Nikki Cash (fiction)
The next day I had to fly to New York to meet up with Diane who was en route to London. The last time I went to New York, it was snowing and if I wasn’t freezing in the snow, I was sweating like a pig in my aunt’s overheated apartment in the Bronx, gaining ten pounds from all the food she force fed me because she thought I was anemic and dying of cancer.
Diane was my roommate in college and for some reason had adopted a pseudo English accent, and thought herself a forty something socialite. She was very glamorous, self-possessed, and managed to spend money as if she had an inheritance tucked away in a Swiss account instituted from a rich uncle who was a publishing magnet. But in reality, Diane worked as an assistant editor for a newly birthed fashion magazine, which wasn’t shabby in itself.
I called Diane on the phone. She was already in New York.
“Darling, New York is disgustingly hot. Humid, very humid. We should’ve gone during the spring. But you are excited, aren’t you?”
“Hey Diane, I have to tell you something.”
“Oh God, you’re not pregnant are you?”
Sometimes Diane transformed into the mother I never asked for.
“Fantastic. What is it then?”
“I like girls. Like fucking them. So I’m gay.”
There’s a pause and then some static.
“I hope this isn’t some kind of excuse for you to not come out here.”
“Well, fantastic. I’ll be at your wedding or whatever it is you’ll have and support your people. Listen don’t forget to bring towels and a toothbrush this time. You always forget and end up using mine and it drives me insane.”
“Darling, what were you expecting a parade? You people already have one. Really you’re being quite indulgent. See you tomorrow!”
I grabbed a pen from my desk and scribble “towel, toothbrush” onto my wrist.
When I get off the airplane, my skin starts to sweat. Diane checked out of her five-star hotel in Manhattan to save money and opted to stay at her Grandmother’s basement apartment in Brooklyn that was vacated over the summer. Her Grandmother was freshly widowed and fearing death, sought company at her sister’s in Florida.
“I’ve never been,” I tell Diane referring to Florida.
“Well you’re not missing much. Everyone thinks it’s some hot shot vacation spot, but outside of Miami, the rest of Florida is nothing but gators and red necks sitting out in their front porch with shot guns.”
Diane is tall and slender and always looks as if she was swimming in a Valium slumber. Though when she wanted to be, she could be an incredible cunt with a simple arch of an eyebrow and a crooked grin. I’ve witnessed this a couple of times at her work when her assistant would double book meetings or her creative director suggested a Lindsay Lohan beach-themed photo spread.
The apartment smells of gas and I’m afraid of dying in my sleep in Brooklyn in the middle of summer in an old woman’s apartment before I get to make a difference so I open a window and smoke a cigarette. There’s a lot of string cheese in the fridge. There’s also some bread and a cup of yogurt. Every channel on the Zenith television speaks Russian and there are metal railings in the bathroom. I suddenly get very depressed and imagine Diane’s Grandmother sitting next to a stack of social security checks gathering next to Safeway coupons just barely able to recognize the faces of the actors in the Russian soap opera with her past due prescriptive lenses as she peels another strand of string cheese slowly dying from gas inhalation. I have to repress any urges to cry so I run to the bathroom and take a shit instead.
“My uncle is coming over with groceries for the fridge so Nikki darling, try not to be vulgar.”
“Do you have a plunger? I clogged the toilet.”
“No we don’t have a plunger.”
“Also, can I have your Grandmother’s address? I want to write letters to her and I think I may practice calligraphy.”
Diane looks at me like I took a shit on a baby. Jordan, Diane’s colleague, joins us about two hours later. She was in Tri Delta Nu but got kicked on account of her alcohol abuse. She prefers Fredrick’s of Hollywood to Victoria’s Secret because her bra size is a double D rather than a single D at Victoria’s. And tonight as we greet her from the cab, Jordan vows to have at least two casual encounters with a man during her four-day stay in New York and eight more over her two-month stint in Europe.
Later that day, I walk around SoHo, East Village, and some of Manhattan. Diane and Jordan decided to go to the statue of Liberty. Mostly, I just walk around. There was a street fair on Prince Street selling mostly kitsch art, bootleg DVDs and CDs, and hand-made bags, mostly overpriced; something you’d find in a really generic home of a friend’s really boring house. One of the booths is selling hand made leather journals with aged recycled papyrus. I buy at least one new journal a month only to write a third way through before getting restless and bored for a clean slate, new beginning, different life. My month is nearly up. But really it was the tall waif selling it that had me perusing the journals. Her name is Amy, she’s from San Diego, twenty-four, and moved to New York two years ago to model but got interested in designing handbags instead.
“What are you doing selling journals?”
“I owe my roommate. Something to do on a Sunday morning I guess.”
“Why do you owe your roommate?”
“She’s pissed that I slept with her boyfriend last week. Go figure.”
“That’s nice.” I’m referring to one particular journal bound in a thin layer of leather floppily bound together by a long leather string.
“My line is going to come out soon. What about you? What do you do?”
“I write . . .”
“I don’t know. Stuff I guess.”
“Like . . .”
“I don’t know, stop asking me.”
“How do you expect people to read your stuff when you won’t show anyone?”
“Did you go to school?”
“So you write scripts then.”
“Sometimes. Who cares?”
“You’re being so bratty. Don’t worry, I’m not judging you.”
“I’d want you to.”
“Well, I’ll keep my eye out for your name.”
I walk away with the journal of the month thinking about Amy and how I’ll look for her bag to show up in some pretentious boutique in Beverly Hills and how I’ll tell the sales girl that I bought a journal from her way back when on Prince Street and then she’ll kick me out because I’m insane and smell like urine and I’ll have to continue bumming around the street for money while drawing mustaches on flawless faces on glossy posters and feel sad because I couldn’t give Amy some crazy story about a girl who bought a journal from her on Prince Street way back when her roommate threw a plate at her for being a whore.
Later that afternoon I go to Lincoln Square and break in the journal by drawing a hippie taking a nap with his dog. Then I drink some beers with some NYC students who were celebrating the end of their school year. Three beers and half a flask of whiskey later, I waltz around St. Marks Place, buzzing, eventually wandering into a vintage store after having climbed over some punk vagabonds sprawled across the staircase. Inside the store, there are two television sets, one in the back and one in the front. Both of them are playing vintage porn with Hawaiian girls getting pumped by Samoans with thick black mustaches. The sound is loud enough to hear all the moaning but not loud enough to make it a spectacle, but low enough to make it uncomfortable. There’s also a lot of neo-Nazi gear, wrist bands, necklaces, tees, etc., and some of them are worn by the soft looking Japanese clerks, who mostly smile and shift around the store greeting customers. There’s a shirt and on it is a picture of a guy taking a shit into a girl’s mouth hanging on one of the racks. It’s proudly displayed in the front next to all the Nazi paraphernalia next to a quiet Japanese punk girl reading an issue of The New Yorker.
That night, Diane and I are in Lombardi’s sharing a pepperoni and sausage pie.
“We met some art curators and one of them was having a show in SoHo and invited us to the opening.” Diane informs me.
“What kind of art show?”
“Mostly ejaculating in public kind of a thing, not that anyone goes for the art but I imagine it is amusing. But I said no. I started my period and mama doesn’t feel so funky but Jordan went.”
“Your period could be the exhibition.”
“Darling, we’re exhibiting everyday don’t you think?” Diane says gloriously before finishing her glass of wine. We drink another bottle of pinot noir, eat a twelve-dollar Tiramisu, get drunk, change plans, decide to check out the art show, call a cab, and listen to the cabbie curse out a black kid for running in front of his car. When we get there, it is just how I imagined it to be. Assholes, rich and struggling, pretty and ugly, drunk and in AA, free booze, bad art, people who take themselves too seriously, people who pretend they don’t, and Jordan asking me if I have an extra condom.
“I’m gay,” I tell her.
“You still fuck boys.”
“I mean, I don’t use condoms.”
She leaves with a chubby bearded man, a friend of the artist who ejaculated into a plastic grocery bag.
“Shit Nikki, I think someone gave me ecstasy. I thought it was a Midol. I hate these disco freaks.” Diane informs me before dancing off into the glittering lights and thumping techno. Then I wonder what Sylvia is up to. A Mexican is doing a performance where he carries a chair from one side of the room to another without stop for about forty minutes. Eventually he is out of breath and collapses. The rest of the stay in New York is pretty much the same routine. Walk, nap, eat, smoke, bar hop, drink, quit smoking, party, assholes, no humor, and buy random things. I buy two sketches from an art student in front of the New York Museum of Modern Art for twenty bucks. They were good, very messy and vulnerable. One of them was a painting of a black boy with brown eyes. By the end, I fill Amy’s leather journal with sketches, used wrappers, short stories, and vestiges of dreams I barely remember. Diane, for the most part, suffers horrible cramps, bleeds on her aunt’s bed sheets, trashcans, toilets, and her Super Plus Tampons. I give her some Vicodin, which eases some of her pain but mostly she just wants to die or kill, depending on what is more accessible. Then she mutters in one of her frustratingly exhausted moods, “I’ll see you in two months. Wish me well in Europe. I think I’ll be good there, doing everything, the works.”
“Have fun,” and with that I leave.
During the flight back, I opened an envelope Jordan gave me before I left. When I open it, there are three used condoms and a receipt for the purchase of one morning after pill.
by Nikki Cash