Sari Wilson




Patriotic Dead

Slice #4. Spring 2009

The girl lies on the asphalt next to the overturned bike. The bicyclist sits on a curb, gripping his shin and saying "I didn't see her" over and over. Cara skids to a stop, locks the brakes on her rollerblades, and kneels down next to the girl. The girl stares at Cara through thick glasses. She has red braids and a lavender shirt now smudged with bicycle grease.

A male jogger stops too. He kneels next to Cara and feels the girl's ankle. Together, Cara and the man, they figure things out. The girl probably has an ankle fracture; they call an ambulance; they call the girl's mother. They hold the girl's hands. This is the first time Cara had ever been the one to stop. Even if she were close enough, she has never stopped. It was always others who stopped.

The girl squeezes Cara's hand. Rollerbladers, joggers, baby buggies, a horse and carriage go by. Cara and the man exchange glances. He is young but his hair is grey. His eyes are green. No wedding ring. They are magnificent together—competent and efficient. When the girl is taken away in the ambulance, Cara feels like someone different—someone capable.

This act of civic duty makes them giddy, intimate, loud, flushed. They go to a place that Cara, in her eighteen years in New York, has never been to. The place is loud with foreign languages. They drink from tiny espresso cups. They get a cup of tea, then a sandwich. She and the man talk animatedly. She focuses on the slender fingers that he holds up frequently to make a point. Is it a date?

They end up back at her East Ninth Street apartment on her silk sheets, limbs intertwined. Her body is buzzing with a weird energy that makes her feel free. Later, she will blame that—that very feeling. She skips the trip to the bathroom, the fumbling with of the cervical cap. In her highly enviable life, freedom is a casualty.

When it is over, only then does he ask what she does. She tells him that she is an artist's model. His mouth evens out. Suddenly, his face looks austere.

He has been touching her nose, her lips, her thick black hair, her ochre skin, as if doing inventory. Now he pulls his hand back.

"What?" she says.

She is used to seeing men's eyes light up when she tells them she is an artists' model. "They draw you nude, right?" they say, running a hand along her thigh or over a breast. It makes them—bartenders, doctors, photographers, accountants—feel like they are participating in something. It affirms their own taste. "Can you really make a living at that?" they say. Yes, she can! She does!

But he looks down and shakes his head.

The day turns overcast. They move to her bistro table. She puts out some crackers and a fancy jam along with a tiny silver spoon. He says that he himself was once an artist—a painter. But he has come to believe that life is all about giving oneself to each moment. A moment preserved in time apart from all others is a corruption. Art is dangerous, he says, with his now-grave face. It is antithetical to life. He realized this, he tells her, after witnessing people plunging to their deaths from an office building where he was temping. He was haunted by these images but he felt that it would be wrong to put them down, to freeze them, to preserve them. Art can only serve as memory and memory does not heal—only time does. History does. As he talks, she watches people struggling home from their Saturday shopping, getting awkwardly out of cabs with bags in both hands, and fumbling for keys on doorsteps.

"Don't take your shit out on me," she says.

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© 2009 Sari Wilson