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Contemporary Fiction Happy

    The fresh breeze blew through my hair as I strode down Fifth Avenue. The air was stuffy as usual, and the traffic busier than ever. Cars rode too close to the sidewalk while horns blared their upsetting signals. People shoved their way around one another, yelling out and screaming as shoes got stepped on and things got thrown on the ground. Abandoned cats and dogs littered the streets along with the occasional homeless person, always holding up the cardboard sign asking for money. I ran into some a few times who kept following me and wouldn’t let me leave without giving them some money. It was annoying how I always needed to bring a few extra dollars along so I wouldn’t run into any trouble. It wasn’t all that unusual. After all, this was New York, one of the biggest cities in the U.S. I opened up the door to the Maple Cafe and the little bell at the top rang it’s usual greeting. The pleasant sound always brought a warm smile to my face. 

    “Hi mom!” I shouted as I opened the little glass containment at the front and took out a snickerdoodle cookie. 

    A voice from the back returned the greeting to me. 

    I walked back there and leaned against the door frame, taking big bites of the crispy cookie. She was rummaging through the cabinets and I saw her distressed expression from a mile away. 

    “You good?” I asked, a little worried.

    “Perfect, actually,” She lied as she continued her search.

    “Whatcha trying to find?” I asked as I took another bite out of the cookie. 

    “Well, I was trying to find the rest of the fondant for Ms. Snyder’s cake that I’m supposed to have ready for Sunday morning but I guess I’ll have to go to the store and buy more because it disappeared.” She said with a sigh as she went over to the fridge and started writing down her list of supplies. “Also, all the edible gold is gone, I need a bouquet of fresh roses and hydrangeas for the cake, and also more chocolate truffles. These expenses will throw us down the drain! No one is coming in anymore. I mean look out in the cafe. The bills keep rising, and I only get a big demand like this cake every week or so.” She sat down at the island and was rubbing her head.

    I looked out into the cafe that was deserted. Tables set neatly were still in their same condition as they were this morning, and a thin layer of dust could be seen settling on top of the cushioned chairs. My stomach started to ache as it always did in these situations. Mom and dad couldn’t stop talking about money and how everything was going wrong. Even at dinner they argued about it and I threw down my fork and walked over to the couch and plopped myself down as I turned on the TV and increased the volume as loud as I could so I couldn’t hear them. 

    “Another headache?” I asked her.

    “Always.”

    “Well, it’ll pass,” I say, trying to be gentle. Gentle was never really my thing and I wasn’t that good at being emotional.    

    “Honey, I don’t wanna ask this of you because you’ve been through so much already, but I have to. Could you not take the food from the racks in the cafe because I’m not sure whether I’ll need them and I can’t keep buying supplies all the time to make new things?” She asked through clenched teeth.

    I could see how much this pained her, but I understood. 

    “Yeah, of course,” I say as I leave the room. 

    I walk through the empty cafe and throw the remains of the cookie in the trash before sulking up the stairs to my room. 


    That night I sat at the little table upstairs in our apartment building. On my little plate were a few string beans with some rice and a strip or two of thin chicken. This was usual. Mom bought the least expensive things in the market and only put enough on our plates to last us the night. The topic of discussion this evening was none other than the award-winning money problems itself, coming back for a fifth time this week. 

    “I don’t know how much this will cost in the long run,” My mom argued. “We just can’t keep up with the bills and the supply costs for the store.”

    “Well we can’t just wipe away our problems. Maybe I can get a part-time job somewhere else while you work at the shoppe,” My father suggested. 

    “No no no,” My mom snapped. “This is a family business and you are not going to go somewhere else.”

    “Well I don’t know what to do anymore Rita!”

    I put down my head and I played with my food as little droplets rolled down my cheeks. Everytime they did this they were oblivious to me and acted as if they weren’t screaming at each other right in front of my eyes.

    I got up before they could notice me and my teary eyes. I darted from the room looking away from them as I maneuvered my way through the tiny living area. Their attention turned to me.

    “You ok honey?” Dad asked.

    “Yeah, fine! I’m just not hungry right now,” I said looking at the window so they wouldn’t be suspicious but couldn’t see my face. 

    I turned and opened the door to my bedroom and quickly closed it. I felt overwhelmed and I bit my lip to keep from losing it. I turned and sat down at my desk. Scattered across it was papers filled with sketches and little drawings of various things ranging from portraits of my friends and family to animals and landscapes. I opened up a drawer on the side of the desk and took a piece of paper out and placed it on top. I took one of my pencils and grabbed my dull eraser and started on another one of my works. 


    Later that night I stumbled out of my room to fetch a glass of water. It was late and my mom and dad were already getting ready for bed. I had fallen asleep and when I woke up my head was stuck to my drawing and my pencil laying on the carpet. I took a glass from the cabinet and filled it up with tap, taking a sip from it. I flinched as I processed the weird tasting water. Another thing I hated about the city. I stumbled my way back to my room, but when I was about to go in, I overheard the conversations from my parents bedroom. I focused on the sound and I could hear it clearly.

    “I really don’t know what to do anymore,” Said my mother, defeated. 

    “Well, there really aren’t many options,” Replied my father. “Either we split up and take on different jobs, or we do the last thing any of us want.”

    “We can’t do that,” My mother said firmly. “This is where Carmen grew up all her life. This is where our entire family lives. We can’t leave it all behind.”

    “Trust me, I don’t want to either, but considering our situation right now, we may have no choice.” 

    I could barely move. I slumped into my room and set the glass down dismissively. Were they out of their minds!? We couldn’t move. All my friends and family set their roots down in New York. This run down apartment building is the place I call home, and I can’t just leave it. Everything I had ever known lied here. Even though the streets are smelly and everything seemed to go wrong, this is the place I called home. I would never trade it for anything in the entire world. I felt everything fall around me, and I set my head down on my pillow as I drifted off into a deep sleep away from all the problems of the real world. 


    Dough was flung up in the air and I ducked out of the way of my grandma’s fast moving arms as she wielded the contents of a pizza up high. The dough landed on a cutting board where it was drenched with sauce, and then decorated with chunks of meat, peppers, and cheese that was dumped on top. It then went flying into the oven where it would cook and come out as a delicious snack for later. 

    “Sit,” She said as she put the timer on. 

    I took a seat at the island, and started texting my friends. They were both hanging out at the Boba Tea Cafe downtown. They were going crazy because they saw a new flavor come out and were begging me to come try it with them. 

    “Off,” Grandma shouted.

    I dropped the phone on the counter and looked up at her.

    “No phone. You know how much your grandpa looks forward to seeing you and it breaks his heart when you're more focused on that thing that you are on him.”

    “He’s not even here though,” I protest.

    At that moment the apartment door swung open and grandpa came flying in with the biggest smile on his face. 

    “Carmen!” He shouted excitedly. He threw down a big case on the couch and opened it up. A beautiful brown guitar appeared and he walked over and handed it to me. “I went downtown to the music store and they had this beauty for only $100! Some flash sale or something and they wanted to get her out of the store before they went out of business!” 

    Lots of stores were going out of business these days. Three on Main, two on Seventh, and one on Second. I guess that the stuff that was happening to us was happening to people all around too. 

    “Ain’t she amazing??” My grandfather said proudly.

    “Yeah, she sure is,” I say, coming back to the moment. I gripped it firmly and started to strum a few chords. I had been asking one for forever now because we had done a little music with it in Music Class in school and I just loved how each note sang it’s story.

    “You're a natural, kid!” My grandpa shouted. 

    Grandma started to do a little shuffle behind the counter as I started to play one of the songs we had learned. Eventually I was lost in the moment and the only thing I focused on was the fun dancing going around the room and the guitar strumming away, while I wore the brightest smile I had in years. I forgot about all the bad things that haunted me and even the talk about moving and only laughed as we had our grand time in the little apartment. 


    When I came back home that night, all the fun and joy of the day had deflated like a popped balloon. My parents had set me down on the couch, and across from me they wore their grim expressions.

    “Honey, we have something to tell you,” My mom said as she looked at the ground. 

    I knew it was coming. The mic was finally dropping, but the worst part about it was that even they weren’t able to stay strong enough to even tell me while looking into my eyes. 

    “We realized that staying here would make us fall behind on living costs and the bills for the cafe,” My father explained slowly.

    “So,” My mother continued, “We’re leaving New York and going to get an apartment in New Jersey. Your father and I will find new jobs and we can start a new life there.” 

    A sad smile spread across her face. I could see little tears falling down her pale face.

    “Ok,” I said, my voice cracking. “When do we move?”

    “We’re leaving on Monday,” Replied my father.

    That was two days from now. It felt like a thousand bricks were thrown on me.

    “Ok, I’ll go start packing a few things up,” I said as I got up, trying to be strong.

    I got to my room, and after I closed the door, I stood there feeling no emotion. I didn’t feel happy or excited but I didn’t feel sad or angry. Just… empty.


    That night I packed away some of my stuff. I took a supply box from down in the cafe and already packed some clothes, my books, and a few more things. I was about to put away my drawings when I saw one that caught my eye. It read New York in bold pop letters and was surrounded by skyscrapers and a big taxi in front. Then I laid my eyes on the guitar that was in the corner of my room on my chair. Suddenly an idea came to me. 


    That night I spent the whole time up in my room writing my song. My song about New York. All the things that I hate about it but the things that I call my home, and even though I’m leaving it it will always be. Around 2:00 a.m. I finished and held up my note sheet. I couldn’t help but smile. I ran over and grabbed the guitar off the chair. I took a seat back down, and grabbed one of my picks and started strumming. I followed the song to the end and when I finished I felt like a part of me had come back. A happy, satisfied feeling sat in the pit of my stomach that wasn’t present for the past few days. I loved the song, even though when I played it I stumbled over a few notes and some of the pitches weren’t right. I felt it was perfect, and I hoped that only my ears would be the ones to hear it and my fingers the ones to play it. 

   

    The next day I slept in late until almost 10:30. I jumped out of bed and ran out to the kitchen. I needed all the time I could get. I grabbed some toast, and ran back to my room. I took out a little drawstring bag and packed up my phone, credit card, and my New York drawing. Then I ran back out and took the stairs down to the cafe. Mom was down there packing away some of the food and cleaning up the kitchen. 

    “I’m going to the Boba Tea Cafe!” I shout to mom who’s in the back.

    She comes back out and dusts her hands off.

    “Anyone else going?” She asks.

    “No, but I heard they have a new flavor and I wanted to try it out. And afterwards I wanted to hang out in the park” I replied.

    “Fine. Have your debit card?” She asked. 

    “Yup!” I say, holding it up to show her.

    “Have fun,” She says as she goes back into the kitchen. 

    After she’s gone I run out the door and take a quick turn to the back of the building where the supply shed is. I grab the key in the potted plant near it and open it up, dust falling from above and ants crawling around everywhere. I run in quickly, and find the spray paint stash. I grab a bunch of colors and shove them into my drawstring. Then I close up the shed and take off to the park. When I turn the corner, I see people eating at the little benches, some others feeding the ducks near the pond, but none of them are at the skatepark. I run over there, and I jump down into the concrete pit. Graffiti covered the once gray area, but I eventually found an open spot. I set down all my stuff and took out my drawing and a bunch of the spray paints. I took an orange and started covering the gray slab of concrete.


    I finished sooner than I thought, but my masterpiece was perfect. The lines were straight, colors just right, and the taxi was in just the right place. I smiled at it, knowing that the other part of me healed deep inside. I threw all my stuff back in the bag, and took a picture of the artwork with my phone. Then I started on my way back to the house, leaving behind my last contribution to New York. 


    The next day was hard. A mix of emotions. We packed up the final boxes into the moving truck and said goodbye to the apartment. As we rode down the avenue and got near the highway, I took a look at what I saw around me. The brownstones brick crumpled up and dropped to the sidewalk where weeds and pieces of garbage littered the area. People were shouting at one another and yelling because someone didn’t put the right pizza topping on or almost ran over them even though they were on the crosswalk. Police sirens could be heard in the far distance and horns blared their angry calls. But it was all just music to my ears. I didn’t realize until now that this was my last time ever seeing or hearing these miserable yet amazing things. Maybe it wouldn’t be the end though. Maybe New York would forgive me, and one day I can come back into its arms to raise a family of my own. But for now, as I rode down the street, I just took a deep breath in and revisited all the wonderful memories I had with this place. The place that I called home. New York City.

March 15, 2021 21:55

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