She is made of hard edges and lacks purpose, arms stained with ink. She smells like cigarettes and lives restlessly on the edge of the world.
He stands in dark shadows, walks rushed to the synagogues of Brooklyn and davens with his head up. He listens to Tupac on an old record player in the basement of his apartment building.
When they were young, they ran forbidden streets together. High Holy Days when God provided distraction, they traded Hasidism for Bohemia. Dime bags and Zig-Zag paper, long nights hiding in Prospect Park until they returned home with false alibis.
Back in Brooklyn, signs in Yiddish plastered store fronts and she’d drag him to rooftops and point to skyscrapers in the city to the north. Her hand, towers, and antennae reaching for God in the endless sky.
She was sixteen when he slid a ring on her finger, bought for fifteen dollars from a vendor on the street. Metal loose around her finger, smelling strongly of copper. He was clumsy, asking to love her, but telling her he was leaving.
“Promise me you’ll wait? Two years and I’ll be back.”
Two years of time wasted. Done with school and no diploma, changing diapers for her younger sisters. Prayers drowning out the sounds of the city. Living, but not alive.
“No, thank you.” The ring slid off and across the table under her cupped palm. Scraping chair legs on the linoleum floor of his grandparents’ kitchen and she was gone.
Back from Israel after seven hundred long and lonely days, searching for her.
He imagines he’ll find her, walking the streets of the city, hands deep in coat pockets, lost without him. Instead he finds her changed, hair dyed electric blue and cut short, words in Hebrew inked across her collarbones. She sings songs about God and imprisonment, slumps against brick walls outside of clubs in the Village.
One night, she catches him watching her, surrounded by men and women worlds apart from his.
“Why are you here?” she shouts, pointing south, back to Brooklyn. “Go!”
He hesitates but retreats, back to babies crying and the chaos of his mind. A woman in his bed, narrow shoulders and dark hair, a good mother but not her.
Children crawl on him, wake him from sleep, and tug at a beard too gray for his age.
Not far from their small apartment, guitar chords break and an itch dissolves under her skin. She thinks of him, of summer days listening to the Beastie Boys. Awkward hands touching her body, naked on the cold concrete of a laundry room floor.
Now she goes to rooftops alone, shrouded not by cloth but by darkness. The only hands that touch her are her own, while his rest on the heads of his children and another woman’s pale skin.
—Lucy McKee is a Registered Nurse living in Kansas City. When not writing, she can be found hiking in the woods and daydreaming.