New York City, 2003
People always say it’s a great picture of you and me, smiling our vacation grins, heads tipped to fill the space between us, cheeks red from the cold spring wind, winter hats low over our ears, Lady Liberty far across the water behind us. They say we look happy.
But I remember why we were in this park instead of inside her crown. Why this is the picture of us with her, instead of a picture of us in front of her windows, the vista of water and city showing how high we made it.
We’d gone into that five-star restaurant the night before to taste the unpronounceable foods we’d seen so carefully prepared on the Food Network. Coq au vin. Moules marinières. Blanquette de veau.
How did they know we didn’t intend to pay? I wore the designer dress I’d combed thrift stores for weeks to find: emerald, sleeveless, shimmery; you wore your brother’s tux and good shoes only a size off. We pronounced the names of the dishes correctly (we had practiced), including cabernet sauvignon, dom perignon. But the maitre d’ caught up with you taking a wrong turn out of the men’s room. He sapped our wallets and bank accounts such as they were, then pressed his lips in a way that said we owed more. I let my tears loose, flush with shame, so he let us go. We ran flat out the first two blocks, then had to take off our shoes and half-limp the last eight to our hotel in our stockings, clinging to each other, laughing and cursing about how screwed we were. Still, that food was spectacular, we said.
So the next day we had our passes to the crown, bought in advance, but we didn’t have cash for the ferry to Liberty Island. We joked about panhandling for it, then sold the tickets to a couple dressed just like us and gorged on street tacos in the little park on the edge of the water.
That nice Japanese man took this picture with the expensive camera we borrowed from my sister, just before the homeless guy started harassing us for change. He saw the camera and the high-end outerwear we got shopping the clearance racks with your employee discount, and he did his math. We insisted we had nothing but he badgered us with all the downtrodden cliches. I was indignant; you said leave him alone, he doesn’t know how to trust people anymore.
Arguing with him was like arguing with you when you found out Sean had stayed over while you were at your grandfather’s funeral. You wouldn’t believe he passed out drunk on the couch and stayed there the whole time, right where you found him. You kept saying, why, why, why, I kept saying, no, I didn’t, we didn’t, no, why would you think that, I love you.
I understand now why that homeless man didn’t believe us, didn’t want to believe us. But you. Don’t you remember, you had to talk me into that restaurant prank? I’m not a good liar, I said, and you said, don’t worry, I’ll be with you the whole time.
Eleanor Gallagher writes and quilts in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared in Jersey Devil Press. She is the Assistant Fiction Editor at Atticus Review.
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