Saturday, October 8 – Josh Vigil
December 29, 2022
The train arrives. I balance my bags over two seats I hog from wind-chapped faces when the door between cars whines open. A man pounds down the aisle. His cheeks are lined and ruddy. Thinning sweats press into his groin—he’s nearly naked. He spits tea leaves over my open palm. Prods his fingers against the greenish pulp. I can read it if you’d like, he says. The tea leaves.
He rests his palms over the bottom of my hands. Rough and warm. He says, Leave it like that. Come with me. He grabs my belongings, herds me out of the train and into the streets of Lower Manhattan. Pavement slick with city grit, purple moonlight tossed over the inch-thick grease that flows down Grand. Great rivers of it, a vivid and unpleasant stench lifting into the early fall air. Every so often, he cranes his neck back, checks on the drying leaves that remain splattered across palms I keep raised. As if presenting the city with an offering. I’m always offering, always an offering.
We slow at an old tenement, the doors propped open with a ceramic maneki-neko. The whites are brilliant, clean. I kick off my shoes and swipe at the statue with my socks. Thank you, the man says. Gotta keep kitty clear.
He blows air to the seaweed-like mulch. I’m an artist, he says.
Should that make me feel safe? All the artists I know are crazy.
You’ve come this far, he says.
He leads me past the papery linoleum lobby, up the narrow stairs that hold stable pyramids of cigarette stubs at each landing. Large canvases lean against the white walls of his studio. Squares of lamplight filter through the curtain-less windows that face out into the East River. Pencil sketches of men in compromised positions stretch over some frames, while others don’t have anything at all. He flings my bags to the only piece of furniture, a couch with frayed lips and spent spines and little holes from which feathers erupt in prominent bursts. Did you hear the news about Annie Ernaux? he asks. Taking another look at my palms.
I tell him I have. That I like autofiction, and memoir, but could never write it myself.
Say you meet a stranger on a train, wouldn’t you write about it?
You spat tea leaves into my palm, and then, I think, cruised me. Who would believe that?
Life is stranger than fiction, he says. I’d like to strangle you next.
I am only joking, he adds quickly. Flashing me a smile. I ask him for his name. I can tell you, he says, but then I’d no longer be a stranger. Do you really want to know? I let my eyes drift across the airy room. David, I say. I’ll call you David.
After David Wojnarowicz? he asks.
Is that too on-the-nose? You can be Norman if you’d like. Norman Rockwell.
I like David, David says.
He flicks the leaking pillows to the floor, pulls me down towards him, knees landing softly to the down. He brings my palms to his face, examining the dried remains. It says here that you are nearing a great fall. Creatively. Your wells of fiction will dry up and—
I’ll have to rely on autofiction?
Precisely. You don’t believe me but that is what the leaves suggest.
Anything there about meeting a dark and handsome stranger?
David runs his nail along the creases of my palm, outlining the low mounds that hold my destiny. It says here that you should let him strangle you, he says. Just a little.
I pull my hands back. Clear away the leaves that disappear to the ground. The lightest motes tumbling into a tower in the air that traps the moon’s glow. I draw my thumb across the ballooning veins of my neck. Purple marks aren’t so bad, I finally say.
I don’t leave marks, he says.