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Coney Island Knock Off

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

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“Why don’t we look in your wallet? Maybe you have a driver’s license or something else that will tell us who you are and where you live.” The man had opened his wallet and discovered he had an ID from a college where he taught mechanical engineering, but didn’t believe his name was as stated.

“Something about it doesn’t sound right. Perhaps this belonged to someone else who looks like me. Here you take it.” He flipped the leather clamshell shut and extended it to the thief. A few hours ago the old Nachmann might have taken advantage of an amnesiac with an open wallet, but for the moment he had no need.

“However you got it, it’s yours now.”

The man nodded.

“Let me buy you a drink.” Nachmann said.

“No, no, I don’t think that would help me,” and he stuck his nose back in his phone like a parrot looking for seeds. “However, I can tell you there’s a game in the back room. I heard two men at the bar talking about it before you came in.” The engineer with no solid memory older than twenty-four hours cocked his head towards a door at the back of the restaurant.

“A card game here? Perhaps I can make it interesting,” Nachmann said to him as he slid off his chair. “Thanks for the tip.”

Buried in his phone, the man didn’t answer him. He was remembering a filmstrip of Nachmann, dollar signs spinning in his brain, as he walked into the restaurant a few minutes earlier, and at the same time the man began to hear snatches of a mariachi band that played on the F train car he had once traveled in with his wife when they returned home from work. They hadn’t been employed anywhere near one another, but had run into each other by chance and laughed as they recognized each other across the crowded car. The engineer, as a shadow of Nachmann traversed the dance floor to get to the back door, desired only to revisit that subway as sentient as if he were still there, smiling, waving, on his way home.

***

Because he’d been planning to depart the planet that night, Burton hadn’t bought food in awhile and now, rescued, he was starving. He knew a waitress, another cooking-school drop out, who worked in a restaurant a few blocks away. She would serve him, and make the check vanish. He wandered in just as Nachmann disappeared through the crowd of dancers, the shadow of his foot vanishing behind a door Burton never noticed. Standing at the edge of the crowd he watched a woman with rhinestones threaded in her hair stand shakily while holding up the hand of a fat man, his shoulders straining the seams of what looked like a custom made suit. As they stood, their table burst into applause and toasted the couple, knocking back arak flavored with roses, mint, and cherry. Burton slide up to an out of the way corner of the bar, a good location if you intended to freeload. Naomi’s friend gave him a cheery hello and took his order. He could hear more toasts in the background and more applause. As the couple whirled around the floor the man’s eyes darted around, and so the couple stumbled from time to time, especially when the door to the restaurant was opened by a rosy-cheeked woman in a short olive skirt. His eyes were riveted until she disappeared from his sight as he was danced to a far end of the room. The newcomer was oblivious and made her way up to the bar, sitting a few feet from Burton. She ordered an arak then asked Burton if he wanted to dance. He shook his head. He could no more step onto a dance floor than walk on the moon.

Zenia shrugged, and Burton tried to explain that he didn’t just not dance, he didn’t even go to events where dancing was required. At the rare wedding he was invited to, he sat glued to his seat at the assigned table, or tried to strike up a conversation with the bartender. Who asks someone to dance before they even know your name? What did she want from him? Dance to this Tatar version of I’ve Got You Under My Skin to later find out he was only there for the free satsivi? Anything that involved moving to music made him feel like a squat middle-aged man in a pork pie hat that children would point to and laugh at.

“I move like a marionette,” he said.

Zenia swiveled on her bar stool to face the dance floor. With her back to Burton she tapped the heel of her boot against a rung, not exactly in rhythm, the music was slow, and her tapping, like a nervous tick, was pretty fast. Burton shoveled another mouthful of chicken and sweet sour tamarind paste into his mouth, swallowed hard, then asked her name. Zenia swiveled back around to face Burton. This bar was her business office, but she hadn’t seen Burton there before, nor had she seen him in her building. Zenia tended to go out at night. Burton, when he was working, hardly went out at all.

“Your business office, huh,” Burton said. It wasn’t a question. “I work for a bank, a couple of banks actually, as a kind of consultant.” This wasn’t so far from the truth, he reasoned, if you thought of the cards as legitimate representations of commercial transactions, forgetting the routes they traveled and the hands they fell into. Zenia smiled. Burton wondered if he was radiating waves that said deadbeat, deadbeat, deadbeat. “Business has been hurt by the sub-prime mortgage crisis,” he added. There had been months when he and Naomi took cabs to and from the city, bought clothing in small shops with lighting and chairs that looked like buildings from a miniature Brasilia, and indulged in hotels where they ordered coffee as expensive as whole meals back home. Thinking about these things he began to believe he really was a form of a financial somebody who lost a bundle when so many homeowners defaulted.

Telling him she’d be right back, Zenia went to use the bathroom. Burton arranged with Naomi’s friend to make it look like he’d paid for her arak. When Zenia returned he slapped down a credit card the bartender knew was worthless, but she thanked him as if he were a regular who left very generous tips. Zenia asked Burton if he wanted to go to Lyakhov.

“What’s Lyakhov?”

“An island above the Arctic Circle. Behind the furniture store. I’ll take you.”

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Coney Island Knock Off

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