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The Eighty-Sixth Floor

Seth stood in the middle of Times Square, contemplating the noisy stream of traffic that flowed before him. The cars appeared utterly indifferent to the increasingly heavy rain. At a far corner taxicabs jockeyed for position at the red light, in a hurry to get who-knows-where. He had long envied these cabs their aimlessness: drawn to them by their deceptively cheery yellow coats, he felt a kinship to their vagrancy, always arriving somewhere, yet never yearning to remain there.

A shot of chilly rainwater from a passing umbrella jolted Seth from his thoughts. He was now completely soaked. “Damn,” he muttered to himself, “I need to dry off.” Turning his back on the plaza, he walked two blocks to the Port Authority, seeking refuge at an out-of-the-way table. He removed his dripping jacket and laid it over an adjacent chair, watching a puddle form underneath. He had nearly an hour to kill before he was due on the eighty-sixth floor of the Empire State Building, yet this was an appointment he was unsure about keeping.

Her name was Jen. He had met her on the bus from Philadelphia. Amidst all the noise of idling engines and crying babies, she had found her way to the seat next to his, the only empty one left. “Ok if I sit here?” she had asked, receiving only a reluctant nod from his sleepy head. Ninety minutes later, as they passed the Newark airport, he revived enough to seek some conversation, mechanically asking her the usual questions: “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” As they emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel he had promised to meet her again at noon, a promise he began to regret as soon as they had parted.

Seth had wrestled with feelings of inadequacy ever since the disappearance of his first girlfriend three months earlier. She had run off with a man whose penchant for buying roses was exceeded only by her zeal for receiving them. Stunned and heartbroken, Seth had watched them disappear down the street in a sleek black Mercedes, off to begin a fairy-tale marriage.

Jen was actually the first girl to whom he had spoken since the breakup. He had warmed quickly to her piercing blue eyes, a physical trait he had long admired in women. As he sat there in the bus terminal in Manhattan, those eyes seemed to hover before him, luridly.

Just then someone sat down at the table in front of him, and the eyes were gone. In their place appeared a man of about sixty, with tattered clothes, reeking of alcohol, and clearly homeless. Seth immediately felt his stomach leap into his throat and was seized by a desire to flee from the table. Before he could stand up, however, the homeless man addressed him gently.

“Thinking about a girl?” the man inquired.

“Y-y-yes,” Seth stammered. “How did you know?”

“I’ve seen that look a million times,” the visitor answered. “What’s her name?”
“Jen. I just met her this morning.”

The man considered this for a moment, wiping his nose with his sleeve as he did so. “Where is she now?” he continued.

“I’m not quite sure,” Seth replied. “I was supposed to meet her in a little while, but I think I’ll board a bus somewhere else. It’s too horrid outside.” He stood up to leave.

“Just one moment,” the homeless man interrupted, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a crumpled dollar bill and handed it to Seth.

“What’s this for?” he asked, confused.

“It’s all I have. I’d give you more, but I usually don’t have much on me.”

Seth continued staring at him blankly.

“I was in love once,” the man began. “I never knew her name. We had met here in this very building. I never again saw anyone as beautiful as she. She had these eyes, azure blue, full of life. We just kind of bumped into each other and got to talking. I learned she had grown up on Long Island, and was on her way southward, going nowhere in particular, just like I had been. We talked for what seemed like forever, and I felt then as if I had known her my whole life.”

“What happened then?” Seth asked, sitting back down and feeling slightly more relaxed.

“Well, she gave me an address in Virginia, said to write to her care of her sister. I folded up the paper and stuck it here in my pocket,” the man related, patting his coat.


“We hugged each other goodbye, and she hurried away to her bus. I turned around and sat down, a little shaken by my good fortune. A homeless man then approached me, asking for change. I instinctively reached into my pocket and handed him all the money I had, and turned away.”

“You mean...” Seth concluded.

“Yep,” the man confirmed. “Handed him maybe a dollar in change and the only address I ever really cared about. Never saw her again.”

Seth jumped up and grabbed his coat. “Thanks,” he said to the man, “but I’ve got an appointment to keep.”

He ran off, clutching the dollar tightly in his fist.

[Kommentar vom Autor: Ich habe vor, dieses Fragment auf deutsch zu uebersetzen...]


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