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Is This Goodbye Then? photo

He wore a black turtleneck. It securely covered something that happened four days ago and 2,500 miles away. I zipped up my puffer jacket even though I had a perfect leather raincoat at home. He hugged me in the middle of Union Square. I never liked this place. It stank of weed and cheap hot dogs. He didn’t kiss me. I knew it was because of the stupid puffer jacket.

He texted about his arrival in New York two hours ago and asked where he could find me. I found myself—I kindly rode the subway from Brooklyn. His visit was almost a surprise. So, I knew the date in advance. “In the modern world, it has become impossible to make real surprises,” he once said. It was definitely newly discovered wisdom: a few years ago, he flew all the way up to New York for a girl without any warning. It turned out she found someone new, et cetera.

The hangover was ruining the romance. Last night I woke up a friend and made her drink wine—Chateau 2016. I had to deal with my nerves somehow. My hands shook less and less with each refilled glass. I reset my alarm at least six times. The first one rang around 4:30 a.m.; it was a safety net. West Coast planes land in New York every ten minutes. I didn't know the flight number.

Between alarms, I had dreams about red-hot dunes and a thin strip of water in the distance. I crawled to the horizon with all my might, but the cherished oasis was dissolving in the relief geometry again and again. Such mirages often come with a hangover when you are very thirsty.

I remembered a nice coffee place just a couple of blocks from Union. On the way there, I showed him my office and all sorts of famous universities. He stared at his dusty Converse sneakers. I asked what happened. “We need to sit down first,” he said. At the coffee place, he sat opposite, though there was an empty chair right next to me. From 30 inches, I noticed his right eye twitching. A beautiful ginger woman in the corner winked at me.

He apologized for the mourning mood. His friends got furious, he said. He flew across the country to some hoe. I was one big red flag, he quoted someone I used to know. I couldn’t get it about flags. I hate everything red, and I’ve always sympathized with the White Army, actually. I’m not sure he knows Russian history. The beautiful ginger woman at the corner smiled. I couldn’t force myself to smile back. The coffee was disgusting. He paid the bill and left a 20% tip.

“We need some wine, we’ll feel better, let’s go to another restaurant,” I said. We were the only ones drinking on the terrace. Of course we were—it was only noon. He touched my hand, and I looked at his wet, inflamed eyes. I loved the shape of his nails and the color of his skin. He thought his skin was olive. It never made sense to me. For me, olive is basically green. I should’ve ordered a martini. The bathroom was shining and emerald, like the Slytherin common room. I felt sick but pretended I was fine. When I got back to the terrace, he had already texted his friends. It was something about his adulthood and independent decisions. “You forgot to add that I’m not a hoe,” I said. He didn’t respond. The wine was gone. “I will pay, I have some cash to spend,” I said. I threw $40 on the table, no change, please. There was only $20 left in cash until my next payday.

We wanted to smoke, so we left. The West Village hummed busily, ignoring this silly drama. One of the church towers resembled the Moscow Kremlin. I saw mirages again. “Don't forget to crush the capsule; it’s menthol,” I said. He crushed it, and we lit cigarettes. A bum took out a crack pipe. We stood; it was too cold to sit down. All the benches in the garden were dedicated to someone. “He was eight. He loved school, friends, math, and stew,” he read the text on one of the plaques out loud. I thought about this weird memorial bench ritual. When he dies, I won't skimp on a plaque in the same garden.

“He was twenty-three. He liked first-class flights, the color red, and the word homie.”

I shared one earbud with him. Ed Sheeran's cloying song was the soundtrack to life. He leaned over and kissed me. I didn't want to miss the moment and moved closer. He said he didn't brush his teeth today. I said I didn't care at all. I liked his plump lips, wide neck, and tiny moles on his right cheek. I asked what his plan was. I needed to warm up. My underwear was matching and light pink. I assumed the original plan was to find a hotel. He changed his mind and decided to drive back to the airport. One night could’ve been spent here out of respect for New York. I wasn’t even talking about myself. I didn't know what to say. This rarely happens to me.

I opened the maps. My subway station was three blocks away. I headed there without looking back. I forced myself not to look back. I heard his breath. I saw his Converse sneakers somewhere on the periphery. I dove underground and went through the turnstile. He stopped at the entrance. A subway ride in New York is $2.75. I couldn’t help looking back. It was too tempting. His big brown eyes gleamed in the crowd and disappeared immediately, like water from my desert dreams.

He was just another mirage. Just a ghost light in another metropolis.

My phone vibrated. "Is this goodbye then?" I didn’t recognize the number. I slipped the phone into my pocket and darted down a level. It was impossible to trace me. Well, nobody tried. A girl on the train gave me a paper napkin. The hangover subsided slowly.