.
The next morning the sun came crashing through the windows. When you get naked with your friend of forever it can only go two ways after that. You can do it again. Or you can stop. There was an utter sense of strangeness about waking up in bed completely clothes-less with my best friend. There they all were: a nipple, then another, a big unpolished toe, and nine more, the pubic hair, a penis and, god, the testicles. A full army of retards.
Felix was fast asleep. I was rushing to find my clothes. It was only now that everything I wore seemed too tight, too thin, too small. I dug around Felix’s closet for a sweater. There were none. But there were about three-hundred, perfectly-pressed, button-down shirts that seemed to be snickering at me. My black leggings were a sorry-looking, deflated ball on the floor. I put them on anyway.
I went to the bathroom. There was no water. The lights were still out too. I looked out the window. The river was gone, and so was the fleet of rescue workers and emergency technicians, no more boats, or vans or fire trucks either. Swarms of people moved about the streets in an orderly fashion. Some merchants stayed open and were selling things to customers one at a time, through locked doors or open windows, in the dim, candle-lit shops. That was the most I could make out from the ninth floor window.
And then there was now. Here. This. A part of me wanted to creep out quietly and never look back. A part of me wanted to blurt out in Felix’s ears: “Now what??”
I tried to ignore the lyrics that played in my mind: You can do it again, or you can stop. You can do it again, or you can stop. I was waiting and waiting and waiting for Felix to get up, to read my thoughts like friends were able to do, to please, please, please tell me you knew what the next words to the song were….
But he kept on sleeping.
So I stopped waiting.
Marie A. Sabatino has been writing stories ever since she was a little girl. She has been telling stories all over NYC for the last ten years or so…. at venues like The National Arts Club, Galapagos Art Space, The Telephone Bar, KGB Bar and many other places too. You can find some of her stories in publications like Word Riot, City Writers Review, Freerange Nonfiction, Bayou Magazine and fluence magazine. This is her second story published in Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood.