Katherine

By Sam Fishman

Short Story

 

Katherine has these two glorious biceps—huge biceps—big biceps like two best friends who would tell you what she was really thinking when she wouldn’t. 

One time I drove to Katherine’s house and saw a ton of broken wine glasses in the middle of the street and a big cardboard box. I parked my car and Katherine pulled up and said “Hop in bucko,” and then:

“I just dropped a whole box of glasses in the street by accident.”

I wanted to ask her why she didn’t wait a minute and just ask me carry them, because that’s something I could have really kicked-ass at and that doesn’t happen all the time. 

Most of the time it’s more like “I could never kick ass at that,” or “I don’t know how to do that.”

So I looked at her face to see if she could see that I wanted to ask her, and I didn’t see anything about it there. So I looked at her biceps, and they told me this:

“That’s boyfriend stuff, and you are not my boyfriend. So don’t do boyfriend stuff and then say you don’t want to be my boyfriend.”

I said, “How about we just pretend you’re my girlfriend when I’m feeling lonely,” and the biceps flexed like “don’t even go there” and I said, “Yes, sirs,” and Katherine said, “What?”

And I said, “Sorry, yes ma’am,” and we went to have a coffee.

 

– –

 

We’re standing on a corner and a guy in a brand new Ford Mustang blows by us. His radio’s blasting and he’s got the horn pushed in all the way to the engine. He swerves in front of the cars and then into the oncoming lane, still holding that long honk. 

His other hand is holding up a middle finger. It is available to everyone who has been affected.

Katherine says, “He seems like a gentle lover.”

 

– –

 

For a while our heads are near each other on two towels. I feel hope in the form of a line that begins at her mouth and ends at mine. I hope it exists and will pull us together.

Her lips open and I can feel her clocking my eyes with hers, to see if it makes all the nerves in her body shout the thing they are shouting for me: “It’s kissing time.”

Imaginary me says: What time is it?

Imaginary me says: It’s kissing time.

 

– –

We’re on the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty up close and in-person. Katherine wants to touch it to make sure it’s real. I’m reminding her that whatever happens happens.

This summer day is flexing in all its glory: there is a warm breeze and the clouds have willingly assembled into the familiar shapes we covet most.

There are tourists snapping photos and there are scarves and I <3 NY T-shirts. There are acne-ridden fatboys and attractive older sisters. Dad wallets are pregnant and ready to give it all they’ve got.

The only remarkable detail is the armored soldier in a military dingy who’s escorting our ferry. He’s standing behind a large machine gun sat on a tripod like a ‘40s film camera. It even has that classic Hollywood “belt of bullets” lying over the top of it, Rambo-style.

Katherine puts on her “are we in danger” face. I saw her wear this face once before, we were at a Haitian buffet long after midnight and a few men told us they were going to join us until we were ready to go.

She’s googling “terrorist threat statue of liberty,” “bombing/killer Manhattan ferry.” She’s googling “am I really going to die right now?

I put my hand over her phone and say, “Don’t worry, I’m from New York.”

 

It helps.

 

– –

 

Katherine is poring over an old ledger that is sitting guarded under plexiglass. In it are all the names of the refugees and immigrants who came to our country through Ellis Island. Her index finger is an active participant. She is showing me that there are two columns, the last name they came with, and the new last name they’d have forever. She says just imagine what that would have been like.

My first grade teacher said that to our class the last time I was here.

 

What do I have to do to keep this moment from evaporating into another repackaged memory?

 

What do I have to do to be here, is what I wonder. 

My legs are like cement pillars.

When Katherine holds out her hand, it is a different hand.

I am thinking about that bag of wilted lettuce sitting in the door of her fridge, leaking mold into all of the other compartments.

 

When Katherine’s face turns to me it is a new face, a Katherine-like face that has changed.

 

I am thinking, Who are you?

I am thinking, Here I go again.

 

She buys us two churros and I inhale them.

She gives her time to me and I inhale that.

She gives her affection to me and I inhale that too.

 

Katherine, I feel like a loser all the time.

– –

 

But I never brought that up in conversation. 

 

Things happen in two stages: 

 

1) Long period where I try to overcome myself in order to do the thing I want to do.

2) Not being able to do that.

 

Horrible things are always assaulting—you get it.

 

Example: Every night I have dreams that my father came back to life. We’re running to catch the subway and I’m so excited my dad’s come back to life. I’m telling him all the wonderful things he did for me when I was a boy, that anything kind that’s ever been said about me was something I’d learned from him. 

I even tell a guy who’s standing next to us reading a book, “When I had growing pains in my calves, my dad would lie down on a little cot next to my bed and read me my favorite dinosaur book until I fell asleep.”

I tell a little girl and her sibling that whenever I got Novocain at the dentist my dad would take me to Mars 2112 in Times Square (Applebee’s but it’s on Mars), and we’d order hot chocolates from a waiter dressed like an alien and I’d take a big sip and try to drink it all—but my lips were so numb it would spill all over me and we’d laugh because this always happened, it was our favorite routine—because it made it true: One time I had a dad who really loved me.

The dream ends when we hear the train coming down the line and hurry to make it. In his obesity and his rush, he trips on those yellow bumps on the edge of the platform that let blind people know, “hey if you keep going this way you’re going to get smashed by a train,” and falls onto the tracks and is crushed immediately. After the train comes to a stop, I step over to the edge of the platform to get a look and see my dad there, eyes-open and gone. And then I look up to whatever stranger is there and say, “But he just came back to life.”

 

– –

 

One time when Katherine and I were in bed, her big yellow cat jumped up and started kneading his paws on my stomach. 

Katherine gave me the look I’ve always wanted from her—like only a kitty’s affection can confirm there’s some essential goodness in my heart.

Her boy was vibrating.

Katherine said, “You passed the test,” and then her wall opened up and I could see that a whole studio audience was applauding just for me. And Bob Hope shook my hand and covered the microphone on his lapel and whispered in my ear, “I’m proud of you, son.”

 

But really she just said, “You’re going to like this,” and then showed me her phone. She said, “Isn’t he so pretty, isn’t he a Mr. Q.T. Pie?”

 

Katherine was showing me pictures that had the markings of expensive knowledge.

 

I said, “These are really nice pictures,” and her nails found the inside of my forearm.

 

She was insisting on a redaction. Her cat flared all his sharp belongings.

 

She said, “Come again, dear?” So I called an audible.

 

They are not pictures—they are portraits.

 

They were beautiful portraits and I wanted one for my girl back home. 

 

My girl, the 13-year-old Maltese, my baby Esther, the fluffy receiver of all my private falsettos.

 

– –

 

So Katherine comes to my childhood home with me, in Battery Park City, to a three-bedroom apartment with a view of the Statue of Liberty and all the other glorious things that go with being part of the life of The Chosen.

 

Katherine asks me if I’d carry the black backdrop from her house in Crown Heights because it looked wrinkled. I say, “Do you have a steamer,” and she says, “How do you know about that?”

 

So I explain to her that I was a production assistant in the wardrobe department on Woody Allen’s most recent movie, and she laughs like I’m kidding.

 

But I really was. I say, “We’ve got to get those wrinkles out.” And she says, “Let’s go,” and I follow her onto the train in Crown Heights, like she’s the one who grew up here and I didn’t.

 

We set up in front of the largest window in the house, in the living room, where the world is closest to coming into my Financial District home.

 

Katherine asks to do a solo session with Esther first. She is the star.

 

So Katherine sets up the backdrop that is just the wrinkled black blanket, but it looks fine in the viewfinder. And then Katherine says, “She’s being such a good girl,” because Esther sits still, smiling with her tongue out. She looks right into the lens.

 

She takes a few pictures while I watch my mother, who is trying to determine how much I care about Katherine.

 

“Blink twice if you love her,” is what she looks like to me.

 

“Do you want me to invite her to something?” is what she looks like to me.

 

And then Esther’s photo shoot is all done. The last one Katherine takes is a photo of Esther and my mom and my sibling, all huddled together like a real happy family. And they ask me to join! To be a part of the photo.

 

And I say, “No, I like it this way.” I say no maybe because I know I will have this photo for a long time, and I want to see my family happy and together and I don’t want to be distracted by the image of myself staring at me on my bedroom wall.

 

I think I’d like to see what this family looks like without me and how it might have been better.

 

So Katherine takes the photo, and because my mom knows me so well she sees exactly what goes on in my mind.

 

She pays Katherine two hundred dollars to take a series of portraits of my dog, because she knows that soon I’ll discard her and that this is a generous consolation prize.

 

Money in the place of heart. 

Money in the place of all the relationships you wanted to be true but die in the great distance between desire and pheromones and facial symmetry.

 

When we are leaving Katherine reaches out for my hand, but there is not much left to hold—my fingers have become talons and my palm is hairy and gone. I have lost the ability to be gentle.

 

– –

 

We go to a beer store and get two nice beers and I pay for them both. They’re going to be parting gifts that won’t make up for anything.

 

Imagine one fancy beer sitting in Katherine’s fridge inside a little paper bag. 

 

It’s still there today. You can hear it if you really listen, just blinking and waiting for something good that never comes.

 

 

 

Sam Fishman is a writer in Los Angeles. Write him at [email protected]

One response to “Katherine”

  1. Sarah says:

    Oh wow, another story wherein a selfish sad sack meets a manic pixie idiot! Special guest appearance by his mother!

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