Mond thought he was living on the edge because he made his money trading stocks on the thinnest of margins. Despite the volatile risky nature of his work he was bored – perhaps because of the efficiency of his underlings and their machines, maybe because of the frantic sameness of his long weekdays. One hot jitney-less Friday in sweltering mid-summer he decided to break the monotony by visiting his daughter.
She lived with her mother in a safe boring neighborhood in Queens not far from the Whitestone Bridge. Mond opened the unlocked screen door, found the mother sitting in the kitchen sipping a cup of hot tea, watching something on a small TV.
“Where’s my girl?”
She appeared to ignore him, something dramatic or funny was about to happen.
“I heard you the first time.”
“She’s in the back yard.”
He walked through the first floor apartment as if he owned the place though he only contributed towards the rent. The girl’s mother sat still in the kitchen, running her hand through her wet disordered hair, should I get it cut again, let it grow out like Rodolfo wants, who does he think he is, barging in unannounced like that, looking at me like I’m lazy, an unfit mother, the only few minutes I get to myself, I hope the neighborhood kids key his fancy ride, whatever it is.
The girl sat near the exact center of the small rectangular yard, thin not quite rivulets of drool spilling from the sides of her mouth. She fidgeted on her blanket, she was neither fat nor lean, impossible to tell at this stage what she might become. She didn’t turn when she heard his footsteps. She was playing with some kind of plastic butterfly not even a proper pinwheel; some midges lazily circled her sweating head. He crouched down beside her, she was smiling then her face darkened when she saw him.
Inside the shower stopped, a cancellation of white noise, sharp as ever, Mond’s animal instincts were still on go. Moments later Rodolfo stepped into the kitchen toweling himself off. He was wearing boxer briefs, always flaunting, is that how you keep her?
“He’s here,” she said. Rodolfo knew what she meant. The local news came on, she mechanically got up to start dinner, Rodolfo walked outside drinking a beer, still in his underwear, a treat for the ogling neighbors Mond supposed.
Either one of them could have said it. Mond regarded Rodolfo, his short curly hair, trim goatee, tan gleaming muscles girdling an incipient paunch. They had almost nothing in common, what does she see in him, what did she see in me, money most likely, why did I hook up with her, I was young once, still am in millionaire broker circles.
“Care for a beer?”
Mond looked at Rodolfo’s bottle, an expensive Mexican brand. Rodolfo isn’t Mexican, he’s a mix, he forgot what she told him, it’s impolite to ask. “No thanks, I have to drive.” He thought of the Russian billionaires he was to entertain just now coasting into JFK if there were no delays, he could check his phone, why bother, he was due at their hotel for brunch next day, the real reason he forewent the Hamptons for a weekend in the city, so diverse, so wondrous, so
Rodolfo slugged his beer down nearly to the dregs. He stood there expectant, wondered what he should say, how he could keep Mond outside.
“Are you doing anything this weekend?” Mond asked partly to ease Rodolfo’s awkwardness, partly because he sometimes wondered how these people lived.
“We’re taking her to the amusement park, Nellie Bly’s, it’s not called that anymore. I haven’t been there in years. Anyway, that’s what we’re doing.” He shook his beer bottle, turned to go inside. “Sure you don’t want one?”
“I’m sure.” He watched Rodolfo walk back. He could picture the woman hectoring him. “Keep him outside,” she’d say, “I don’t want him in here. He’s creepy.” That’s what she called him when they parted, he didn’t see it, he was ambitious, not creepy, he lived on the edge, he’d drain every last bit out of life, not like those patient tradesmen, landscapers, machinists and the like waiting for rewards that may never come. He thought of the girl. What if he were to pick her up, carry her off like a football or a loaf of bread, is that a cliché, all my analogies and dreams are clichés and yet I’m more moneyed than they could imagine. I could take her to the ballet on Sunday, is the Bolshoi in town? She’s too young for that, can’t expose her too early, might –
A blue bird squawked ending everyman’s reverie.
Rodolfo was back wearing tan shorts this time. It was getting cooler. The little girl babbled something. Mond regarded her: she was cute or cute enough, like most kids are at her age, how old was she? He wanted to hold her, he didn’t want to touch her. She lay on her back, quiet or purring now, gazing not at her putative father figures but at a spare treetop barely quivering in the lessening light, new bits of drool near her mouth, gleaming, not gleaming, not dry
Clyde Liffey lives near the water.