I didn’t intend to write a sequel to “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” I really just wanted to write a story that pivoted around this ridiculous delay I faced on the train the other day. But Aidan and Swann showed up for me again, so, here you go.
R Forest Hills-71 Av12 minutes
It’s the middle of rush hour, and I need to be at school in less than an hour for the chemistry Regents, which I will probably fail. I drag myself to the far end of the platform so I’m in the right car when I get to the stop near school.
Aidan said he’s not going to take it. He said this last night— his parents weren’t home, and I was testing the limits of my curfew the same way I tested my alarms this morning, which is to say pretty fucking stupidly in both cases— “I’d probably just bomb it,” he chuckled, reaching for another handful of Skittles from the bowl on the coffeetable in front of their ginormous sofa. “Fuck it. It’s not like you really need it, either.”
“It’s just good to have options,” I’d replied, lamely, as he tossed the Skittles in his mouth and held back one of the green ones, my favorite, and slipped it between my lips. “I should be studying,” I added, even more lamely, after I chewed it and swallowed it, soft even just from that moment or two in his hand.
I was listening to this episode of This American Life, “No Fair,” in which a preschool teacher offered her students a “tattle phone” (connected to nothing) to which they could report their many, many instances of unfairness. My colleague with whom I was listening to it laughed and described 311, the number for non-emergency government services in New York City, as our version of the “tattle phone.” So I ended up putting together this little piece about a 311 operator. Enjoy!
Three One One
Hello, and thank you for calling 311 in New York City. We’re here to help, but we cannot help you, not really. You are about to be connected to Lena, a lapsed Catholic who hasn’t talked to her mother in a while and missed her student loan payment last month while wondering if she should go to law school. Can Lena help you? She’ll listen, absently, while sipping an iced marshmallow latte from Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner near her subway stop on Church Avenue. The women who make the drinks there wear hijabs, and it’s Ramadan (alternate side parking regulations will be suspended for Eid al-Fitr; meter regulations remain in effect), and Lena feels badly for them, working all day around the too-sweet cold drinks and the pillowy doughnuts, even though it’s their choice to fast, to remember the less fortunate, like the quiet Chinese man who lives in the subway station and waits for Fatima and Noor to give him the day-old doughnuts every night. Lena worries about him too.
Lena will try to help you. But if this is an emergency, hang up, and dial nine-one-one, and may God have mercy on all of our souls.
I said to Dakota, “What should I write a story about?”, and he said, “Write about the time Sookie got out.” So, based on the very true story of when I lived in Greenpoint and Sookie escaped for three days, this is “Bartosz and the Cat.”
Bartosz and the Cat
Bartosz was already running late, his paint-spattered boots smacking a staccato beat against the steel plates on the stairs, when he saw the cat, sitting under the stairs, her eyes wide and stupid. He remembered the face and the red collar from the flyer slipped under his door— “Lost Cat,” his daughter Kasia said, in her loud, clear English, “oh, Papa, ktoś stracił kota,” she translated into Polish for him. “Dziewczyna numer cztery.” He only nodded, grunted, “Hmmph.” The girl in number four. Why Cas had rented to an American girl, who could say. Probably she could pay. Greenpoint was getting more expensive by the month and, with one of those Brooklyn girls in, Cas would probably get greedy and see how much more he could charge.
And now her cat was missing. Except it wasn’t, because there it was, sitting under the stairs.