New York, New York

Big Districts, Small Blocks

Our lives can seem awfully small in the giant city, especially when they’re lived from one petty but direly significant moment to the next.

Laundry List

Tony’s ex-wife had a laundry list of juvenile infractions that his son had committed during the week. A litany that she rat-a-tatted out both sides of her mouth the moment Tony stepped into her apartment to pick up Sammy for the weekend.

‘Do you know what he did?’ she shrieked, as Tony lifted Sammy up for a kiss. ‘He put rocks in the dryer just to see what would happen. And he refuses to eat unless he can wear that goddamn motorcycle helmet you gave him to the table. And the other day he comes in asks me if we have any more ‘fuckin’ grape Kool-Aid’ left. ‘Fuckin’ grape Kool-Aid.’ Where does he pick up that kinda language? And his teacher called. She said he was sharing his bottle of Yoo-hoo.’

‘What’s wrong with that?’ asked Tony, and shifted Sammy up higher in his arms. He was getting heavy, and Tony’s back was just getting over last weekend’s walk through Prospect Park that turned into a carry halfway through. ‘Sharing is a good thing.’

‘That’s how germs are spread, Tony,’ said his ex-wife.

‘Daddy, can we go get tattoos today?’

‘See that? Five years old and he wants a tattoo. And yesterday he let his hamster out on the fire escape.’

Tony shrugged her off, carried Sammy out the door of the apartment, Sammy’s SpongeBob SquarePants suitcase in his free hand and his ex-wife’s laundry list following him down the five flights to the street.

Sunday Times

George Tomlin always finished the Sunday New York Times on his ride downtown to his office on Mondays.

This Monday, he was tan from sailing all weekend with his grandson. No hat, no sunscreen—despite what Dr. Rollins had said about skin cancer. George felt better bronzed, more alive. His skin tingled beneath his seersucker suit.

He’d just started reading William Safire when the train stopped at 34th Street. The doors opened with the usual ding-dong rush of riders, and the most beautiful woman that George had seen since his wife had died stepped into the car.

She was tan, too, and her hair was a shade darker gray than his own. She ran her fingers through it and scanned the car for a seat.

There was one right next to George, so he knocked on it. Once with his knuckle, then went back to Safire.

The woman sat. On the edge of her seat, since the man on her opposite side was enormous and sat with his legs spread wide so his belly could hang between his thighs. She said thank you to George and pulled the Sunday Times crossword puzzle from her canvas tote bag and began filling in #7 across. Hawaiian foodfish.

She’s the one, thought George. The woman he’s meant to spend the rest of his days with. How ever many or few he had left. They’d sail together on Sundays in Montauk and drive along the shore in a silver convertible he’d buy to match her hair. In the winter, they’d stay in the city on weekends and go for long walks, and find some cozy restaurant that neither of them had been to before and eat off each other’s plates, and they’d never get around to reading the whole Sunday Times until Monday morning.

George imagined all this, but didn’t say a word.

The doors ding-donged shut, the train lurched forward, and the woman teetered on her behind, then fell sideways into George’s lap.

Her eyes crinkled, coquettish, as she smiled.

Say something clever, thought George. Snappy and witty but thoughtful and perverse. You’ve read the Times for 50 years. Some of it must have rubbed off. Just ask her out to lunch.

He stared at the woman in his lap blankly. Her smile dropped a notch and her eyes went from coquettish to polite beg-your-pardon. She sat upright and counted the letters for 14 down (an Arabic coin), and George got off on 23rd Street.


The super at 86 E. 38th St. only went to the building on Tuesdays and Fridays, unless there was an emergency that he had to take care of. On Tuesdays, he’d unlock the tenants’ trash from in front of the building, stuff it into extra large, heavyweight garbage bags and set them out by the curb. He’d do the same thing on Fridays, and also sweep and mop the hallway and stairs.

April always liked coming home from school on Fridays and smelling the clean hallway. If she was lucky and she hurried home, she’d find the super in the stairwell with the mop in his hand.

‘Hi, Mr. Pomegranate,’ she’d say, because she couldn’t pronounce his real name, Pompovilovich.

‘Hello, April,’ he’d say back. He was a very handsome man with light blue eyes and he stood very straight and tall. April hoped that one day he’d marry her mother, although neither her mother nor Mr. Pompovilovich were aware of this. ‘How was school today?’

‘I got an A on my report about trees. My mom helped me iron leaves we found in the park between wax paper. My teacher said it was a much nicer presentation than printing pictures of leaves from the Internet. It was my mom’s idea.’

‘Very good,’ said Mr. Pompovilovich. He put the mop into the bucket under the black ‘3’ painted on the wall to indicate the floor number. ‘Your mom will be happy to hear that.’

‘She’s not home,’ said April. ‘She’s at work. I have a babysitter. My mom will be home after six. Why don’t you come over for dinner? We’re having chicken Marsala.’

‘Well, thank you very much, April.’ He rinsed the mop out in the gray, soapy water and twisted it in circles as he pulled it through the wringer. ‘But my wife is expecting me for dinner tonight. We’re having beef stew.’

‘Oh,’ said April. ‘Maybe some other time then. When you get a divorce.’ She turned on the tips of her sneakers and ran up the stairs to 4B. ‘See you later,’ she called.

‘Have a good night,’ he said.

Heather Holland Wheaton is the author of the novel, Skin of Our Teeth, the story collection Eight Million Stories in a New York Minute, and “Haley’s Comment,” a fictional series on Her poetry has appeared in Slipstream, Common Ground, and a bunch of literary mags that nobody’s ever heard of. More by Heather Holland Wheaton