Huddled beside a radiator at the cinema, there were only two things on your mind: Joaquin Phoenix and a taxi cab. Your hands scurried in your pockets, pushing past the lint and left over nibbles of cookie dough. It always seemed like you had just the right amount of change. There was just enough change to get you a taxi to Grand Central Station, where you could take the Q32 to Harlem. And there maybe, just maybe, some bright-eyed Harlem girl would take interest in you and bring you inside. Harlem girls were always the pursuers.
You’re better off sleeping with someone and possibly getting an STD than trying to survive a NYC winter night. It wasn’t ideal, but that’s life.
You managed to stay underneath the cinema’s overhang. At once was pitter-pattering became hectic rail fall. God, I wish I had taken that umbrella, you think to yourself, remembering your last hookup had an umbrella at her door. You distinctly remember that her umbrella was red with black spots, sorta like a lady-bug. You stared out to the city street, shivering before stepping out. A gentle melody of jazz echoed across 85th, accompanied by the never-ceasing beat of the Underground. It was nearly midnight, but Manhattan was as alive as it could be.
Taking a deep breath, you adventure out of the overhang and onto the pavement. Instantly, despite your coat and scarf, you’re completely drenched. You quickly duck your head, quickly speeding along to reach the taxi stand off 87th. By this time, the streets are filled with dire people and frantic tourist. Everyone had their places to be, but you were still finding your place to be.
On your way across 85th, you stumble past a tattered, but relatively dry, cardboard hut. At first glance, you remove your eyes. You hated to admit it, but seeing homeless people was one of the worst things ever. Yet in New York, you’d have to get used to it, I suppose. But then, your eyes draw on it once more. In faint ink, there were words sketched on it:
Flowers for Sale. Gather them from within.
From within? You scoff, What kind of homeless person uses the word “from within”?
As soon as you take the time to read this, you hear scurrying from the hut. Quickly, before they can see you, you continue on your way.
Within four minutes, you’ve made it to the closest taxi stand you can remember. As you approach 87th street, it has become eerily quiet. The rain has proceeded to pick up, more and more. As you come to the taxi stand, you notice there is a small covering. But as you go underneath, the roof is leaking. Despite this, however, you crouch underneath the roof.
Your hands push past the coins and take hold of another item: a lighter. You take it out. You begin to search for a cigarette from your other pockets. You frantically begin to search, until realizing you used your last one.
Where in the World was that thing?!
Your arms begin to shake. Angered, you shove your hands into your pockets and stare out towards the streets.
The streets are empty, void of any person or car. You can faintly hear the echoes of jazz off of 85th. You are cold, impatient. But at this point, there doesn’t seem much to do. Your hands settle back into your pockets. Your fingers begin to clutch onto your coins as you wait for a cab.
But you wait. And wait. And wait. At first, you didn’t bother timing how long it was taking until your legs began to grow weary. Hastily, you raise to your feet and anxiously look for a taxi. And yet, far as the eye can see, there is not a single car in sight. Your eyes try to see if there may be a person (hopefully someone whose willing to take you in or pay for your service). But finding no one in sight, your stomach begins to churn.
The rain ceaselessly pours as you begin to count the time. Nearly fifty minutes pass when you’re painfully aware that there won’t be a taxi for a while. You groan.
It is then that you glance up and your eyes catch it: the red umbrella with black spots. Your eyes narrow down at it. This umbrella belonged to the last person you slept with! Someone is underneath it, but the rain is blurring your vision. At first, you hollar, “Hey! You there!” You then soon stop as the person ignores your call and walks towards 85th.
As the wind begins to pick up, you immediately decide to follow her. You remember this lady had a quaint apartment, the heater worked just fine. The night wasn’t all that bad, either. It would be a relief if this was her!
You start to follow her, but as she turns the corner to 85th, she vanishes. You search around for the red umbrella.
Where could it be?
Saddened, it seems that you’re back at Square 1. Sulking, you continue to walk along 85th Street. It’s then that you approach the strange cardboard hut. As you look at it, you notice something: the red umbrella! The tip of it is poking out of the hut’s roof.
“Hey!” You shout, before making your way inside the hut. As soon as you duck your head and enter, a sudden wave of heat hits you. Your face lights up in warmth, your hair beginning to dry. Your eyes are then drawn to a large clump at the end of the hut.
“Excuse me, uh…” You begin, “Lady, I don’t remember your name, but…?”
The clump unveils itself. Immediately, you jolt back. This is not your last lover, but a middle-aged man. He is well kempt, his hair parted neatly to the side. He, by no means, looks homeless. He tilts his head as he looks at you. Before you can scurry off, he speaks, “Hello, have you come to buy a flower?”
You stutter, “My bad, I thought you were someone else… Sorry to bother you.”
“Who were you looking for, exactly?” The man asked, “I can be whoever you want me to be.”
Although you’re entirely weirded out, there is something comforting about this man. He smiles warmly at you.
“It’s… no one,” You reply.
The man responded, “I see. Where are you off to, tonight?”
You aren’t completely sure what to say. This man, just like you, was a homeless guy just trying to get by. But from the looks of it, there was no desperation on his face. In fact, his face was beaming with warmth. It was alluring.
“I’m… getting a taxi.”
“Are you sure you have enough money for that? New York taxis cost a pretty penny.”
As You began to nod, your hands reached into your pockets. Your fingers dove deep and scooped up the change you had. Yet as you sat the change onto your lap, you became painfully aware that you didn’t have enough.
“Shit!” You yell, frantically searching your pockets, “I thought I had enough! Where the hell did my money go?” You glance over to the man and yell, “Hey bud, did you pickpocket me or something?”
“Pickpocket? Listen bud, I’ve been over in this corner the whole time!” defended the man, rather offended that you’d accuse him of a petty thing like pickpocketing. He exclaimed, “Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I’m a crook!”
“Sorry,” You apologize, running your hands in your pockets. Yet finding not an extra cent, you deeply sigh, “I’m sorry, mister. I just swore I had enough money to get a taxi. And since I don’t I guess I....”
He interrupted, “You’re homeless, huh?” You are unable to look at the man. For a moment, you share silence. Gently, the man says, “Tough break, kid. But I think I got just what you need…”
“Listen,” You begin to declare, “I don’t want your flower or whatever the hell you’re selling…”
It is then that this man pulls out a carton of cigarettes. Your eyes light up. Just with one glance, your tensions begin to fade away.
“How much?” You ask.
“That’ll be 37 cents,” He says, “I throw in a spare one for your pitiful case.”
You glance to your coins, where you begin to count your change. But as it turns out, you have exactly 37 cents. A bit perplexed, you still hand the change to the old man. He smiles softly then hands you two cigarettes. He says softly, “There’s two flowers, just for you, kid.”
Your hands scurry for your lighter. As you light the cigarette, you draw a deep breath in. A sensation of peace flourishes within you. It is as though every trouble began to flee away.
“Shit,” You exclaim in bliss, “What kinda cigarette is this?”
“Narcissus,” He replies, grinning, “Anything for my sweet Persephone.”
It is then that you begin to grow tired. Before you can help it, you sink to the floor. Although your body has seemingly melted into an eternal bliss, your mind frantically screams for help. Yet, you cannot utter a word.
The old man crawls towards you. He says, with a smile, “What a horrible guest I am! I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Hades.” He places his hands on your shoulder. With his touch, it seems as though the entire cardboard hut is caving in. You try to scream for help once more, but it is as though the Earth is swallowing you whole.
“Welcome home, Persephone.”