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Chapter 2 The Canyons of Manhattan Part 2

Martin and Frankie talked about other things for a while, then came around to talk about the beating again.  Frankie explained how he had laid there for a while that night after he took his beating,  laid there with his face on the pavement.  He could see those little bits of glass shining like diamonds in the pavement, and he could hear the people inside the club laughing and the music playing, and everybody having a good time.  He could hear the radios and televisions playing in the apartments above him. 

“So I’m lying there in an alley bleeding,” he says to Martin, “and after a while Marilyn comes back out with a wet bar towel and a glass of ice water.  Nice girl. She cleans me up a bit, and she apologizes, and she’s crying like crazy.  Then a couple of bouncers come outside, and they help me up and carry me through the bar, real nice, not like a couple of assholes.  They put me in a cab and paid the driver to drive me home.  They must have tipped the hell out of the cabby – he actually helped me up to my apartment, too.”

Both of them sat quiet for a while again, and Martin finally rubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray on the table.  “Let me go see what’s keeping Louise,” he said, got up and walked to the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron.  Martin always walked haltingly, as if he might change his mind any moment as to his direction, but his demeanor was as set as stone.  He was a smallish man, about five foot five with the slim build and wide nose of the bantam weight Irish prize fighter that  he had been in his youth.  It wasn’t until about ten years before that he had inherited the bar from his father, after the senior Lucas Westfield finally passed on from tuberculosis.  Martin was the oldest of five sons, and the only one who was unmarried and still living in Manhattan, so it seemed natural to everybody that he took over the pub and management of the four or five small apartment buildings spread out over the island of Manhattan.                    

Frankie saw Martin come out of the kitchen, but he couldn’t hear what he was saying to Lou.  He carried a plate of eggs and hash browns to one of the old men sitting at the counter and came back to the booth.  “Here,” Martin said, and handed him two huge orange tablets.  They looked like little footballs, and Frankie recognized them instantly.  “They’re Motrin eight hundreds,” Martin said, “my doctor gave them to me for this fucking back of mine.  There not as good as some of the shit I used to get from my old doctor, but they work.” 

Frankie could see that Martin was already engaging himself in all the other things he needed to do to run a bar – Frankie’s time was up. “Well…” Martin said, “look, Louise is going to take you to her apartment.  She has central heating there, and you’ll no doubt be more comfortable there than in that cracker box you live in.”

“Thanks,” Frankie said, and he held his hand up in a ‘stop’ motion, “but I really don’t need you to take care of me, Martin. I’m a grown man.” 

“It was her idea.  It was her idea, and I’m not sure I agree, for her sake. But I’m sure you’ll make out fine.”  He tapped another cigarette on the table and lit it. “Frankie,” he said, “I got one question.”

  “Yeah?” He asked, and could feel that Martin was going to ask a tough question.

  “I remember you telling me you were two months behind on your rent, and the first of the month you gave them a check for five hundred to cover.”  Frankie looked down at the table and then back up at him, and could feel Martin’s steel blue eyes challenging him to lie.  “Why the fuck did you pay your rent with Jimmy’s money? And then turn around and leave the apartment vacant?”

He felt a buzz in the back of his head and down his neck.  He suddenly felt paralyzed and couldn’t speak.  “I don’t know,” was all that he could say.

It was an odd sensation for Frankie; paralysis aside, it wasn’t just the fact that he couldn’t answer such a simple question, but it was also the novelty of having somebody feel free to talk to him that way.  It was a day of firsts. Frankie stood there as Martin ranted,  watching Martin’s face as he was clearly castigating him,  but none of the words registered. It was like working a guardhouse late at night, halfway snoozing with the TV on and the volume off.  He wondered whether Martin could tell that he was on mute. He tried to nod his head somberly to show that he agreed. It seemed to work, but one of his eyebrows, the one on his right, arched up as he nodded.  Frankie wondered how that looked, what Martin would make of it. He didn’t know what to make of it himself.

Martin shook his head slowly, looked dead at Frankie’s eyes, and said, “You’re a jackass.”  Frankie saw a look on Martin’s face that he had never seen there before.  It wasn’t pity, it was something deeper and something he didn’t want to name, something he didn’t want from Martin. Louise walked up just then, and Frankie took the convenient out and didn’t answer him.

Louise helped him shuffle out the front door and into the photo-flash brightness of the cold afternoon.  They walked a few blocks up Clinton and across Houston Street and caught a westbound cab. “Eighteenth and First Avenue” she told the driver and they both sat quiet for a while as the cab shortcut through streets in the Lower East side though neighborhoods that Frankie knew well but had never seen in daylight. Lou was staring out the window, not talking, and it felt like she was as far from him as she could get.  He watched her for a while, maybe looking for some clue as to what she was feeling.

“I appreciate you doing this, Lou.  You really didn’t have to,” he said, probing for some kind of clue as to how she was feeling or why she had volunteered to do this. 

  “I know,” she said, almost regretfully, “but you look really bad, Frankie, and not just because of your injuries.”  She was looking down into her hands as she spoke, then looked up at him with determination in her face.  “I’m doing this as a friend, Frankie, nothing more than that.  Please don’t do or say anything to make me regret doing this.”

Part of him wanted to tell her to stop breaking his balls, but there was no need; it had been four or five years since he’d grabbed his jacket and walked out of their apartment and spent his first night away in what was then the homeless tent city called Tompkins Square Park.  It was another year before he saw her again when she took the waitress job at Martin’s.  They’d eventually settled into an uneasy truce and then a loose friendship based on hedging each other against the loneliness of short-term relationship and long-term plans, or at least that’s the way that he saw it.

The cab stopped in front of a red brick doorman building in the middle of the block between First and Second Avenue.  She greeted the doorman and he discreetly chose to not notice Frankie’s general condition.  They rode the elevator up to the fifteenth floor and walked to the end of the corridor to Lou’s apartment. It was a huge nicely furnished two bedroom with a balcony.  He looked around the apartment and then to Lou. “I’m subletting it from a third year anesthesiology nursing student at NYU; she got a scholarship and this apartment by signing a letter of intent with the hospital.  This building and the one next door are part of an endowment to the hospital.”

“I was gonna ask what you were doing working at The Temple, what with a place like this and all.”

“Still got bills to pay,” she said and opened a door to one of the bedrooms, “this is where you’re staying.”

The room was modestly furnished with a big daybed with a frilly comforter, a white pine bedroom set and Ansel Adams prints on the wall. “You’re roommate’s not back anytime soon?” he asked.

 “She’s living with one of the professors at NYU, so I answer her phone, forward messages and keep things cool while she plays house.”  She closed the door to the bedroom, looking back at him hesitantly as if there was something she had to say, then changed her mind and left him alone.  The sun peered in through the clean white plastic mini-blinds and bounced around off the white walls and white comforter and bathed the room in a white glow.  He felt like he was in heaven, all alone in a place that was all clean and white and orderly and that wasn’t his and wasn’t meant for him.  He carefully peeled his shirt off and tossed it on the bed.  It looked dingy and off white  against the white comforter.  He sat on the floor in a sunbeam, first leaning against the daybed and then slipped onto the floor and fell asleep, curled in a ball on the warm carpet.

He awoke with a start to the sound of the door dragging on the carpet as it was slowly and carefully opened.  He squinted at the afternoon sun pouring in between the blinds.

“Are you okay?” she asked as she gently helped him up off the floor.

“Yeah, just a little sore,” He said trying not to huff too obviously as he lifted myself off the floor, “I could sure use an aspirin and a drink. Or a hot bath and a massage.”

Lou laughed knowingly. “Yeah, well let me show you the tub, and you are more than welcome to my ‘massager’.  I just put fresh batteries in him.”

“Him?” Frankie said, raising an eyebrow, and they both laughed a little easier than they had in a long time.  It was a welcome break.

She helped him to the kitchen, and he let her give him more help than he actually needed.  It felt good having her arms around him, and feeling her strong but tender grip.  It had been a long time, and to be honest, he missed having her take care of him the way she did when they were together.  The kitchen was warm with the spicy, earthy smell of fresh made soup. The tang of the cabbage and onions and the underlying continuo of fresh lamb met him like a warm embrace and almost brought him to tears for the sanctuary of kitchens like these

“Soup smells great, you expecting some company?”, He asked.

“Shut up,” she said, smiling.  “Sit down.  You need soup for your strength.” He watched her brush some of her defiant brown curly hair out of her face with her wrist.  She was classically Hungarian in her beauty, with big brown close set eyes, small mouth with soft, full lips and a long thin nose, offset just a little from a break she suffered in a motorcycle wreck. She lit a candle, oddly soothing in a room full of golden afternoon sun, and they ate soup and laughed and recalled memories as sweet and spicy as the red wine she poured from a fired ceramic jug.   After a while they sat in a sated, warm silence. 

She looked up at him, “ I meant it when I said that you can stay as long as you need to recover, and you can make yourself at home, but…” she trailed off, staring at her hands, “Oh, I hate to ruin this, but it needs to be said.”  He could feel hope draining from his chest as she was struggling to gingerly bring truth and reality to the table. 

“I know what you’re going to say, and don’t worry, you don’t have to say it.” 

“Don’t be like that, Frankie, this is part of what I meant. What I was going to say is that you’re welcome here, welcome to stay as long as you want.  Martin and I care about you, and I’ve always loved taking care of you, but don’t expect things to pick up where we left them.”

“I know, trust me.  I understand, I mean…” He looked away from her, “ as you can tell, I’m not exactly in any position to be getting into a relationship.  At this point, I’d say I’m pretty worthless to any woman, and vice versa.” 

“You’re not understanding,” she said, and they both sat quietly for a while and let the whole question dissipate.  The late afternoon sun got rich with pinks and reds and golds as the sun got low in the sky.  Frankie’s spirits picked up with the richness of the sunset.

“Hey,” he said, “Let’s check out the sunset from your balcony.”

“Great idea,” she said smiling.  They walked out on the balcony, and there was a crisp, biting breeze wafting through the balcony, smelling of a late winter evening and rich with the promise. It was cold, but it felt good, invigorating, and if he closed his eyes for a second he could feel football weather, crisp nights colored by the pungent smell of the well-seasoned woods burning in pre-war fireplaces.  The city looked almost impressionistic, lit in a warm soft light that highlighted the soft pastel colors of the older buildings all over the city.  He pulled pack of cigarettes from his pocket. 

 “Do you mind?” He asked.  She looked troubled at first, and then he watched as she seemed to debate with herself for a long time until she became aware of how long she had been pondering the question.

“I’ve really done pretty good at cutting that out since you were gone, and I really hate to start it up again,” she said.

“It’s casual,” He said, and then began to put it away.

“No, well,” she said hesitantly, “go ahead.”  He tapped out two cigarettes.  He handed one to Lou and lit it for her as she drew long and stared off into the skyline as she handed it to him.  He felt the tension dissipate as the smoke suffused through his body.  It was a relief that he needed and had been craving for quite some time.  He stepped up to the rail next to her, and watched her for a while as the wind blew her hair around in front of her face, covering an expression that was far deeper than he could have hoped for.

“The view from the other side is as good. We used to have an apartment on the other side on the top floor of the building, and we had a clear view all the way down to the World Trade Center on clear nights,” she said pensively. “I can’t believe it’s been two years now since 9/11.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I can’t believe it, either.  I was there that morning.”

“Really?” she said, “I didn’t know that. Were you in the tower?”

“Across the street at the Word Financial Center across West Street.  It’s connected,  I mean ,was connected by a footbridge.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Trim carpentry – we were remodeling one of those enormous board rooms at Lehman Brothers. New cherry wood crown moulding, real cherry wood paneling and chair mouldings. The whole conference room done in wood and black granite; it was beautiful.” He know that wasn’t what Lou was asking. “ I’ll tell you about that morning sometime.”  The attacks of that morning wasn’t something he wanted to talk about – he’d thought about it a lot over the last two years, and for a while kept in touch with the other members of the crew, but it was surreal and a lot to think about.  He remembered the jumpers, and how he instantly knew how awful it must have been to have made that decision, between burning to death or jumping. And they jumped in groups, and as couple holding hands.  They were close enough to hear the muffled “thumps” as they hit the metal awning over the entrance of WTC 1, as they hit cars and fire engines and as they hit the ground.  He remembered the towers bobbling and falling and the sound of a massive waterfall of glass, big as Niagara Falls, drowning out everything else, even the memory of that those moments; nothing but shattered, falling glass. He remembered the smell two weeks later as the Number 4 Train stopped at the Fulton Street stop for the first time, and the young girl who was revolted by the smell and loudly let everybody know about it, complaining loudly and incessantly.  The whole car was quiet, looking at their feet and when she saw them looking down, silent, then suddenly, she knew too.  She started sobbing between heartfelt cries of “Oh my God” and pleas of “I’m so, so sorry”, started bawling uncontrollably and fell to the floor of the train.  They helped her up, these anonymous strangers, and the train moved on.

She looked out onto the skyline of Manhattan, and looked like she was contemplating something quite a while. “Look at that,” she said.

“What?”

“Look at the skyline over there and across to here,” she said, making a broad sweeping gesture from south to north along the west side and then east to west along midtown. “Look at how the buildings get taller as you get to Fifth Avenue and to Midtown.  All along nearer to us there’s all these apartment buildings and low rises. It kinda looks like Manhattan was built in a canyon or a valley that swoops up to midtown.”

“Hmmm…,” he said, enjoying being close to her more than he did the view, “never thought of it that way.”

They gazed out sharing the valley of Manhattan until the excitement slipped away, and for quite a while neither of them had anything to say.  Darkness began to settle more deeply on the city, and the streetlights and office buildings began to light up.  He put his hand on her shoulder and rubbed her back absently.  She looked down at her feet and turned a little so that his hand came off her back. “I hate this,” she said quietly.

“What?”

“I don’t know… I had so much to say to you, and now none of it seems that important.”  There was something inside her that seemed to be winding more tightly as they stood there apart; part of it was their history together, but that wasn’t all. The Valley of Manhattan from her balcony wasn’t her discovery, and she knew that Frankie would be devastated if he knew that Timothy had been the one to point it out to her one night when she and Martin had been fighting and she needed a man.  It seemed stupid to her now; Timothy was a kid, not cut from the same cloth as his brother or Martin. She tried not to ever regret, but she knew that night was a betrayal to the two men that loved her most.  Her silence was a confession, and she knew that she’d been quiet too long, but didn’t realize how much her face had given away.

“Like what?” he asked, hating more than anything the deep spaces between what the women in his life said to him, and what he could only guess was really there. He wasn’t good at guessing what women were thinking, and it was a game he tried to avoid.

“It’s not important.” She didn’t say anything more, and he just watched her for a bit and gave her some time. He knew from experience that sometimes it took a while to find the right words. She laughed.

“What?  What’s so funny?” He asked defensively.

“You, you’re trying to be such a good listener to make up for the fact that I’m not having a very good time.  Don’t worry about it… it’s just that I didn’t think that this would be such a good idea. But it’s not terminal.” 

“What’s not a good idea?” he asked, genuinely surprised that she wasn’t having a good time. He was well past being injured by the idea that somebody wasn’t enjoying his company; the last several years had shown him that there were much worse things.  He didn’t have a lot of other places to go.

“I just mean that I’m not the same person that I was with you.  It’s not just him,” she said, meaning Martin, “and I don’t think it’s you either,” she added quietly.  “I’m going inside, it’s getting cold.”

 “I’m going to stay out here for a while,” he said.  It came out far bitchier than he’d wanted, but he hated being patronized and resented her making that comment.  Maybe she didn’t feel them anymore, but he hadn’t asked anything of her and didn’t really need anything from her.  The warm room and bed was nice, and he enjoyed her; given the depths to which the fun meter in his life had sunk, enjoying spending time with her wasn’t the worse thing he’d experienced.  It seemed to him that those comments always came from people like her, people who had their lives together and weren’t really in a position to judge.  He was tired, more tired than he’d felt in his whole life, otherwise he would have simply walked away and left all this far behind him; pondering and worrying about what other people thought wasn’t his style.  He pulled another cigarette from the pack and tapped the cigarette down and cupped it from the wind as he lit it.  He noticed the shaking of his hands in the flicker of the match, but tried not to pay too much attention to it. The cold breeze felt good on his face and he looked out over the beauty of the city dressed up in its evening dress of lights.  He was on the downside of the feel-good part of the evening, and although the best part of it was gone, he was still a long way from worrying about money, sobriety or what he had to do next.  He  smoked the cigarette down to the just about above the filter, flipped it over the rail of the terrace and watched it tumble end over end like a tiny little meteor until it exploded in a shower of sparks on the courtyard. 

He slid open the glass door and went inside.  He sat on the big fluffy sofa and picked up a copy of Cosmopolitan that she’d left on the table, absently flipped through the pages and tossed it back.  He couldn’t believe how bad things had gotten.  He had no money, and not many prospects – he had no deals of any kind to be made.  The money he owed Jimmy was settled, but he still felt obligated to pay it back.  Seemed to be a common thread in his life now, desperately broke with his back to the wall and limited options.  To be fair, there were good times as well, when the deals came together – he’d brokered every kind of deal you could imagine; windows for city projects, furniture from North Carolina, tires for 18 wheelers, illicit goods of all types and all kinds of equipment.  He knew people and he knew how to put deals together, but lately every time he’d seem to get things rolling he’d have a spell of bad luck that would blow everything to hell.  As he started to drift off to sleep on a big fluffy sofa with a women’s magazine there on the floor where it had slipped off the table, he could almost but not quite discern a new dimension to his character; a thought, a seed, a whispering doubt in that back of his mind that he just couldn’t quite yet bring himself to consider.

 

He left the apartment the next morning before she woke up, just to take a walk and get some air. Walking aimlessly was familiar, therapeutic.  He walked to St. Mark’s and west, across Third Avenue where St. Mark’s became Eighth Street and headed cross-town, through the river of morning commuters, joggers and retail clerks in a rush to get to their somewhere. He stopped into a coffee shop on Fifth Avenue, a coffee shop with big pinkish love seats and comfy chairs that were clearly from the 1970’s and had been cheaply reupholstered more than once. The ceiling soared high above, with the vents and pipes that had been painted black to give the illusion that only a hole in the firmament existed above. He read the newspaper and assorted magazines as seven became eight, then nine and ten. It was closing on lunch before he resumed his trek west, deciding that he wanted to lunch at the sandwich shop at Greenwich and Eighth Avenue that baked their own bread and still sold sandwiches for less than an hour’s worth of minimum wage labor.

As he turned the corner on Eighth Avenue, Frankie was surprised by a crowd scene. At center stage was a man about his age backed into a doorway, shielding an athletically built teenager from a comically thin thirty-something wearing tight Daisy Duke style jean shorts and an equally tight half-shirt, one hand on his hip and the other pointing a finger as he screeched at the two in the doorway.  The screecher was a bad stereotype, the two in the doorway were obviously father and son, both sharing the same square jaw and Oklahoma-barber crew-cuts. A crowd was gathering, all obviously supportive of the man in the tight Daisy Dukes; and as more people gathered, the yeller became more self-righteous, angry and self-assured as he played for the crowd. The son, although square-jawed had delicate features and an almost pretty face.  Frankie could imagine what happened; an inappropriate remark from Daisy Duke, a response from either father or son and a phrenic response and escalation.  The father was fully aware that time and the crowd wasn’t on their side and was trying to figure a way out. He turned his head slowly and said something to his son. The son nodded, and his demeanor changed. He started to step out some from behind his dad, and Frankie could see on his face acceptance and resignation to an action. Frankie slipped through the crowd and next to the protagonist.  He cleared his throat, and caught the Daisy’s attention.

Frankie leaned in and spoke to him just above a whisper, “The old man’s gonna come hard at you, and probably punch you hard in the face.  Don’t let all the blood scare you – a broken nose isn’t really as bad as it feels when he hits you. Hit him in the ribs as hard as you can before he can pull back to hit you a second time.” Having said that, Frankie slipped back in the crowd and made his way back to the sandwich shop without looking back. He could hear the “I hope you learned your lesson”, and “This is our neighborhood, so get out,” as Daisy Duke started making his way out as well.  The crowd, seeing that nothing was going to happen, started to dissipate.

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