Eight lines lit up and Tracey reached for the phone. Aurelio pushed her hand away. “Watch me,” he said. He started with the top blinking light and worked down—“Good morning, The Adrienne, please hold. Good morning, The Adrienne, please hold. Good Morning, The Adrienne, please hold,”—until all eight were quiet, pulsing lights.
“Sorry,” Carol said, her guitar case bumping Tracey while maneuvering the small room.
“Gig after work?”
“No, the open mic. Never know who’s gonna be there.” Carol sat on the only other chair, a metal folding one they’d pulled up off the street. They shared a cigarette.
“I should quit,” Tracey said. “It’s killing my voice.”
Carol was a few years older and had given up acting to write songs. “It gives mine character,” she said, inhaling. A mutual friend hooked them up as roommates. Tracey wasn’t crazy about Carol’s long curly hairs clogging up the shower drain, her guitar picks on every surface, or her late night phone conversations with someone named Zofo, but she wasn’t home much and they got along. Besides, you couldn’t make it without a roommate.
It surprised her how few opportunities there were for auditions if you didn’t have an agent or weren’t in the unions. Still, Tracey diligently highlighted potentials in Backstage as instructed in her Success in Auditioning class at college. She mailed out headshots to casting directors, agents, theatre companies. “Take advantage of everything,” her teachers had said.
“Showcases, student films, readings.” She’d gotten an A and was proud of her organized, black, three-ring audition notebook containing three 8×10 headshots (comic, legit, commercial), five monologues, and several 16-bar selections from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Sondheim. She had one good audition outfit, a flower-print dress belted at the waist, low heels, simple gold hoop earrings. She was ready.
“Did you find any good listings in Backstage when you were acting?” Tracey asked.
“No. Backstage sucks.”
The listing read, STUDENT FILM: Two females, 25 yrs. Close enough. Script provided. That was all it said. It was for that afternoon. She’d go before her evening shift.
She exited the subway at W. 110th, holding down her coat and flower-print dress. Wind pummeled her legs and face. She carried her audition notebook even though the ad said a script would be provided. Preparation = Success, her teachers had said.
She didn’t know this neighborhood. She’d never seen Columbia or been above 96th street or auditioned for a film. She was early and had a nervous stomach, so she walked. She ducked into a phone booth to check her service. Hi! You’ve reached the phone service of Tracey Hecker. Please leave your—she pressed the asterisk. No messages.
On Amsterdam Avenue, she found herself looking up at an enormous cathedral. St. John the Divine, the sign said. She’d never heard of it. Immense and otherworldly, its shadows spread over the surroundings like dark fingers. She admired it from the sidewalk as others rushed past, bumping her shoulder.
She found the address and walked up four filthy flights of stairs, where forty girls waited in a hall that smelled of plaster and urine. They were wearing jeans and smudgy black make-up. She felt out of place in her flower-print dress, but she reminded herself that she was a professional and had gotten an A in her Success in Auditioning class. She addressed the line with authority. “Is there a sign-in sheet?”
“Up there,” answered a girl with intentionally messy hair.
Tracey flounced up to the list and signed her name on the sheet, practically ripping the paper under the ballpoint.
“Is there a script? The listing said they’d be a script.”
The girl shrugged.
Two hours later, they called her in and asked her to have a seat on a pink velvet divan. A man’s voice called from the back. “Tell us a little about yourself, Tracey.” Three of them sat against the wall, a woman and two men. The camera rolled.
“I’m Tracey Hecker. I have a degree in Theatre. I have summer stock experience in New Hampshire, and this past summer, I was in “Callin’ Up Country” at the theme park, Colonial Adventure, in Virginia. Six shows a day, six days a week. I had two solos. Never missed a show.”
“Alright.” They spoke in whispers to each other. Tracey squinted into the light. “Anything personal you’d like to share with us?”
She went blank. Wasn’t what she said personal? “I had a cat named Piggy growing up.” She lied. The cat’s name was Peanut Butter, but now it seemed she was going to have to be interesting. Oh no, what if they asked her why she named him that?
“Are you from the Midwest?”
More whispering. “Tracey, this twelve-minute film, although not yet written, is going to be about the transformation of a young woman.” The young man was walking over, twisting his mustache with his fingers. “A bildungsroman, if you will. Do you know what that is?
“Yes.” She didn’t.
“The character’s been a good girl, following the rules, but life isn’t working out, and now, she is very angry. Yes?” He tilted forward, his bushy eyebrows raised. Tracey nodded. “We’ll keep the camera rolling, and we’d like you to say one line five different ways: Karen, you’re not even going to offer me a glass of water? Ready? In five, four, three, two, one–
By the fifth time, Tracey was shouting the line–Karen, you’re not even going to offer me a glass of water?—to a clock on the wall.
“Good. We’ll bring in Nina now. We’d like to see the two of you improvise a scene. You’ll each have a goal to work towards in the scene that the other will not know about. Your goal is to kiss Nina. Deeply. Passionately. She’s going away, and you may never see her again.
“Should I call her Nina or Karen?”
“Nice connecting. Very sharp. Call her Nina. Let’s keep it real and intimate.”
Tracey slid her audition notebook underneath the pink divan. They brought in Nina, an Asian girl with long, black hair to her waist. The woman from the casting table walked over to Nina and whispered something in her ear. Her goal.
The camera rolled. Nina walked in circles on the wood floor. Tracey patted the divan. “Nina, we need to talk. Come sit.” Nina went up and down on her toes, pretending not to hear. “Come sit by me, Nina.”
Nina finally walked over and sat, but before Tracey had her opportunity, Nina reached down, snatching Tracey’s notebook.
“What are you writing about now, Tracey? You’re always writing in this book.”
“Give that back!”
Nina jumped up with the book. “Night after night, writing your lies!”
“That’s my personal—”
Nina opened the binder and ripped out the first page—Shakespearian sonnet, number fifty-eight—crumpling it up into a ball in her shaking fist.
“Don’t!” Tracey grabbed a fistful of Nina’s hair and made her sit on the divan. Then she planted her full mouth onto Nina’s. There was a little clinking of teeth. Tracey gave a sharp tug to Nina’s hair and she dropped the notebook. “I love you, Nina.”
“Cut! Great job ladies. You’ll get a call tomorrow if we’re interested.”
Tracey took the wrong subway downtown, then got turned around and had to walk thirty blocks. Finally she arrived at her corner, 1st and 74th. Why hadn’t she brought sneakers to change into? Preparation = Success. And she’d have to stand all night at The Adrienne.
“Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold.”
Tracey shifted in her cheap pumps. Third Avenue blurred out front. “I can’t believe they think they can get reservations for tonight. Who do they think they are?”
“You’re officially a jaded member of The Adrienne. Welcome,” Aurelio said. “Only fifteen taps to right–dog. One hundred and two to left-dog. What is it about left–dog? For over eight years I’ve been trying to figure out why they love left-dog.”
It was that quiet stretch of day between lunch and dinner when The Adrienne was closed and waiters began to arrive for the dinner shift.
It became clear; hosts were at the bottom of the English-speaking restaurant hierarchy. Waiters walked right past without a nod. Or they might say, “You have the easiest job.” But they were all smiles when they wanted the count. Everyone wanted the count.
Tracey’s first week, Chef had asked for the count, and she quoted the lunch numbers. “Eighty-five?” His eyes lowered, seeming to rest on her cheap shoes.
“Uh-huh.” The sound of her high voice surprised her.
“Really, eighty-five?” A heat came off him through his white coat. His face was always some shade of crimson.
She nodded again. “Yes, Chef.”
He stepped around the host stand to view the page. There, in the top corner of the lunch page, was “85.” He looked at her, licked his index finger, and turned several pages ahead to dinner reservations. Where the count would normally be, there was nothing—just a grey smudge from the number being erased over and over.
“Oh,” she said, “You meant dinner.”
He pulled on his ponytail. “I always mean dinner.”
“I’ll count it right now, Chef.”
Aurelio was returning, and quickly, when he saw Chef with Tracey. “Good afternoon, Chef. We’re currently at 192 this evening, sir.”
“Thank you.” Chef trudged up the staircase to his office.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
“I don’t. But it’s a good guess. I was just about to do a recount. Doesn’t matter, he’ll ask again in thirty minutes.”
“He gets so mad.”
“He’s a Chef. Chefs are always mad.”
Then there was Gary, the maître d’, an obsessed neurotic who would call on his days off.
“Good Morning, The Adrienne, how may I help you?”
“What’s the count?”
“Are we up from one-sixty-three yet?”
He sighed into the receiver. “I heard Michael called out sick. Oh, god.”
“Enjoy your day off, Gary.”
A bum walked by and rapped on left-dog’s nose, then smeared something on the tail. “I don’t get it either,” Tracey said, “Why do they love left-dog over right-dog? They’re exactly the same. Just once, I wish right-dog would win. I’ll wipe him down before break.”
Aurelio grabbed a line. “Good afternoon, The Adrienne, how may— Non preoccuparti, è tutto OK. Relax, Papa. Vorrei essere a casa presto.” He hung up and straightened his tie. “If you get a call from a crazy man yelling at you in Italian, pass it to me. My father has Alzheimer’s. He lives with us.”
“Sure.” She imagined Aurelio taking the long subway ride to Brooklyn. Climbing dimly lit stairs to his apartment, his wife stirring a pot of lentils for dinner, his father, a large elderly man with an overgrown mustache, standing in his underwear yelling into a telephone. “Sorry,” she said. He nodded.
They stood in silence staring out the glass doors at the blurred traffic.
“I think I should change my name. For my career.”
“Hecker is not bad.”
“It sounds like heckle. What about Tracey Haddonfield? Or…Tracey Haddington?”
“Sounds like a character on Dallas. You’re probably too young to know Dallas.”
“My parent’s watched it. They always made me go to bed.”
“For Nashville, you could change your first name. Like, Dakota. Lucinda. Or Bunny.”
Was she considering Nashville? She’d mentioned that. She’d told Aurelio about George, the guitarist in the “Callin’ Up Country” show, who she’d been seeing all summer. George had talked about moving to Nashville to pursue a music career, but he was still living at his parent’s house in Virginia.
“If I go. I mean, I just got here. I want to do the New York thing.”
“What type of actress do you want to be?”
“…Everything? We’re supposed to be able to do it all. At school, they wanted us to be well rounded. Castable. I sing, but I love doing straight plays. Stepping out into the dark, becoming somebody else. A Soap is a steady paycheck. The movies would be fantastic.” She ran fingers through home-dyed yellow hair.
should focus on what you do best. I like to paint, but cartooning is my thing. Forget about what they taught you. Find your thing.”
“I’m not sure what that is. I just know I’m supposed to be here.”
The Amtrak train inched out of Penn Station into the outside train yard, the winter morning, grey and filmy. Tracey sat in the smoking car, looking out the window. The yard was quiet and still. A few lonely lights, green and red, blinking. Doesn’t feel like New York here, were her last thoughts before the train was swallowed by a dark tunnel, taking it down and under the Hudson River to the mainland.
Tracey hadn’t seen George since their goodbye at Colonial Adventure, months ago.
They talked on the phone once a week, unless he was busy. She asked if she could visit.
“Sure. I guess you could stay here.”
She told Aurelio the day before, “He wants me to meet his family. His mother!” Aurelio winked, giving her the thumbs up while simultaneously answering the lines.
She lit a cigarette in the smoking car that she occupied with one other gentleman who sat in the very back, lighting a new cigarette every twenty minutes. George didn’t like her smoking, and in fact, insisted that she double gargle with Listerine before he would lay a hand on her. He was very serious about it. One time, he’d already gotten her T-shirt off when he stopped and ordered, “Gargle.”
Out the window, the underbelly of Baltimore passed. She smiled thinking of George and his round metal glasses. There were no people in view, just the backsides of crumbling apartment buildings. She’d never been with anyone like George before. A military type. Countless lines of gray laundry blew stiffly in the winter chill. George’s father was the musical director of the Air Force military band. George was expected to follow that path, although Tracey knew he had dreams of Nashville. “Militant military musicians,” she’d teased George. He didn’t find it amusing. George’s playing was also a bit mechanical, but he could play anything. The Baltimore ghetto seemed endless, as the train passed more piles of trash, broken fire escapes, burned out windows. Here and there, a few doors were painted in distinct bright colors. So they can find their way home.
Nine hours later, she arrived in Virginia, gargled and perfumed. On the platform George embraced her, then backed away.
“There was this horrible man who smoked the entire trip. There were no seats in the other cars,” she said, as a tiny group of people exited the non-smoking cars.
He laughed, “It’s OK. It’s good to see you.”
They arrived at the house, a modest three-bedroom brick ranch. No one else was home. He took her straight to the guest bedroom where they tumbled violently around the room naked. Five minutes in, her ankle knocked a small pelican figurine off a shelf, and it shattered.
“It’s OK-it’s OK-it’s OK,” he said.
She was still naked, kneeling over the broken bits sweeping them up into a magazine with her hand. “Will your mother notice it’s gone?”
“Not for awhile. When she does, I’ll make something up.” He looked at his watch. “You should get in the shower. She could be home soon.”
She looked up at him, surprised he’d taken such a chance knowing his mother might be home soon.
George’s mother made baked chicken, instant mashed potatoes, and canned peas for dinner. The food was passed, and George’s father said a solemn prayer. George looked like his dad. Similar glasses. Haircuts. Polo shirts. George’s mom was small and make-up-less. “George tells us you’re a hostess in a fancy New York restaurant, Tracey.”
“Yes,” she replied, going into detail of menus, awards, Chef Thomas and his idiosyncrasies. George’s mother watched Tracey push peas around her plate and gulp some down with water.
She felt like a bug in a jar under their gaze. Her full, pink-glossed lips felt like circus balloons. Her large sparkly earrings, like cartoon chandeliers. Her cleavage, a chasm that everyone’s eyes at the table kept sliding down, over and over. She could sense a reserved, yet resolved, protest coming from George’s mother. George’s father looked at her like she was a foreigner, and also like he might want to eat her for dessert.
In the morning, after George’s parents left for work, George made them a breakfast of egg whites. He’d recently started lifting weights and had developed a nice body. Strong arms that felt good wrapped around her.
“If you stuck to egg whites like this and cut down on your carbs, you could easily lose ten pounds. Just like that!” he said, snapping his fingers uncomfortably close to her nose.
“I’ll try it.”
They were doing the dishes together when he took her by the wrist and led her to the dining room table. It was scattered with his mother’s stamps, address labels, and Christmas cards. He folded the top half of her body down onto the table and kept his palm on her back. She knew they shouldn’t be doing that. What if his mom comes home? Can the neighbors see us through the kitchen window? Her cheek was mashed into a glittery Christmas card—three angels singing. She could see the envelope–Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Later that afternoon, she was back on the platform. “Can’t believe it’s already time to go.”
He was holding her hand and leaned in to kiss her. “Have you had a cigarette?”
“No. I’ve been with you all day.”
Five days went by before George called Tracey. “I’m sorry. Tracey, you’re too far away. This doesn’t make any sense.”
She languished in her miniature bedroom, then ate an entire box of supermarket doughnuts. But as the hours ticked on and she continued to stare out the small window with a brick wall view, she had to reckon with the truth. She’d known, when she looked around that dinner table, those people were not her family. Known, every time she’d heard George’s practiced, precise, and mathematical playing, music with no convergence with something greater. She’d known the whole summer and hadn’t been honest with herself.
New York kicked into holiday gear and tourists jammed the streets. Tracey would get calls from friends to go out—friends she’d graduated with, actors living in the city. But she was broke and always working. One friend had gotten a year’s worth of rent as a graduation gift. Another’s parents purchased her a one-bedroom apartment that their business would use as a tax write-off. And Clara, a gifted singer, had just been cast in the traveling company of Les Misérables and left for Minneapolis. Everyone else was working all the time like Tracey. Her paycheck often didn’t cover her basic needs and student loans. Trips to the grocery store afforded cheap starchy breads and ramen noodles. She needed a haircut. Winter boots. Stronger contact lenses.
The Adrienne was packed every night; Chef, beet-faced and yelling in the kitchen, walk-ins waiting hopefully, and the lounge bar swinging with live jazz. The phones did not stop.
Every time the double glass doors opened, the hosts were smacked with a wall of cold air while hot air blasted the tops of their heads from a vent above. Patrons poured in, clad in jewels and full-length fur coats. The narrow and deep coat closet was choked with furs. Each coat had its owner’s name stitched in cursive on the lining. On rainy nights, the furs reeked of perfume and dead animals. “Small animal hell,” the hosts would say, holding their noses and wading into neck high fur. They were swallowed by it, like walking into a sideways mouth of furry gums.
Tracey was working the host stand with Joan. “Aurelio is great for training on the logistics, but I’m the best trainer for your polish.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize I was still training.” Tracey was working five days a week now.
“Technically, no, but we have to keep up our standards.” An ancient model in her thirties, Joan would tell anyone who’d listen about her “go-sees,” how they’d constantly tell her, Classic beauty is out right now. “What are you supposed to do if you’re beautiful?”
Joan was obsessed with her skin. “I haven’t had a blemish in five years.” She’d said this at least five times before. They took turns walking guests down the long hall to the maître d’ stand that overlooked the sunken dining rooms. Joan kept up their conversation as they passed. “Five minutes of hot-hot scalding water, then I shock my pores closed with ice cubes.”
Gary was hunched over the maître d’ stand, twitching and pale faced. By the time the hosts reached the end of the hall, he’d be standing up straight and have his game face on.
Joan had just walked a couple down, and Tracey was alone up front. The phone rang. “Good evening, The A—”
“Dov’è mio figlio?”
“…Hello… Mr. Santarelli?… ”
A string of sentences she could not comprehend.
“Yes, hello. Hola. Cómo estás?” She’d taken Spanish in high school. “Aurelio no aquí.”
The Tarnapols, an older couple who were regulars, were waiting in front of Tracey. “OK, Mr. Santorelli, Buenas noches. Adios. Hasta la vista. Dulce sueños. ”
Joan returned, wrestling the phone from her. “Go.”
Tracey started out too fast, tripped, and a cheap plastic bow from her shoe came loose, skipping ahead on the surface of the stone floor. Gary’s body snapped forward to retrieve it, stuffing it into his pocket. Tracey announced them. “Mr. and Mrs. Tarnopol.”
Gary leaned into her ear, “Slow down. This isn’t Mama Leone’s.”
Tracey didn’t make it home that Christmas. She worked a full shift and then ordered Chinese. Her family was disappointed, but as one of The Adrienne’s newer hires, she didn’t have the option to take off. It was the first time in her life she wasn’t with her family on Christmas. She was sad about it, sort of. They were going through their own troubles. Maybe it was better.
Auditions would pick up in the spring, friends said. Tracey was ready for the new year.
Between her parents and grandparents, she’d collected $200 in mailed checks for Christmas. She decided to use half on healthy, fresh produce, and the other half on a new piece of clothing. Something nice for work. Something that would make her feel good.
A week later, she showed up to work during the peaceful time between lunch and dinner. She dropped her belongings in her cubby and headed down the service hall to get her staff meal from the kitchen. Waving goodbye to lunch staff and hello to arriving dinner staff and thanking the line cook for her plate, she was beginning to feel like she belonged. “The count is 182, everyone,” she said, smiling to the other staff at staff meal.
Tracey had learned to understand the importance of the count. In the beginning, she thought it was money they were anticipating. Then, Aurelio snuck her downstairs to the kitchen during dinner, and she got to see the chefs, each one with a specific job on the line, creating art on plates. She began to respect their preparation, talent, and dedication.
She was back at the host stand when Joan stuck her head in from the hall. “Tracey, may I see you?” She gestured towards the dining room.
Joan sat in a plush, elegant corner, wearing a taupe suit accented with a violet scarf. Waiters polished silver and set tables, speaking in low voices around the perimeter of the room.
“Tracey, have a seat.”
Tracey had never sat in the dining room before. Each setting had fine silver, etched glassware, and a sage cloth napkin folded into an intricate envelope. An opalescent menu with gold font peeked out of the napkin. Behind them, a stained glass window of a swan drifting in lily pads and water flowers.
“Please don’t touch the silverware. Tracey, we find your sweater too casual. We find it to be too ski-lodge-ish.”
“Oh.” She’d never been to a ski lodge. She looked down to view the mocha, cream, and cerulean swirls. Pretty, warm, tasteful colors, she’d thought. She felt sick.
bsp; “It makes our dinner guests uncomfortable when we don’t present a polished image. We need to be seamless, elegant, graceful in manner.”
“I’m sorry…I thought…It was expensive, she almost said, but luckily didn’t, or that she bought it at Limited Express with half her Christmas money.
“We have thirty minutes before we open for dinner. Will you go home and change? Don’t you live sort of nearby? You could take a cab.” It was a solid fifteen-minute walk each way. She couldn’t take a cab because there was 0.83 cents in her wallet.
Walking fast and east on 64th Street, three-story brownstone homes turned into large ugly apartment buildings and Korean delis. Cold wind blasted her face the entire walk up 1st Avenue into the 70s.
“Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold. Good afternoon, The Adrienne, please hold.”
It was one of those beautiful September days in New York—cornflower-blue sky, gentle breeze, every stoop looked like a painting. Tracey sat in a West Midtown diner in a booth with a ripped pink seat, brooding and eating an egg salad sandwich with a refrigerator taste. She was thinking about dyeing her hair brown, maybe there were too many blondes. She was thinking, too, that she’d officially lived in New York one year, and she didn’t have much to show for it.
She had just flopped an audition for Disney World. Not that she wanted to work at a theme park again. She sang her sixteen bars, but the small woman with mushroom-colored hair and the attractive Latino man who savagely chewed a pencil didn’t ask for more. The woman didn’t even bother to look up from her papers. Just, “Thank you.”
Tracey vowed to herself that she’d quit smoking—it was killing her voice. Ten minutes later, she was digging in her grungy bag to buy a pack on the way to the diner.
She was humiliated, pissed, and beat. The audition was at The Actor’s Equity Building on 44th Street. Every audition there was the same. The line started forming outside the locked building at 6:00 a.m. A few crazies showed at 5:00 a.m., but if you got there around 6:00 a.m., you wouldn’t be there all day. Tracey was late, and the line was down the street. “Shit,” she murmured, passing the huddled, vocalizing masses; “Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do!”
She waited two hours and ten minutes outside, until the Equity building opened. Looking up the line of girls, she saw black three-ring binders stretching to infinity. An army of T-length dresses with a floral print. Most had a wave in their hair or a perm. Tracey, too, had put her straight hair in rollers that morning. She looked at cracks in the sidewalk. Watched homeless people. Balanced her checkbook. Tweezed her eyebrows. She reviewed her lyrics, mouthing the words. She practiced in earnest, but deep down, in her deepest darkest place, a place with no words, she questioned the validity of her life. Why had she been guided this way?
By noon, she was done, rejected, and back on the street.
She had just taken another bite of her underwhelming sandwich at the diner, when she saw him a few tables away. He was alone, drinking coffee, reading The Village Voice.
“Oh my god,” she said into her mug.
She reached into her large bag—a chaotic mix of mints, hairspray, a roll of stolen toilet paper from The Adrienne—and pulled out a play. The Misfits. She pretended to read it while her eyes gobbled at him over the top of the pages. He was getting his check.
“Check!” Tracey said.
She followed him for blocks. He got some recognition on the street—stopped twice to sign autographs, but mainly he walked unnoticed. He wasn’t the Hollywood hunk type, and it had been several years since his big hit; the one where he plays the high school senior who skips school to have adventures all day.
If I could just talk to him, she thought, this is a sign, a sign about my life in the business. This means something.
She followed him south on 9th Avenue, walking behind The Port Authority buildings. Homeless people were splayed in various shapes on the sidewalk, in alleys, inside cardboard boxes. They spoke to her, fingers clawing the air:
“Oh, mamí. Mira. Mira, mamacita. Mira.”
“Mmm. Hey, blonde. Hey, blonde girl.
“Sweet lady, please help me. Oh, please, lady, sweet lady, please help.”
“Hey, bitch. Big-titty-bitch. Yes, you! Ha ha ha. Alright, now. Groove on.”
She clutched her audition notebook like a shield as they headed into the 30s, then cut east to 7th Avenue, where he walked into a small bookstore.
A tinkling bell sounded on the door as it closed behind her. A cat rubbed against her legs. The bookstore was old, cavernous, nooks filled with spectacled readers and whispering couples wearing hip turtlenecks.
At the top of a small creaking staircase, she found him in the biography section. He was reading his own biography, his goofy face smiling on the cover.
She stared. He stared back. “Hi,” he said.
Her face felt hot. Say something, she thought. This is a sign. “Hey, Ferris.” They both looked at the ground. “Just kidding. Sorry.” Oh, god.
“You’re the best comedic actor. Ever.”
“No, really, you are. Not just comedic. I don’t know why I said that.”
“You could play a lot of roles. You’re very castable.
“Believe me, I know how hard it is. I’m an actor too.”
They both watched his finger tapping the book cover. He stopped.
“Actually, I just bombed an audition.”
“Really? What was it for?”
The two words barely slid over her lips. “Disney World.” A sound, like a yip or a bark, escaped her, like she’d been punched.
Later, she wouldn’t remember the decision to run, just that she was—down the creaky stairs, out the door with the tinkling bell, and down the street. After a block, running turned to brisk walking.
At Union Square, she sat on a bench and caught her breath. Business people. Ugly people. Lonely people. Crazy people. A thousand and one disgusting pigeons. A mime. Aggressive squirrels. What am I doing here? How did I imagine I’d be on a Soap? She was laughing, but tears streamed down her cheeks. She ripped a page out of her audition notebook and blew her nose into it. Two people sitting nearby held up their open newspapers.
Could she go home to New Jersey? Get a job as a bank teller? Pick up with a high school boyfriend? Sleep on her parents’ couch? Insert herself back into the middle of their troubles? No, she could not. No on all counts. That was over. She couldn’t go back.
A few benches away, the mime was walking into a pretend wall, falling down, over and over. Then he pretended to gulp down some rocks. Children watched, laughing hysterically. Tracey watched for a few minutes then got up and dropped a dollar into his bucket. He took an invisible handkerchief out of his pocket, folded it in the air three times, and pretended to hand her a small square. She held out her hand pretending to take it. The children laughed. He blew her a kiss and continued on.
She sat for a while longer, palm up on her thigh, as if she held the mime’s handkerchief. Someone played bongos on the far side of the park, and it echoed off the buildings. Sun dappled the path through the trees. A gentle breeze lifted pieces of her hair up and around her face, and the smell of roasted peanuts from a red cart filled the air. A tear or two occasionally zig-zagged down her cheek, but she quickly wiped them away. She was off from The Adrienne today and didn’t have to be anywhere. It’s late afternoon, and I’m in New York, she thought. She’d never been below 14th Street, and now was as good a time as any to see.
Kim Winter Mako’s work is published in Sou’wester, The Nervous Breakdown, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Citron Review, and other journals. She is the recipient of the 2017 Ramsey Library Community Author award through UNC Asheville, a continuing writer-in-residence at The Weymouth Center, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Kim lives in Asheville with her husband and his permaculture garden. You can find out more, here: www.kimwintermako.com