Omar watches her from the aisle’s end as she wraps her fingers around a paintbrush. He sees her blue eyes inch closer, reading the print on the thin plastic sheath. “Hmm…” She grips the handle but doesn’t remove the brush from the rack. “Twenty-eight bucks. Jeez.” Her fingers slip, her hand returns to her side, and she sways out of the aisle. Omar waits a beat, then approaches. He stops where she was standing and pulls the paintbrush off the rack. He runs his finger across the bristles and furrows his brow. A deep sigh lasts one…two…three seconds, and he mimes returning the brush as he lets it slide into the sleeve of his overcoat. When he jabs his hand into his pocket, the paintbrush slips in with it. His heart picks up. His legs buckle. A chill runs through him and he presses down on his feet to steady himself. He turns to face her. She’s browsing the acrylic paints, one hand running through her shoulder length blonde hair. She pauses to look at him, and he smiles.
The gravel gives to her gait, spiking huffs of gray into the twilight. Bronzed legs buckle under the weight of the duffel bag on her shoulder. Every step marries the tough black canvas to the bruise under her skirt. Bloodied teeth clench behind broken lips in response. The air is cool. Birds sing somewhere in the leafless tree on the side of the road, but the world is caught in the groggy hush of dawn breaking; it remains still. She bows her head and a mat of paling blond curls falls, against the sweat-lined barrier of her brow, over the salty curves of her cheeks. Exhales reveal the taste of iron on her tongue, and her swallows lock the lump firmly inside her throat. Clammy hands of broken nails grip the strap of her bag as she works to keep her balance, wobbling down the driveway. Her head is still spinning. In the din of her delirium, her hazel eyes succumb to the distant pangs of ravaged times—a memory veiled in blurry visions, weakening with every step she takes away from the house. Away from him.
My father pauses, guiding his gold Cadillac DeVille up the ramp towards the George Washington Bridge. I shift my legs in the backseat, absorbing the warmth trapped in the car’s beige leather, waiting for him to continue. Through the window I see the amber glow of apartment buildings dissolving into the cool darkness over the Hudson River. We’re leaving Washington Heights, the Dominican neighborhood where my father has his dental lab, and where we used to live. Our apartment was a tiny one, just above where my father worked. It used to be that he’d walk up two flights of stairs to get to our front door. Now he drives over the river to Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he and my mother bought a house.
Summer was all but a memory against the relentless pull of winter, and an icy scent crept into the air with the arrogant foreboding of a cat playing with a mouse before killing it. Depeche Mode’s “Waiting for the Night” broke the silence of my car as I drove over the dark curves of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. I usually sing along while driving, but that night I wasn’t in the mood to emote. I wanted to be lulled into a peaceful numbness by the soft, vespertine passages of the instrumentation. I wanted the low drone of David Gahan’s voice to drown out the thoughts racing through my mind. I wanted to think of nothing.