My girlfriend and I were walking through where we never thought we’d end up. Newark. With a new Whole Foods nearby, the two of us, Asian and white respectively, were the stereotypical colonizers.
You can tell the purity of a restaurant’s ingredients by the quality of the pavement where they put their trash every night. The concrete in front of the McDonalds in China Town for example has been worn down to the big rocks they fill the plaster mixture with to make it cheaper.
The chemicals in Coca Cola are corrosive.
In the grout. I had been working that week on stretching out my mouth, because from sitting for so long at work my face had cemented into a mask. One of those Korean masks, where you can only move the jaw, and can only change the expression from a smug grin to a gasp of torment. Funny how the two are so close to each other.
And there I was, walking down the street with my mouth wide open and leaning back to stretch out my levator scapulae, or whatever you call that muscle on the side of your neck.
My girlfriend on the other hand has the facial expressions of a puppet. A puppet with strings tied to every part of her face. When she walks the strings get caught on all kinds of stuff—other people, a stop sign, you name it—and there is always some part of her moving in a way you wouldn’t expect.
SO everything was fine. Then we saw a pair of old-time indoor roller skates.
They were bright white. The kind that some fine ass black woman would’ve used to dance to disco in circles around a beautifully-polished wooden rink in the seventies. My girlfriend was overjoyed, several parts of her face moving simultaneously, while I thought it was all just too much to take in: the grace of the taut leather, my collapsing posture, and the sin of the surrounding business buildings.
Prudential, IDT, and all the other nondescript monoliths kiss your very soul like a drunk uncle touching his lips to your cheek just slightly too softly.
That’s when we heard “Those are mine!”. An old woman from behind a car where it didn’t make sense for her to be, especially with such beautiful roller skates sitting in the middle of the street. My girlfriend did that thing with her face again. I must have been at the right angle because a sound came out of my mouth as if the wind was hitting the opening of a glass bottle.
“I can’t use them anymore!” she yelled again, leaning on the back of a white Chevy Lumina, probably ’98 if I had to guess.
I had to guess. What was she doing, and why couldn’t we just take the skates, for god sakes?
“I broke my pelvis a few years back!” she yelled.
Having spent the better part of my Saturday stretching my mouth, so that I could use it again when the week came, I couldn’t help but keep it open at that point. All I could muster was a long and uncomfortably loud “HOW?”.
“I was mugged and raped in that park over there.” She said it quietly now, like we were old friends.
I tried to relax enough to speak as I realized I needed to say something, but before I could, she asked for a dollar.
“Please! I used to be a great dancer. I’m telling you I wouldn’t have even had to ask if I could still use my legs like I want to.”
A bad part of me took over, a part that refuses to give money to the homeless because I don’t want to support drug use.
“Sorry” was all my numbed jaw could mumble.
As I turned away, I saw my girlfriend had settled on a wide smile as she stood, still focused on the pristine roller skates. But there was something wrong with the expression as a whole. Something around the eyes. Something that could have made anyone ill.