Beneath two orange moons he swayed, puzzled by the miracle. He stood, or tried to, at the corner of Mulberry and Prince — that noble-sounding street of dismal aspect. It was then he saw the white puff of fur, a black, impish face like a monkey’s. The dog’s tag read “Jennifer’s Little Prince”. How apropos.
The address it gave was a foot away at 50 Prince, that sprawling monstrosity constructed atop slaughtered brownstones laid low to make expensive, efficient condos. Damned developers hadn’t even bothered to paint the square lug of a building, leaving it obscenely naked, licking its slavering jaw, looming with its desolate, death-dealing stare over the rest of Little Italy.
“Bitch,” he thought and tucked the little prince into the crook of his arm.
He staggered down Mulberry, managed to light a Parliament one-handed, passing Pop’s old place — now a boutique. The window no longer displayed strings of sausages, cans of tomatoes, but plummy silk dresses draped demurely over mannequins. The pure gold buckles of their belts glinted evilly at him as if to say, “What do you want?”
Johnny caught sight of the reflection: his three-day growth of beard, rumpled t-shirt and the bleary eyes of a drunken poet (as he privately dubbed himself) contrasting with the perfectly groomed Maltese docilely looking at itself in the window as if it recognized something.
“Hell with you, Jennifer,” he snarled at the headless mannequin.
Home was still Pop’s rent-controlled apartment down on Hester. Except now a Chinese restaurant instead of a pizza joint took up the ground floor, and the whole block smelled of fish. By day he was easily the tallest pedestrian. At night the neighborhood was dead now by 9 P.M. flat. Johnny staggered up three flights and chucked the animal into his foyer — fancy name for a stamp of linoleum liberally overrun with rejection slips, past-due bills and shoes.
It hadn’t made a single sound the whole way home, but as soon as he shut the door he heard it start to whine. He stumbled back down the stairs. There was a chic speakeasy he knew of somehow, as if he could smell the only alcohol for blocks. It had popped up on a nameless cul-de-sac — an oasis in the desert. He’d go there, have a drink, decide what to do about this Jennifer. God, she was needy. He took another drag on the cigarette. His hands were shaking. No, he didn’t need a woman’s demands; he had his work. Pop had never understood, but Jennifer… could she?
He imagined her tanned, toned body. She’d belong to Equinox Gym on Crosby, get her nails done once a week. He’d complain about the cost, but she’d tell him: “Women judge other women by their manicures in this city.” Her shiny blonde mane would only look natural but cost $400 bucks to get it that way. Not to mention the facials, massages, yoga teachers and image consultants.
He’d sat in the cafes of Soho and listened to them — all the beautiful Jennifers. Instead of writing he’d feel the despondent stone of his heart fall down his stomach into his trousers and rest there heavy with longing.
He walked down empty streets, taking a right, then a left, until the street began to curve around itself, and he recognized the old, tiny sign that had once been Ma’s Pharmacy.
“Could I see ID?” The bouncer was big, bored and black.
Johnny was 38 and looked it. “Man, are you kidding me?”
Two slim fedora-wearing hipsters pushed past him, went straight in. Johnny held his breath. The bouncer who had been two became one. It was a bad sign when he focused and the world went still and the adrenaline pumped so hard in his chest his own heart felt like it was punching him, punching him.The bouncer hadn’t noticed or wasn’t impressed. He was a big guy. He repeated the command in his flat baritone: “ID.”
Two more kids emerged, faces flushed from the warmth of the gin joint, talking, laughing. Laughing at him. Johnny swung.
When he woke up two days later, he was in the hospital. Concussed. Almost drank himself, to death the doctor said. The next bender he went on his body probably wouldn’t recover. His liver would fail. His heart stop. Understood?
He said he did, earning a terse, indifferent nod. Then Johnny remembered. The animal. Its little monkey face. He tried to sit up. The doctor pressed him back: didn’t Johnny understand the gravity of his condition? He was in intensive care. The next bender, he was dead. Got it?
He didn’t try to explain. Now he could think clearly he saw Jennifer as a harassed mother. The dog had slipped out the door while she was taking her kid’s boots off or pushing a stroller down a narrow hallway. No princess would let her prince escape so easy.
He shut his eyes, but instead of sleeping he kept hearing the little dog whine. When the nurse came again finally, he decided to beg. She went about her duties, listening then in her kind, practical way advised him to call a friend — Johnny snorted. A neighbor?
Neighbors… the last one he’d known had been Old Lou who sat on his stoop in one of those crummy plastic garden chairs every day of his retirement watching the world walk past faster and faster. No one had time to even say hello anymore. When Lou died, the landlord gutted the floorboards, the old fridge and stove that same day replacing them with stainless steel. Upped the rent by two grand.
There was no one left.
The nurse looked at him, considering.
“I’ll take care of your girlfriend’s dog,” she said finally. “You just get better.”
He gave her the keys, closed his eyes, imagined running his hands over Jennifer’s body, slowly pulling the silk dress up over her tan legs, until he fell asleep.
Izzy David writes, reads, occasionally acts and frequently tends to an ever-expanding family of animals. Her stories, essays and poetry have appeared in Every Day Fiction, The First Line Literary Magazine and Apollo’s Lyre. Her one-act play “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night” was recently featured in The Friend Me Festival at Centerstage in Manhattan. She lives in Brooklyn.