Three Good Seconds
Susie is slightly out of breath when she gets to my apartment, but most people are. I live on the fifth floor of a MacDougal Street walkup. She hands me one of two iced coffees and pulls a paper bag from her backpack. I can smell the bagels, still warm from the shop on Bleecker Street.
Nothing is better for a hangover than an iced coffee and a bagel with cream cheese and tomato. We should know. We’re in our 20’s and it’s summer. We love drinking and smoking and falling in love, and with innocent determination, we give it our all.
We don’t spend weekends in the Hamptons or on Fire Island, and we can’t imagine wanting to. We have the East Village at night and my roof during the day. The fact that the East Village is gritty and my roof is tar just makes it better, to girls from the suburbs who find it all - the bathtubs in kitchens, the illegal sublets, the bars that don’t open til 2 AM - so thrilling.
“I already put the chairs up there,” I say and Susie nods her thanks.
My buzzer makes a sound so faint, you’d think it came from a tinny radio in the next room, but when you live in an illegal sublet, you don’t complain. I hit the Open button and we wait for Tamara to climb up.
I love Tamara and Susie equally, but on roof days, Susie wins. She and I are kindred spirits when it comes to tanning.
Tamara doesn’t see things quite the way we do.
“It’s very sunny,” she says, in a tone that makes Susie and me exchange a look.
“You say it like it’s a problem,” I answer laughingly, and when she nods her head, her inky black curls bounce with conviction. With her pale skin, dark almond eyes and elegant nose, Tammy has the kind of sophisticated beauty that neither Susie, with her beachy blonde hair and twinkling blue eyes, nor I, with my Flashdance-inspired hairdo and off-the-shoulder styling, fully understand.
Tamara takes care of her skin, and unlike the two of us, thinks about how it will look in ten years. Which makes her behavior on the roof perplexing.
“That guy last night was such a typical bad boy,” I say and Susie nods without opening her eyes.
“What?” Tammy says and I repeat it more loudly, so she can hear from where she’s sitting, in the shade.
“But he was cute,” she yells back, and I tell them what I’ve been waiting to say.
“I’m going out with him tonight.” Susie gasps, and Tammy, knowing her skin will have to forgive her, drags her chair over.
I sip my iced coffee importantly and say, “He’s really not a total bad boy, just a little brooding. He’s a painter.” I feel their eyes meet and I can’t say I blame them for the look they exchange. But I also know they wouldn’t do anything differently. The attraction between good girls like us and the brooding painters of the world is as much a fact of life as the melting tar beneath our flip flops.
“He invited me to a party,” I say, and show them the East Village address, which he wrote in pen on the inside of my forearm.
“And how cute, he put his name under the address,” I add, with what I know is too much affection.
“His name is Brunov?” Tamara asks.
“No! Bruno! That’s a heart next to it, not a V.”
For the next hour, we alternately call him Brunov, Bruno Heart, and Brooding Bruno. Nicknames are our way of feeling we have the upper hand with guys who will inevitably not call when they say they will, or do something else that shouldn’t surprise or hurt us, but always does. In return, we’ll refer to them as Brunov. Or Crazy Kevin. Or Spitting Richard. Which, since they have no idea we’re doing it, hardly makes things even, but at least makes us laugh.
“So you told him you’d meet him there?” Susie asks.
“I told him I’d think about it,” I say, proud of the mysterious air I’ve given off. Tammy smooths a palmful of #50 onto her shoulders as Susie angles her chair toward the sun.
I ask them to come with me but Tammy has plans, and they say it’s not cool to bring my two best friends on my first date, and I have to agree. I’m so bad at dating that I should know better than to follow my own instincts.
Tammy lasts about five more minutes and leaves Susie and me to do what we do best. By the time we get inside, our skin is bronzed and shining with a combination of Bain de Soleil and sweat.
“Hey, I got you something,” Susie says, digging into her backpack.
She hands me a square silver lipstick tube.
“One for you, and one for me,” she says, as she pulls a second one from the bag.
“You remembered I was out!” I say, giving her arm an appreciative little punch. I swivel it up, swipe it across my lips, then rub them together. Susie does the same. While I think it makes me look like a sultry Mediterranean movie star, it makes Susie look like a rich American socialite. Her eyes look bluer, her teeth whiter, her skin tawnier, her hair more golden. We smile at ourselves in the mirror above the bathroom sink, which is also the kitchen sink.
About six hours later, I stand there alone, rubbing my lips together again, but this time, wearing silver hoop earrings and a black tank top. Before leaving, I call Susie and Tammy, promising to tell them all about my date with Brunov and his brooding heart.
When I arrive at the East Village address that’s faded, but still on my arm, the door opens into a small kitchen that’s lit by a black light. White t-shirts glow, and so does a towel that hangs on the oven door handle. A woman bends over the table where a few people sit, her glowing purple hair hanging like a curtain over the mirror she leans into. She closes one nostril with a finger and inhales a glowing white line of powder. I ask for Bruno.
“Bruno?” says the coke doer. “Why do you want Bruno?”
“He invited me to meet him here,” I say, sounding as meek as I feel.
“Oh,” she says, with a shrug and something I want to think is a smile, but seems more like a wince. “Ok, well, he’s in there.” She gestures toward the living room.
I thank her, feeling anything but grateful, and poke my way through the kitchen, unaffected by the lighting. I’m wearing a black tank top and tight, dark jeans and to say I’m not glowing is an understatement.
I step into the living room, where there’s an empty sofa, and an easy chair in which two people are seated. One of them is Bruno. The other is a woman. Her hand rests on his arm, as he tells a story. He’s smiling and pausing in the way people do as they get to a great ending; one they can’t wait to tell, when he feels the presence of unglowing me.
“Um… hi?” he says.
I wave, and, like my purple-haired friend in the kitchen, feel myself wincing. I tell myself it’s possible the woman is just a friend. Or a sister. A very close and loving sister.
“Did I, like, invite you?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, indignantly. “Last night. At 7B. You said I should stop by.” There’s a look of realization albeit, brooding realization. He scowls.
“I guess I didn’t think you’d… like, do it,” he says.
“Well… I did,” I say, then turn to leave, but turn back. “But, why would you invite me to a party when you were going with someone else?”
Bruno sighs, annoyed, because we’ve already gone over this. “Like I said, I didn’t think you’d come.”
“Great date you got there,” I say to the woman, then looking over my shoulder at Bruno, say “Fuck you” and walk back into the kitchen. The fact that I say it so softly he may not hear it is secondary. Or so I tell myself.
Back in the coke room, I notice an open bathroom door and walk toward it. In the mirror, I can’t help but think I did a good job of making myself look pretty for my date and his date. I stand there for a second because it’s nice to see a face that’s not sneering at me. I pull my tube of British Red from the little suede handbag on my shoulder and tap it onto my lips. It boosts my confidence. At least I’ll be able to walk out with my head up. A cool woman about to go someplace better.
I use the toilet, mainly to kill time. The more I think about it, the angrier I become. I resolve to go back into the living room and repeat my fuck you, because I know he didn’t hear me. Even I barely heard me.
I pull my jeans up and close the button. Fuming, I yank the zipper up. The feeling is immediate and horrifying, and I look down to confirm what I know - my angry yank has broken my zipper. I gasp like a cartoon character and frantically open the medicine cabinet, praying for safety pins. There’s deodorant, which I need, because I’m sweating like crazy, but that’s the least of my problems.
Someone jiggles the door handle and a guy says “someone’s in there” and adds “I think it’s that girl.”
I croak, “Be right out.” I wish I’d worn a long top instead of a cropped tank. I wish there was a window to climb out of. I wish I hadn’t come to this stupid party. But here I am. I open the door and walk into the kitchen, my gaping zipper like a giant pair of parentheses in the middle of my crotch. And then, to my horror, I realize I was wrong in thinking I wasn’t wearing white. My underwear, the cute bikini I’d just taken from the package, is bright white. The coke table comes to a halt as they take in me in, and someone says, “I think your zipper is open.”
And then, in the night’s one moment of kindness, the purple-haired woman says, “You want a line?”
I’m so grateful, I almost accept, but that would mean being here a few seconds longer. Which I can’t bear.
The cab driver and I are silent and I shove a crumpled five at him before charging up the steps to my apartment.
I pour wine into a juice glass and flop onto my futon. Tammy is on a date - a real one - so I call Susie. Her hello makes me exhale the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
I tell her about Brooding Bruno and his lack of a heart. And as I describe the black light and the coke and the woman and the zipper, I find myself laughing.
“So you walked out to this roomful of meanies with your…”
“Yeah, with my panties glowing,” I say.
“Well, it could have been worse,” she says, “You could have been wearing big cotton bloomers.”
“Or no underwear,” I say, “but at least then I wouldn’t have glowed.”
“True,” she said, “unless you died your pubic hair white.”
“Which I often do before a date because it makes me feel sexy,” I answer, and we laugh harder, because we truly think we’re the funniest people on earth.
“The only good moment was when I was in the bathroom before the…”
“The unveiling,” Susie says.
“Yes. Before the unveiling. When I was alone in the bathroom, putting my lipstick on - I felt happy for those three seconds.”
“Okay, so there was that,” Susie says. “You can write a story about your night called ‘Three Good Seconds.’”
I say that someday I might.
But what I don’t say is that there’s another good part of my night. A part that makes the stupid, embarrassing, painful few hours worth it. A part I wouldn’t trade for the world. This.
The next day, Susie hoofs up the stairs with iced coffee and we sit on the roof and Tammy slathers herself with lotion as the three of us talk and laugh, and talk and laugh.
They ask why Bruno’s faded pen marks are still on my arm and I say he’s too dear to be washed away and that I’ll never shower again.
I put my face to the sun, and close my eyes with the satisfaction of a lucky girl who gets to live in New York City, in an apartment above a falafel stand that smells like onions.
With two best friends who always show up. And bring bagels. And understanding. And red lipstick.
I take a big gulp of iced coffee and smile.
About how good it tastes.
And how happy I feel.
And how perfect this is.
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