Published in Anti-Heroin Chic (heroinchic.weebly.com).

Bryant Park, a weekend in May, and I’m far from home, wearing small-town nerd hard in ballet flats and a discount camel coat. My host, a writer, has an appointment and alone, I approach this tiny patch of New York like it’s a tea party I’ve been invited to.

But it’s not, and I haven’t.

I turn into a café, or try to, its shopfront a funhouse maze of 90-degree glass. I run up against a wall, not a door, and bounce back into a businessman. “Good job,” he sneers, and cuts ahead of me. Inside, I order a coffee and moments later, spill it on my new coat. I rush back in, find the bathroom, splash too much water on the stain while someone bangs on the door. I leave for the second time, head into the park, thread my way through crowds of people who don’t look down or at each other, who swarm like ants from a kicked-over hill.

The sunshine is a liar and I shiver, the wet spot on my coat spreading up my shoulder. I spot another bathroom and duck inside, relieved to see hand dryers. I just get to the front of the line, feel the rush of warm air, when an attendant in a uniform yells, voice shrill, “You can’t be doing that in here, Miss!” Heads turn to stare, heat rushes to my face and I back out of the small building like I’ve been caught bathing in the sink.

Outside, I see a pigeon whose foot is caught in a scrap of thin plastic netting. It can barely walk, the injured foot curling in on itself like a tiny fist. I stare, helpless. I have nothing to trap it with, nowhere to take it if I did. I tell a woman pushing a garbage can, point to the area where I saw the pigeon. She says thank you like it’s a question and keeps walking.

The park is filling but I find an empty chair and sit down, alone but so exposed, hoping to hide in plain sight, and cry without sound.

Next to me sits a fat, shirtless man whose entire upper body, bald head too, is covered by a tattooed treasure map. Dotted blue lines cross and recross his skin, landmarks labeled. I want to stare but look away, too late. He sees me.

“Hi,” he says, more of a grunt than a word. He folds his hands on his belly, and I wonder how he can be warm enough. But he seems happy, cat like, with an eye open and then closed again, almost dozing.

I sniff. “Hello,” I say. Then I look back to the grass in front of me, wipe at my eyes.

He doesn’t say anything else and I don’t try to, either. We sit like that for ten minutes, maybe more. Until I’m done crying. I don’t turn my head but I know he is there, breathing slowly. From the corner of my eye I see his belly rise and fall.

Then, face almost dry, coat still wet, I stand. He opens an eye and tips his head, the movement barely perceptible. The eye closes again and I walk away.

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