P. O. V.
In those days, a teddy bear held the window. The bear's dress changed with the seasons, an apropos bear, a bear with a view.
Assigned his post by the tenant of the rebuilt townhouse at 18 West Eleventh Street, he was a working bear. His brothers and sisters posed in other windows: in Macy's and pharmacies, with children's smocks and mannequins, with trucs gratuits and lingerie, with beer bottles and bowling pins. Yes, there were many opportunities for an ursa proletarianensis. But some were a real pain in the furry ass.
In the vaulted womb from whence he'd come, rumours of the world passed, anxious, among his multiple sistren and brethren. 'They take off your skin and throw it into a wave machine. Then they dry it and put you back into it but your skin has shrunk and you don't fit anymore!' 'There are small folk out there who like to eat our eyes!' 'When they're done with you they throw you out of their houses into the street and then they walk by, cold as the weather and don't even give you a look, let alone a home.'
Yes, it was all true, but they treated each other even worse than they treated working bears. It wasn't such a bad life. As long as you kept your sense of irony.
Silly critters, lanky and bald-bodied, people just couldn't accept that bears had their own lives too. But you got used to it, and came to tolerate the sticky embarrassment of the adults and the awkish mawe of the kids. You prayed, of course, that you didn't get thrown into a closet, forgotten in some spider-ridden attic, or buried in a snow-drift by some brat. And of course there was that friend of his who had been at the mercy of a window-dresser. 'Oh, but wouldn't it be cuter if the bear hung upside down?' That Christmas season had been Hell on him. They don't even know we're prone to dizziness.
Some bears, however, had it made. He always envied his mud-spattered kin, strapped to the front of big trucks. Hood-ornaments to leviathans, they prowed proud across the land.
All in all, after all, it was a living.
This bear knew about the history of his home. Though now he stood in the window, looking down upon Eleventh Street, he had seen the rest of the house, new as it was, and had noticed its skew shape. Yes, the owners of his home had fought to have the townhouse rebuilt like this, jutting out into the tree-lined street, cutting into the shadowed silence, abutting with history. Rather than erasing the blast, they had kept it resonating, even though their neighbors had covered their ears and yelled. This bear was proud of his window and felt the tenderness of his time to time changes of clothing. He stood up straight in day and night, whether the street was empty or full. He saw rain and sun and snow and sleet and knew that once, here, it had rained glass. He guarded a monument. Whereas they'd never let a bear near the Lincoln or Washington memorials, he felt that a bear stood watch over a more important oracle. And watch it he did. He was a working bear. It was a job well done.
"There's a bear in the window!" Kate turned to her husband. "Oliver?"
He was looking down, at the basement windows. "Jesus," he said. She felt him shiver.
Omygod. I knew he would do something like this. Kate tried to lift him up but Oliver was already on his knees. She might still have grabbed him under his arms but she couldn't. You just can't pull someone up by their underarms after they've Fallen to Their Knees. O Holy Night bounced off Christmas past and hit her in present Autumn. Again, as always since girlhood, the music brought along its propre patron saint, a sort of flying nun. Not of Sally Fields but Strawberry Fields, French Catholic (like the half of Kate that wasn't Lutheran) and château-bound, streamlined as a penguin soaring round a fluted sky, the nun was blacknwhite aloft, a rocket-fire rainbow in her wake. Fall on Your Knees...
Kate looked into the blackness behind the bear. Who lived here? What would they make of this bustably bizarre piety? Then she felt the banshee in her bones and shivered with her husband. Who else lived here? Always awake, on vigil in those underrooms, others did see them, visible to invisible eye. Through the looking glass, looking for glasses.
Glasses. Kate joined her husband, leg-bone to leg-bone on the ground. The grit of pavement chewed raw through her stockings and ate bit by bite into her kneecaps. Kate didn't budge. She felt the wire-rims concentrate light and make heat, a glass boyscout fire in Oliver's breast-pocket.
He had felt them too. Still looking at the basement windows, where it was still March 6, 1970, he took the glasses from his inside pocket and opened them, re-mangled as they were by his own hand. He held them up to the dark. At arms length, he strained to see through their lenses. Too far away. Slowly he pulled them closer to his very mortal eyes. And closer still. Till he laid them on his wet, warm nose.
His mouth opened. Kate watched him, watched the subterranean windows, watched for what he might have seen. Suddenly he turned to her. On his face, the twisted frames made him victim of a brawl. Stricken, he took them off and handed them to his wife. She put them on and saw the same thing.
The same thing as before.
What living eyes can see and nothing more.
The tiny Black woman watched them as they watched, her Navy coat scooped under her little ass, cold legs crossed neat on a richman's stoop across the dark and tree-lined street. Well, good news if this be them. A couple of aching fools, but good ones. Sweet fools, looking to peek around the curtain, tourists on the River Styx, trying to get what's something else for nothing. But at least they want it. And they know they can't get it, unless --
As she watched, the kneeling couple put their arms around each other and helped themselves to stand, siamese-like, as one. Brisk they walked toward the juncture with Fifth Avenue and there, met a garbage basket. Amanda got up and followed, mere small meters behind them. They paused at the trash. She heard them speak.
"Diana?" asked the woman. Diana... whispered Amanda.
"Diana," said the man.
"Like your horse?" asked the woman. Like my horse... whispered Amanda.
"Like my horse," said the man.
"So," said the woman. So... whispered Amanda.
"So," said the man. He dropped an open milk carton, dry inside and planted with an envelope, deep into the rather empty garbage basket. Amanda leaned against a building on the corner and trained her eyes on the church, black like lead, across the street.
Living only a short block-and-a-half away, the writer chanced to walk by. She followed the bear's eyes and saw them all, and knew that more were coming. Dizzy after twenty-four hours of work, she opted to leave them be.
Amanda saw the man wrap a fist round the rim of the metal basket, and grip it against dear life. "Kate," he said. "Kate, please. Whatever happens, let's go all the way with this one. Take it to the end. Agreed?"
The woman named Kate put her arm around the man's waist and said, "Yes. If only because I've never felt so well with you, Oliver." With both arms now, she hugged him hard. "Oliver, Oliver, Oliver... South!"
The man named Oliver looked up at her, startled.
"I'm sorry," said Kate. She giggled at the pavement. "I know it's cornball. But I've always wanted to say it. This just seemed the very best moment."
Oliver took her head in his hands, a gesture of tenderness that Amanda particularly respected. "Kate, I'm so glad you did. You see...I've been mumbling it to myself into my shaving mirror every morning, just after my first A.M. drink." He looked over his shoulder, took in the darkscape of which Amanda was a part. "I've been doing it for years, Kate, think of it! Listen. We should get out of here. Place ourselves so we can watch the L.N.P.'s pick up their pay, right?"
"Right," said Kate. But she didn't move. "I just want you to know that I understand about... Diana. It's O.K."
Amanda heard Oliver softly laugh. "Oh Catherine, Catherine," he said. "Dance, dance big, dance Catherine wheels... "
"It's just a poem I wrote."
"You write poems?"
At this, Oliver took her arm and pulled her away from the basket. They waited at the curb for nighttime traffic to stop.
"Yes, Kate, I do." Amanda heard that soft laugh again. It sounded familiar this time. "Someday I'll tell you about the oyster..."
"Oliver! The oyster is from one of your poems?"
The cars stopped and the couple walked, then ran across the street. Amanda saw them take shelter in a doorway on the other side; their words would be out of earshot.
Oyster. Poem. Amanda knew an oyster poem. It had been circulated in the early Seventies, and written by a comrade unknown to her. Unknown to all those who were actually doing things, though they knew his poem by heart.
Amanda watched Oliver's face, pale in Fall wind. Word by word, she recited in whisper.
'See your eyes in the smooth lagoon,
A truck pulled up, blocking the couple from her sight. She stood on tip-toes, looked into the cab. Johnny was at the wheel.
Amanda gave herself two seconds on the curb before she'd have to go. Otherwise they might follow her. It was essential that she be left free to follow them.
Johnny's face appeared in the window, looking for Annette. It stayed there, like a framed moon, registering Amanda's presence. Then he sent a smile. She rebounded it, and was gone. Probably not far, Johnny told himself, but far enough to be beyond him. And, he hoped, out of Annette's sight. Where was Annette, anyway?
Howard spun round. There were incredible legs at the bus-stop. But Black ones, and not his partner's type.
"We have to stop soon," said Howard.
"Because we're here, Jeff. This is the corner. We have to hide ourselves so we can watch the proceedings."
They turned round and headed back to the bus stop. Howard edged close to those wicked Black legs. Jeff shot him a pointed black look. The two men and Amanda hoped the bus would never come.
These guys had to be C.I.A. So who were Kate and Oliver? They must be co-conspirators, for Oliver did, clearly, make the drop. But then, who were these frustrated men? If they were the first-line emissaries, then alas, there was no hope. But no, all four had to be involved. What roles did each one, or at least each couple, play?
She watched the fayer one nudge his partner. The stouter guy looked up. Following their eyes across the street, she saw Kate and Oliver, kissing under an awning.
"We got them," said the thin one.
"Yeah," said the thick one.
I got it, thought Amanda. After all, how could the Company trust two such as Kate and Oliver? People who fall to their knees before the bombsite? These two suits must have been sent to tail the tailers. Just like her. So she was to tail the tailers of the tailers. She looked them up and down. Howard glowed under her gaze. Maybe she could help Kate and Oliver lose these guys. It looked like a pretty easy task.
Howard turned to the pregnant dark above him. Chicken Little, Cassandra fowl, ran for cover in the corner of his eye. Too heavy now and gaining weight, sky fell from grace with gravity and would tumult to the ground. Maybe the heavenly oil-well had finally struck a vein in the void. Now black drops of treacle would plummet into his hair. He wiped his eyes. Black feathers had begun to fall, itchy in his lashes. A mammoth bat was moulting from on high. Or perhaps the celestial squid had taken fright and let loose, turning all of Earth into an ink blot, a macro-Rorschach for the alien and mad. Howard's eyes drilled twin tunnels of exploration, up into the night. Yes, the Milky Way had certainly gone black. He hated waiting for people. It gave him time to wonder about stuff.
"What if they separate?"
"Who?" asked Jeff.
"Kate and Oliver."
"Well, I guess we separate." Jeff smiled big. It wouldn't be a bad thing, this separation. "I'll take Kate."
Howard rubbed his eyes. He felt the first drops fall and shrugged. "I'll take Oliver."
Amanda heard her diagnosis confirmed. She reached down and checked her garter, lightest lavender, shocking in the darkness of her leg and the air around. Yes, Howard saw it. Now she could primly close her coat.
Under the awning, with the coming of rain, Oliver pushed Kate back, step by step, up against the wall. "Listen," he said. "Jeff and Howard are across the street."
Kate laughed. "So?"
"So damn it," said Oliver. "I was getting used to their being gone. I really thought we had lost them for a while there."
"Just proves it can be done."
"So we've got to do it again."
"Sure. But we mustn't forget about the tailing we have to do, just because someone's tailing us." He looked over his shoulder. "Kate, I'd bet anything that red truck is in on it." She turned. Yes, it was clear, the truck was expecting. Across the street, the vehicle lay grave and gravid. It stood illegal, blocking the garbage from the Virginians' view. Oliver smiled at his wife and took her shoulders. "I'll go check it out." Their eye contact broke. Propelled into the rain, Oliver ricocheted streetwise and was wet and gone. Kate tightened her coat, hid her long nose in the collar, and stooped under the cold. Her husband prowled round the prow of the truck, plumbing its nature, provoking. The drenched little Black woman blended with the darkness, unrecognized.
Tick Tock Tick Tock. Annette's heels clacked along the sidewalk. Often ankle-deep in city rainwater, she stepped in puddles and on cracks, caring not for her pumps or for her mother's back.
Johnny's truck was obvious at the corner. Sure of her basket, she moved straight down the court, dribbling high and slow, slapping the ball with an open hand and leaving herself wide open. She saw no challenge and felt unchallengeable. The trash was hers.
Disappearing behind her husband's truck, she looked up at the cab and Johnny saw the second woman in some odd minutes train her eyes on him and smile. As before, but different, Johnny smiled back. Annette missed a beat in her tick tock. The trash was nearly empty and the prize lay at its bottom. Street-level. She'd have to climb in after it.
No way. The basket would move for her, not she for it. She tipped it over and extended her arm. Shit. Two paper bags, a newspaper, and -- a milk carton. They were there for the taking but not at arms-length. She tried again. No luck. Looking over her shoulder, she inserted her head.
Amanda laughed in the rain. Yeah, Annette. You're in over it anyway. You might as well put it in. At least that's one way of using it.
Sentry by the church gate, Oliver surveyed the street. Kate was still on the opposite side, trying not to look his way. But Jesus, did she look miserable. The other woman at the basket didn't look bad at all. Rain seemed to be her element. He liked rain too.
Burrowing in the basket, Annette decided to be thorough. She opened the first paper bag. It contained nothing. The second held a soggy sandwich. People eat this stuff. People watching think I eat this stuff. She dropped it, went straight for the milk and found the envelope. Can't be too careful. Someone just might have thrown out an envelope in a milk carton. She opened it. Cash.
The basket rebounded and spun in circles, wetly, till it settled. She was already at the curb.
And Kate? His wife was staring at him now, unabashed. Oliver tried to send her a shrug but the air was too damp to carry the message. It fell mid-street, water-logged. Gotta go. Gotta go. Message received? There was no answer. The other woman passed him, going North. He swung off the church gate into a puddle and thought of Gene Kelly. His black leather coat must be shiny in all this water. He turned up the collar. Oh Poseur, poseur. Super-Spy-spy-spy-spy-spy-...
Something was tapping him on the shoulder, compelling him to look back. It wasn't his wife, he was less, not lot, and in any case, Sodom and Gomorrah were in front of him. Still, if he were to become a pillar of salt, this would be the perfect moment. The rain would wash him away in short order; no danger of becoming a fucking monument.
Diana. The House. He spun round and stopped, daring himself to count slowly to three, a number he had often used for such projects. Three. He turned back ahead. The chase was still before him. Going forward, yes, that was the way to go back. And going back was the way to move on.
Walk North now, man. He remembered Oliver South.
Kate was alone. That was bad. Worse, she wasn't really alone. The truck was still there, still waiting. No longer for a drop, nor for a pick-up, but for her. She shivered, stepped away from the wall.
Howard smiled. Jeff had wanted most to go yet Howard was going first. Oliver's back was still in sight, a shiny black patch in the flat black rain. Howard mouthed the word, 'Bye,' and split.
Amanda tarried in the bus stop then smiled pertly at Jeff and left him. Alone with Kate and a truck and the rain. Now that he had no one for whom to feign impatience, he suddenly wanted the bus to come. Maybe he'd just get on. He felt in his pockets. Shit. No change.
No, she must have left by now, Johnny told himself. He couldn't have expected Amanda to say good-bye. So how many players remained? He lowered his head to the steering wheel and felt for the key. I'll give it another minute, then pull out.
Annette was followed by Oliver who was followed by Howard who was followed by Amanda. Annette realized she was still carrying the whole milk carton. She threw it away and pocketed the envelope. Union Square was in sight and under it, the 'R' Train home. Could she dare to be happy? She felt she was just too happy already and tried to beat the joy-bubbles down. No, she told herself, you haven't just won some goddamn game show. This is real. She breathed deep, widened her strides and wondered if she looked like a journalist.
Oliver realized where they were going. Since he hadn't been down there in twenty years, he tried to remember about tokens. Howard saw the woman disappear into the subway and Oliver follow suit. Shit. He'd have to sit in the same car as Gadsden. Nothing wrong pragmatically with the fact that Oliver would see him. It was something else. A feeling of -- yes, something like shame. Not at catching Gadsden but at being caught by Gadsden. Witnessed in the act of following. Still following. Nose to the ground, sniffing Gadsden's tracks.
Amanda saw Howard swallowed up by the underground. She dove in next. On the train, Annette would recognize her. Please let that woman not be a fool! Unfortunately, it was all up to Annette. If she could just hold out until Amanda got Howard off Oliver's ass, then everything would be O.K.
Each now mere meters from each, all headed for the 'R.' Mobile motives, the motives were different; the motion was the same. Each person moved alone, each to a different drummer, but each drummer played the same beat. As the procession made its way through the pushing midnight crowds, people parted and let them pass. Strangers could see what the protagonists could not: the lines that drew these four together and kept them, each, six feet apart. And so strangers shunned them with respect and gave them space to work it out. To tail till it came to a head.
Back at Eleventh Street, Jeff couldn't quite make a vow not to lose his quarry. She was on the move.
Kate ran swiftly across the street, faster than she could say no. At least she had to see the face of the guy in the truck, at least to be able to describe it. But no, there was more. She, herself, wanted to see him. Even if there was no one she could tell about her exploit, she still wanted to do it. Both to define the truckdriver, this L.N.P.-become-real, and to define herself. Besides, thanks to rain and cunt, it was perfectly licit for her to approach a dry male driver. An irreverent voice demanded whether or not that made her a wet cunt. She did not reply and ran.
Passing in front of the windshield, she could see nothing of the man inside. Probably he couldn't see her, either. She quickened. What if he had accelerated while she was in front of the truck? She imagined herself a corpse, run over by this man. The irony bore down upon her with more force than the matter merited. Unless there was something she wasn't surfacing. Well, that was a phenomenon she knew well. Christ, she carried an enormous zone of unsurfaced information that often cropped up as the invisible partner in a paradox. Something would become ironic while she didn't have any idea why. The answer was in this unknown quantum of stuff and could complement, contradict, confirm, or tear askew any known statement she could make. It was the silent antithesis to her noisy thesis and it gave her a synthesis that she couldn't understand. This man in the truck was one of those invisible partners. But not for long.
She knocked on the door of the cab.
Through the misted glass, a third woman smiled. Would she, too, disappear? Final Cheshire Cat of the day? But he couldn't know that in advance. He did not even know if she was involved in the game.
Johnny wriggled out of his seat, crossed the divide between, and settled into the co-driver's seat. He rolled down the window. The air made a better looking-glass. Water hit his face.
She was still smiling, but not going away. Her nose was pointy and she looked like she'd been crying. But that was probably just the rain.
He looked a little like a bird. Long-haired but not a hippie. Thin, angular. Somehow familiar. Was this an L.N.P.?
"I'm soaking wet. Can't get a cab. You suppose you could be kind enough to give me a lift?" There. She'd done it. Shit, she cursed herself. I thought I was just going to look at his face. He could rape me. The thought made her shiver.
Johnny nodded his head. Hardly aware that he'd opened the door, he was busy watching a movie. Images came to him in slomo, each slipping away in the rain before he could be sure. He almost asked her to turn around, so he could see her back. After all, if she was her, then he could best recognize her back. That back had magnetized him for many young years. To his pubescing shame, he'd seen much more back than face. The woman had not responded to his nod.
"Yeah," he said finally. "Come in." He watched her hesitate, then enter, slomo, just like his memories. He moved back to the driver's seat, letting her take the other one. Jesus, she sure was wet. "You're real wet," he said.
"Of course," she said. "That's why I need the ride."
He kind of expected her to say where she wanted to go, but it didn't come. All right. Here goes. "K-katie?"
O my God, she thought. They know about us. Well, we know about them, too, so we're even. No use in lying. "Uh-Kate. Kate." Johnny smiled. Huge. Goofy. It hit her. "Johnny? Johnny McCarthy?"
"McCarte... " said Johnny. He wished his name were McCarthy. Shit. "McCarte."
"Wow!" She hadn't said wow in decades. She took his hand. "What a surprise!" So this was what old Johnny McCarte was doing. Being an L.N.P. And an L.N.P. was a Johnny McCarte.
"What a surprise, Katie, uh-Kate. What a surprise."
"You can call me Katie, Johnny."
"Yeah." She shook her head. "Wow."
The 'R' Train pulled in at the platform and Annette took the last car. She instantly regretted it. If someone were following her, the last car would be closer to them. It was, you know, last.
Oliver looked over his shoulder. Yes, Howard was there, averting his eyes, mooring off from a pillar. Well, so be it. The subway tokens didn't have holes in them anymore, no triumvirate of slits. Oliver had liked those old tokens and regretted their passing. He entered the car, testing his subway legs as they steadied themselves on this about-to-be-lurched terrain. Then he realized that he could sit down. He did, to the left of an old Black woman. Annette sat to the woman's right.
Howard took his place across the aisle. He wished he had brought along something to read. Alert, he felt tailed himself. As if Oliver and that Puerto Rican-looking woman he was following were both after him.
Amanda's high heels stepped on board and everybody but Howard looked up. She grabbed the pole as the train doors tried to shut, then shut for real. While the subway quaked and then pulled out, she braced herself against the pole and stood, no hands, her legs spread wide apart. Now Howard dared to raise his eyes. Too much. If only he had brought along a book.
"Can anybody change a dollar bill?" The bus had finally come and Jeff had opted to ride. An old woman sitting in a Reserved for the Elderly and Handicapped seat looked slowly through her change purse. Jeff sent her a wet and urgent look. This was direly important. He could not get thrown off the bus. All the other protagonists in the drama were en route to their destinations. They had pulled out long ago. If this bus didn't take him somewhere he would just --. Do nothing. Be nowhere. At least this bus was going somewhere. So he had to get that change. A man tapped him on the shoulder. Fortyish, thin, with intelligent eyes, he gave Jeff the change. Didn't even take the dollar bill. The old lady was already putting away her little purse. She probably had been stalling, watching this man's progress.
"Thank you," said Jeff. He put the change into the computerized meter. The bus driver didn't seem to care at all.
A seat was vacant next to his benefactor. Jeff took it, and leaned back, wet. After a moment, he remembered his manners.
"You sure you don't want the dollar?"
The other man laughed. "Forget it, man." He paused. Laughed again. "I'm quite sure. Aren't you?"
"Yeah... " said Jeff. Still soaked, he trembled. Sure about what? The guy was still looking at him. Not hard, just... looking. Like he had known Jeff since he was a little boy. But, no, that was impossible. Nobody could know the kid he'd been. He'd made sure. Taken a life-time to unknow that boy himself. The man smiled. There was nothing, nothing wrong with the smile. That was wrong. Wrong. Jeff bore his eyes into his lap.
"So where do you want to go, Katie?"
Katie twisted her skirt and wrung out a stream of water that hit the floor of the truck. "Sorry."
Johnny shrugged, smiling. He had never sat next to her before. "I'm going home to Brooklyn."
"I'll go there!" Her voice was pitched. She regretted it. "I'd love to. You see, I haven't been back in God knows how many years."
"Great. I'll take you for a drink in a neighborhood bar. For old times. How'd you like that?"
"Love it," said Katie. "Bob's Bar?"
Johnny reached out his hand and touched her bare throat with his index finger. "Right!" He withdrew his hand, wrapped his finger round the ignition key. "So I guess you haven't forgotten all about us."
She shook her head. "Uh-uh."
"Don't you see your brother?"
"Uh -- once in a while." She wondered how much she should say. Johnny did look like he'd grown into a pretty cool guy. "I know he's doing really well, though. We talk on the phone, you see. Someday maybe he'll come to Virginia and visit with me and my husband." She made a significant pause. "Conrad has made a fair amount of money."
"Oh, yeah?" Husband. Virginia. O.K. It was weird, though; she obviously hadn't seen him in ages. And not by Conrad's choice, it seemed.
"Yes. He spends it like crazy, buying Japanese art, calligraphy mostly, but there's always enough to go around. It wouldn't be hard for him to visit us, I mean he does come to D.C. for business."
What the fuck. "Remember he used to like to, uh, smoke?"
"Smoke? He sells cigarettes?"
"Uh -- no."
Silence as Johnny turned the key. The truck roared to and Johnny threw back his head and laughed. "Jeeze! Conrad selling do -- pot! Right on! I never would have thought, or maybe I would have..." And they were off, stealthy, Brooklynward, wishing they had a joint, in the rain.
What was the fucking junkie doing on the subway? Annette was about to ask her when the train drew to a stop and lurched Amanda neatly into her lap.
"Sorry, Miss," she said, her mouth an inch from Annette's. "Not a word, Miss, not a word." Her dark eyes widened at Annette's slanty own. Sorry, Miss. Inotherwords, shut up. Don't say it. Something's happening. Annette watched her regain her balance and sit down next to Howard. The junkie winked across the aisle.
Aha! So that guy over there is following me. And Amanda's going to take care of him. Great. So now I'm gonna be rescued by the junkie. O.K. Let it go, let it go. God works in strange ways.
"Would you like a tissue?"
Annette looked away from the junkette and her prey and found the words had come from that blonde crew-cut fellow, one person away on Annette's side of the car.
"Would you like a tissue?" he repeated.
"What for?" asked Annette. She hoped she hadn't sounded hostile. The guy was gorgeous, after all.
"For your forehead. You're wet."
"Oh really?" Annette suppressed a laugh. "O.K. Thanks."
Oliver reached into his coat and took out a tissue. "I keep lots of things in this coat. What else would you like? I bet I have it."
"Come on," said Annette. Would he?
Amanda smiled at the Black woman who sat between Annette and Oliver. The old woman picked up her bag and crossed the aisle, taking a seat next to Amanda. The two women shared a laugh.
Oliver joined in, looking at the lovely source of the manoeuver. Amanda winked, this time at Oliver. Oyster Man, hey, Oyster Man. He winked back. Annette found herself irked at his ill-placed attentions.
"You got any Winstons?"
"Will Marlboros do?"
Annette hated Marlboros. They were too close to Winstons, too close for comfort. But different. Smoking them was like incest in a sectarian war. They irritated her.
"Sure," she said.
Oliver put two Marlboros in his mouth and lit them both, passing one to Annette.
"In the subway?"
"Why not?" he asked, loading each word. "It's always more fun to do it where you're not supposed to do it, isn't it?"
Annette looked at Oliver and inhaled him. A cigarette had never tasted better. The old Black woman's laugh was audible, but Annette didn't hear it.
"Wish you could give me a cigarette," said Amanda to Howard.
"Uh -- I don't smoke." Another way in which he was different from Gadsden.
"Well, then. I guess I'll just have to give you one of mine!"
Amanda caught Oliver's eye and repeated his move with her own brand. Marlboros they were not. Howard watched her light up a joint. She inhaled deep.
"Take a hit, honey!"
She put it into his open mouth.
The train entered Brooklyn; Johnny's truck crawled through sodden traffic; Jeff sat gelid on the bus.
"You from around here?" asked his benefactor.
"No," said Jeff, not looking up. God, I need a drink.
"You want a drink?"
"Yes," said Jeff. Then he looked up. No, I don't want a drink. Yes, I do. Fuck it.
"I know a great bar round the corner from the next stop." He paused. "I think you'd like it. I know what it can be like to travel, find yourself in a strange city, not know where you can relax. You'll feel at home in this place. And the drinks are on me, O.K.?"
"O.K.," said Jeff. It'd be all right. After all, it wasn't like a woman had picked him up, or something. Like he said, he could relax.
"I'm Edgar Samson. What's your name?"
"Jeff," said Jeff. "Jeff Close." He paused. Some warmth was climbing him. He waited till it reached his lips. "Jeffrey."
Edgar smiled and stood up. The bus door opened. "This is our stop." Jeffrey followed him toward the door but waited, stilled, on the threshold. Edgar was already outside. "Come on, Jeffrey!"
Swiftly, now, Jeffrey left the bus, hit the sidewalk, and walked with Edgar into the night.
Their laughter met the bus driver's ears as he closed the door on the West Village. He squinted up his face and shuddered, wondering as he wondered every night, if tokens, or changed dollar bills, could carry disease.
It was late now. The bear did not sleep. He was on guard at the monument and would remain there, as was his duty. He had seen a lot from his window, tonight as on all other nights. Yes, he was a bear with a view. A bear with a point. A bear with a point of view. A working bear.