It was Sunday – a very hot Sunday and the neighborhood was quiet. The heat created a veil – almost void of air or sound.
The only noise came from air conditioners humming and whirring and the dripping condensation that plinked as it landed on the covers of metal garbage cans.
Those who could afford to, left for weekend homes at the shore. Those who couldn’t, stayed inside those apartments cooled through the grace of the air conditioners.
And those who could do neither initially sought and then abandoned the stoops, when the sun left no doubt as to its intention.
Carrie woke and the headache started. She pulled the sheets over her head. But the sun was without mercy and shone brightly through a bedroom window that was curtainless, despite her best intentions. She peeled the sheet back from her head and closed an eye to focus on the clock – 2:30p.m.
She said it loudly and then cringed when the sound of her own voice increased the throbbing in her temples. She felt for the phone on the night table. A peculiar sensation began to erupt in her stomach. She looked over the edge of the bed and saw the telephone cord stretched from a leg of the night table to the closet.
Carrie gently rolled from the bed to the floor and pulled at the cord for the receiver. She placed it in its cradle, got a signal and dialed. “Hello?”
“Marion? Hi. It’s Carrie. Is Linda still there?”
“No, Carrie. She left at seven. She said she tried to call you but the phone was busy for quite a while.”
“Shit! I must have knocked it over during the night. Shit!”
“Weren’t you supposed to go to the Cape with her today?”
“Yeah,” she said, twirling a piece of hair. “What’s it like out, Marion?”
“Well, it’s about a hundred and seven degrees and two hundred percent humidity.”
“Great. That’s just fucking great. What are you doing today?”
“Jeff and I are headed out the door to go to his parents’ pool. Wanna come?”
A picture of Jeff Haber’s naked body exiting her bedroom door on an evening not too long ago flashed through her memory. Then her stomach erupted again.
“No thanks, Marion. I’ll talk to you.”
Carrie dropped the phone and dashed for the bathroom but didn’t quite make it.
After she cleaned up, she showered for almost a half-hour forcing herself through a run of ice-cold water. She stepped out of the shower and lit a cigarette but her wet fingers tore the filter off and she tossed it in the toilet. She began to sweat.
She wiped the moisture from the mirror and stared at her eyes. She followed a path of burst – blood vessels in her blue-green eyes, stretching the wrinkles of skin at the corners with her fingers. She rubbed at the dark bags under her eyes that a few years ago would have vanished quickly. These days they remained.
“If this is what you look like at thirty-one,” she said to her reflection, “what the hell is forty gonna be like?”
She shook her head to loosen the tangles in her wet hair and brushed it back with her fingers. She wrapped herself in a towel, and took a half-gallon of orange juice from the refrigerator in the kitchen. She drained it in two gulps.
Carrie tried calling some friends but no one was home. She told the last answering machine she spoke with to go to hell. She could always do a laundry, she decided, and dressed in shorts and an old T-shirt of her father’s. It became a monumental task.
She gathered blouses from doorknobs, underwear from backs of chairs, bras from corners of the living room and sheets from the bedroom. She grabbed towels, jeans and shorts and bent over to retrieve a pair of socks from under her bed. But she became nauseous and gave up.
On top of her dresser were nearly half a dozen pairs of sunglasses and she picked a pair that covered not only her eyes but blocked peripheral light as well. Her head throbbed and she sat down in a living room chair. There was a loud crack and Carrie pulled a CD, still sealed in plastic, from under herself. But, it felt better to sit down and when she heard the keys she’d been holding hit the floor, she realized she’d fallen asleep in the chair. She stood up and made her way to the door.
The heat hit her when she stepped into the hallway. Carrie put her laundry bag down to lock her door and felt herself sweating. She stood on the front steps of her building.
Her vision wavered as she looked up and down the block trying to remember where she had parked her car. The heat was rising from the asphalt and was visible. She remembered driving up Hudson the previous evening and then thought it might have been Greenwich. She started in that direction but, stopped. It was useless.
She couldn’t remember. She slung the laundry bag over her shoulder and walked towards the laundromat on Leonard St.
There were two other people there; a customer and the manager who watched a small black and white television, aluminum foil on the antenna, propped up on a cash register. The other customer seemed to be washing all his worldly possessions.
Carrie was curious as to the whereabouts of his shoes until she saw him reach into a dryer and pullout a pair of sneakers. She watched as he loaded a machine and then saw him flinch when he touched the rubber soles slightly reshaped by the heat of the dryer. There was a strong odor that followed him and it stayed in the laundromat long after he left.
Carrie pushed the coins into the slot and watched as the machine filled with water. She had a half-hour before the cycle would finish and was certain death would come to her from heat prostration if she stayed much longer. She walked out and looked across the street.
Walker’s, the tavern on the corner was more than familiar and she knew it had the best air-conditioning in the city. She crossed the street and walked in. It took her eyes a second to focus in the bar’s darkness.
She looked at the bartender pulling at the tap. It was her friend Catherine’s younger brother.
“Hello, Andrew,” she said. He leaned across the bar and kissed her on the cheek.
“Word has it you closed McFeeley’s last night,” he said.
“True, true, my dear fellow, but I had some help.” Carrie hung her head in mock shame.
“That’s what I heard,” he said as he turned on a blender.
“And fouled up my trip to the Cape for the weekend in the process.”
“The Cape? Oh, la di da.”
“Where on the Cape?” Andrew asked. “Chatham.”
“Nice. And you missed your ride, am I right?”
“You’re mighty perceptive for such a young feller, Andrew. And my old bomb just won’t make it.”
“Well, there’s got to be a ton of traffic by now. Who’s up there?”
“Oh, Linda and Chris and some people from the office.”
“And would ‘some people from the office’ include a certain Charlie Stewart? Would it, Carrie. Huh, would it, would it?” Andrew said as he screwed up his face.
“Well, Mr. Adams, I’d have to get up pretty early to put one over you, wouldn’t I?
“Biggest bunch of stiffs I’ve come across in a while,” Andrew snarled. “In my humble opinion, you’re not missing a thing, Carrie. What are you gonna have?”
“I probably shouldn’t have anything, but I’ll start off with a bloody Mary, Andrew.”
Carrie sipped her drink while most of the patrons watched the baseball game on the television. The cool air and the drink made her feel better. She looked at her watch to keep track of the progress of her laundry and checked her change on the bar for quarters.
The game was not of much interest and she wished she had brought a newspaper or a book to kill the time.
What a waste, she thought. She’d been looking forward to getting away for weeks. Andrew was wrong. The people at the Cape were good company, something she needed a tremendous amount of, just now.
And, there would have been Charlie. Charlie of the sandy hair and pleasant voice. Charlie for whom she’d go anywhere and do anything. This even surprised her when she thought about it. They’d met at the White Horse Tavern when Greg Hayes brought him down one evening.
“How long have you been in television, Charlie?” she asked as sat next to him at dinner.
“Since I got laid-off at The Post,” Charlie said as he took a bite of his hamburger. “And I’m only sticking around until I can get back into print.”
“A print reporter at heart, Carrie. Much higher standards of ethics than those of us in television,” Greg said facetiously.
Charlie walked her home that evening and they strolled through the construction sites along the river.
“All my life I wanted to come to New York,” he told her.
“And all my life I’ve been trying to get out, “Carrie said. “Where are you from originally, Charlie?”
“And you left that for here?”
That night, he walked her home and kissed her goodnight. He took her number, but he hadn’t called. Carrie looked around the bar and remembered where she was. How long you can keep this up, she asked herself as she twirled the stem of the glass in her fingers. How many more hangovers? How many one-nighters?
“Not much interest in the game?” asked someone next to her.
“What?” she asked turning on her stool.
“It seems like you’re not much of a baseball fan.”
He was older than Carrie and she thought she recognized him from the neighborhood. He was balding in front and the T-shirt he wore had seen too many washings. Its printing had advertised something at one time but now was unrecognizable.
“No,” she said doing her best to discourage him. “I’m just killing time while my laundry gets done.” She looked at her watch. “Excuse me,” she said and grabbed her change from the bar. “Schmuck”, she grumbled to herself.
“Leaving, Carrie?” Andrew asked.
“I’ve got to check on my laundry, Andrew. See you in a few.”
The door to her machine was open and the manager was mopping up the floor. She watched for a second until he noticed her.
“Is there a problem?” she asked. “Where are my clothes?”
“Yeah, there’s a problem. How much soap did you put in there? The freaking thing started to leak all over the place!”
“Hey, listen. I put in the correct amount, okay? I’m a real pro at this by now, so don’t get so nasty.”
“Let me tell you something, missy,” he said as he walked towards her. You kids come in here and screw these machines up all the time. These are heavy-duty, commercial units and they just don’t flood for no reason, all right? Your clothes are over there in the bin,” he said and went back to his mopping.
Carrie was secretly delighted by the kid part, but she kept a straight face. She started to put her soapy clothes in another machine.
“Whoa, whoa! See what I mean?” the manager screamed.
“You can’t just toss them in another like that. They’ve got too much water and soap in them. You gotta rinse them off and dry them first.”
“For Chrissakes, mister! What am I supposed to do? Take them home and wash them by hand?” Carrie asked.
“Lady, all I know is you can’t put them in like that or I’ll have two busted machines instead of the one I got right now.”
Carrie picked up the load in one heap and threw them in a dryer. She jammed four quarters in the machine and left.
When she got back to the bar more people had come in.
The only seat available was next to the faded T-shirt. He seemed pleasant enough when she sat down, and after a two more bloody-Marys, she began to enjoy his company.
“…and you went into television right after college?” he asked.
“No, I taught seventh grade for a while but that didn’t pay the bills. So, a friend arranged an interview and now, eight years later, I’m in production. Pretty funny, huh?”
His name was Jack, she thought and he was in food distribution or something like that. Carrie wasn’t sure because, as the afternoon went on, she found herself talking away like a runaway train. It felt good just to have the company.
“What, Carrie? What?” Jack asked. “The laundry! My clothes! Oh, Jesus!”
Carrie jumped up from the stool too quickly and knocked a glass to the floor. “Andrew. I’m sorry.” She felt the room spin slightly and found it impossible to focus on her watch.
Carrie ran out the door and down to the laundry but stopped short of the entrance when she saw that the lights were out.
“Damn it!” she screamed. “DAMN IT!”
When she turned around, Jack was standing behind her.
“Can’t you pick it up tomorrow?” he asked.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she told him.
“Carrie, come over to my place for a second. Sit down, have a beer or something. I’d like to continue our conversation.”
Jack took her hand and they walked down the avenue towards the river.
“This is it,” Jack announced. Carrie looked up at a door to an old loft building. He held it open for her. As they walked into his apartment, she noticed the neatness immediately. Everything was in order. There was a huge bookcase and the books were arranged by size. There was not a trace of dust anywhere; not a dirty dish in the kitchen sink. In fact, it was too neat, almost obsessive.
“What can I get you? Some wine? A beer?” Jack asked.
“A beer’s fine,” she said.
“Just a beer?” he asked, steering her towards a chair.
“Yes,” Carrie said. “That would be fine.”
Music seemed to come from the walls. A Bach concerto she remembered from college filled the room and she closed her eyes. The beer and the apartment were nice and cool. The conversation came easily and she began to reminisce. But, suddenly she grew sad and tears gathered in the corners of her eyes.
“I don’t mean to fuck up so much. It’s like things are out of control sometimes,” she said.
Jack brought her another beer and sat beside her. He put his arms around her and stroked her hair.
“I used to be right on top of things. You can ask anybody,” she told him.
Jack kissed her cheek and moved his hand under her shirt.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten off a train in a strange town and I don’t know why I’m here or if I know anyone around.”
“That’s okay, Carrie,” Jack whispered. “It’s okay.”
Carrie looked at him. She sipped on her beer and then stared at it. “I really wanted to go away today. I have to get away from this fucking city. It’s driving me crazy. I mean look at me.” She put the beer down and slid it away.
“Sssh, Carrie. Relax,” Jack said. He moved his hand under her bra and massaged her breast.
“Don’t do that, Jack,” she said and pulled at his hand. But he began to fumble with the clasp in front.
“Stop it, Jack!” she yelled as she tried to stand up.
“It’s okay, Carrie. Really, it’s okay,” Jack told her.
“No, it’s not okay,” she said and tried again to stand up.
“I said, RELAX, Carrie and I mean it!”
When she tried to pull away, he grabbed at her shirt and it ripped. Carrie pulled away but he grabbed her around the waist.
“Let go!” she screamed.
“Hey, Carrie, you’re not leaving here until I say so,” he told her. Carrie screamed and brought her knee up into his groin.
“Bitch,” he yelled and he smacked her across the face.
Carrie fell and Jack tried to pick her up. She swung wildly and scratched at his face. She could hear voices in the hallway.
“Jack?” someone called and knocked on the door. “Jack, is everything all right?”
“Get the fuck away from here,” he bellowed.
“Help me!” Carrie screamed. “Get the police!”
“Hey, Jack,” came the voice again and then a pounding at the door. Jack walked to the door and unlocked it. Carrie could hear him speaking with someone on the other side. She stood up. She ran and pushed passed him. She slipped on the stairs, falling on the marble in the hallway.
“Miss? Hey, miss? Are you all right?” someone yelled after her but Carrie didn’t stop.
Her vision was clouded and her head spun. Carrie ran from the building and didn’t stop until she was out of breath. She leaned against a lightpost and shook her head. She looked around to see where she was. She he heard thunder and looked up to see huge, black clouds roll across the sun.
She tried to read the street sign but her eye was swelling. She looked at her torn shirt. Then she heard Jack yelling and she ran towards Hudson St.
The rain began to fall; drop by enormous drop. The white shirts of passersby became spotted with rain. Mothers with strollers began a trot down the avenue. People looked up and blinked against the rain that fell into their eyes. They carried newspapers and plastic bags over their heads.
Then the skies opened and the rain had its way.
The sound of it was overwhelming. Carrie ran to find cover and stumbled at the sound of a thunderclap.
She headed for the awning of a vegetable store but the space beneath was taken by people, bicycles and strollers. She continued running and tripped over a box, sending herself and a torrent of carrots spilling into small river rushing past the gutter.
Water from a puddle splashed onto her face as people ran past her. Someone stopped and offered her a hand but she shook them off.
She sat up and tasted blood in her mouth. Her knees were scraped and her hair hung in tangles in front of her eyes.
Carrie stood up and limped home. The key wouldn’t fit in the lock and she kicked the metal front of her door. She continued kicking until she became exhausted. She leaned against the door and slid to the floor. She held her head in her hands and banged her head against the door.
“What’s wrong with me?” she screamed.
She got up and tried the key again. It turned. She slammed the door behind her and let the cool, cool breeze from the air conditioner wash over her. There was something on the floor and she bent to pick it up.
It was a piece of paper, folded twice.
She glanced down to the signature at the bottom of the page and saw that it was Charlie’s.