This story began with a roof. An industrial building in which a friend had constructed a three-bedroom apartment was being demolished, as were most of the buildings adjacent. Six-story apartment blocks were to succeed them. A new district. On the glass balconies in management company illustrations, parties would crowd with views across a street to identical balconies above where, on a roof a block wide, my friend’s guests had roamed and seen the skyscrapers of three boroughs.
Ellen was having lunch with Abby at Souen on West Thirteenth Street. One of their monthly lunches, though it was difficult now finding time to meet.
“You should move out near us,” Abby said.
Their house—Abby and her husband’s, in New Jersey—was finally finished. They taught at NYU. Abby admitted to the expected suburban explanations: yard, space, school. Ellen understood. But to take on that distance between day and home and to have it morning and night—
“We could be train buddies,” Abby said. “Pick a Jersey boy for you.”
“I had a principle to never go to New Jersey,” Ellen said.
“I know. It’s different for us. The kids. The dog.”
Out the restaurant window Ellen saw the asphalt roof from her bedroom, the gravel beach and barbed wire below it, and the surge of the East River to a hundred blocks of Manhattan. Until September. Already by the front buzzer a poster, FUTURE SITE OF HUNTER’S LANDING, covered the name of the couple across the hall from Ellen—the Hofmeisters—and of the production company Ellen owned.
“Remember how you had a company name before you had a company?” Abby said.
It was true. When Ellen had moved in, the landlord said why not make up a name to show anyone passing by that art was being made upstairs? (“Who passes by?” Ellen’s father said). Twelve years ago. Now Ellen’s apartment-mate and the Hofmeisters had moved out. By Labor Day the sheet metal shop downstairs would close. The landlord was offering Ellen raw space in Bushwick, and you couldn’t find raw space just anywhere anymore.
“As if raw space is what I want at this point,” Ellen said.
“So for the summer I have a roommate for you,” Abby said.
One of her summer session students: South African, twenty-one.
“In August I’ll be thirty-seven,” Ellen said.
“She wants to be an interpreter,” Abby said. “Can you imagine? She makes me feel young. Or old, I’m not sure.”
Story excerpt lightly edited, 2016.
Photos and composite: Sarah Malone