Bank Street Pier

Matthew Lederman

A dark-haired man sits on the end of the crowded pier looking out into the harbor, frowning at the industrial shoreline on the other side. Dark rainbows swirl beneath him on the surface of the murky water. A potato chip bag, now filled with the breeze, sails upstream against the current. A mostly submerged piece of dark, splintered wood drifts slowly in the other direction.

"Nick?" a small, slender blonde-haired woman asks tentatively, from behind. He stares out at a tanker, watching the wake form huge green swells topped with miniature white caps. "Nick?" she asks a little louder.

He spins quickly, awkwardly toward her voice. Fear flashes across his face. He frowns, smiles and then frowns again. "Hi," he grunts. "How are you?" He looks at the ground at her feet and struggles up and stands there, facing the woman, towering over her, a full head taller. "Hi, Kate," he repeats. "How are you?"

Kate puts her hands on his shoulders and pulls herself up to kiss him. Nick lets her pull his head down and to the side. He tries to kiss her cheek. Their heads hit. Two kisses miss the cheeks they were aimed at. "I'm fine," Kate sobs softly. "Fine."

"Sorry," Nick reddens. "How are you?" he repeats. She cries a little louder. Two men stop and stare at Kate and Nick. Nick glares at them. One pulls the other away by the hand. They watch Kate and Nick over their shoulders as they mince away and fade into the crowd, milling around randomly on the pier. "You want to sit down?" Nick asks gently.

"No," Kate wails, slowly letting herself slide down Nick to the ground. Nick sits down beside her. They dangle their feet over the edge, out over the water, and look down in the dark green water. Kate sobs loudly.

"I would have dropped it off," Nick says, helpless, unable to stop her crying. "Or you could have come over."

"No," Kate sobs. "I wanted to see you." A tiny Pekinese with two pink ribbons on its head pokes its wet black snout between them and sniffs Kate's lap. She giggles and pushes it away gently. The dog pushes back insistently toward her lap. Kate bursts into tears.

Nick snatches the animal up in one hand and tosses it back behind them. The dog yelps angrily. "Vermin," Nick hisses.

"Don't you touch my dog," whines a balding, gray-haired man with one large gold earring.

"Control that fucking pest or I'll throw it in the fucking river," Nick warns.

The bald man draws back theatrically. "Here, Buck," he calls the animal. "Here, boy." The short-legged dog waddles over to him. The man clips a black leather leash to the animal's collar. "Let's go find some nice people to play with," he suggests loudly.

Nick turns back to Kate. She sobs softly again. "I'd offer you a handkerchief," Nick shrugs, "but I haven't carried one since second grade."

She laughs without smiling. "No. I'll be alright." She shrugs daintily. "I guess I really haven't faced up to it yet."

Nick looks down into the water. "I missed you at the funeral."

"I wasn't there," she admits.

"I know." He pauses. "I meant that I wished you had come."

"I couldn't," she sniffs. "I was going to. I got ready that morning. Did my hair. Put on make up. I even bought a black dress. But I couldn't go."

"I'm sorry," Nick says softly.

"It wasn't that expensive," Kate shrugs. "And I've worn it other places. Black is always in style."

"I'm sorry you didn't come," Nick repeats. "You were her closest friend."

Kate looks into the water. Murky reflections of Nick and herself look back. "I never really liked you," she admits quietly.

"I know," Nick sighs. "It used to bother me. It doesn't anymore."

"I blamed you."

"For what?" Nick asks in a strained, high voice. Kate looks into the water. "For her death?" Nick asks, amazed. Kate starts to hum softly. "Kate?" Nick asks angrily.

She turns to him, a sad, placid look on her face. "For a lot of things," she says softly. "I blamed you for her death. I blamed you for coming between us. It was never the same after you got married."

"She wanted to get married," Nick protests feebly.

"Do you think so?" Kate asks. "I don't."

"Well, I think she did," Nick asserts.

"Her mother never liked you," Kate says softly.

"Yes, she did," Nick disagrees. "Her father liked me, too."

"No, he didn't," she argues. "He didn't think you were good enough for her. She didn't either. And they blame you for her death." She looks at Nick haughtily. "They're thinking about a wrongful death suit. They don't want you to get the insurance money."

"What insurance money?" Nick asks scornfully.

"There isn't any?"

"No," Nick scoffs. "I had life insurance at work. Just for myself. Not that much either. Maybe a year's salary. She didn't have any insurance. None. Hell, she was even on my health insurance."

Kate shakes her head. "They think there's money involved...."

"Well, fuck them."

"Are you sure there's no money?" Kate presses.

"Yes. I'm sure." Nick stares out over the harbor. A sailboat floats languidly far down the river. "Why did you want to see me, Kate?"

"Well, I kind of wanted to give you my condolences...."

"That's not necessary," Nick mutters. "I know how you feel...."

"And I kind of wanted to apologize," Kate says softly. "I haven't always been very nice to you."

"That's not necessary either."

"I'm sorry to put you out," Kate says, touching Nick's arm lightly, "but I didn't want to go over to her place. I couldn't have faced that. And I didn't think you should come to mine. It wouldn't have looked right."

"To who?" Nick asks angrily.

"Well, I don't know." She looks out at the sailboat. "I guess, it wouldn't have felt right." She looks into the water. "To me."

"Sorry," Nick grunts. "I didn't mean to snap at you."

"Do you want to come over?" Kate asks, her lower lip trembling.

"No. Thank you."

"Besides," Kate sighs, "this place reminds me of her. In a happier time."

"This place reminds me of a Fellini film," Nick says. "I remember coming here with her years ago. It was a hot weekend. Right after Labor Day. We got a six pack and sat up on top of that pier and watched thousands of sunbathing naked men have an orgy in the middle of the afternoon. We told ourselves we were waiting for the Circle Line to pass. We wanted to see the looks on the faces of the tourists." Nick laughs. "The truth was, I couldn't drag her away. It was like she was afraid of missing something. It was pretty wild. At least at first. I think after you've seen a couple hundred sex acts, you've pretty much seen all the varieties." Nick shakes his head sadly. "She just couldn't take her eyes off it."

Kate glares at Nick. "That's not a very nice way to remember someone."

Nick shrugs. "I didn't think I'd ever think of that again. It's so vague in my mind now that I almost doubt that I really saw it." He laughs. "The most vivid memory of the whole thing is her sitting there slack-jawed, transfixed. I don't think you could ever guess by looking at her that she was watching a wriggling, humping mob of naked men."

Kate stands up abruptly and walks away into the crowd. Nick turns and watches her until she vanishes. He turns back to the harbor and watches the sailboat gradually receding into the distance. A young man with bleached blonde hair sits down near Nick, a few feet past the space Kate left. He looks over at Nick and then pulls his tee shirt off over his head ostentatiously. He stretches out one long muscular leg and then the other. He rolls up the legs of his khaki cut offs and lies back on the pier displaying his tan, ridged abdomen and closes his eyes. He parts his lips slightly and breathes heavily through his mouth. "Nick?" Kate says softly. Nick turns slowly and looks up. The blonde man opens his eyes, sighs loudly and sits up. Kate sits down between them. "I'm sorry, Nick." She looks down at her reflection in the water. "I really am," she insists. The blonde-haired man stands up and flexes the muscles of his arms and shoulders. Kate turns and watches absently, involuntarily. Nick watches Kate. The man admires his own flat stomach, looks at Kate, shakes his head slowly to himself and walks away. Kate watches him melt into the crowd.

"You forgot this," Nick interrupts, handing her a cardboard box, about one foot long and wide and half as tall, carefully sealed with brown reinforced packing tape, with Kate's name written in a black marker in a strong female hand. An invitation-size cream-colored envelope is taped to the top of the box. "She wanted you to have this."

"Me?" Kate touches the breast over her heart with her left hand.

"Yes."

"What is it?" she asks, taking the box and shaking it gently.

"I don't know," Nick says. "I never opened it." He takes a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket and hands it to Kate. Kate accepts it gingerly, looks at Nick and then at the paper, unfolds it and reads to herself. Nick looks out up the river. Kate taps him gently on the arm and hands him the paper.

"Thanks," she breathes.

"You're welcome," he shrugs, carefully folding the paper and slipping it back into his shirt pocket.

Kate hefts the box, testing its near absence of weight, and gently shakes it again. "You never opened it?" she asks.

"No. Or the note either." Nick looks sharply at Kate. "It isn't any of my business. I can't even imagine what's in it. When I went though her stuff, I didn't notice anything missing. Except her wedding ring and her engagement ring." Nick shrugs. "I don't know what happened to them." He looks at Kate and shudders. "I don't want to believe that someone took them off her body."

"Oh, God, no," Kate gasps, horrified.

Nick touches eyes with his index finger. "You and I didn't get along," he mumbles, "but I'm glad she gave you something to remember her by. I think you were important to her." He looks out at the sailboat, now just a white sliver against the far gray shore. "I've got to go before I get melodramatic."

Kate stares at the unopened box. She runs her finger on the edge of the packing tape and then along the flap of the envelope. "There was no insurance money?" she asks softly, hopefully.

"No," Nick looks up at her. "No insurance money. She didn't have any life insurance. I don't think they ever pay off on suicide, anyway. I saw a movie about that once." Nick shakes his head sadly. "She didn't even have her own health insurance." He looks out over the water. "She had her teeth done just before. Did you know that? I don't even know why she did it. Her teeth looked perfect to me. The whole damn mouth. My health insurance didn't cover it. Cost a few thousand. She must have gone to the dentist a dozen times. All I remember is the bills. They came incessantly. What kind of a woman has her whole mouth redone and then kills herself?" He looks down into the water. "And do you know what the worst thing is?"

Kate looks up at Nick, unsmiling. "No. What?"

"The undertaker closed her mouth. Can you believe that? She lay there in the casket with her brand new teeth and no one could see them."

"I'm sorry," Kate sobs.

"Forget it," Nick grunts, struggling to stand up. "I've got to get going." Kate gets up easily and looks up, frowning slightly, at Nick. "Maybe we'll see each other around," he says.

"Maybe."

"No," he decides. "We won't. Take care of yourself, Kate."

"I will, Nick. Thanks." She flashes him a brilliant smile as he walks away into the crowd.

Copyright 2005 Matthew Lederman. All rights reserved
Contact: matt@matthewlederman.com