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Everything At Once

If my mother asks why I left the Bernini, tell her the noise gave me a migraine and I needed to get enough sleep for the Wythemans’ brunch tomorrow.

If you ask me why I left the Bernini, I would tell you that the black ties and floor-length dresses crowded closer and closer around me until the smell of champagne suffocated me in a pink-bubble sea of lights.

Had I seen you before I left I would have made sure my white-gloved fingers slipped through yours. I would have turned to look back at you fleetingly before the doormen shut the golden doors on the scene.

A clink of crystal glasses, a pearly peal of laughter. And I ran.

Everything hit me at once. The muggy night that kissed my bare shoulders wetly. The buildings, lost in shadow. The summer green ethereal and dark, like a Burne-Jones painting I’d seen at the Met.

And then there was the sky, a darkness that filled the space between dreams. A black slowly fading into midnight blue—the faintest hint of morning.

I found myself at the Central Park Lake, in a field overlooking the old buildings of the Upper West Side. The warm lights rippled onto the water. I slipped off my black Jimmy Choos and tossed them to the side.

I lay down on the grass and thought of you till the sun rose.

 

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Gesper Diamond

Gesper Diamond tasted the way New York City felt. If you closed your eyes and put your lips on his, the world turned into a black and white photograph of a skyline. But it wasn’t black and white because the colors had faded. No; the colors were still there, but they weren’t what mattered. It was the light. The window squares that twinkled to life one by one, thousands by thousands, as soon as the sky went dark. The radiance that reflected onto the river and shimmered as the black waves rippled. The lit-up antennas that soared up toward the stars. You feel the tip of his tongue and it’s the windows again—the promise of millions of stories you could write onto his back with your fingernail.

He bites your lip. A gust of cold night air whips toward your cheeks.

You have photographs of the city you look at sometimes. They’re in a nightstand drawer, and every six months or so you pull them out to remember what life used to be like, in the city.

It’s funny that Gesper Diamond tasted the way New York City felt. Gesper Diamond owned the rubble that now kneeled in the place where skyscapers stood.

The city was dead, nuked down, just like all the other big cities in East America. But I promise you, if you could have seen the way that Gesper Diamond thrived in the shadows of all that once was—led his band of intelligent thugs like a mafia in a neighborhood that didn’t exist—counted his cash sitting like a king upon the giant pile of debris that was San Remo—you would think it was still alive. You would have seen the way he pressed his tongue against his cheek and you would swear the world was as it used to be.

There were dreams, and there was Central Park. Gesper Diamond had both in his hands and he twirled them around his fingers until you couldn’t sleep without seeing green grass and massive rocks and white buildings overlooking it all.

None of it was there anymore. He was all that was left on the map—a speck made with the last ink spurts of a used-up pen. A light in a window you see in your head.

 

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3:23 a.m.

It’s only a night if you end up on the balcony of an Elizabethan-style mansion, freezing in a black skirt and a thin button-down. Your sweater’s tied carelessly around your waist, but you don’t want to put it on. You’ve spent an hour in a muggy mass of bodies and you need to feel the cold air. Your face burns. The wind soothes it like an ice pack. You look up and notice the stars—dozens of them, lined up to gleam down at you. They wink, like they know the things you talk about to your friend on the phone. He’s here with you now. He takes a drag.

“Doesn’t it feel like tonight will go on forever?”

It does. But your voice is too hoarse to reply. The cold seeps into your skin—it’s getting to you now. You cross your arms tightly.

It’s 3:23 a.m. when you make it back to your dorm. The morning comes eventually and you wake up disoriented, your eyes smudged black like a raccoon’s.

The night had ended, as nights do. But millions of little things take you back—the first sharp intake of air when you burst out of a building in winter, the moon and stars arranged like an art gallery. No, the night wasn’t truly over. In fact, you’re not entirely sure when it began.

It was already taking place months before, when you found yourself sitting in the laundry room at two in the morning, your hair disheveled and a secret on your mouth. Your heart stumbling through the world laid out bare before you.

It was still going on, weeks after you stood on that balcony. You held your friends’ hands and ran across the deserted road, your face lit-up by the street lamps and your scratchy laughter ringing out in the night.

Every time your legs are numb from dancing to music that hurts your ears; every time the December cold clashes with your overheated body—that night is there, and so are the gleaming stars. They’re in the text you were waiting to get, the floor of the friend’s room you crash in, the shoes you bought just to get dirty.

The universe has it wrong. No time was ever attached to that night.

“Doesn’t it feel like tonight will go on forever?”

It does. Your voice will always be too hoarse to reply.