Mimi’s sandal straps were dried stiff from the day before. The editor said he appreciated her rescheduling lunch to coffee. They sat mid-morning on folding chairs on pavement that until that summer had been a lane of Broadway.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” The editor kicked at the planter between him and traffic. He thumbed through Mimi’s pages and paused at colored paper flags. “Let me sum up for you quickly, so you have some sense, in a nutshell, what to think. I think you haven’t found whose story you’re telling. That’s the main thing I’m thinking.”
“I hear the story emerge through a number of voices.”
“It’s about a group of friends.”
“Which is great. Love it. I have complete confidence. Find who to pull out and get us to root for. You always do. So this one will take more time. It happens.” He did appreciate her stopping by while she was in town.
She finished her smoothie and put her feet on the chair where he’d been sitting, and rested her pages in her lap. Broadway traffic idled at the intersections. The roasting scent of peanuts crossed from the far sidewalk. Anyone passing might have thought she sat there every day. On the first page of the last section, the editor had written too many women.
Downtown. Lunch with friends from her former job. One pointed at her own eyebrows and it was true; too much plucked on the left. Both sides had to go. The line for the café was out the door, past the tables everyone was waiting for. All down the block, trees droop-dried.
Mimi said her editor had just returned from Buenos Aires. “He knows this guy who quit his job and bought a house in San Telmo.”
“How did he find work?”
“He didn’t. That’s the idea.”
“We should go. Right? The three of us? Stay at your friend’s?”
“He’s not my friend. I can’t ask that.” Mimi rubbed out someone’s cigarette. Why did she feel she’d misstepped, when it was her friend who’d forced her to say no.
The train tilted into estuarine light past feather-tailed grasses. Always, crossing New Jersey was a repeat of Mimi’s first crossing.
“Everyone’s angry today.” The woman in the seat behind her kept losing volume on her earpiece. “So that’s the channel to watch.”
What channel, Mimi wondered. What would I watch for.
The woman in the aisle seat wore kitten heels and navy jeans and spoke on her phone until Philadelphia, talking low and popping her gum. At Thirtieth Street more people got on than off. The woman and Mimi exchanged looks that could have said lucky us or what the hell. The train drew out past a jammed expressway.
“Luv ya.” The woman swiped her phone to sleep. “Well, that’s done. Some people, you have to say what they expect.”
No one else disembarked at Mimi’s station. People standing in the aisle glared as if she was mistaken trying to pass them by. She pulled her suitcase from the closing doors and bumped it over the seams in the concrete toward the rear of the platform toward the taxi stand. A snick whipped along the express rails and back into the smudged miles in which the previous station pickled. Beyond the station, a pair of headlights lit, swung from the wire over darkness, grew but didn’t perceptibly near.
Photos and composites: Sarah Malone