“And what if…I didn’t say anything? What if I didn’t say a word?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
It was nine pm on a cold, cruel Wednesday in February. Snowfall had lost its holiday charm. The slippery sheets of white, bubbling over frozen concrete, were no longer welcome; they only made life more difficult.
Sydney and Vincent sat and shivered and wiggled their stiff bottoms in the icy chairs of Bryant Park. The lawn resembled a cappuccino that has been left for too long, covered by soggy foam. There weren’t any yoga mats or picnic blankets, just dead grass and a lot of white. Sydney and Vincent sat accompanied by mounds of snow, shoveled to the side to make way for a path no one was going to walk down. If you followed Sydney and Vincent’s gaze your eyes would meet the tall looming presence of the Conde Nast building, your eyes would meet the 39th floor, your eyes would meet with Petra Palnuik’s office.
“No really, what if I said it without words? Just a look, you know, like one really meaningful look.”
“Go on then, show me the look.”
Vincent got up as smoothly as he could in his woolly harness. He turned his face towards Sydney. Lit up by a flickering lamppost he showed her, what he believed, would be the most important look he would ever give someone, ever.
“You look constipated.”
Vincent’s body dropped back into the chair.
Snowflakes swished down faster and in denser curtains than before. Vision became impaired but without sharp wind the weather was bearable, sort of. They both stuck out their tongues and caught a flake.
“Syd, I’m so fucking nervous.”
She knew he was nervous, in fact the entire subway carriage going uptown knew he was nervous. The way he twiddled his thumbs, plucked at his scarf, tripped over his words; people looked at her as if to say “good luck with that nut job” but she smiled and tried to calm him down and felt extremely relieved when they finally reached their stop. She didn’t mind his erratic behaviour. Vincent was an erratic guy, the Star Trek tattoo on his back proved that, considering he didn’t even like Star Trek but tonight everything was just a little off, everything was a little bit different.
“I’m so fucking nervous.”
Vincent puffed a cloudy breath. “Chill…?”
“No pun intended. Just relax already.”
She stretched her puffy, wrapped in seven layers of clothing arm and placed it over his shoulder. His spine sunk into the chair, his breathing slowed. She had used this move before: when his dog died, when the critics slated his off-Broadway debut, when he had to attend a court hearing after punching his agent.
“Just think, once it’s over it’s over and you’ll have forgotten about the experience entirely.”
His body re-tensed. “Isn’t that what they say about dying?”
“Shit, sorry…I don’t know. You’ll be fine. She’ll say yes.”
“She will say no, that’s what she’ll say.”
“It’s worth a shot, right?”
He nodded. Sydney brought her arm back in. She rubbed her cold fingers, she rubbed her thighs, she rubbed her earlobes.
A drunken couple stumbled past, too drunk to mind the cold. The man shouted an attempt at an obscenity and the woman whacked him over the head. They laughed and stumbled on, out into the busy street. Sydney smiled at the sight of them.
“Reminds me of us; New Years wrap party.”
Vincent wasn’t thinking of the New Years wrap party, he wasn’t thinking about how drunk they were, he wasn’t thinking about how they tried to rob a 7-11 or how he urinated on the New York Times building. Vincent’s thoughts were fully occupied. “Will she say yes, what if she says no, will she say yes, what if she says no, will she say yes, what if she says no” raced round the confines of his anxious mind.
“If Petra says ‘no’ I’m going back to London.”
Vincent always threatened to move back to London, as if London promised things New York couldn’t give him, as if London was some sort of magical place without rejection, without critics, without mistakes. He wasn’t fooling Sydney, she knew there was a reason why he was here and not there but tonight, there was something in his voice, he wasn’t drunk for one thing, but there was something more serious and it sounded threatening. She lifted her numb bottom out of the chair.
“I am going to get us some coffee.”
She shuffled her feet over the icy walkway, wiggling her toes with every step, hoping they would defrost. She held her balance by grasping into the thick, cold nothingness. Thoughts of self-loathing erupted like pesky fireworks, the kind your neighbor throws next to your feet because he knows they scare you, the kind that are all bang and no fire. Finally she made it to the last coffee stand on the corner of the park, the rest had closed for the night.
“Two coffee’s please.”
“Miss, you insane for being outside.”
“I know, we’re…waiting for someone.”
“A celebrity? You know, Alec Baldwin was here yesterday. He didn’t come to my stand. I have no luck.”
The man took the money from her bright red fingers and handed over two coffees.
“One for Juliet and one for your Romeo.”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Don’t freeze to death now.”
Sydney shuffled back to their seats. Hot coffee spilled over the styrofoam edges, seeping through her woolly gloves. The pangs on her skin offered a welcomed distraction.
She clasped her cup with two hands and let the nutty steam rise into her nostrils. It was alright, she could ask, she could make sure, it would be alright.
“Yeah, why not? Petra is the reason I’m here. If she doesn’t want to marry me, well then I might as well leave.”
Sydney tilted the warm liquid into her mouth, her tongue bubbled. “I wish I had some place else to go. This is it for me, you know.”
“Oh, Syd I …”
“I can’t just runaway to London when things aren’t going the way I want them to.”
She sunk her teeth into the styrofoam. Like a broken record player “do not feel sorry for yourself, do not feel sorry for yourself, do not feel sorry for yourself” rang over and over again until it drowned out the noise of traffic and shouting and
In the midst of her monotone thoughts Vincent had placed his hand on top of her head. The suddenness of his move had sent her coffee flying into the air. She looked down to see her crotch covered in brown liquid, a very hot brown liquid.
“Sydney, I’m so sorry.”
“Take them off!”
“Take your pants off, you’ll burn.”
Together, as if her trousers were on fire, they flapped their woolly sleeves up and down.
“Oh shit it’s hot.”
With a quick movement, quicker than the culprit move, Vincent pushed her entire body into a mound of shovelled ice. They both flew through the cold air and his body landed on top of hers. There was a silence. There was a car honk. There was more silence.
Hit by a sudden gust of snowy wind, Sydney couldn’t help but break into a shrill and hysterical laugh. Her laugh leapt out of her mouth, traveled through the icy air and landed straight into his. It only took a few moments before the two of them lay shaking and shuddering, their stomachs tangled in happy stitches.
Two businessmen walked past and exchanged a look with one another. Perhaps they passed judgement or perhaps they wished they had laughed like that today. Either way, their presence brought her back to where they were, it reminded her. We always want the things we never ask for, not because we’re scared – because we don’t want to have it, only to lose it again.
“You better go.”
“Yes, oh fuck. Yes. I have to go.”
“Are you not coming with me? You can stand on the corner, she won’t see you.”
“No. You’re on your own.”
Vincent pushed himself up. He jumped on the spot and completed a couple lunges; he was ready.
“Will you be alright down there?”
“I’ll be fine.”
Vincent turned around and walked towards Conde Nast where he’d meet with his Petra. Sydney was left alone. She twisted her neck towards the sky, her eyes lit up – a star shot through the night like a golden stroke of paint on a dark canvas and then she realized it was only an aeroplane and her eyes returned to the whiteness beneath her. She lay on top of the mound until her stomach grew numb, until the numbness turned into pain, until the pain traveled through her body and then, she went home.