Sylvia Fitch stood in her apartment at the front door, fidgeting with her clothes and pulling on her coat, trying to outrun the impending blast. Once-chic mirrored walls behind her reflected the gold and brocade living room into infinity. The neo-Baroque quite-mad decorator, recommended to her by a wicked (now ex) friend, had interpreted the vast golden interior of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue into an area that was 20 by 10 feet. Her space, when finished in the early 1990s, was transformed into two hundred square feet of gaudy goldtone and reflective brass. The apartment living room was on a high floor and faced south. The morning glow behind Sylvia was blinding even with the heavy drapes drawn. The room was filled with Aztec sunshine, and it hurt her eyes. She had to leave the apartment each day until the sun wasn’t as cruel.
“Smidgen!” she called. A small square head, fawn-colored and shaking, appeared from under the blazing brocade sofa. The old puppy ran out to her, wiggling his tiny chihuahua behind and making skittering sounds on the hard marble floors with his claws.
She looked at him scampering towards her and ignored the frayed fabrics and worn drapes. Everything had a dulling pall of ancient tobacco smoke over it, and the recycled breeze from the heater was stale and toasty. The too bright sunshine only blurred the reality temporarily, and she lowered her head after she saw the condition of her crumbling apartment in the laser light of day. The apartment had gone downhill after her husband Murray died, and her monthly income plummeted.There was only enough money to pay the common charges and electric bill. She had no phone, no cable TV, no computer. She certainly couldn’t afford a maid any more, and she certainly didn’t know how to cook and clean herself, so she made do with ignoring the dirt, most of the time, and walking far uptown to the cheaper Harlem groceries. Smidgen was her one remaining luxury, a necessity really, and she had a hard time finding the money for his piddling amount of food.
“Come on sweetie.” Sylvia’s raspy voice cooed low and velvety, a little sexy, the tone tanned by years of cigarettes. She couldn’t afford them anymore; the taxes on each pack had priced her out of her addiction. Sometimes, when she thought no one could see, she pulled a discarded butt out of the sand-filled ashtray at the front of her building, and savored it as she walked with Smidgen.
The little dog jumped into the old straw purse, his accustomed seat. He could hide in the bottom of the bag while Sylvia successfully ignored signs that said “Service Animals Only” and “No Pets” (which is what her apartment building had posted). She had to carry the dog in and out secreting him from view. In the right spot, huddled down, he looked like a furry makeup case. She covered him with an old scarf and headed for the lobby. He popped his head up in the elevator, looking around at the walls that unlike his home had no reflected dogs fading into a vanishing point. The oak panels were waxed, polished, and muted the sound of the buzzing elevator motor. The car glided to a stop, and the doors slid smoothly open. Smidgen was still looking out of the purse. Sylvia pushed his head down and stepped out into the lobby.
“Good morning, Mrs. Fitch.” The doorman looked up from his bank of video cameras and computer terminal as she hurried by. “You should carry your umbrella.”
She stopped a few feet from the desk, holding the purse almost behind her. “It’s just as bright as any other morning, Carlton. I shouldn’t be gone long.”
“I have an umbrella you can use. Here, let me drop it in your bag for you” He stepped from behind the desk holding a folding umbrella that was 18 inches long and looked heavy.
Backing up, she pulled the purse closer to her shoulder. “No, no. I don’t need it. I have to run. I have an appointment.”
As she pushed open the lobby door, Smidgen made one soft high bark.
“God bless you!” Carlton called out to her shrinking form and walked laughing back to his post.
The street was cold but bright, and Sylvia pulled the scarf out of the bag to wrap around her thin neck. The sky was china blue fading into steel gray tinted darkly in the west. She picked Smidgen up and let him run over to a bare tree at the edge of the sidewalk to relieve himself.
“You better pick up after that dog, lady.” A surly, jagged voice startled her as she rummaged in the purse looking for a baggie to pick up the dog poop.
She looked up and into an older man’s dark sunken eyes. He was wearing a shabby coat unbuttoned to the breeze, and his hair looked unkempt. “Mind your own business, sir. I’m looking for a baggie.”
The old man glared at her. He didn’t budge an inch. She found a baggie and stood back while the chihuahua finished his business. She cleaned up the mess and held the package up in front of the man.
“Your dog is supposed to be on a leash, you know. This city has laws!” The old man pointed his finger at her as she walked away with her dog at her heel. She reached down, scooped the puppy up, put him back in the purse, and headed north.
“Seems like it took me longer to walk way up here today.” Sylvia stopped before going into the grocery store and held her passenger up to her face. She whispered, “Now be quiet while we are inside.” She stepped through the entrance into air laden with food smells.
She had been to this store frequently. The manager was strict about the no pets policy, and had asked her to leave a couple of times. Once she tied Smidgen up to a newspaper stand near the entrance, but when she looked back at him as she went in, he was so small against everything else she couldn’t leave him. After that she took her chances, hoping the small dog kept quiet, which he did, almost all the time.
Sylvia passed through the meat department while Smidgen poked his nose up to the top of the purse, sniffing at the blood heavy air. He began to struggle and yip.
“Lady I told you before that little dog has to stay outside.” The manager appeared from behind and gripped Sylvia firmly on her shoulder. “You gotta get out of my store!”
“I really don’t see the problem. He’s such a little dog!”
“It’s the health department rules, lady. I don’t make em up.”
She put down her basket and walked up the aisle towards the exit. As she reached the doorway, the manager clasped her shoulder once again.
“Give me the dog food you put in your bag.”
Her shoulders slumped a little more as she handed the manager the five cans she had slipped into the purse next to Smidgen. “He’s just a little dog. I’m an old lady and I need my dog… I have nothing.” Tears began rolling down her cheeks.
The manager looked at her with emotionless eyes. Her straw bag was Gucci. The scarf she wore was Hermes and extremely expensive. The old lady had on a diamond ring almost as big as her swollen knuckle. He stared at her hands, eyes bulging and mouth agape.
“You’re not hurting for money, lady. Anybody can see that. Go on. Get out of my store!”
Sylvia looked down at her bag and her ring. Things were her downfall. She couldn’t get rid of a single thing that Murray had given her. Everything from her marriage held a connection for her- the clothes, the jewelry, the furniture, the endless line of small yapping dogs like Smidgen. Nothing had left her grasp if she could help it. She told countless attorneys, accountants, and bill collectors that she needed these things because she didn’t have Murray any more. Each time she lost something that he gave her, she held tighter to the remaining things.
Suddenly she was pushed outside of the market. No food. No dignity. Only reality. She had been thrown out of a grocery store for stealing. The wind was picking up and the edge of darkness from the west had spread across the sky. Big cold drops of rain splattered on the sidewalk all around her. She opened the straw purse containing Smidgen. “Oh sweetie! I left my umbrella at the apartment! I can’t walk 98 blocks in the rain!” She sucked in the tears, her face a stressful mass of wrinkles.
The three block walk to the station soaked Sylvia to her foundation garments. Smidgen was shivering in the soggy bag, and looked up at her when she went down into the well of the station, carefully holding the railing and the purse. Once at the bottom she rummaged through the bag looking for money to get on the train, then pushed her way under the turnstile onto the platform.
The station was in disrepair, and dripping with water from above. Missing tiles and long shadows made the corridor seem narrow and intimidating, hidden, dirty and secret. This wasn’t like the station near her apartment in the upscale part of town. This was a hole, a dangerous mix of shoddy upkeep and patron-performed destruction. Graffiti covered the walls, and it looked like no one had bothered to do anything at the platform for weeks except empty the overflowing garbage cans once a day.
The end of the platform was darker than the rest, more remote from the door. She walked slowly down towards it, hoping to remain hidden until the bright lights of the train came to take her back to her familiar shambles. Her grief at being thrown out from the grocery store had clouded her judgement and the rain had obscured her lenses on her glasses. She felt safer when she was alone. But she wasn’t alone.
“Hey lil mama.”
“What you doing back here, old woman?”
“Well, motherfuckers. Look here what we done found.”
The voices came out of the shadows and solidified into three men sporting dark hooded sweatshirts and menacing stances. Their mocking tones echoed around the vaulted ceilings of the station, and the cacophony surprised and confused Sylvia. She clutched the bag containing Smidgen closer to her chest and cowered towards the edge of the tracks. The thugs advanced on her, two taking her side and the largest one approached from the front. She was trapped.
“Hey lady, now don’t be scared. We ain’t gonna hurt you. Just let’s see what you gots there.” The big one reached over for Sylvia’s purse, the 25 year old Gucci bag containing an arthritic old chihuahua, some tissue, and 17 cents in pennies. A breeze blew between the mugger and the old woman, and the floor began to rumble with the roar of an approaching train. He lunged forward “Come on, bitch. Give it up!”
She crumbled into a small lump on the concrete. The man tripped over her prostrate form, stumbling, then tripping and falling flat, head dangling over the tracks. The downtown train hit him at about 30 miles per hour, severing his head immediately and spraying blood all over the two remaining muggers, red fountains arching over Sylvia who was still folded into a knot. She got up, adrenaline pushing her out of the station and into the safety of the rain.
The shock of the event stayed with her as she tottered aimlessly down the sidewalk, a dazed and traumatized pain illuminating her eyes. But as the rain slackened, so did she. Her shoulders became less hunched, her face less lined. Blocks passed and she took Smidgen out to pee.
“I think I might sell this old diamond.” She said to the dog as he did his business close to the side of a building. “I think Murray would have wanted me to shop in the neighborhood.”