(Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn.)
Anya, Julia weighed the name softly on her tongue. Anya. Wait, she was the one they found in the trashcan when she was a baby, right?
The one and only.
Yes I remember her. I didn’t know her very well but I seem to remember that you and her and were close?
Yea, when we were kids. Anyways, she died. About a week ago.
Oh my god. What happened?
They’re not sure. Maybe an overdose. Probably an overdose.
What a shame, Julia’s voice lowered. She was about your age, right?
Yea, a year younger. So I guess she was thirty-six.
What a shame, Julia repeated and shook her head.
So you’re going back for . . . a memorial?
No I haven’t heard anything about a memorial. It’s just, me and Anya, she was…
My throat tightened and no more words came. It has always been easier for me to write about Anya than it had been to talk about her.
Where’s your copy of Rabid Transit, I asked Julia.
On the book-shelf in the living room. Why?
I’ll show you.
I went to the book-shelf, did a quick scan, saw Rabid Transit, and pulled it out. It was a series of interrelated stories, set in Bensonhurst, that I had written and had been published around eight or nine years earlier. Its publisher had folded around six months after releasing it.
I flipped through the pages and came to the story “Treading Light.” Then I found the passage I was looking for and read aloud:
“When I heard people say—Words can’t express how I feel—I always thought that was an alibi, or laziness, or an unwillingness to search for the right combination of words. I thought words were a godlike umbrella that covered everything. Yet in looking back I realized that it wasn’t words, but rather a demoniacal silence that possessed, in full, the singular intensity I felt for Ilya. There were no words for what amounted to equal parts beacon and death ray, a force that never before or since have I felt again, about anyone or anything. My heart was full with it, sick with it, and everything, including scars, radiated promise.”
I raised my eyes from the page and looked at Julia—That was Anya.
Julia smiled—For someone who claims he can’t find the right words, you sure found the right words.
Energized by this sudden gateway back to Anya, I flipped through more pages until I came to the story “Trespasses.” I read another passage aloud:
“Halloween. As was tradition, the boys would stalk the neighborhood, armed with cartons of eggs and cans of Barbasol. Me and my friends were foam-caked, yolk-splatted messes when we ran into Alexis and her friends coming home from school. They were dressed in their Catholic school girl uniforms, not a trace of egg or shaving cream marking their clothing. When the girls saw us and knew they were in danger of being “bombed,” as we called it, they collectively warned—You’d better not—knowing we would, which we did. I exclusively targeted Alexis, cracking several eggs on her head and dosing her with clouds of shaving cream. Alexis squealed and screamed the entire time, which excited me. When we were done, the girls cursed us out and yet took it in stride, understanding that we were boys, in Brooklyn, on Halloween, and they had expected no better from us. I stared at Alexis, made-over by my renegade handiwork, and thought she looked beautiful. A beautiful mess whom I so badly wanted to kiss. We didn’t kiss, but Alexis did hit me hard on the arm and called me an asshole while smiling big. My heart rose. Maybe just maybe we had a future together.”
I stopped reading, yet kept staring down at the page.
Anya again, Julia said.
I looked up.
Anya again. My writings are filled with Anya-agains.
Julia’s eyes moistened, as they had earlier.
I stared down at her defective hand and wondered if she knew about the opiate effect it had had on me when I was younger.
You must have really loved her, huh?
With a force that never before or since have felt about anyone or anything, I parroted the words of the young man in the story.
By the time I got home it was raining.
I sat out on my covered balcony and watched the slits of rain tear down, the occasional brightening of the sky when lightning flashed.
It was the perfect thunderstorm, as if scripted by a noir director, in which to ruminate on a dead girl whom I once loved. Still did love. Would always. Yet was that true?
Those passages I had read to Julia, had they deeply and genuinely expressed a heartfelt truth? Or were they the byproducts of nostalgia and lost youth? Did they belong to a fragile intimacy which thrives on distance and shies away from real contact?
Anya, I have written you from so many different angles, have written around you, as if outlining a symbol where a person is supposed to be, and not once have I touched your center. I figured by now that I’d have written you out of my system, that the vein would be exhausted but no, something always leads back to you. This time it is your death. Your actual and true and real death. Not one of the deaths I’ve invented.
Anya is no longer upon this earth.
It seemed like another line in a story, another necessary fabrication. But necessary for what exactly?