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On a Rooftop in New York

by Alina Stefanescu

For a minute. At 9:37 p.m.-ish. You stand next to your high school sweetheart who is no longer yours and no longer sweet but still has a heart you can feel pounding inside his chest. One foot away. Under the gray sweatshirt. You can feel but not touch the heart that lives in New York where you have come to visit your Argentinian lover who works at the embassy. Who purchased tickets for the Jane’s Addiction concert. Which is not on a rooftop but somewhere below in a bar. You can’t touch. His hands push deep into his pockets like he’s looking for change and you remember this means he is nervous. Remember this means he's not yours. Not sweet. An uneasy adjective. There are so many buildings with lights. You say there are so many buildings that it’s hard to believe. And then stop. Notice his hands stop burrowing. His hands are still hidden but no longer moving like puppets in those pockets you can't touch. He stares at you in the dark. Skyscrapers rise in his eyes. The thought of a skyscraper. A skyscraping thought and a scratched cloud. You can’t believe you both left Alabama and now you’re here above all these buildings, or at least above half the buildings—the shorter ones. You can smell his favorite bar soap the color of clover the time you went skinny-dipping off a dock you knew it was trespassing. The two of you, that’s what you did, laughed because you were skinny-dipping while fondling the trespassing part without even having to say it. How you loved it. The lake water thick as black ink in a pot blurring into a sky thick as black ink divided by pinpricks of light—and then stop. You want to know if he likes the city, if he’s found reputable sources for good raspberry gelato, if he’s happy up here. In New York. Not on the rooftop. Not up here on the rooftop with you remembering how you laid naked on a towel and imagined the day you’d live in New York together. Not this New York with the roof and the gray sweatshirt and the unsweetness but the other New York, the one that didn’t exist until you invented it together. He says it's beautiful but lonely and beauty is pretty fucking lonely if you’re serious about it. And then stops. You stop back. Both of you keep stopping. His face is slimmer, his eyes surgical, dragging hooks along the surface of the skyline. Despite the fact that neither of you likes fishing he is pretending to be a fisherman despite the fact that he knows you know he hates fishing. On a rooftop in New York. Not touching or wrapping your legs around each other. Not the warmth of that old knot. For a minute. You stand next to your high school sweetheart with the city at your feet remembering how much you wanted this. How you got here. You can feel but not touch, stare but not see, remember but not forget. And then stop.

Author's Note

I love the narrative technique of dreams—the jaggedness, the awkward wrenching forward. I wrote this piece after waking up from a dream that felt like a memory. And then, wanting to feel it again, I picked up the pieces and forced a sort of connective tissue that matched the dream itself—alternating between actions and reactions without forcing agreement or understanding.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with four incredible mammals. Find her poems and prose in recent issues of Juked, DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, New Orleans Review Online, and others. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes and President of the Alabama State Poetry Society. More arcana online at or @aliner.

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