but I’m struggling to write fiction. So all you get are weird vignettes that are sometimes fiction and sometimes not.
I had to stop back home on my birthday this year. It was during rush hour. It was a Friday evening. There was a man when I got back on the train. While the doors were opening, he announced, “I’ve gotta take a piss.” He leaned into the door frame and unzipped. He angled so well, the three of us who pushed past him to get on the trained stayed dry. He timed it so well, he was finished and zipped when the doors closed. When he sat down, he shouted, maybe so we’d know he was drunk. He didn’t smell and wasn’t invading anyone’s space.
People keep asking me if the city is different. Sometimes it is.
We’ve been on the phone for an hour. For five minutes, I set my phone down and answered the door. The delivery guy didn’t come to the apartment door. He never got off his scooter. I forgot my keys in the apartment and cursed him as I folded the rug at the building door over to prevent being locked out.
I rush back upstairs with dinner, remembering the time he refused to take the escalators in Seattle. The hills there are steep, like San Francisco. He loves to tell me this. Whenever he says it, I remember the portable dishwasher (wheels pre-installed) he insisted on lifting from the truck to my deck. He slipped a disc and had surgery. He never did the exercises. I begged him to take the escalator instead of walking up the hill. Maybe it was down. Instead, he drank a six-pack of beer and took two ibuprofen that night, pretending everything was fine.
He asks me what I’ve ordered. I tell him about my basil chicken. He asks me when he should visit, I remind him that was four flights of stairs and ask, “Can you walk two miles in a day?” He insists he can, but cannot believe anyone would ever walk five miles in a day. “Twenty thousand steps at least once a week? You’re kidding me.”
When we get past it, I’m reminding him he needs to see a therapist. He’s not leaving the house. His words are slurring. He’s in pain. “Getting old sucks.” He says, “Well, I guess I don’t need a therapist because I have you” and isn’t finished before he laughs.
“My unlicensed rate is $150 an hour and I require prompt payment.” I’m still not laughing. He tells me he’ll call someone instead because my rates are outrageous and I break a smile.
We get on the train together and ride for three stops. I go up the left stairs while he goes right. I go into Marshall’s for the pan I need. It’s a weeknight, and it’s early, so the line isn’t insane. When I’m waiting on the platform again, he’s there with a pizza. I imagine him coming home with their favorite pizza and a small gathering around the table.
Instead, I watch as he gets off the train ahead of me, gets through the turnstile faster than me and then I find him approaching the gentleman between the next staircases. He’s confirming he got the pizza they discussed and, “Would you like company for dinner?” They’re laughing and sharing stories by the time I’m street level.
Imagine one of these stories is true. Taken out of order, they form ridges on the map I’m using. From a blurry distance, maybe they’re all true.