The following post, by Tony Tallon, is the fifth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can read the first four chapters here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

The bar on Bleecker was all exposed brick and votive candles lighting drunk faces that hovered over glasses of red wine and whiskey—alcoholic earth tones of crimson and brown. He spotted her lonely frame hunched on a barstool, a swizzle stick pressed between her lips, and could make out her jaw jutting to-and-fro, chewing the plastic furiously. He noticed her chestnut curls pulled back, and the elfish points of her ears.

He approached with caution. Something about her demeanor warned of a woman who did not appreciate approach. Her face was blank, and if it weren’t for the swizzle stick, it would seem she was still as stone.  Jeremi took the seat next to her, all too aware of the distance between them and ordered a Jack on the rocks.

Systematically turning his head from one muted TV to another, watching the news to his left, reading the ticker, then the game on his right, Jeremi constantly checked the score. When he turned to the game his eyes landed first on her, noting quickly how her stern and distant gaze had not moved from her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. It placed her petite head on the shelf amidst half filled liquor bottles.

“Did you know,” he finally said, “that Southern Comfort is not a whiskey, but rather a cordial? Most people don’t know that.”

“Very nice,” she said, uninterested.

“My name is Jeremi, with an i,” he said, making a gesture to shake her hand.

“How delightful.”

“Do you have a name?”

Her head finally turned from its reflection and her eyes made first contact. He was stunned by their immediate fury. “Look,” she said,  “you seem like a nice kid, but that’s just it, you’re a kid and I am an old woman, so if you don’t mind I am gonna sit here, slurp down this cheap red wine and pretend that I am someone else.”  She turned back to her reflection and took a swig from her glass.

Jeremi waited a minute, not quite sure what to do. “My parents were part of that group of people who liked to misspell things. They almost named me Philip with an f.”

“I am really not interested.”

“Then why are you still sitting here?”

She shifted on her stool. Her fingers ran across the edge, and her lips puckered. She flipped a curl and Jeremi noted its chestnut brown hue. “I don’t know. That’s a very good question, and I have a better answer.” She took her wine glass and shoved it through the vacant air between them. A wave of red cupped through the air and splashed against his face. “Good night…and by the way, I am much too old for you.”

She collected her things and headed for the door. Jeremi started to wipe his face with cocktail napkins. He was now more aroused for a chase. He followed her out the door and grabbed her hand as she tried to hail a cab.

“Wait,” he said, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-eight. Now, will you leave me alone?”

“Well I am 23, you’re not too old for me, you’re perfect.”His grin showed he was a little too sure of himself. “Let me buy you a drink, or coffee, or tea? Let me sit next to you on a barstool and pretend you think me dashing.”

She let out a sigh. “Fine.”

“Wonderful. And what’s your name?”

“Katherine, and I’m pretty sure it’s spelled correctly.”

 

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The following post, by Geoffrey Jason Kagan Trenchad, is the fourth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can read the first three chapters here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

Katherine said it was gonna be slow this winter, but Michael was optimistic. His band, The Black Maria, had just opened for Hold Steady at the Bowery Ballroom. Greg Finn, Hold Steady’s lead singer, said he loved ’em and Mike figures if he plays his cards right he might have a tour lined up to cover December’s bills, and maybe a little extra for January. God bless Katherine, he thought. It was a rare and precious thing to find a catering company owner in this city who understood it was not, in fact, your life’s mission to carry champagne trays or fill amuse-bouche soup glasses or pour gallons of fucking Diet Coke at an uptown bat mitzvah way too early on a Sunday.

Mike is just at the point where playing music is almost enough to meet the rent and pay bills on time. But every second he’s not on stage or in the studio, he’s tending to The Black Maria’s MySpace page. Or sending out links to demos. Or calling some promoter about money they owe. Or a million other less than glamorous tasks that he never thought would be part of the whole struggling-rock-star gig when he was in high school. Not that he’s complaining. He can’t afford to buy his girl the perfume that she likes, but he lives in New York fucking City and he plays music to make most of his living and that, too, is a rare and precious thing. 

Besides, the job that fills in when the T-shirts don’t sell isn’t that bad. Sometimes it’s just pouring sodas for seventh-grade girls who think the tattoos creeping out from the cuff of your work shirt are the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. Sometimes you get to take home an extra gift bag because one of the guests didn’t show and it just happens to have a bottle of Lolita. Sometimes your boss, who is the nicest white woman you have ever worked for, takes your tray of brownies and sends you on a smoke break.

In the hallway out to the elevator Mike passes the most distraught preteen boy in all of Manhattan, which put him in high running for the most distraught preteen boy in the world. Mike remembers how utterly trapped it felt to be that age. He had read a story on the train this morning about a girl who shot another girl in the face. They were in the seventh grade, and up until recently had been best friends. Broken-heart necklaces and all. Mike thinks about all the times he thought of doing something like that, or worse, and is so glad he just buried his face deeper into sci-fi novels and the soundproofing he put up in his room. He plotted and schemed like an arch criminal to save his money and not get strung out or get anyone pregnant, and he made for damn sure he got the fuck out of his small town if it was that last thing he did. Good luck to you, he thinks, saddest little preteen boy in Manhattan.

Mike rolls a cigarette while he walks through the lobby to the front door. He flicks the loose tobacco stuck to the calluses on the fingers of his chord hand. There’s a bad cut on his index finger that he sealed last night with crazy glue, but now it’s opening back up. Mike starts to scroll though the favorite numbers saved in his cell phone. Thinking about how he’s gonna tell his girl how he got to work OK and on time, despite the hangover and subway fuck-ups. How the Jonas Brothers are setting up for their very special acoustic set for a very special birthday princess, and he’s happier than a puppy with three dicks to be outside and on the phone. How he loves her so much sometimes he just aches for enough ways to say it.

Mike thinks about saying all of this as he steps out from under the awning to light his cigarette. He realizes, flicking the lighter faster and faster as he curses at it, will not in fact, make it work. Mike closes the phone, goes inside to borrow a book of matches from the concierge, steps back out from under the awning and hits send. On the fourth ring a body smashes face first into the sidewalk in front of him. There’s not much blood at first, but the thud of impact is accompanied by an eerie cracking of bones that ripples through the cold November air. When the blood does start to creep toward his feet, he can’t seem to move out of the way. Clare says, “Hey baby, hello, can you hear me?” Mike quietly mumbles, “Oh my god oh my god oh my god.”

The call drops and Clare is unsure what to do. Should she call back or wait for Mike to call her back? The last thing she wants is for him to try to call her while she’s trying to call him, and for them to get caught in a purgatory of busy signals. She takes the stack of poems she was grading, the ones by the students in her gifted and talented program, off her lap. On the top is a poem from Jeremi about cars. She knew it was going to be terrible and is more than a little relieved to be interrupted. Somewhere in the pile underneath is a poem by Ballard about birds that she won’t read until after she hears the news. Clare puts the whole stack on the nightstand next to her bed. She lights a well-rolled joint that hangs out the corner of her mouth. She paces from the living room to the kitchen and tries to call Mike back.

 

 

 


The following post, by Sarah Finch, is the third installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can read chapters one and two here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

The crowd huddled in a semicircle on the sidewalk with everyone speaking in hushed tones. One man took a picture with his cell phone of the body that was sprawled on the gray pavement.

A patrol car came to a stop with the siren’s wail abruptly dropping off, and two cops emerged. The older one, a white man with sandy blond hair and a total absence of body fat, began talking into his radio to cancel the ambulance and call for a few extra officers, as it was plain to see that the jumper had not survived.

His partner was a black man in his late twenties who had a shaved head and neatly trimmed goatee. He went to work trying to corral the passel of gawkers.

“Okay, everyone get back. Come on, step back!” he ordered. “NYPD. Give us some room here.”

“You in charge here?” a gruff voice asked.

The younger cop looked up. “Who are you?”

“Ed Simmons. I manage this property.”

“Officer Antoine Davis, 19th precinct,” he replied in kind. “Anybody know who this person is or where he fell from?” The police dispatcher had reported it as a possible jumper, but Antoine didn’t want to believe that someone would be so willing to give up his life.

“It’s a teenager,” Simmons said. “And he didn’t fall. All our reports say that he jumped. There’s a bat mitzvah upstairs and my guess is that he was one of the guests. We don’t know his name yet.”

A teenager. Suicide was hard enough for Antoine to fathom, let alone wrapping his mind around the idea that someone so young would give up all hope.

He had only seen three dead bodies since becoming a cop: one elderly woman (presumably homeless) who had died of exposure near Chelsea Piers, one fifty-something man who had suffered a heart attack on the V train at rush hour, and a woman who had been suffocated by her boyfriend. Death had not seemed frightening to him when he saw those bodies; there was nothing so much as an expression of peace on their faces. Even the suffocation victim looked like she was happily asleep.

A jumper was something else. Human bodies were not designed to win contests against concrete, and the knowledge of what the crash could do to skin and bone was making Antoine’s stomach churn.

The crowd still lingered, just pushed back several yards. Antoine was stunned that people would want to fix their eyes on the human wreckage that lay before him. It was like a grotesque doll whose limbs had been affixed at unnatural angles. The face was smashed against the sidewalk, and he knew it would be impossible to try to get a physical description of the boy from what remained of his face. He gingerly patted down the pockets of the boy’s pants, hoping to find some ID on his person. No luck.

He looked once more at the macabre sight and could only hope that the boy had found whatever peace he had sought. But this was not peaceful, Antoine concluded. This was frightening. This was unnatural. This was violent.

This was what death was supposed to look like.

“We’re calling for extra officers so we can speak to everyone who might know why this happened,” he told Simmons. “I’m going inside and I need you to show me who was in charge of the party. Hey, Larry!” he called to his partner. “Stay with the body, okay? I’m gonna see what I can get from the guests.” The other man nodded his assent.

Antoine walked into a hall whose festive decorations contrasted starkly with the hushed atmosphere. People were moving slowly, as if underwater. A group of caterers stood in a corner, unwilling to break the somber mood by waltzing around with trays of hors d’oeuvres. Occasionally, hungry guests would walk over to grab a crab cake or a brownie or a chicken wing, looking almost apologetic as they did so.

“That’s Mrs. Stieglitz,” Simmons said, pointing at a woman in a crimson dress and matching shawl. “Her daughter is the one having the bat mitzvah.”

“Mrs. Stieglitz?” Antoine took out his badge and showed it to her. “I’m Officer Davis. Can you tell me what happened?”

The woman just shook her head. “No. I can’t believe this. My poor daughter—to have this happen on what’s supposed to be such a happy day!”

Antoine was struck by the woman’s reaction. He was unsure whether it came from lack of sympathy or from shock, or some combination. It unnerved him either way. “I’m very sorry that this had to happen,” he said. “Do you know the name of the boy who jumped?”

“No. Josephine says that all of her friends are here inside and are safe. Our family is accounted for.”

“There are a few older kids,” Antoine observed.

“My son, Jeremi, invited several friends.” She gestured over to a blond boy who was chatting with an impossibly pretty girl; he seemed unperturbed by the tragedy that had just occurred. “But he says they’re all here.”

“Okay, I’m going to need to talk to him.”

“Are you saying he’s lying?” Mrs. Stieglitz’s voice became harsh and Antoine noticed that her forehead didn’t move along with the rest of her face.

“Ma’am, I’m just trying to sort through all this. My primary concern at the moment is to identify the boy who died so we can notify his family, and I’d like to talk to your son because he seems to be the same age. Please,” he added. The woman’s mouth was set in a firm line but she nodded. Antoine thanked her and walked over to the boy. “Are you Jeremi?”

“Yes.” He turned to the girl and gave her a shrug that was a silent gesture to send her away. “This whole thing is crazy.”

“It is. Do you know the boy who jumped?”

“No.” The answer came far too quickly and Jeremi’s eyes didn’t seem to be focusing on anything in particular. Antoine knew the boy was lying. Teen boys were great at deceiving their parents, but he wasn’t so easily fooled.

“He seems to be about your age. Your mother said you had invited a few friends. Is it possible he just tagged along with one of them?”

“I’m telling you, I didn’t know him.” He punctuated each word with a slight shake of his right hand, which was balled into a loose fist. Antoine wondered if Jeremi might even believe his own words. The boy’s eyes were still unfocused, as if his real sight was turned inward.

”Let’s talk somewhere quieter, okay?” He walked Jeremi out into an empty corridor, and the teen sighed heavily but didn’t resist. “Okay, I need you to be honest with me.” Antoine kept his voice soft, realizing he wouldn’t get anywhere by badgering the teen. “There’s a boy your age who just killed himself. He was here at this party. I understand how upsetting this must be if he was your friend, but this wasn’t anyone’s fault. I just want to know his name. I can tell there’s something you’re holding back.”

Jeremi seemed to shrink into himself now that he was away from the rest of the crowd. The cocksure attitude and suave grace that had first caught Antoine’s eye retreated, leaving a young man who wasn’t quite sure what face to present. “He wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said finally, his voice quiet and steady. “I didn’t invite him.”

“What’s his name?”

“Ballard.”

“What’s his first name?”

“No, Ballard is his first name. Ballard Stone. I go to school with him. He lives on West End in the eighties.”

“You two are friends?”

“No, not really. He’s an okay kid, I guess.” Jeremi paused. “I mean he was an okay kid.”

“Why did he jump?”

“I don’t want to talk about this, okay? I wasn’t there. I had gone back inside. I wasn’t there,” he said again. “Can I go now?”

“Yeah, go ahead.” Antoine could see the guilt on Jeremi’s face, but he wasn’t about to push further. The kid—Ballard Stone, what a name—had jumped and that was his choice alone. Antoine’s job as a patrolman wasn’t to unravel someone else’s despair; it was to serve and protect, and to deal with the undesirable elements that nobody else wanted to touch.

He wondered if Ballard had seen himself as an undesirable element. Or maybe Jeremi had been the one to define him as undesirable. Or maybe it was not that simple.

Antoine walked back into the party and made his way out to the balcony, where Ballard had jumped. The view of the sidewalk beneath showed the boy’s body still sprawled on the concrete. He stared for several long moments. There were two more patrol cars at the curb and an officer was stringing police tape around the area. The crowd had not gone away; in fact it had swelled, and he could make out two small children watching the scene with an adult. He was disgusted by their curiosity, and by his own.

An officer draped a black sheet over the body of Ballard Stone, and Antoine turned away.

The following post, by J.L. Balderama, is the second installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can see chapter one here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

Ballard fell.

A human body falling from a height of a hundred and fifty feet takes three seconds to strike the ground. Ballard had seen a statistic once, that a child dies every three seconds. He’d heard a song—a poem?—that said it takes three seconds to say “I love you,” much less time to say “I’m sorry.” That meant three seconds or fewer in which one person could change another’s life.

The morning of the bat mitzvah, it had taken three seconds for Ballard to decide: This would be the first day, or the last day, of the rest of his life.

One, one thousand.

Ballard fell.

Ballard’s name, his mother once told him, meant “a dancing song.” He’d tried, when he was younger, to puzzle out the sense in that. People danced. Songs didn’t. Songs sang and people moved. Ballard, who usually kept to himself, had little use for dancing. But songs were poetry. Songs moved him in ways that people rarely could.

Ballard favored opera. Now those were songs that sung. He’d had an uncle, a diplomat in Rome, who from the time Ballard was eight shipped him CDs every birthday. Ballard grew into adolescence with La Traviata and Salome, La Gioconda and La Bohème. He thrilled to the love songs of Rodolfo and the tragic Mimi, who sang as they mingled among the toy sellers and chestnut vendors of the Quartier Latin.

He liked to act out the parts. When he was twelve, he recruited Cameron, a golden-haired boy from his sixth-grade class, to help. Cameron was a flutist in their middle-school band, so Ballard figured of any boy, he would understand. Ballard drew all the shades in his room and handed Cameron a necktie.

“It’s my dad’s,” he said. “For your eyes. In this scene, we have to pretend it’s dark.”

Cameron looped the tie around his head, pulled it tight, and waited. Ballard turned up the music and took Cameron’s hand. Che gelida manina!” he sang. (“What a cold little hand!”) But Cameron’s fingers were not cold—they were warm and supple, just as Ballard had imagined they would be, the way they moved so nimbly along the flute. Inspired, Ballard lifted the hand and pressed it to his lips.

Blinding light.

“Ballard!” His dad’s voice. The man stood there, looming in the doorway, silhouetted against the sun.

Cameron snatched back his hand, tore the tie from his eyes and shoved it toward his friend. “I have to go.” The boy pushed past Ballard’s father as the old man entered the room. Ballard tried to speak but was cuffed by a silencing hand. He clutched at the tie. Beyond his father, the front door slammed.

Two, one thousand.

Ballard fell.

“Maybe it means a song for dancing.”

Jeremi.

Jeremi was a boy who knew how to figure things out. Ballard had been struck by this right from the start, when they’d been grouped together in the Gifted and Talented track in fourth grade. Jeremi was always the quickest at solving puzzles, like the logic grids the teachers passed out during recess on rainy days. He was the quickest to raise his hand at a question, the first to finish his quizzes, the first to walk to the front of the class, drop off his test, and walk away.

Jeremi always seemed to be walking away from Ballard. Jeremi, with his lilting gait, his easy, waifish grace. And then one day at lunch hour, when they were both in the eighth grade, Jeremi gave Ballard the surprise of his life. He walked his way.

As was often the case, Ballard was sitting alone, beneath a maple tree. He was reading a book, and, certain of his solitude, began to hum a melody.

“Hey, I know that song.”

Ballard froze. “What?”

“That song. It was in a movie I just saw. What’s it called?”

“‘Sull’aria,’” Ballard replied. “From The Marriage of Figaro.”

Jeremi seemed impressed. He actually sat down, in the grass, by Ballard’s side. They had an entire conversation about Le Nozze di Figaro—who had composed it, how Ballard knew it. And so they became friends.

Ballard guessed from the start that Jeremi was merely humoring him. That he tried to parse meanings with Ballard—“What kind of name is Ballard, anyway?”—simply because he was kind. That he spent time listening because he knew Ballard would otherwise sit alone, that Ballard kept to himself because he was queer, and therefore shunned. But it tortured Ballard to be so close to this boy and not to know: Was it more? He would sit at lunch and patter away about La Bohème and all the rest, and all the while wonder if Jeremi might be wooed, if he might in fact be just like him.

He was not. In the boys’ room after school one day, Ballard made a clumsy pass, putting a hand on Jeremi’s cheek as the other boy fussed with his hair in the mirror. Jeremi swung twice—first to bat away the hand, then to connect with Ballard’s cheek, sending his friend to the floor and the shocking cold of the filthy tiles.

Ballard was stunned into stillness. Jeremi stood for a moment, breathless. And when Ballard moved to stand up, rather than offer a helping hand, Jeremi stepped around his friend and left him sitting, shaking, alone.

It takes fewer than three seconds to say “I’m sorry.”

It was Josephine’s bat mitzvah. Jeremi’s sister. Ballard wasn’t invited, but he knew Jeremi would be there. They hadn’t talked for a week. Ballard had stopped eating. He barely slept. For seven days, he hadn’t listened to a single bar of opera.

He pushed past a gaggle of girls squealing near the elevator. The band was warming up to go on. Brownies were being passed on silver trays. A child with hair the color of corn silk was running wild and ramming into things, colliding with the help and sending grown-ups to their knees. Ballard scanned the crowd and saw Jeremi at a table surrounded by girls. As Ballard approached, Jeremi spotted him and frowned, displeased.

“Ballard. Shit. What are you doing here, man?”

“Can we talk? I need to talk.” Ballard’s voice began to crack.

“Sure, sure,” Jeremi said. “Shit, don’t start crying here.”

He hustled them out to the balcony. The party was only on the tenth floor, but still they had a view. Ballard looked up through the tunnel of buildings reaching toward the sky.

“Jeremi,” he said, his eyes stinging. “I just wanted to say. About what happened.” He squeezed his eyes closed. The one still bearing a mark from Jeremi’s hand throbbed at the effort. He’d rehearsed in front of the mirror at home, and he’d wept then, too.

“Hey, man,” Jeremi said. “You don’t have to cry. I’m cool if you’re cool.”

Jeremi put a hand on Ballard’s shoulder. The band started to play. Ballard reached up and touched Jeremi’s hand, turned to face him, and began to sway.

“I hate this music,” Ballard said. He made an effort at a smile. “But I feel like dancing. For once. Don’t you?”

Ballard reached as if to take Jeremi in his arms, but Jeremi backed away.

“No, man,” he said. “You can’t do this. Not here.”

Ballard’s arms dropped. The air felt cold. His cheeks had chilled as the wind whipped against his wet face.

“You should probably just take off, man,” Jeremi said. “It’s my sister’s big day. She’s trying to keep it friends only and all.”

“Friends only.”

“Her friends, I mean.”

“O.K.,” Ballard said. “Just give me a second.”

He turned away to catch his breath and heard Jeremi’s footsteps hastening back inside.

Ballard faced the railing. He grasped it and leaned forward, testing his weight on his hands. Below him, the world looked small.  Small, but full. There were so many people, darting in and out of traffic, moving in ripples and swells, as if carried along by a current. The city would never miss him, he thought. There were plenty of people here. Enough that every three seconds, without anyone noticing, someone could simply—take off.

He began to sing softly. “Addio dolce svegliare!” (“Goodbye, sweet awakening!”) He threw a leg over the bars. “Addio dolce svegliare!” Applause rang out from behind him as the band broke off its playing. He stood poised at the edge, his chest thrust forward, hands clinging to the bar behind him. We’ll see, he thought. He opened his arms. He let the air take him.

Addio dolce svegliare!”

Three.