O Melissa Marchant
 

It was lunchtime in Brooklyn and raining. The little restaurant was crowded.

            “May I?” I asked. The young man didn’t answer, just nodded, so I sat down in his booth. There was something familiar about him, but my memory refused to tell me more.

I was mindful that he was watching me as I signaled the waitress. I ordered my lunch, then, gave myself permission to look. His eyes were blue and watery. Somehow they drew me in, much the way the unthinking stream is sucked into a drain hole.

 

I found myself walking on a map. An old map of San Francisco that was also San Francisco itself, with the Pacific Ocean lapping at its edges. It was sunny and beautiful and very far from where I had been moments ago.

Since I had only the clothes I stood up in, I felt in my pockets for some money, but there was none. Then my searching fingers found a credit card. I pulled it out. It was bright gold, which was no lie, for it was gold to me who had no money. And as I walked the streets I found myself walking beside the young man from the restaurant and that we knew each other.

“I have no money,” I confessed, “and I’m hungry.” There followed a long silence. I tried again. “If there is something large that we need, I can pay for it with my credit card. But please, loan me some cash right now to buy something to eat.”

He looked at me with irritation and felt in his pockets, finally pulling out a crumpled ten-dollar bill.

As I took it, I said, “We must buy a notebook so we can keep everything in order or it will become confused.” He nodded and said, “I have an appointment I’ll be back in a while.”

“I’ll be here in this department store,” I replied, pointing at the tall building in front of us. “On the sixth floor there is a green padded bench. But, I’ll be looking around to see what possibilities there are for textile designers, so I may be late. I need an hour.”

“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said, and walked away into the crowd.

I ate a hot dog and wandered through the store. It seemed a little strange. Fabric designs were similar to those I had created ten years before. Furniture was mainly Scandinavian with solid color upholstery. No market there. I wondered if I even wanted to do decorative design; it felt passé, but I had to earn money somewhere.

As though motivated by someone other than myself, I took the elevator up to a copyright lawyer’s office on the eighth floor, and walked in.

“I’m looking for a job,” I said.

“What kind of a job?” the lawyer asked.

“I’m an artist, but I understand copyright law.”

He gave me a wry smile. “Answer this. In a case of infringement, can a licensee initiate action without consent of the licensor?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“And are non-exclusive rights important for the licensor to retain?”

“Absolutely.”

“All right. You’re hired. When can you start?”

“How much will you pay me?”

“Five hundred a week.”

“That’s low.”

“You have no papers.”

“I suppose that’s true. I could start tomorrow.”

“Fine. Please fill out this form for me.”

 

Relieved to have a job, I returned to the sixth floor of the department store. As I sat down I saw him approaching with his slow lanky-legged walk. He folded himself onto the green bench where I was sitting and pushed the hair from his limpid eyes.

“Well?” he asked.

“I now have a job as a lawyer’s assistant in a copyright office.”

“Good,” he said brightening. “Then you can use your credit card to buy furniture for the apartment we’re going to rent. I need a coffee.” He held out his hand. “I’ll need the change, that was my last ten.” I put the money into his cool damp hand. He smiled for the first time I could remember as he got up and walked over to a coffee booth.

I sat for a moment realizing that he was expecting me to pay for everything. Hadn’t I made that mistake somewhere before?

I got up and walked through a door that opened onto an outside balcony. A rush of great happiness came over me as I climbed onto the rampart. I heard him behind me, running across the floor yelling, “Melissa! Melissa! Don’t do it! Don’t change the probability!”

But he was too late. I’d leapt. I spread my limbs. I felt free as a bird. I could see the people’s startled faces as the street rushed up to meet me.

 

And now, here he is, staring at me across the booth . . . an angry smarting tear quivering inside each lower lid. The little restaurant has emptied out. I pick up my things and leave. He knows it is useless to follow.

 
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