Here in Queens, 6:30 on a January morning, it’s still deep dark, streetlight glinting off the chrome and driver-side mirror of a station wagon parked across the street. Between the car and the white wrought iron fence of a neighbor’s yard a figure, in a hooded sweatshirt, passes. Even in silhouette, I can read the hands in pockets, the shoulders shrugged against the cold. His bobbing gait carries a determined, almost musical, rhythm, white spires and scrollwork seeming to unspool in rapid motion as he moves by. His outline blurs in the sheers, then disappears beyond the molding of my window frame. A moment captured in the sharpened contrast of LED; gone the soft orange halo of sodium light once so effectively portrayed in a tiny square etching made by a friend—a realist painter now long dead. Punks in the Park at 2:00 AM, she’d titled that postage-sized piece, given to me in college, and surely worth a high price, had she not been stabbed to death with her boyfriend in his cabin upstate.
Punk. No one uses that word anymore—not in the context of troublemakers who were really nothing but kids at loose ends. And at the park, just a block away, they no longer hang out at night, the etching a freeze-frame from the ’70s, my high school days, when I was just as likely to be a hooded figure skulking home in the winter dark. A nod of acknowledgment shared with the familiar boys smoking endless cigarettes; a black wrought iron fence flittering through my peripheral vision as I passed. I would briefly date one of those park boys, disappointed to find him overly sweet. Much like my friend’s good-hearted boyfriend, whose poor choice of associates got them both killed, while I’m left here, staring out a window decades later, the morning hours still dressed in night’s blacks and greys. The year the painter died, I was living in California; she was never one for the phone, and we hadn’t been in close touch. The boy I dated from the park became an orthopedic specialist who fits children with artificial limbs. Married, with two boys of his own, he emails me every few years. I never reply.
Sue Mell is a writer from Queens, NY. She earned her M.F.A. from Warren Wilson, and was a 2020 BookEnds fellow at SUNY Stony Brook. Her debut novel, Provenance, won Madville Publishing’s 2021 Blue Moon Novel Contest and comes out in July 2022. Her collection of micro essays, Giving Care, won the 2021 Chestnut Review Prose Chapbook Prize, and her collection of short stories, A New Day, was a finalist for the 2021 St. Lawrence Book Award. Other work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere. Find her at www.suemellwrites.com.