I am surprised to find Len around the corner wearing a dress shirt and tie and cargo shorts. In fact, I am stunned. It’s late at night, the kind of night that makes revisions feel possible. I ask him if he wants to take a walk. He does. We take the alley. He says he’s OK but I sense his fluttering behind me. Once we’re out, he slows to a jaunty stroll.
We walk past the old tenement where Anya’s great-aunt still lives, claiming the hole she tore in the world. Imagine if we all moved into Columbia Presbyterian! Someone probably has.
We walk past a sign that says DOLLAR OYSTERS and I ask him if he wants one. He says, remember the time you went to the wrong bar?
* * *
Last time Len and I spoke, I was baking bread. The party was Tuesday and I wanted to make sure we had enough. I made an earl grey coriander loaf, a pear ginger loaf, an apple cinnamon loaf, a pumpkin spice loaf, a hilarious Old Bay loaf. It was too much bread. I loved smelling them — even the Old Bay — and was glad of Len’s indifference; it meant I could do it all myself.
Our first apartment barely had an oven. In fact, I say it did not. That was why the apartment was “so cheap.” I tell you: the kitchen was a literal closet, all the fixtures squeezed into 30 cubic feet of space, the door thoughtfully removed. It was just wide enough to hold an oven and a sink with a shoulder of countertop in the middle and cabinets above your head. No refrigerator, though — that had to go outside. After all this engineering, an inch of doorframe still blocked the oven door. We could only open it a few inches before it hit the wall. So I bought a pizza stone and a cookie sheet, things that slid in and out easily, and made some excellent little cakes.
They raised the rent to $1675, so we moved into a 1BR near the el. It was fine. We wore earplugs and marveled at the enormity of our turn-of-the-century kitchen. The dumbwaiter sealed shut with generations of paint. The oven that opened all the way. We made pizza, roast chicken, baked potatoes, eggplant parmesan, broiled fish, rhubarb pies, bran muffins. And I made loaves.
Sylvia Plath once said something cute: “my little loaf.” So I told Len, “come here, my little loaf.” Later, I learned she was talking to a fetus.
* * *
Len told me to go to Sam’s Bar but he meant Sam’s Oyster Bar. I went to Sam’s Bar and searched for him. I tried his number. I tried Anya’s. Behind me, somebody shouted, “Tina!” I turned and saw Jake, Suki and Maya. They identified me as I passed, like a game. That’s a Tina, one says, and wins. I left them there to bask in the glow.
Later that night, Anya put a copy of Just Kids in my hands and practically screamed. Isn’t that strange, I thought, turning pages, that a Jersey girl can tell New Yorkers what the magic really is? There is no magic, I whispered viciously. Patti didn’t respond. Neither did Anya, nor Len.
In a student film I saw years ago, women fed each other many oysters. Their generous slurping was the entirety of the film. That memory made me glad to have missed the outing. I didn’t want Len to see Anya and me the way Jake saw Suki and Maya. Len catches me thinking and scrambles for a tether. He says, how’s the new place? I say it’s fine, finer than most things.
We walk around the edge of the park and he falters for a moment. I remember now, observing his bent shoulders, his petulant lean, how hard these years have been, how these rambles have always exhausted him.