The young woman met her friend at 2:15 for brunch. She would only be in New York for the long weekend and wanted to make the most of it, see everyone. Miriam had been gently urging her to visit and she wanted to please her friend and it was the city after all.
Though she liked to sleep in all days of the week, especially on vacation, the young woman did not like to “brunch,” fashionable as it was. She found the word itself disagreeable— too many consonants —and to say it felt as if she were crunching on tree bark. But there she was at a sparsely decorated eatery, Egg, and there was Miriam, already at the table sipping seltzer water and lightly frowning.
“Only fifteen minutes late. Not bad for the train. Or you.” She got up and hugged the young woman and brushed the lint off her shoulder. Miriam’s new glasses made her look older, like some sort of weary appraiser, though she was in her twenties as well.
“L., you look well.” All her old friends called her that.
“Thank you. It took me a while to configure an outfit. I hardly packed anything I just realized, all underwear and books,” she shook her auburn head. “I left in kind of a hurry.”
All the while Miriam was nodding and smiling and thinking how nice it was to have this piece of home in front of her, reassuring her that nothing had really changed without her. The waiter, who vaguely resembled a young Prince Charles, came over to the table and refilled their water glasses. L. gazed up at him and he was tall and fair but looked a little dim. Next to the water vase there was a mason jar of crayons and L. absently grabbed spring green and started to draw on the paper tablecloth as Miriam told her about the program.
“It will be another five years until I’m finished. It’s hard, and the commute sucks and if it weren’t for the chimps I probably would have dropped out the first week.”
Miriam was studying evolutionary primatology at Rutgers and although L. knew this fact for some years now she realized at once that she didn’t understand it.
“So,” L. started, etching little patches of grass around her water glass, “you’ll be studying the chimps for five years and then you’ll… become a professor?”
Though she was only trying to understand, the simplification irritated Miriam.
Prince Charles came in and lifted the mood to meet him up there with his skyline blue eyes. Miriam ordered the kale and eggs. L. ordered two sides of candied bacon.
“I’m sorry,” L. said and watched her grass patches wilt from condensation. “I’m still a little hungover… Tell me more about it.”
She realized she never really knew what it was that Miriam was up to in school because it didn’t interest her. It didn’t make sense to L. that one person could like chimpanzees so much as to study them for an extra five years and then go on talking about them year after year for the rest of their life. I like dogs, she thought, but not that much. L. then felt guilty for this but even now she was not listening to Miriam. Now she was thinking about her deep down guilt. When she looked up from her grass patch two large hands placed their plates before them and the white fluff of Miriam’s eggs paled in comparison to the bright rust syrupy bacon. L. crunched and Miriam went on.
“We’re trying to find the correlation between lactating females and infanticide amongst males.”
At this L. looked up and swallowed.
“I guess it’s not that interesting,” Miriam said cutting up her kale in cross-hatched bits.
“Oh, but it is.”
L. stared down at her bacon. She had a thick sticky piece between her thumb and forefinger. It was odd; she couldn’t seem to bring it to her mouth. It became as arrestingly foreign to her as a severed puppy dog tail. It didn’t disgust L. exactly but it didn’t make any sense to her that she should be holding it or bring it to her mouth.
“What’s the matter?” Miriam asked gently but L. didn’t look at her. She kept staring frozenly at the bacon stuck between her thumb and forefinger.
“I don’t know why, but I—” L. said quietly, as if to herself, “I got very sad all of a sudden.”
Miriam put her fork down and looked at her friend. With hard, glass-ensconced eyes she evaluated this familiar vision. The messy hair tossed to the side. The big, brown downcast eyes and parentheses of flushed peach cheeks. L. would not look up from her bacon, so Miriam could see the residue of the previous night’s mascara still clinging to her lashes. Miriam picked up her fork.
“You’re tired. And hungover. You probably just need a little rest. You can come to my place and shower and nap and then we’ll have drinks with Sam and that’ll set you right.”
Miriam chewed her kale, pleased at having spit all of that sensibleness out.
“You’re right,” L. lied. “But I can’t go with you, I don’t have my clothes or anything.” It was weak but she tried it.
“Oh just wear some of mine. I live two stops down, it would be silly for you to go all the way back to the hotel.”
“You’re right,” again, only this time L. put down her bacon.
Once they were up and moving in the air she started to feel a little better. “I feel a little better,” she said and Miriam said “Good,” but wasn’t really listening. She was looking in her purse for a mint. She was still looking for that mint when they got to the platform and she didn’t give up until a young man started playing a guitar.
“When we was young/Oh man did we have fun/
At that Miriam and L. turned to find the source and saw the young man across the tracks. He must have been about twenty-two and had a sparse beard and wore a grey cable knit sweater that looked like a gift from his grandmother (and in fact was) with tie-dye sweatpants and neon sneakers with the laces untied. But there was an old soul whine in his voice that made the underground ring so fine.
L. could feel the people around her melt a little and she felt so happy and sad and tired because it was a song she recognized from her real youth; a song for the sixteen-year- old girl she had been for ten years now. She was so happy and sad that she felt the hot tears coming and oh good let them come she thought but then she looked at her friend.
“What’s with the sweatpants?” Miriam asked plainly and went back to her mints.
It was at that moment that L. became very aware of the stickiness of her thumb and forefinger. She felt hot and sticky all over. It was now that she hated Miriam so pure and truly that she felt like a white hot iron. She straightened up a bit. She glared at her dear old friend. She wanted to blind her with the heat of her look. She wanted to take her sticky thumb and plummet it into her left eye which was still dumbly looking for a cannister of mints in a well of a purse. To blind her, blind as she was.
But then the opposite train went by, and L. saw the singer again. He was still singing and nodding his head and closing his eyes. And she looked at the other people on the platform. Some of them were nodding and foot-tapping and closing their eyes too. So it was alright. L. felt alright again. She closed her eyes and stuck her thumb in her mouth, right there in the middle of New York.