Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
I was hanging out in the schoolyard, by myself, throwing a Spalding against the wall. It was something I did to relax.
Anya breezed into the schoolyard. She was carrying a brown bag, from which she sipped.
Starting early huh?
Fuck you, Anya chuckled. Want some?
What is it?
Does it matter?
I took the bottle and sipped. It tasted like peach and burn.
Where’d you get it?
I stole it from Boris.
Anya giggled, took a sip, handed the bottle back to me.
I took another sip.
Wow. It’s kind of nasty, kind of good.
Like me, Anya cheered and flung her arms outward.
I noticed that the outer edge of her left eye was discolored and swollen.
It could have been Boris. He sometimes got rough with her. And Vera too. Anya never told me this but she didn’t have to. The wars that took place in her house were equal in volume and ferocity to the wars that took place in mine.
It also could have been Angelo. He was known to have a problem with his hands.
I one-hopped the Spalding against the wall and caught it with one hand on the rebound.
You’re a good catcher Daniel, Anya beamed. Do it again.
I did it again. And then a third time just to show off a little.
Let me try.
Anya handed me the brandy. I took a sip.
Anya did a funny wind-up and hurled the Spalding. It bounced several times before reaching the wall and then died there.
I suck, Anya smiled and took back the brandy.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re only a girl.
I smiled. Then recoiled as Anya lifted the bottle and threatened—Don’t make me have to smash this bottle over your head. Actually…
She lowered the bottle.
That would be a waste of perfectly good alcohol.
Anya took another blast. I went back to bouncing the Spalding off the wall. I kept at it in silence until Anya complained—Well aren’t you even gonna talk to me?
Yea, sorry, yea I’ll talk to you—
Don’t do me any favors—
You’re so petulant—
Petulant? What does that mean?
Then say childish and don’t hide behind your five dollar words, Mister…. What’s a five dollar word for know-it-all?
I don’t know.
Oh yes you do. Smartypants. Mister Smartypants, that’s you.
Anya celebrated the application of her label with another big sip of brandy.
Hey if we’re gonna be drinking in broad daylight maybe we shouldn’t be so out in the open. Let’s go behind the dumpster.
We went over to the industrial dumpster, which was set near one of the doorways. We sat on a flat step. The dumpster partially obscured us.
It stinks over here, Anya pinched her nose.
Yea but at least we’re hidden. I don’t wanna get busted. So what’s up with you and Angelo, how are things going?
Anya rattled off a noise to indicate her disgust.
I am so fucking done with him. This time for real.
Anya and Angelo had been on-again off-again for the past year.
Angelo is such an asshole. And I want him to be me my one and done asshole. I don’t wanna be one of those stupid girls who winds up with one asshole after another. One and done. Goodbye asshole, hello sunshine.
Sounds like a tune you could sing.
I sang goodbye asshole, hello sunshine, to the melody of the Beatles “Good Day Sunshine.”
Anya laughed and stamped approval with her feet.
The brandy, mixed with Anya, was lighting me up from the inside.
Anya suddenly tore up to standing and turned to face the door.
She began pounding on it. A metallic thud resounded.
Stop, what if someone’s in there.
No one’s in there. It’s Saturday.
She pounded some more.
When she was done she said—Can you believe this was our school? This was our grade school? Doesn’t it feel like we went here like a hundred years ago? Like it was a different life?
Anya began rifling off names of teachers.
Mr. Ciappini, Ms. Farinelli, Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. Marx, Principal Hiler . . . Hitler, remember we would call him Hitler?
Yea I remember—
And that time both of our classes took the camping trip to Camp Taconic and you let us dress you up like a girl for the skit? You were such a pretty girl.
Anya pinched my cheek. And then went on.
I can’t believe it was only four years ago that I was in this school. Seems like so long ago. We were just kids and now we’re, now we’re not just kids, we’re fucking . . . we’re fuck-ups . . . well I won’t speak for you, I don’t know what you think you are but me, I’m definitely a fuck-up.
Anya smiled. And kicked the door.
Nah you’re not a fuck-up.
I’m not? Aren’t I the one who stole peach brandy from my dad? The one who’s drunk at 5 o clock on a Saturday?
Okay maybe you are a fuck-up, I smiled.
Fuck you Daniel, Anya gently kicked me in the shin. Then she sat down next to me.
What about you? Are you seeing anyone?
Not really. I went out on a date last week with Josephine, Joanne’s cousin.
Josephine, Anya’s eyes popped open. The Blowjob Queen?
Oh come on Daniel, you know she’s called the Blowjob Queen. Everyone knows that.
I didn’t know that.
I didn’t, really.
Okay whatever. How was the date? Or should I say how was the blowjob?
I don’t know, I didn’t get one.
Which was true. Josephine had given me a hand-job in the movie theater, my first ever. I had been happy about that. But now I felt slighted. Why hadn’t the Blowjob Queen gone down on me?
What did you guys do? For your date?
Went to see Police Academy. We went with Jake and Joanne.
Oooh, a double-date. Do you like her?
I don’t know.
Are you gonna go out again?
I don’t know. What is this twenty fucking questions? Give me some more brandy.
Anya handed me the bottle. She locked her arm in mine. Then her head crumpled sideways onto my shoulder.
What are we gonna do with ourselves Daniel?
Like right now?
Like ever. Are you gonna go to college?
I don’t know, but I don’t think so.
Why you’re smart?
I hate school. You know what Mark Twain said?
There’s nothing wrong with school, just don’t let it get in the way of your education.
Ooooh, I like that. That’s a good one. Well whatever you do you’ve got your stories. You’re going to be a famous writer, aren’t you?
I have no idea-
Well I do. And you’re going to be. Trust me. I know these things. I may not know what . . . what was the word again?
Petulant. I may know not what petulant means but I know you’re gonna be a famous writer. World famous. And I’ll say I knew you when. Remember how you used to put me in some of your stories? Do you still do that?
Good. Keep writing about me okay? Anything you want. Just include me in your stories. Don’t forget about me. Write whatever you want. Write about the time your crazy friend Anya came to the schoolyard 5 o clock on a Saturday with a bottle of stolen peach brandy and … and you and her got drunk together . . . and then . . . and then she kissed you.
She kissed me?
Which is exactly what Anya did.
Her head rose from my shoulder and her mouth pushed into mine. Her tongue snaked past my lips and initiated my tongue. Wagging, jostling, probing, pinning, curling. A sloppy and frenetic tango, a fevered joust.
A part of me stood outside myself, watching, recording, narrating.
You are now kissing Anya and Anya is kissing you. This has never happened before. It is happening now. Notice the dance of her tongue. Notice the peach-heat of her breath in yours. The bulging rhythm of her jaw. Her hand on your cheek. The wet, clicking unity of your mouths. Notice these things. If you pay strict enough attention, if you crystallize with rapt intent, you will always have this moment. It will be yours forever. It will deepen over time. It will grow in value, depth, complexity. You will be able to live and die inside of it repeatedly, endlessly.
Pay good, strict attention.
You are now kissing Anya for the first time, always.