Coney Island’s Not a Slum, But It’s No Manhattan
Eda Tse, Winner, Literary Non-Fiction
- into manhattan
Carrying 1984 in my hands, and 2012 on my hands, there is hate etched into the creases of light lines on my wrist. There is worry hidden inside the scab on my thumb. I walk onto the train. My head is slumped against the subway window, 1984 slipping out of my hands. My mother picks it up, and flips through the pages. It’s the first book she’s liked in years.
In the window, I can see a shadowy version of me, of my mother, of 1984 in her wrinkled hands. Those hands – carrying years I have never lived and never will. Orange seats turn blurry and melt into the scene behind it: lonely train stations with people vanishing and appearing. I’m falling. I’m falling asleep.
- rockerfeller center
We go the wrong way ten times. A Pret a Manger is closed, Jamba Juice is open. Dunkin Donuts is offering free hot cocoa if you buy a cup. We make it out of the labyrinth-like building – no forgiveness involved – just circling around the fake red poinsettias and Asians taking photographs next to them.
We’re out, surrounded by crowds and people speaking in different tongues. “The tree looks smaller,” my mother says.
“But it’s better looking than last year.”
“It twinkles. Do you like it? Do you like it?” I’m repeating myself.
She murmurs, quiet.
- 50 – 35th street
“Do you know that Sam Champion is gay?” My mother sounds equal parts fascinated and horrified.
“So?” Like I give a shit whether Sam Champion is gay or not.
“Isn’t that horrible?”
I can’t believe we’re having this conversation, amongst Christmas lights and pockmarked men selling balloons in the shape of hearts and swords.
“Leon’s gay, Mom. We all love him. Do you have a problem with him?”
She looks at the window displays in response. The beautiful ones she oohs and aahs over. But I can’t focus, my mind playing a black and white movie in the puffs of smoke emanating from the hot dog carts: My mother interrogating me, wide eyed and frenzy.
“Are you gay?” No. “Are you bisexual?” Yes. I throw on my jacket, I grab my blue purse with only $20 in it, I run out the door. I don’t look back. I run and run and run and there is nowhere for me to go. I can imagine running to Marc’s but he’s probably asleep, hair ruffled. Edward would just slam the door in my face. I feel like I’m already dead, in this shadow of a dream.
I’ve worked myself into a frenzy.
- miracle on 34th street
I’m praying for a miracle on 34th street, because if it happened in a movie, why can’t it happen to me? Even a 100 dollars on the street, Christmas cheer – God, a 100 dollars is 1/10 of this, 1/20 of that, exact money for two phone bills.
No miracles. There are people in Burberry coats, smiling and carrying Victoria Secret bags, Lord & Taylor bags, Macy’s bags, Uniqlo bags, and all I can think of is that there’s excess for some. And nothing for others. I just feel guilty, knowing that there are others who have it worse, who have never seen Christmas lights and I am a horrible person, even though my hands are empty. There is no money for more than nothing.
- on the way home
The rain stings my face; my glasses slip off my nose. There are spikes of light in the corner of my vision, paranoia making neon noises. My mother slips her arm into mine, as though we are friends battling nature. A pill bottle is actually an M&M bottle, a vicious dog is actually a poodle.
Christmas is nothing on gray streets filled with people.
I carry worry in my heart. Secrets, too. I carry Halloween and devils inside this temple of the Lord. Tomorrow Jesus will be born by way of immaculate conception and I shouldn’t have been born in the first place. Coney Island’s not a slum, but it sure as hell is no Manhattan.