Friday 21 June 2024

The April Thesis by Mike Lee, red wine and Strega

 It was another nothing autumn afternoon: cloudy, beckoning rain. I saw a young couple riding down St. Marks Place to Tompkins Square Park. I was on the sidewalk, my camera in hand, as the blue Citibike rode by, pedaled by a heavy-set young man with close-cropped hair, and a young woman sitting in the front basket, her brown legs spread wide and high as her driver raced to make the light at Avenue A.

Riding in those baskets is often dangerous but has become commonplace recently. Youth lives for small dangers, and I envied their passion and a sense that no matter how risky, all would be well.

Until it isn’t. But not today.

As they passed, the young man looked at me. I wish I had gotten a photo, but I wasn’t ready.

Yet the moment sent me elsewhere in time.

I thought about the young woman on the bike. She was short and thin, with black hair flowing past—a blur.

This was enough to set the wheels turning. Backward, though, always backward.

I continued walking, smiling and dived deep into memory from decades ago.

The young woman reminded me of April. We met at the Domsey’s in Williamsburg, near the bridge, in the fall of 1990.

I used to go to the store to buy vintage clothes, but I learned from friends that the best bargains were at Domsey’s warehouse in Brooklyn by the East River.

There, you could get clothes for a pound. The catch was you had to compete with buyers from vintage stores and others, all fighting for a spot by the large bins where workers would dump piles of clothes. The cascades of shoes and accessories, such as purses and belts, dropped into barrels.

I’m told you rarely got lucky, but it’s still worth a visit.

The early morning weather was crisp and not very cold when I took the M train across the East River into Brooklyn. I had tip money from my waiter job near Union Square in Manhattan and figured on some bargains, hopefully, vintage button-down shirts.

Since I was a teenager, I have worn vintage. I wanted to look different and be sharp. Style is an attitude, not a fashion statement. 

I despise uniformity. Instead, I seek to express my individuality through fashion—though on a tight budget.

I entered chaos. Workers were busy dumping bales of loose clothing into barrels while bargain hunters and vintage clothing storeowners grabbed them almost simultaneously.

Stood there trying to figure out where to start. Hands in tweed jacket pockets. Cigarette hanging from mouth. Horn-rimmed glasses were slightly askew. Turn to the left to look at an ashen young woman in a flower print baby doll dress and high Doc Marten boots fetch a pair of stilettos dropping into the barrel before me.

She held the shoes to her neck as if they represented a profound, life-changing moment. They were vintage: pointed-toed patent leather with what looked like silk bows at the vamp and three-inch heels.

I didn’t find anything in my wanderings through the warehouse; instead, I conversed with the young woman. I found out her name and that she was spending her first paycheck from her cashier job at Tower Records on Broadway. She graduated from Hunter the previous spring and was from Brooklyn. 

Outside, she unlaced her Docs and tried on the stilettos while leaning her hand against the wall. They fit, but I caught her when she began to stumble at the first step.

We found a diner down the street, talked about bands, exchanged numbers, and then I asked her out. We planned to have dinner in the Village.

I made sure I was on time at the meeting spot at the A train exit by the basketball courts.

April wore a black trench coat over a green plaid, a-line dress with a flipped collar and heels, which clicked loudly above the bustling din of the avenue.

She pulled her dark brunette hair back in a ponytail, with wispy bangs over her forehead. Her mascara trailed to Egyptian tails, accentuating her green eyes and hair.

I wore my lucky suit—dark green, single-button, with a skinny black tie knotted over a red shirt and two-tone Italian winkle pickers. 

April adjusted my tie and said she loved how I looked. 

We were money. We were sharp. We walked down MacDougal as such.

Dinner was lasagna and a lot of red wine, finishing with shots of Strega.

We had sex in my apartment. I lived in an old tenement on Ludlow Street with a roommate from Chile and a stove that never worked. My bed was a futon mattress, yet April was impressed with the record collection.

The following day, I woke up to April playing The Pixies and singing along to “Ana.” Her voice was a cigarette whisper, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Well, it didn’t happen, but give us credit for trying. It just was until it was not. This seems to be a theme in my life.

A few years ago, I looked her up on Facebook. She is married and living in Florida. April is a far and long ago.

As I passed Café Mogador, I thought I heard the guitar opening to “Ana,” but it was my imagination. The mind plays tricks in late middle age.

About the author

Mike Lee is a writer and editor at a trade union in New York City. His work appears in or is forthcoming in CafeLit, Drunk Monkeys, The Opiate, Brilliant Flash Fiction, BULL, and others. His story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon. 

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