Eliza, the waltz
I caught her taking nips from a bottle of peach schnapps in a brown paper bag. She was situated kitty-corner to the Brooklyn Museum, comfortably seated on a bench off the corner of Washington Avenue and Eastern Parkway. It was a June Friday and I was beginning to sweat booze. I had already spent the day drinking my body weight in Miller High Life, trying to erase from memory some of my more recent failures – spending the weekend in Central Booking; calling my live-in girlfriend a dilettante and a slut on her birthday; getting disbarred. Wading through a fog of alcohol and self-loathing I found it easy to take a seat right next to Eliza on the bench and begin talking her ear off. She seemed somewhat partial to my company. We shared long pulls from the bottle and watched the constant traffic flow along Eastern Parkway. Before too long she was talking my ear off as well.
As dusk approached I realized that Eliza was getting hammered and beginning to lose her composure. She placed her hands in mine and began sharing with me the tragic episodes from her life story – her humble origins as a foundling outside of Reno, Nevada; the summers she spent on a farm in Nebraska reading Willa Cather novels and being manhandled by her uncle; running away to Berlin at the age of 16, only to fall in love with a junkie banker who would die of an overdose; stripping in night clubs in Dayton to pay her way through college. Now she lived in Brooklyn. She worked an endless and uninspiring job in Midtown. Her boyfriend was, to quote, “a scoundrel.” To top things off, Eliza had come home recently to find that a thief had broken into her apartment, stolen her laptop and her underwear, left a crusty white sock in the middle of her living room, and taken a shit in her bathtub. I thought that she might start sobbing uncontrollably. Instead she simply pitched the empty bottle behind her head, which shattered on a parked car.
It seemed fitting at that moment to pull Eliza up from the bench, place one hand on her hip and the other on her shoulder, and begin a waltz. At first our movements were tangled and out of step, much like the lives were leading, but for a short period of time we struck a perfect rhythm between one another. Our bodies drifted slowly up and down the street and eventually right out into the middle of Eastern Parkway. We would let the traffic back up for days, for all I cared. I felt Eliza’s soft breath on my neck, and was grateful then for that curious kind of intimacy that only two complete strangers can share.
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