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"The Last Brunch"

 

“Nothing,” said Hannah.

Shannon was perplexed.  After more than twenty years of friendship, Hannah had never been the one to keep to herself.  Pretty and gregarious, she was always the more popular girl at school, while Shannon was the shy best friend.  They shared every secret, no matter how large or small, and only within this society of two could Shannon come out.  This sudden wall of Hannah’s fell in on Shannon, becoming her wall, all the more impenetrable.  She could not respond.

They continued to stare at each other for an uncomfortably long time until Hannah broke the silence.

“Well, I have to go.  I’ll call you.”

Shannon nodded vaguely, an expression of assent that only Hannah could read, and only if she was still receptive.  The slight drop of the jaw combined with the furrowed brow that created one tiny line between Shannon’s still-youthful eyes.  Hannah only looked at her for one more moment before turning away, without any sort of recognition of the gesture.  Rather, in that moment, Hannah’s eyes lightly dashed across Shannon’s face and figure in a casual manner not unlike that of the thousands of other people Shannon sees each day.

Shannon watched every step she took until she rounded the corner, presumably where she parked.  Shannon didn’t even bother asking Hannah for a ride back to Hoboken; it was only ten blocks to the PATH station, and then five blocks from the Hoboken station to her apartment.  Hannah was most likely headed to the George Washington Bridge to get to her new apartment in Edgewater.  Too far out of the way  now, thought Shannon, and she started her lonely walk to Herald Square.

Manhattan was unusually cold that day, and Shannon’s slight frame shivered without the comfort of a jacket over her light lamb’s-wool sweater.  She stopped at the first honey-roasted nut stand and got a small bag of cashews, which she bought mostly for their warmth, as their taste was far less pleasant.  But in case she got hungry on the train, she would at least have a snack.

34th Street was filled with tourists wandering around, trying to find the Empire State Building without thinking to look up, somehow believing it would be recognizable from the ground floor.  Others mixed with the locals who flooded Macy’s now that there were only fifty-eight shopping days until Christmas.  Shannon pushed her hand through her purse, searching for her wallet, if only to caress her credit cards and assure them that they will be used soon enough.  She didn’t really feel like buying anything for anybody, especially herself.

She walked directly to the station entrance, passing by all the stores in the oddly out-of-place Manhattan Mall.  She returned to her wallet to find her PATH fare card, and upon slipping it into the machine, it was rejected, so she tried to find the necessary cash.  The days were gone when the train was just one dollar.  It wasn’t the cheap price she missed so much as the convenience.  Indeed, on this day, she only had one dollar bill and not enough change, so she returned to the mall to buy a box of mints to get the change.  When she returned to the platform, the train for Hoboken had just left, so she sat down on the hard wooden bench for a long ten-minute wait, which seemed more like twenty minutes.  She had no way to prove that the wait was longer as she wasn’t wearing a watch and her primary timepiece, her cell phone, had been unintentionally left off since brunch.

Shannon was unsure whether she should assume that she’d share another Sunday in the city with Hannah.  When they graduated from college and got respectable jobs in Manhattan, they made it a point to schedule a Sunday brunch every week to keep in touch now that their lives had become hectic during the week.  Hannah was working for a large advertising agency where she was on the fast track to being a partner by the time she was thirty.  Shannon, meanwhile, was downtown working for the New York offices of a Hong Kong bank.  She only had a small cubicle in the middle of the office floor, but her building had windowed hallways where she could see well into New Jersey and down to where the World Trade Center used to be.  Strangely, unlike seemingly everybody she worked with, she did not know one person who died on that tragic day, despite most of them working in the same industry.  The only significant impact it had on her life was that she couldn’t come to work for a week and when she did, she could no longer take the PATH train into the WTC anymore, instead having to take the subway from Christopher Street, which made her commute about fifteen minutes longer, on average.

But Hannah managed to drive into the city everyday.  Her company had a private garage and paid for her EZPass, even though she used it on weekends to come into the city or drive down the Jersey Shore on the Garden State Parkway.  Shannon came along on fewer excursions lately, now that Hannah usually went with her boyfriend Cliff.  They met on the elevator of the building where they both work, with Cliff at a law firm two floors above Hannah’s office.

Shannon hadn’t met any men worth seeing more than once or twice since she started working downtown.  In high school, she managed to date friends of Hannah’s boyfriends almost exclusively, but could never develop any long-term relationship.  Neither could Hannah until she met Cliff.  Hannah tried hooking up some of Cliff’s friends with Shannon, but they were mostly lawyers and Shannon couldn’t stand the legal shop talk they insisted upon at every date.

Bankers weren’t much better downtown, and she had long forgotten about any of the boys back in Hoboken.  She still sees them everyday, working at the same jobs they had in high school, just ten years later and for marginally more pay.  When she emerged from the PATH station back in her hometown she could spot a few of them hanging out at the bars, smoking at the outside tables with some girls they had brought there from Kearny or Bloomfield to have drinks with a view of the Manhattan skyline.  You could even find some die hard New Yorkers there, smoking feverishly out of withdrawal since the smoking ban had destroyed their entire life in the city.

Shannon didn’t stop to say hello to any of them, thinking that she probably was no longer remembered, and continued on to her apartment.  After the uncomfortable climb up two flights of stairs in her new shoes to her door, she walked in to find two messages on her machine.  Both of them, it turned out, were from her mother, Claudia, who still lived in Shannon’s childhood home just two blocks away from her current apartment.  Even after six years of Sunday brunches, Claudia still forgot that her daughter would not be home if she called at noon—or again at 12:30.

Shannon decided not to call her back, but rather drop by later that afternoon, after she had a short nap.  She found her bed to still be unmade, just as she left it that morning.  She thought for a moment that it would be somehow made when she got back, just as it would be if she were still living at home.  She found one of her stuffed bears sitting up at the foot of the bed staring at her while she surveyed the room from the doorway.  She regarded the bear for a moment, hoping for some sort of response, which she also expected on some level.  This day was certainly not a calming one for her mind, which by now desperately needed some rest.  She walked to the bed, picked up her night shirt that lay in the middle and threw it on the ground.  With a small leap, she hurled herself on top of the strewn covers and quickly returned to the dream she was having just a few hours earlier.

She was flying high over the ground, but below was not New York or any other place she had seen before in her waking life.  It was a serene, uninhabited countryside, with a small stream interrupted by the occasional rock causing tiny white jets from the water’s surface that tickled the leaves of the overhanging trees.  The only signs of life were the birds that flew around her, swooping into trees and soaring even farther into the sky, into the sun where she could no longer see them.  The air was cool, and felt refreshing against her skin.  She could smell jasmine and honeysuckle and fields of goldenrod which did not make her sneeze.  The splendor of nature was only beneficial to her health, but she did not think of such physical matters.

In her dream, she could turn on her back and face the sky, then stretch her arms out past her head and arch her back, causing her to free-fall until she swept her arms back to her sides and swooped around and back up into the air.  She could climb higher into the sky to touch the clouds, letting the vapor filter through her fingers, which left trails of condensation as she dived once more.  She wanted to never come down again, not to even touch the water in the stream.  She preferred the high altitude breezes through her toes.  She could keep flying forever, and never see another person or another town, aloft in a world of her own.

But then she awoke to the ringing of the telephone.  Without even checking the Caller ID, she knew it was her mother.  She went to the bathroom to wash up, fix her hair, and get ready to go back to the streets of Hoboken.


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