by James Roderick Burns
(This is part III. Read Northport from the beginning.)

I, Too, Am Cone

I HADN’T RETURNED to the Island in years, but when she called from beside the harbour, it all came back: strip-malls petering out into scrubland, roads without pavements, bottomless coffee and bagels piled high with green-olive cream cheese.  I heard boat-lines clinking, a plaintive gull’s call, and smiled.

‘Hello,’ she said.  ‘This is your wife.’

I looked at the phone.  I’m not in the habit of taking calls from that many consumer-protection lawyers with funny accents, especially ones who regard themselves as the lone American in a sea of sixty-seven million foreigners, so I waited.  ‘I’m by the harbour.  He’s – he’s gone, Michael.  I had to get out, take a walk, you know.  So I’m just wandering around.’

It was sad, but not unexpected.  Her father had been ailing for years, slipping away for weeks and at death’s door the day she flew back.  She wasn’t cold, exactly, but practical: a bundle of intertwined instincts from which a personality peeped, occasionally, like a seal breaking the surface.  Then she could be funny.  On our first date she dragged me half the length of Manhattan, repeatedly claiming it was only another block to the station.  A block is knocking on for a thousand feet.

‘Anna – I’m sorry.  What can I do?’

‘Nothing.  Just call later.  Broadband’s still on.  I’ll talk to you then.’  I went back to my screen with a hollow heart.  A bit of work might sort it out,  but this time the magic of transport planning failed to do the trick.

When I got to America, I could hardly wait to engage with my peers at the University of Bony Creek.  I’d studied the rise of suburbia – Levittown, the ubiquity of car culture – and rather than adding to some stack of dusty monographs, wanted to do something about it.  Missing pavements, for starters.  Instead I was met with five years’ worth of blank stares.

Still, there was Anna.  On our second date I took her to the graduate dorm.  She stood goggling at the squalor.  One of the math-nerds in the suite had punched a hole through the sheet-rock wall, taped up the Taj Mahal in fond hopes of avoiding a thousand-dollar fine.

How much does this cost you?’

A week later, we’d pooled our resources and moved to Huntington.

Now I imagined her up the road in Northport, where her dad had lived, picking up cleaning supplies and calling her sister.  None of it made things any better.

I walked over to the traffic department.  We’d been working on metered access to a new roundabout by the distribution centre, and Tommy was at the controls for this evening’s night-coning festivities.

‘Hey,’ I said, ogling his bank of screens.  ‘All good to go?’

Without turning round he curled a finger around the joystick, clicked a button.  Every monitor wheeled round into a single giant image of the unfinished roundabout, now the sole focus of Tommy’s massive compound eye.  Though littered with breeze-blocks and chunks of discarded kerbing, it still looked magnificent – clean as some undiscovered island laid bare by a storm.

‘Course.  Unlike you blueprint-monkeys, we work for a living.’

Tommy liked to affect a gruff exterior, but at heart he was a marshmallow – taking his mother to the theatre, baking his flatmates little cakes.

‘So what can I do you for?’

‘Oh nothing, really.  The old man finally slipped away.’

He grimaced and I filled him in.

‘Wanting cheering up, is she?’  I nodded.  ‘Hmm.  Well, keep an ear out.’

The office would be quiet now, so without understanding what he was on about, I headed back.   A couple of hours later she called.  All the earlier hesitation was gone; her voice leapt out of the phone like a tiger bounding through a fiery hoop.

‘So, I finished the family room, started on the den.  That’s the office you know.  Daddy kept his things there, my mom’s stuff.  Clippings.  Evidence.’

I pricked up my ears.  She was on the case, and either furious or thrilled; I’d no idea which.

‘Go on.’

‘So I was looking for the deeds to the house, but I found something else.  An old folder.  It was furry, you know, like somebody had been constantly touching it.  It was bound up in about a million rubber bands that fell apart when I touched them.  Inside – ’

At that moment the incoming call button flashed and my monitor sprang to life.  When I didn’t pick up, an instant message popped into view: Open the link, you cretin.  I clicked on the portal that allowed users with passwords to access our live video-feed.  I watched Tommy’s crew carve the closed roundabout like skaters riding a wall.  They were building something with two rounded top-bumps, a bottom point of orange cones.  The luminous bands shone like teeth in the dark.  How’s that for cheery! a second message said.

‘ – there were newspapers, from the family.  My mother’s father was in there, and not Charles, like we were told.  Not Samuel Charles Goodman.  Samuel Cohen Goodman.  We’re Jewish, Michael.  Jewish!

The shape finally revealed itself on my screen: an enormous, wobbly love heart, light dripping from its curves.  She hated lovehearts and everything they stood for.  I typed furiously into the messenger: Not that!  Anything but that!  Get it changed to something round – a bagel, or something!

‘Remember that guy in the joke who meets the other old guys playing chess, and they all introduce themselves, like Cahn, Coyne, Kane, you know, and the guy bows and says “I, too, am Cohen!”’

She seemed delighted and stunned in equal measure.  I didn’t want to interrupt the moment but felt I had to offer something – some tiny bit of reassurance, a portion of love to complete the circle.  Without waiting to see what they managed to make, I fired off an e-mail with a password, an embedded link.

‘That’s great, Anna!  Listen, can you get to the computer?  I’ve sent you a message – ’

Back to the Contest
What’s New
home/ Bonafides

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssby feather
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Leave a Reply

Welcome to
Defenestrationism reality.

Read full projects from our
retro navigation panel, left,
or start with What’s New.