Authors: Season Vining
Josie stocked up at Trader Joe’s and headed down Sixth Avenue toward the park. The
quiet of the street was strange for this time of night. There was a couple out walking
their dog, patiently waiting as he sniffed every inch of sidewalk. A block later she
spotted two queens in four-inch heels trying to hail a cab. They weren’t having much
luck. A group of teenagers flew past, the recognizable sound of their skateboards
approaching like a roaring train. They challenged each other to kickflips and ollies
before coasting down the hill.
Josie turned into the park, ignoring the sidewalks for the plush feel of grass beneath
her feet. The city’s nighttime shine filtered down through the trees, cloaking her
in a lacy pattern of light. She loved the smell of the plants. It made her nostalgic
for something she couldn’t quite remember.
“Hey, Gavin. What’s up?” Josie called out as she approached the familiar bench. It
was the only one in the park with her trademark graffiti.
“Stems! Long time no see. You two-timing me?”
The woman gave Josie a flirty smile, displaying a set of teeth that reminded her of
mismatched furniture. Gavin’s expression was easy, but the coldness in her eyes always
told her truths. The streets had an artful way of taking life from you when you were
busy just trying to survive. The way she leaned back on the bench with her arm resting
across the top made her look like a woman who felt at home here. When you didn’t have
a physical address to belong to, you could feel at home anywhere.
“Stems?” Josie asked while taking a seat on the opposite end of the bench. “What’s
“Your legs, baby girl. They go on for days. Your stems,” she answered, shrugging as
though it was the most logical explanation in the world.
“Well, I guess that’s better than the last one.”
“What? You didn’t like Perdy?”
Josie made a face, squishing up her features and shaking her head. “No! That sounds
like some redneck in overalls who butchers people.”
Gavin laughed, a full belly chuckle that momentarily hid her sharpness and made her
appear young again.
“Well, when you put it that way.”
“I got a new piece up downtown. On Fifth. Took me two hours.”
“I’ll have to check it out. I know you got mad skills.”
“You hungry?” Josie asked, holding out a granola bar.
“Thanks,” Gavin said, ripping open the paper and humming in delight at the taste of
“Here’s the rest,” Josie said, handing over the four bags filled with food. “You’ll
give it to the kids down in the plaza?”
“I always do.”
“Good. Keep what you want, but make sure Sarah gets the gummy worms. She loves those.”
“Anything new? Those asshole cops still bothering you?” Josie asked.
“Nah. Shorty was arrested for bathing in the fountain again. Gregory sends his love,
as always. Kim and Kim moved down by the 163. And Logan…”
“Out with it, Gavin.”
“Logan’s gone. Haven’t seen him in weeks.”
Josie blew out a breath, frustrated she couldn’t keep up with the kids better. Since
her time on the streets, she’d become attached to them. They represented the only
family she’d ever known.
“Well, if you see him, let me know. How’s your girl?”
“Who knows, Stems. I heard she’s headed up to L.A. with her new boyfriend.”
“Sorry. I thought you two were going to make it.”
“Sure felt like it. That’s what I get for messing with a bi girl. They never know
what the hell they want.” Gavin sighed. “Maybe she didn’t like her nickname.”
“Well, I like Stems,” Josie said. “Maybe I’ll have to give you one too.”
“What’s wrong with Gavin?”
“I’ve never met a chick named Gavin before.”
Gavin closed her eyes and tilted her face away from Josie, her shoulders tense.
“It’s just a way to stay anonymous on the streets, you know? It was my brother’s name,”
Josie didn’t press her for more information. She knew what it was like to have a past
that you’d rather not relive or retell. Both had been discarded by society. The difference
was Josie had felt empowered by the freedom of unregulated days and nights. They had
shared a common ground, a common sleeping hole, and a common need to burn their pain
away. An easy silence fell between them as they waited for their miracle man, the
deliverer of coping aids and pharmaceutical highs.
The material thrown out of an impact crater by the shock pressures generated.
“Hello, hello. What can I get for you this evening?”
Josie eyed the greasy man suspiciously.
“Where’s Nigel?” she asked.
“He’s busy tonight, but didn’t want to leave you fine ladies hangin’. He sent me to
take care of you.”
“How do we know you’re not a cop?” Gavin asked.
The man laughed and tugged on the brim of his hat.
“Shit, I ain’t no cop. Hate them bastards. Just got out of lockup a few weeks ago.”
“Likely story,” Gavin said.
“Show your tits,” Josie demanded.
“What?” he asked.
“You heard her.”
The man shook his head but followed instructions. He lifted his shirt up under his
armpits. Josie made a twirling motion with her index finger and he turned in a circle.
The girls eyed him skeptically, but each nodded, confirming she was satisfied.
“See? No wire. No cop.”
Gavin reached into her bag and pulled out an envelope of money, counting out a stack
for him. She folded the envelope and shoved it deep into the bottom of her bag. The
man watched her carefully, averting his eyes just in time.
Josie pulled out her fold of ready bills and handed it over in exchange for a new
bag of pills. She smiled at the comfort they represented.
When Gavin finished her purchase, the man stood there, lingering. Josie didn’t like
the hunger in his eyes. He seemed to be wavering, waiting for something. Suddenly,
he reached down, grabbed Gavin’s bag and took off running.
“Hey!” Gavin screamed.
Josie jumped from the bench and took off after him. She caught up in no time. When
she reached him, she threw herself onto his back. They both tumbled to the ground,
rolling down a small hill. On the way, Josie took an elbow to the eye. When they stopped,
she was on top with the bag firmly in her grip.
“Drop it!” she yelled.
“Make me,” he spat.
She shrugged and stood up, feigning defeat.
“Ha. That’s right.” He gloated.
Josie swung around, raised her foot, and slammed it down between his legs. He let
out an awful howl and rolled onto his side, releasing the bag. Josie put it over her
shoulder and walked away.
“They call me Bundy!” Josie yelled victoriously.
* * *
Tristan took a seat in a corner booth at City Deli. The waitress, in standard uniform
and orthopedic shoes, smacked her gum and asked for his order.
“I’ll just have coffee for now. I’m waiting for someone.”
“Sure,” she answered, rolling her eyes before shuffling off to fetch his brew.
He pulled a paperback book from his back pocket and opened it to the dog-eared page.
He read the words, but by the end of the page he had no idea what they were. It was
an odd feeling for him. So he reread them, this time absorbing each one permanently.
Every time the door opened, Tristan craned his neck to look for Josie. Each time it
wasn’t her, he would return his attention to the book, concentrating on Amis’s words
about John Self’s wild and glutinous life. Soon he was wondering if she’d even show
His coffee appeared in front of him as if mentally summoned, and the waitress took
off to her next table. He poured copious amounts of sugar into the black drink, stirring
until the clinking of the spoon against ceramic annoyed him.
Josie threw herself through the door of the diner like she was being chased. The sight
of Tristan tucked into her favorite corner booth filled her with relief she hadn’t
even known she needed. She brushed off her clothes, as if it would somehow help her
disheveled appearance. Slowly, she passed each booth, labeling patrons as she went.
He’s a prick, she thought, as a fat, balding man wiggled his eyebrows in her direction.
Josie flipped him off and continued past the others. They’re having an affair, he’s
in the closet, that one’s an alcoholic, she might be a he. Gold digger, prostitute,
and cabdriver rounded out her assessment.
Tossing her bag into the booth, she slid in after it. The sound of metal cans and
ball-bearing mixers announced her arrival. Tristan’s shoulders jumped in surprise
and he wondered when he’d stopped checking the door. Their eyes met across one steaming
cup of coffee and a Formica tabletop.
“What the hell happened to you?” Tristan asked, his face screwed up in worry.
Josie reached up and smoothed down her knotted hair. She knew she should have gone
to the bathroom to check herself before sitting.
“What?” she asked casually.
“You have a huge red mark on your cheek and your eye is bruising.”
“Oh, that. I got into a fight.”
“What the fuck?” he replied loudly, garnering the attention of every guest in the
“Calm down,” she said, shushing him. “What do you have, ’roid rage or something? I’m
fine. I met a friend at Balboa and this asshole tried to steal her bag. I didn’t let
“He hit you?”
“Yeah, but I hit him back,” she answered, smirking.
“What were you doing in the park at this time of night?”
Tristan went quiet at her admission, not sure how he should react to such honesty.
He thought her frankness could either mean that she was fearless or that she had indeed
found the drugs.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Not really. Maybe a little something,” she mumbled, her voice trailing off as her
eyes scanned the menu.
The waitress reappeared, her pen ready to jot down their order as she smiled her practiced
“I’ll have the huevos rancheros,” he said.
“I want a strawberry milk shake, order of bacon, and coffee,” Josie said, closing
her menu and not looking up as the waitress left.
“This Canadian food company did a survey and found out that forty-three percent of
people would rather have bacon than sex.”
“Canadian bacon or regular bacon?” she asked.
“It didn’t say.”
“Well,” Josie said, “it would really make a difference.”
Tristan took a cautious sip of his coffee while they waited for the waitress to return
“Are you saying that standard breakfast bacon may be better than sex, but Canadian
bacon is lacking?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Josie answered.
“Would you equate it with any kind of sexual act, or is it just not that good?”
“I might have Canadian bacon instead of giving a hand job.”
“But you get no pleasure from that,” he said.
“Exactly.” Josie gave a shrug of her shoulders.
“Maybe the Canadians don’t know what they’re doing,” Tristan said.
“Hardly. Their bacon-making skills are, as you put it, lacking.”
Tristan nodded in agreement. When the waitress returned, Josie dumped sugar into her
coffee, stirring counterclockwise. She turned to the wall and traced an outline of
intricate text permanently etched there.
“More of your work?” Tristan asked.
“I’ll never tell. You might report me.”
“So…” Tristan started, for once having no plan to finish his sentence.
“I haven’t seen you in almost nine years. Why don’t you remember me? Why were you
reported dead? How did you end up here?”
Josie looked around at the air above his head, as if the questions hung there and
she was deciding which one to pluck down and begin with.
“You’re from New Orleans?” she asked.
“Yes,” Tristan answered.
“Look, I’m not really supposed to talk about it. Legal issues, blah blah blah. My
safety, blah blah blah. What the hell do I care? I can’t even give you details, because
I don’t have them.”
He gestured for her to continue, letting his eyes roam over her face, traveling from
her sepia eyes down the gentle slope of her nose and finally resting on her lips.
When she began to speak, Tristan found himself captivated by her story.
“My father and I left Louisiana when he took a new job in Brooklyn. We moved into
an apartment. We only lived there for about six weeks. No one knows what went down,
but it was a few days before the landlady noticed we were missing. Three days later,
my father’s body turned up in the harbor. A few days after that, a witness saw me
stumble into a subway station, where I collapsed. I woke up in a hospital two days
later, surrounded by FBI agents, with no memory of who I was or where I’d been.”
Tristan noticed that she wasn’t telling a story; she was simply reciting the words.
They were void of emotion, as if she’d memorized an official report of the happenings.
“You had amnesia.”
The waitress appeared, refilling their coffee cups and moving on, clearly uninterested
in the conversation.
“Have. I have amnesia. Retrograde dissociative amnesia,” she clarified, repeating
the clinical term she’d heard so many times before. “I have no idea what happened
in New York or anything before that. Doctors say I probably never will.”
Tristan dissected the words in his head, working out her diagnosis.
“So ‘retrograde’ meaning all preexisting memories are lost, but you’re able to remember
everything since.” Josie nodded. “‘Dissociative’ means it was likely caused by psychological
events, as opposed to injury.”
She shrugged, suddenly avoiding his gaze. They both reached for the sugar, their fingers
intertwining around the glass container. Tristan pulled back, gesturing for her to
go first. Josie poured her sugar before sliding it over to him.
“Are you some kind of doctor pretending to be a bartender?” Josie asked.