Thirteen 50-word Stories
Studios, not Efficiencies
582 West 14th: These studio apartments are some of the smallest you'll find, 10' x 19' rectangles with integrated kitchen, full bath off to the side. Perfect for one, perfect for "starting out." What a laugh: Nearly every unit's occupied by two, mostly gay couples, mostly a long time in.
South to Downtown
Erin arrives five days after graduation, hailing a cab outside Penn Station. Jane’s had this place for six months, and it almost goes without saying that she’ll put Erin up until she gets settled: a job, a pad. There’s room for one suitcase, but summer clothes take up less bulk.
For no good reason, they end up at Café Reggio the second night. It feels like things Erin’s read about—Paris, New York in the ‘50s—or the steaming cappuccino she served student-types in Virginia. The city’s still a blank slate, waiting. For memories of movies; places Jane takes her.
Second Floor Walkup
As far as motion is concerned, in these 200 square feet there's only three things: the window, the television, or Jane. Of course time and circumstance dictate which is most compelling: 5:00pm, Kaity Tong narrates murder in Chelsea; 7:30, Jane chatters until narcolepsy; Midnight, the drag queens court 14th Street.
Going to see "Zentropa" means hopping the A-C-E to the B-D-Q, but Erin never even notices the transfer at West 4th: It's like they're finishing each other's sentences the whole way. In the cloud- ceilinged, chrome-edged lobby, they stand silent and watch; everyone's so desirable, and only slightly out of reach.
One week she would tailor her resume to become an administrative assistant, and the next, a copy editor—it was overwhelming otherwise. Waitress, Girl Friday, museum docent--everyone seemed to want two years experience. "Lie!" Jane insisted. "I did it myyyyy wayy!" Erin would sing in reply. Jane just scowled.
Of course, there's worlds within worlds, there's a few doors here to close: The typewriter fits the toilet lid just fine, the loft bed is for scribbling in your journal and dreaming the Virginia landscape, the closet is where Melissa on the phone relays news of her mother's sudden passing.
High Gloss Means Egg Whites and Paint Brushes
Photography is Erin’s passion, but until she gets an income, it’s more like an expensive hobby. Jane works as a photog’s assistant and comes home with stories of prima-donna hand models and food prop fake-outs. But sometimes the food is real, and they feast for a week on the discards.
What Amazes Her
Living not only surrounded by skyscrapers and strangers, 24-7 life and a non-stop wall of noise, but among their heroes, small giants of the silver screen and silver gelatin: the likes of Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch, Cindy Sherman, Spike Lee. Jennie Livingston, Lorna Simpson, Lyle Ashton Harris, Carrie Mae Weems.
No New York Bank Account
The summer started with a finite bankroll: graduation money plus a generous prize from a photo contest. Her budget depends (naturally!) on how long it takes her to find a job, what they’ll charge for a rented room. It’s all starting to feel more like an If than a When.
The Photo That Won Her $500
Not a nude but a naked portrait of one young man’s mental state—the brooding intensity that once wooed her. Not really a lover but an obsession, now just a “friend” who lives across the Hudson and doesn’t return her phone calls. She counts her change and gets the message.
It’s like the apartment is too small for all three things: two people and the relationship between them. Jane comes home later and later, never says hello, falls asleep sitting up. Erin doesn’t know yet what it means to have a room alone in the city, in a working life.
Black and White Prints
When she feels like splurging, Erin walks a few blocks over to Dial A Darkroom. The rates aren't bad, and there's still some room on her credit card. She tries to heed what her photography teacher recommended, to give her eyes a break every half hour and look to infinity.
Karen Lillis is the author four books of fiction, most recently, "Watch the Doors as They Close" (Spuyten Duyvil Novella Series, February 2012). Her writing has appeared in Blink Ink, Cashiers du Cinemart, Sensitive Skin Magazine, Toad Suck Review, and Undie Press, among others. She blogs at http://karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com/.