a new short story. I rather like the name “Todd”. P:


Lotion, Powder, Tummy Sleeping: A Wish

Wendy Xu

Todd first saw the child in the park by his apartment. She was maybe seven years old with huge black eyes and a pink hairbow and a teal hula-hoop that she kept looping around and around her skinny little form like a jump rope. Her arms and legs were pale from winter and she was alone, laughing and skipping beneath the tentative spring sunlight of mid-morning. Todd thought about calling the police to find her mother but she looked so happy and fairylike with the cherry blossoms falling in her hair that he put his Blackberry down before he hit the nine.

He jumped as it rang in his hand. It was Ellen and she wanted to know the exact plans for their date later. Ellen always had to know the exact plans for everything. She even set her watch five minutes ahead so she would always be on time. He told her the details quickly because she was calling from work and she demanded to know why he had, once again, taken the day off, because Mr. Goldberg was pissed. But Goldberg wouldn’t fire him because he was always the man with the plan, and his plans always worked—they’d bought Bank of America stock on his suggestion last week and sold it for double the amount a day later. “You better be in tomorrow,” Ellen said, “Or no sex for three weeks.”

Todd saw another little girl Jackson’s Deli around three-thirty on East 21st and Second Ave. This time she was eleven and her knees were just coming out of that awkward coltish phase. She licked her vanilla cone covered in rainbow sprinkles and a drop of ice cream rolled down her chin. She wiped it off with the back of her hand. Todd noticed her pink nail polish, more on the cuticles than on the nails themselves. He thought about handing her the crumpled but clean napkin in his pocket so she wouldn’t have to deal with sticky hands, but she had skipped across the street to where another giggling pre-teen was waiting. The “Walk” sign blinked from white to orange. A truck rolled by.

He saw one at fifteen in red high-top Converse outside a movie theater showing some flick with a stupid title like “Once Upon a Time in New York.” He’d forgotten about that theater, an inconspicuous little place surrounded by office buildings and sushi restaurants. It was almost five-thirty, time for Ellen to leave. He waited awkwardly near the theater because he didn’t want Goldberg or anyone else coming out and accusing him of truancy. The teenager glanced at him and then back at her friends, unzipped her bag shaped like a cartoon cat face and put her money on the counter half in change.

“You dork,” said Ellen, pecking Todd on the cheek. “You missed out on a hilarious moment at the meeting today. Now let’s go, I’m starved.”

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she was eighteen and wearing a garnet necklace. It fell delicately across her birdlike collarbone as she raised her arms, adjusted her camera lens, and snapped a picture of Todd and Ellen near the DaVinci sketches. Todd didn’t notice, but Ellen did. She stared at the girl, incredulous. “Did I give you permission to do that?”

The girl’s only response was an impish grin and a fluty giggle. Then she pranced down the hall into the next gallery, low heels making muffled clack-clack-clack sounds against the carpet.

“The nerve of some kids,” said Ellen. “Probably in art school, just look at the way she was dressed. Weirdos, all of them.” Todd put an arm around her.

“Come on.”

They stood before a vast tank, a faint sour scent in the air. Ellen read the tag on the wall. “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Damien Hirst. Steel, formaldahyde, shark. Shark? That’s a real shark? A real dead shark? That’s not art!”

Todd stared into the mouth of the shark with its rows and rows of dagger sharp teeth. He stared at a shriveled rough patch of grayish white skin near the nose for so long that his vision began to blur. He met the shark’s flat black eyes and looked away at the thin translucent string that bound it to the steel frame of the tank. His fingers twitched. They reached to his breast pocket where he kept his cigarettes, then withdrew them when he remembered where he was, where they were. Ellen poked her head in from the adjoining gallery and beckoned.

That night after he dropped Ellen off at her apartment, he found a pair of Jenna’s old earrings beneath his bed. They were white gold wire inlaid with red drops. Garnet, he remembered. Jenna’s birthstone. She liked the boldness of garnet more than the coolness of turquoise or the milkiness of pearl. She first wore them six months ago to a company dinner, yes—the garnet contrasted against the tight black silk of her cocktail dress as she smiled and laughed and strutted in her strappy silver heels as they waited for the babysitter together. Todd thought about calling Jenna to tell her he’d found them because she had been so sad to have lost them when she was packing all her boxes. Instead he called Ellen, apologized for spacing out at the Met and lit a cigarette as he waited for her to come over. He wondered if two months was too soon to ask her to move in with him. Hell, his charcoal gray suit still smelled like Jenna’s “Beautiful” perfume by Anne Kline. Ellen hadn’t been in his closet yet, had had no need to, had only slept over a few times. Todd didn’t want her to see the closet, the suit in it, or the giant teddy bear in the corner with a pink ribbon, or the stuffed animals piled like corpses or the high chair stacked like cordwood. He got off the couch and poured red wine into two glasses and didn’t wait for the doorbell to ring before taking the first gulp.

When Ellen arrived they had sex in silence and she fell asleep soon after, on her side facing away from him. He liked that about her. She didn’t ask questions, she only made demands—after all, this wasn’t serious. She was an ambitious woman with her own life to live. He left her asleep and got dressed in a plain white t-shirt and flipflops and made sure not to make too much noise closing the front door. The elevator took an eternity coming up and going down. Todd checked his phone. 11:00.

Two streets over the clubs were just beginning to get orgiastic and Todd could almost feel the beat of the hiphop on the pavement along with the raucous shrieks of college partygoers. He thought about calling Jenna again and his eyes traveled up the side of the concrete apartment building to the fourteenth floor and he stopped himself from reaching for the Blackberry. He shifted his feet and took two steps back. Henry, the night doorman, gave him a quizzical look. Todd shot him an awkward smile, turned around in the opposite direction, and walked to the park.

At this time of night, it smelled like weed and bums. The weeping cherry trees swayed in the cool spring breeze and shadows twirled everywhere. One time when he was in college, he’d run through a park like this with his friends while drunk and high, not a care in the world as they pelted each other with Doritos and half-eaten Twinkies.

A fluty giggle, then again, louder. Todd lit a cigarette and he heard it a third time as he approached a bench and sat down. The girl was sitting across from him and taking photos of the moths that fluttered around the lampposts. She glanced down at the camera, frowned slightly, then readjusted the lens and snapped another. Todd stared. The girl caught his eye and smiled and her elfish face and the ribbon in her hair reminded Todd of the pink ribbon around the teddy bear in the closet. Girl, garnet necklace, black cardigan, eighteen. Jenna, garnet earrings, cocktail dress, laughter, heels, kisses, kisses, kisses, “You look really handsome!” Ellen, crisp gray suit, blue silk blouse, red lipstick, Manolo pumps. A little ghost floated between them.

The girl rotated the lens again and took a picture of him with one leg propped up on the other in mid-drag of his cigarette. He blinked in the flash. She laughed and covered her mouth with her small hands. “Lily!” someone called out from the dark. Todd jumped and coughed. He’d had no idea all her friends were there—they’d been draped over the monkey bars and the tops of the slides on the playground behind them.

“Coming!” She stood up and smoothed out the wrinkles from her skirt, then grinned her impish grin at Todd. “Sorry ‘bout that, mister. Thanks for letting me take your picture!” With that, she ran off giggling, her heels going tap-tap-tap on the cobblestones. The noise faded and the park suddenly felt inert. Todd tilted his head back and glanced up. He could see the outline of the lamp in his bedroom window from here.

He stubbed out the cigarette beneath his foot and called Jenna.