I was bored and kinda sad too. I don’t know if it was Saturday or Sunday. I can tell you it was February. I remember thinking: “It’s hot as hell for February.” Really, it was those exact words. I know this because I also remember thinking: “I bet folks in hell are made to wear big puffy coats,” which I know I thought at one point because I see myself wearing a big puffy coat, and I can feel my hairy torso prickling with sweat as I hurry across the street and down the dirt-smeared stairwell, into a cramped, stuffy subway car where I say to myself, “I bet folks in hell are made to wear big puffy coats and ride back and forth on cramped, stuffy subway cars until the end of time.”
The plan had been to visit Manhattan and walk around but I got off in Fort Greene for fresh air and found myself a bagel joint where I’d eat and ease into the day. I sat at a wobbly table at the front of the store, beneath the big plexiglass window where I masticated on my sandwich in plain sight of the urban passersby, like some sort of zoo animal at mealtime, or so I thought until my peripheral vision tuned in and took the reins by tuning into a figure who’d opened the front door and was approaching my vicinity with a queer, hesitating step. My eyes went to her brightly colored leggings: swirls and streaks of white-indigo light over black voidness, set alight by a smattering of twinkling stars; a journey through the cosmos, neutered and neatly resewn. She wore a ragged teal hoodie with sleeves that blanketed her arms, down to the fingernails. Her face was round; pale skin with a pinkish glow. And blue eyes, yes – blue eyes that seemed to melt into the sweatshirt.
Celina. I think that was her name. Celina knew a lot about the world but wasn’t especially skilled at her vocation. Celina was a dog- and house-sitter who had locked herself and the dog outside the owners’ home. She’d left her phone inside too, which explains why my solitude was being interrupted. She needed to get ahold of the dog’s owners (wealthy folks, lived in a nearby brownstone, vacationing somewhere in Europe, etc.) so they could contact some friends with a spare key. Celina made a big mess and was dragging me into it. Why me? I’m frail and have a young face. I think that’s why. I think she saw me through the storefront window and thought, “Look at the harmless zoo animal at mealtime, wearing his big puffy coat. He doesn’t look like a murderer. He’ll probably help me.”
Celina’s charge was tied to a wooden bench outside. Through the plexiglass window, listening to Celina spell out her predicament, I watched a 3-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel jumping on the shins of an obliging middle-aged couple. The old man crouched down like a baseball catcher and cupped the dog’s chin, scratching its jowls with his big thumbs. The old woman took a photo on her iPhone.
Cooper. I think that was the dog’s name. Cooper was a very cute dog. I remember thinking: “This is a clever scam. They’re going to steal my phone and hack into my bank account,” but hazarding this imaginative improbability seemed preferable to turning away a cute puppy and nice young woman, which helps explain why I handed over my phone and joined them on the bench outside on the corner of Vanderbilt Ave and one of the anonymous streets with million dollar homes and columns of leafless Winter trees waiting on Spring, not unlike the rest of us. The sun tanned our faces as we talked about existing in New York, the omnipresence of steel and concrete, how Celina’s family owned a log-cabin by a stream in Vermont where the trout are fresh and make for a nice Autumn meal, how the bad folks are trying to burn the living hell out of Earth until Earth is nothing but a living hell where everyone is sweating bucketloads under big puffy coats in stuffy subway cars on days that should be colder. I wasn’t complaining as I settled into my new life with Celina and Cooper, the puppy jumping into my lap, as if he’d known me all his three months. I scratched behind his ears, telling him he’s a good boy.
The breeze came and went. The creatures and cars passed by in the pleasant hubbub. The joggers looked stern-faced, with white cords dangling from their ears. The old folks were relaxed, sauntering in spite of the city. They made a point of smiling for Cooper, and for me and Celina.
“How old?” a few of them asked.
“Three months,” we’d say. They saw a happy New York trio enjoying the weekend. We were, in a way, but I didn’t really know her, or the dog. I remember feeling I was wasting the day, but also as if I didn’t need to go anywhere.
At about 3:00pm, Celina’s employers got ahold of their friends with the spare key, who agreed to meet Celina and Cooper outside Cooper’s house an hour later. It was time. The day’s sheen had worn off. Cooper was having the runs on the pavement. Celina was dehydrated and hungry. I was sad and kinda bored too. I went with Celina to the apartment to see her off. We agreed to meet up sometime.
Six months later I got fired. I was going to write about that day, but as I put pen to paper, my eyes went to a woman leashing up a dog outside a bagel joint. Maybe Celina and Cooper will come back. Maybe we’ll sit on our bench and the breeze will feel just right.