Invisible: Williamsburg, Brooklyn 2015 by Jennifer Sears
My husband Jess knows thighs. He accents curves and highlights skin tone. He deepens shadows between quadriceps and groin. He believes in aesthetics, in the play of proportion. We’ve returned to the Romantic Ideal, he’ll say if asked for his philosophy.
For this, Jess’ work is in high demand. Supermodels request him. From November on, he meditates on the country’s top gams, brushing his signature C-shape thigh onto those thong-clad Persephones who gleam onto covers of those swimsuit issues that herald our every spring.
But you’d never guess Jess’ powers if you saw him crouched in front of our HD monitor, the elastic band of his boxers cutting into his gut. So when I tell him I’m starting sessions at the infrared sauna that opened on Berry, that I bought a six-session deal promising me I could “sweat deep” and “rid myself of winter toxins”, Jess, high-priest of newsstand make believe, surprises me by saying: “A sauna? Why don’t you do something real? Power yoga? A run?”
He’s working on one of his annuals, already past due, staring at a girl who doesn’t look like the others but very soon will. “I’m on deadline,” he says, and I know what he means: Can you please go outside for a while--please?
I go, of course. Truth be told, those lady drumsticks keep us afloat. But I feel everything in me sinking, the furrows in my face getting deeper, and Jess’ disappointment whenever he turns to me.
When we met as grad students in the mid-90s, I was burning with the Classics, certain I’d retune the world’s vibration with the poetic pull of the Greek dithyramb. Jess was certain to burst into the art scene like some Egon Schiele; I was his red-kneed Wally—his muse that means. When we found our three room rent-stabilized unit on North 11th, the landlady dropped the rent after she met us, saying--“’cause you kids’ll pay cash”--and even though we knew it was because we were white, we believed the very universe was conspiring to keep our overhead low, so we could dedicate all of our time, money, and soul to our art, neither of us imagining that twenty years off, the apartment itself would prove our greatest coup.
Those early years, I found a day job at a brick oven bakery owned by Frank and Sal, two eternally aged Giglio Boys who mistook the word “Classics” decorating my resume for love of old cars, but mostly they didn’t care, and the hard-to-fill 4 a.m. shifts suited me. Floating through McCarren Park at half past three, I’d hear the Muses’ songs cutting through summer’s early hour mists or winter’s bitter clarity.
I don’t remember when those voices quit calling me or when Jess moved one hundred percent into commercial work. I only realized I’d mastered nothing but shaping the muffaleta, michete, and ciabatta. Jess and I never worked our way out of just getting-by; yoked by our rent-stabilized apartment, our long-term love got stuck in making do.
The building’s old-world super used to tease me about our not “moving up” or adding on to our brood. He’d laugh: “Is it against the rules for artists to multiply?”
“Jess isn’t impressed with the medium,” was my best reply.
Then his teasing turned into icy indifference as if we were stealing our place instead of just hanging on. The neighborhood had grown up as our neighbors got younger, their habits cleaner, even the sidewalk whiffs of reefer changing from sultry to sterile new-school skunk. My morning walks through McCarren became bleary-eyed treks through a condo canyon, the facades on old buildings whitened and brightened as if romanced by Jess’s perfecting pen.
Williamsburg problems when we first moved in: street corner shoot-outs and shoot-ups in parks; cops who’d walk way for a beer and a few bucks; prostitutes as neighborhood fixtures (including that pretty one forever asking for a cup of sugar). Roaches and rodents. Cars set on fire by the piers for fun.
Williamsburg problems twenty years on: pretty cars keyed, bike racks ransacked. Dog spa, wine shop, and vape store gluts. Café crowds spilling onto walks. High-end restaurateurs gassing themselves. Artisanal food stores crying “local” while selling out Franks and Sals and Moms and Pops. And now the Groper, a dark-eyed kid grabbing white-girl butts as they push strollers or bend over to curb their pups. Forcing them to look at his junk, he stares at them as if they’d made the offense.
And all of this is to explain how I found myself at this spa on Berry, waving a Groupon at a boy with “Love in Motion that’s My Motion” embroidered across his cap. He’s friendly enough but smells like new school skunk, and I’m not certain I want him controlling the temperatures designed cook me younger on the outside. But I follow him to my cedar-lined crypt. After he goes, I drop my towel and close my eyes and visualize Jess brushing girls into angels with perfect thighs. “Do something real,” I still hear him say.
Rendered invisible by lack of success, are we unhappy or just getting old?
I wake to a sauna grown cold, my limbs grown weak.
“Lady!” Love-in-Motion says when I emerge from that deep. “I saw the monitors. You were out. Thought I was gonna have to come in.” He’s chatting up a twenty-something arm-deep in tats, and his tone confirms that a glance at my bared muffaletas would traumatize him.
Unseen, I slip out the door and am halfway home when heavy footsteps sound on the walk behind me. I move to the side, but instead of passing, the footsteps match mine. Breathing hard, a young man presses into my side. A movement with his hand draws my eye down. His fly is unzipped. The Groper beside me is groping himself. His eyes blaze through unmoving features, a faceless face, a prosopon, demanding I look, demanding I see.
Finally, I run.
© Jennifer Sears, 2015
Jennifer Sears’ fiction has appeared in magazines including Guernica, J Journal, Witness, Fiction International, Ninth Letter, Fence, and the“Hearth and Home” issue of the Liar’s League. After many years of teaching yoga and dance, she is currently Assistant Professor of English at New York City College of Technology.
Invisible was read by Tiffany May McRae on 5th August 2015 for Short & Sweet Flash Fiction