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Coney Island Knock Off

Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone

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“You sell these?” Nachmann held a half finished card up to the light.

“I used to.”

“Used to?”

“Not many clients at present.”

“You got busted, too?”

“What?’ Burton’s head was clear enough now so the conversation was beginning to register. He leaned back in a chair, short legs outstretched, cocked his head to one side, and took a long look at this Nachmann who had appeared from nowhere.

“I know someone you could do business with. I know someone who might be interested. Think about it,” he said.

“Listen, I do business with the people I do business with.” Not wanting to get suckered again, especially by a man who had intended to rob him, Burton declined. Then he considered that Nachmann had saved his life and could be making a second and potentially very generous offer. Robber/Hero. Hero/Robber. Which was it? Burton went back and forth, not sure what to do. Nachmann put the orange juice back in the fridge.

“OK. Your choice. I’m done here.” Nachmann walked to the door. He didn’t leave Burton his name or tell him how he could be found. The front door clicked shut just as Burton was about to say, but who are your friends?

***

Though he’d never met them, Zenia and Dina lived next door to Burton. While Nachmann was snooping around Burton’s drawers, Zenia, on the other side of the wall, was getting dressed to go out. She planned to begin her night at a nearby restaurant, then move on to Lyakhov, a club whose name came from a small island north of the Arctic Circle. It occupied a building directly behind a shuttered furniture store. Lyakhov had a narrow side entrance, and in order to get in, you had to know exactly where the place was, and you also had to know the guy at the entrance. Dina leaned against the bathroom doorway looking at the array of tubes and small glass bottles that would be left behind to leak or be knocked over until she picked them up long after Zenia had left for the night. Newly bronzed Zenia, just back from a session at Alaska Tanning, brushed coppery dust on her eyelids, stuck a diamond-shaped bindi on her forehead, then turned to ask Dina how it looked. Dina was impressed and told her so, but Zenia still wasn’t sure.

“I mean, I’m not Indian.” Zenia took it off and stuck it on the mirror.

“I know.” Dina confirmed.

Zenia had narrow shoulders like switch blades and sinewy legs like marching broom handles. She adjusted a sliver of an olive green vinyl skirt studded with chain links she had found in a Salvation Army bin.

“So I was on the train and I was standing, you know it was packed, and there are these two women sitting right below where I’m hanging on to the overhead pole. They’re talking about their friends, and one says to the other, ‘he was all over her like he wanted to nail her.’ Then what do you think the other one answers?”

Dina shrugged.

“ ‘Yeah, you’d never know he was her brother.’ ”

Dina cracked a smile, picked up a bottle on nail polish labeled Frosted Tornado. If you didn’t look at it closely it was the color of something you might pour in your coffee. Zenia would clean everything up by maybe three o’clock the following afternoon.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” Zenia asked her zipping up her boots.

Dina shook her head. “I need to get paid, you know that. I’m behind on the rent.”

“Who reads such things? Even children google. You should get a real job. Text me, if you change your mind.” Zenia gave one last look in the mirror before heading to the door.

In the hall Zenia ran into the landlady, Mrs. Katan, and a strange man raised his cap to her while fingering the edges of a credit card hidden a pocket of his leather jacket. One of Mrs. Katan’s children stood on the stairs clutching an Elmo in Jerusalem DVD.

“Genya, Genya,” Mrs. Katan called to her. “You look like a queen, but you’re behind in rent. I can’t accept half only, month after month. I’ve got a lovely couple who can move in next week. Doll, why should I make this sacrifice for you?”

“I’m going out now, Mrs. Katan. I’ll try to get you the back rent by next week.”

“What about your roommate, the clarinetist?”

“There’s no one home now.”

***

Dina went to her computer. She had a job writing entries for a children’s encyclopedia. The company sent her a list of words and a word count, the number of words needed for each entry. She was paid by the word, but the number of words weren’t under her control. Some required only two hundred; more complicated concepts could be as high as one thousand, but the boundaries between complicated and trivial seemed arbitrary. The Spanish Inquisition was sent to her with a diminutive number, but Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, was a whopping 800. No matter what the requirement she found herself periodically hitting the word count calibration, hoping that however little she had actually typed, the end of a definition had magically or at least effortlessly been reached.

Pictographs

Pictographs are the earliest form of writing.

On a Post-It pad near the computer Dina drew a picture of a Grand High Inquisitor, narrow eyes and claw-like hands. Ink from a felt-tipped pen soaked satisfyingly into paper. The Inquisitor morphed into an alien of some kind, then she reduced the whole figure into the tangled mass of a very hairy caveman. Whoever chiseled or daubed the first pictographs never imagined that thousands of years later someone living in a walk up apartment with a view of a giant roller coaster would be describing his or her activity on an electronic cave wall decorated by a fringe of yellow sticky notes warped from an unidentified spilled drink.

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Coney Island Knock Off

Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone