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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 got ID, honey?” she asked Nachmann.

Producing all kinds of identification: passport, driver’s license, drugstore discount card, Nachmann glanced nervously at the pin pad at her wrist, the one she would shortly push through the opening in the glass so he could punch in a personal identification number, a series of digits neither he nor anyone else knew. The woman turned the piece of plastic over, looked at the scribble that represented a signature, pretended to swipe the card through a terminal he couldn’t see, nor could he see that she wasn’t actually swiping it through anything. She didn’t pass the pin pad through the glass.

“How much you need tonight?”

“$500.”

“That’s all you want? I see here on my screen you got a very high limit on this card. I could give you $5,000.” She was already walking out the door, getting in the subway, traveling to the apartment she shared with her brother and his children, stopping there long enough to change her clothes, then party like it’s 19 whatever, without once looking back at Ready Checkplus. She’d stop answering the phone for awhile, no maybe she would answer it, and tell her soon to be former boss that she didn’t know anything about any transactions that night, and he would never see her again.

Nachmann walked into the night with $5,000 cash in his pocket. The bogus card was golden. He had planned to make some small purchases with the card, requesting cash back and in this way spread the love around, to diversify, he said to himself, and strike while the iron was hot before the magic card itself got too hot, but now there was no need. He wasn’t greedy. He had a decent bundle. The ocean breeze was good and salty. With nothing to eat since midday except Burton’s lousy orange juice he was starving and so headed toward the avenue.

***

Zenia saw the man who’d tipped his hat in the stairwell of her building. He was a few yards ahead on the pavement, so she slowed down, not wanting to run into him. He opened the door to the restaurant she’d intended to enter, looked back, saw her, and held the door looking hopeful. She shook her head, no, while thinking, fookit, where do I go now? He shrugged and the door closed on his heels. Zenia walked on, glancing at her reflection in the glass, hoping he would settle himself at the bar or a table with someone, and she could safely circle back in maybe fifteen minutes. She looked in shop windows at pink fur jackets and dyed rabbit fur hats combed to resemble big hair, she stared at displays of traditional chess sets made of wood, and envied the mathematics of the checkered black versus white universe. The ordinary knights, bishops, queens and so on were foregrounded by ceramic Bart Simpson and Star Wars characters, pieces lined up on boards newly introduced in the window of an otherwise dark sliver of a store. Stopping too long in order to scan the headlines of rows of newspapers folded on a rack, the news-seller glared at her, and she kept walking. A women passed her pushing a stroller, three other young children clinging close behind, looked right through Zenia as if she weren’t there. She followed them as they circled the block.

It was late for them to be out, Zenia thought, whoever they were, part of a family that didn’t want to go home. In her gym there were days for women only, and on those days she’d seen rows of wigs with hats and black or navy blue hair bands attached sitting on a shelf in the changing room near the entrance to the pool. Some were pinned to Styrofoam heads, others lay in heaps like something that had been run over in the middle of the road. She imagined the owners of the rumpled wigs, the ones tossed on the tile, were the rebellious ones, the ones who hid in remote parts of their houses late Friday night checking cell phone messages. Shortly after that she’d switched to a gym where there were men all over the place except in the changing room. This, to her, was more interesting. Men with hair growing over the collars of their t shirts, men whose hands on the machines smelled of metal coins and motor oil, men whose shorts stuck in their cracks, and women who checked out most of them.

***

Nachmann inhaled the smell of lamb cooked with walnuts, chilies, and pomegranate. All the tables were taken, so he turned to the bar. He watched as a man in a gray fedora examined his reflection in a cell phone, pressed the keys that would lead him to the address book function, then turned the phone over and over in his hand as if there might be more information on the back. After a moment he looked up, and attempted to strike up a conversation with Nachmann, beginning with an explanation of his baffling condition.

“None of the names here,” he held up the phone, “mean anything to me.”

“Did you steal this phone?” Nachmann asked. He didn’t look like the kind of man who would steal a cell phone, but you never knew.

What the man remembered was walking into a room in his house where he found a woman who resembled his wife, but somehow she wasn’t quite the same. The woman got angry at him when he asked her who she was. “I don’t remember you!” He cried. “That dress I think I’ve seen before, but I’m not sure I know who you are.” She yelled he was useless; she was tired of his deceptions, and told him to leave, which he did because he was no longer sure that he belonged there. He didn’t know how he got to the restaurant, but it was warm and smelled nice. Everyone inside seemed happy and flirtatious, if not with him, then with one another, and that made him feel comfortable for the moment, even if he couldn’t join in. He watched men and women dance to something that sounded like My Funny Valentine, but the woman at the microphone sang in a language he didn’t understand.

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Coney Island Knock Off

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