Tameny leaned into Lexington Avenue and waved. The taxi driver sped past. “Rude fuck,” Tameny whispered. She backed into the sidewalk swarm of bodies and was turnstiled between a tall woman in a suit and an Asian man wearing a baseball uniform. She felt weak and pressed her way across the sidewalk and into the first food shop in front of her. The signs looped elegant and swirly. The usual yards and yards of buffet under hot lights, spices in the air, voices she couldn’t understand. Eyes on her. “Desert shrimps” written in block letters next to Arabic printing on the card above one metal bin. She tonged out a morsel and held it in her palm, considering it.
“Eat it or I’ll shoot.”
She turned her eyes but not so much her head. He was thin and beautiful. Frightening.
“Is that a gun in your pocket or are you glad…”
She couldn’t finish.
“I’m glad,” he said. He took the food from her and put it to her lips. She bit. Crunchy. Salty. Spicy. A little juice, a little oil, something that felt like a fish scale, something that felt like a twig.
“From the sea?”
“From the air. Locust.”
Peripheral vision, a box of plastic forks, a framed poster of a stallion, a man in a flowing robe gesturing with one arm, impassioned, like a preacher. Wings and legs in her mouth, crawling, flying.
She wanted to spit but swallowed instead.
* * *
Tameny’s hotel room on 51st Street was smaller than her closet on Mulholland. The bed, narrow and covered with a worn velvet quilt, pitched and wiggled when she sat. The stranger didn’t mind it. He pulled her down onto creaking springs, a hand-sewn flower garden beneath her. Early skyscraper twilight and city buzz pushed in through the wavy glass, the tall and narrow window. His eyes were more lapis than purple. Spite, the word in her head for a moment then gone, her incisor pulling a drop of blood from his plush lower lip.
What if she were to rip down the polyester curtains, tear them into strips, bind his legs and wrists with them? Would he let her? Would the air fill with dust, skin flecks, microscopic bits of toxic industrial fiber? Would he know everything she knew?
His mouth moved down her throat, to her chest, and she was drifting. The pull at her nipple shattered. He sucked at the milk that still came, taking it. She pushed him and he raised his head, smiling at her for the first time, moving his tongue like a cat licking cream.
She wanted to feel a battery of fists over her head, her back, she wanted to feel her own blood dripping like the milk that was dripping out of her. She would do it herself if she could, bludgeon that woman who had decorated a nursery in constant sunlight, who had framed in linen a distant view of the Pacific, whose husband would be staring at containers of frozen milk lined up like soldiers in the deep freeze, whose dimpled cherub would be swatting away a bottle in the arms of a Guatemalan nanny.
She tilted her face back, away from the man’s eyes. She pushed his head down. Tears he didn’t see, milk that belonged now to no one. She heard soul music through the pasteboard walls that made these claustrophobic spaces out of once grand rooms. The occasional beep from a smoke detector. She wanted a razor or a scalpel, a mace or a hammer. She wanted to let her own blood.
* * *
A noise rose above the constant city roar, quick and harsh followed by an extra cacophony of car horns, shouting. She unwound the sleeping man’s arm from her curves, sat, moved to the window. She could raise the pane a couple of feet, press her face against iron bars. Tonight the air was heavy and carried a slight tinge of factory-made skunk. It was a long way down. Red lights. Sirens. Fuzz behind her eyeballs, the clock flickering midnight. She was hungry. What was that she’d eaten? A plague.
He lifted his head, eyes opening like a babydoll’s. His pupils were huge and glinting in the dark room and the sky-high city light. She crumbled onto him. Down. She knew she could wreck him. Wreck herself. If only.
There was a phone on the wall and another in her backpack.
She wanted to swallow but spit instead.