Peter C. Baker: “Dynamic Tower”

Before Abu Dhabi I never had money for travel. And so whenever I left the city for vacation––whenever my plane touched off the runway––I felt lifted up into a state of surprise and pleasure so sharp it brought tears to my eyes. My flight to Rome was no exception. It was a Friday afternoon, but the plane was half-empty, and I had three seats to myself. It had been just two weeks since I turned thirty, but I felt fifteen. Looking out the window at the vanishing city and sparkling Gulf below I cried softly, then fell asleep.

​Somewhere over the Mediterranean I was woken by a conversation from across the aisle. Two people were talking, a man and a woman. I hadn’t noticed them before. They were both trim and tan, and looked similar enough to be brother and sister, but since the man was twirling a strand of the woman’s long bleached-blonde hair I guessed they were lovers.

​At first, half-asleep, I couldn’t make out what they were saying, only that they were talking excitedly, and had Australian accents. Then:

​“Who will live there, do you think?” said the man.

​The woman let out an envious moan. “Me, I wish.”

​The man snorted. “Yeah.” Snorted again. “Up on the eightieth floor, right?”

​I closed my eyes and tried to will myself back to sleep. They were talking, I was sure, about a new skyscraper planned for downtown Dubai. The design had been unveiled at a press conference on Monday. Every day since, the government-owned newspaper where I worked had run at least one story on it. To my displeasure, I’d been assigned to edit three.

​The building was called the Dynamic Tower, and according to its architect, a Florence-based Israeli named David Fisher, it was to be the world’s first rotating skyscraper: eighty floors high, each floor a single luxury apartment, and each apartment outfitted with a control panel its owners could use to rotate their entire residence as they saw fit.

​“They say that if you want the bedroom to face the sunrise,” the man said, “you just rotate until it’s facing east.” He stuck his left pointer finger straight in the air and used it to trace a slow counterclockwise circle.

​“So cool,” said the woman.

​He nodded energetically, then switched his finger to circling clockwise. “And if you want the living room to look out on Sheikh Zayed road––”

​The woman cut in: “Just rotate!”

​He nodded. “So awesome.”


​They went silent, and stayed silent long enough that I began to hope they might be done. I wanted to fall asleep and continue to Rome without hearing any more inane real estate chatter of the sort I was subjected to almost every day in the newsroom, where I sometimes felt we did little but advertise half-baked visions of the super-rich, not least our government backers. I wanted to be leaving, on vacation, gone.

​I thought of my friend Tom, an Irish man in his early thirties who’d moved to Abu Dhabi in 2007 to be the paper’s first real-estate reporter. Just recently, a few nights after my birthday, he’d taken me out to a bar in the city’s run-down old marina. After our third beer, he told me that when he first arrived he’d started a spreadsheet tracking Abu Dhabi and Dubai construction projects, recording the dates on which they were announced, the dates on which ground was supposed to be broken, on which ground was in fact broken, and so on. We were sitting at a corner table, and he took out his laptop. The spreadsheet was color-coded. Yellow highlighting meant missed deadlines. Orange highlighting meant twice-missed deadlines. Red meant thrice-missed. A solid black rectangle meant a project had been cancelled; a gray rectangle meant it had been abandoned with no formal cancellation announcement; and dark red exclamation points were for cancelled or abandoned projects whose frustrated investors were trying to get their money back. I was tired, and Tom’s computer screen was small, but I could easily see all the black, gray, red, and orange spread across it like a colorful cancer––or, as Tom put it, swaying drunkenly: like a cloud, the ghost cloud of a massive unbuilt city, a shiny future hovering, stillborn, just above us, just above the real Abu Dhabi and Dubai where we lived and worked, and where every week people read articles in our newspaper about this or that just-unveiled megaproject. During his first year on the job, Tom said, he’d tried several times to write about the epidemic of unbuilt buildings. But every time he pitched the idea he was told the timing wasn’t right, that he had to be patient. Eventually he was moved off the real estate beat altogether. But no matter what else they had him working on, he told me, he still spent half an hour each afternoon updating that spreadsheet.

​The Australians fell asleep, or at least closed their eyes and didn’t talk. They probably lived in Dubai, I decided, and had caught a taxi to Abu Dhabi for the cheaper flight. They were consultants, or maybe bankers, living in one of the new all-expat towers on the city’s south side, and they had read about the Dynamic Tower in the paper––or, more likely, seen it on the news. Every television station in the region, and several others around the world, had been supplied with a clip in which a computer rendering of the building twisted against a computer rendering of the Dubai skyline, looking like a giant double helix forged from shimmering glass and steel. It was a movement the building would never actually make, an appearance it would never actually take on, even if it was ever built––not unless all its occupants somehow coordinated their apartments, staggered them exactly so, and set them all rotating in the same direction at the exact same time. When I first saw the clip, on a television in the newsroom, I laughed. It was absurd. But at home that night, idling around the Internet in my living room, I found the clip online and watched it at least a dozen times. It was still absurd, of course––there was cheesy epic action movie music in the background––but something about it hypnotized me. I probably just liked imagining what it would be like to live there, high above the ground in a house that moved when I told it to.


​I’d booked a room on the second floor of a guesthouse on Rome’s eastern outskirts, east of the Tiber, and I’d written its address, plus directions from the airport, on a sheet of paper I stuck in my wallet. It looked like all the other buildings on the street, and didn’t even have a sign, just a placard by the doorbell. My room was small––when I opened the door it hit the bed––but it was clean and quiet, and the window looked down on a shady courtyard where four old men in tweed suits were playing boules. I opened the window and lay down, enjoying the dry, sand-free breeze and listening to the happy, arhythmic clonkings of boule against ground and boule against boule.

​I would have fallen asleep, but my stomach started growling, and I decided to find some food. Outside I walked west, toward the setting sun, smiling at the occasional fellow pedestrian, and also at my growling stomach. In Abu Dhabi it was was one of the hottest Mays on record. Every day the temperature topped 105 degrees, and the air got thick with sand from the desert and swollen with water sucked up from the Gulf. For weeks the extremes of outdoor heat and indoor, over-air-conditioned cold had made it hard for me to enjoy food. So I listened to my growling stomach and smiled. I was off work, I was in Rome, the air was warm––not hot––and crisp, I had money in my pocket, and I was, for the first time in weeks, truly looking forward to eating.

​What I wanted to do, I realized, was eat myself into a stupor, eat with no goal in mind but pleasure until all I could do was stumble back to my clean quiet little room and collapse into sleep, my mind wiped free of worry.

​I started with pizza, pizza with pepperoni from the first pizzeria I came to. One of the few things I’d managed to learn about Rome before my arrival was that at pizza places you picked the size of your slice and they charged you by weight. I had the boy behind the counter, who looked to be about twelve, cut me a big rectangular slice from a massive rectangular pie. I took it to go and ate it while walking. Grease dripped onto my shirt, one of my favorites, a gray cotton button-down, but I found I didn’t mind. When I’d finished I went into the next pizzeria I saw and ordered another bit slice, this one topped with eggplant. When I’d finished that one I went into another pizzeria and got a third slice, a smaller one, but with circles of rich ricotta cheese on top. I was just taking my last bite when I spotted, in a bakery’s display window, a row of miniature cannoli that I knew right away would be much better than any cannoli I’d ever had. I went inside and bought three.

​Soon I came to a bustling piazza. In one corner a flock of small children was, under the loose supervision of some adults, running around in a semi-circle of fountains, shrieking with play horror as they passed through the streams of water. In the opposite corner, four old men in tweed suits played a game of boules. I sat on a bench in the middle and ate all three cannoli, one after another without pause, and let my gaze alternate between the children and the boules. The light had taken on a softness I never saw in Abu Dhabi, and was wrapping everything––the fountains, the water, the children, the adults, the storefronts, the cobblestones, the passersby, some dogs, some pigeons, the old men, the boules, the box the cannoli came in, me––in a delicate nimbus of orange-yellow that suggested all of it would continue exactly this way forever, or at least for a very long time. I thought: no one in the world knows where I am.

​I hadn’t even told Mom. Usually I emailed her in advance of my travels, letting her know where I was going, how I could be reached, when she could expect me to check in. We’d been emailing regularly for two years, ever since my first day in Abu Dhabi––long, detailed emails, many of them more involved and more personal than any face-to-face conversation we’d had in years. I wrote about the dilemmas I faced at the newspaper, the compromises involved in government-sponsored journalism, and my recurring fear that I was only sticking with it for the money, money I had to admit I enjoyed very much. She responded with stories from her own life, stories I didn’t remember having heard before. Many had to do with how, the year before I was born, she quit her job at the cash-strapped public school where she’d begun her teaching career. She did this, she reminded me, to take a better-paying, less stressful position at a ritzy private school, a decision that brought her weeks of sleepless nights, and triggered the end of two friendships––with fellow teachers––that were, at the time, the most valuable in her life. The point of the stories wasn’t to convey a particular lesson, just to share in kind.

​I wrote about my bouts of loneliness, about my long walks around Abu Dhabi, about possible travel plans. I wrote that I loved her emails, and loved her, too; she said the same. We hadn’t ever talked that way before; halfway around the world, I felt closer to her than ever.

​But in February she’d retired. Beforehand, I’d assumed that her emails would become more frequent, or longer, at least until she got used to all the new time on her hands. Instead they got shorter, and started coming less often. I tried to draw her out, asked about the shape of her new days, and whether she missed her students or school routines. Sometimes she just didn’t answer; other times her answers were vague, as if she didn’t quite understand the questions––or did, but didn’t understand how they applied to her, or found them uninteresting. On my birthday, she didn’t write. More and more, when I tried to imagine her life, I didn’t know what to imagine. In my mind’s eye, I saw her sitting in the kitchen, just sitting there, eyes straight ahead, hands in front of her on the table. The image came to me unbidden––at my work computer, in the cafeteria, in the shower, in bed––and it made me miss her, not in the half-pleasant way I’d grown used to, but instead with a ragged, irrational intensity that felt dangerously close to panic: panic that Mom, all alone, was in danger of fading into some diminished version of herself, one I wouldn’t recognize when I saw her again.

​My stomach started rumbling again, louder and more regularly than before. Foolishly, I chose to read this not as a cry of protest, a visceral no more, but instead as a sign I was still hungry, a call to get up, keep going. In a bar with big windows thrown open to the street I ordered a beer and a tomato and mozzarella panini and, a little while later, a plate piled high with prosciutto and marinated vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant . . . In another pizzeria I bought two of the fried balls of rice, breadcrumbs, and cheese I now know are called arancini, and a can of blood orange soda made, according to some writing on the can, with real blood oranges. I don’t remember how long this took, this second stage of walking and eating. Thirty minutes, an hour, two . . . But at some point the sun was gone, and at some other point it became obvious that all the food––or certainly all the food since the piazza––had been a mistake.

​I remember walking very slowly. I remember thinking about stomachs––about how I’d heard somewhere that the human stomach is no bigger than a fist. I remember making a weak fist with my right hand and imagining all I’d eaten that day––all the pizza crust, mozzarella, pepperoni, eggplant, ricotta, cannoli crust, cannoli filling, the sandwich, the prosciutto, the oil-soaked vegetables, the fried rice, the soda with real blood orange––smooshed into a soggy fist-sized lump and set to stew in a hot pool of stomach acids.

​I felt faint. I wanted Pepto Bismol, which I hadn’t used since childhood. If only I had some Pepto Bismol, I thought, I could drink it down and let its weird chalky pinkness coat my fist-sized stomach, at which point things would surely begin to improve. I would feel better, find the guesthouse, fall asleep, and wake up resolved to never be so foolish again. I would email Mom and tell here where I was, everything I was thinking, in language as emotionally direct as I could manage, language that would remind her of our new trans-continental closeness, and so move her to write back as she’d written back before.

​I burped; it tasted like my stomach, and brought on a wave of nauseous dizziness. I remember entertaining a fantasy, if that’s the right word, in which I fainted on the street and two friendly young Italian men rushed over to help me. Out of concern for my health they refused to leave me alone. Instead they took me back to the apartment they shared––they were cousins, something like that––and gently set me down to sleep on the couch. In the morning we piled into a ratty but stylish old convertible and drove to their grandparents’ farm in the countryside, where I met their boisterous extended family, ate the best meal of my life, and danced late into the night to scratchy gypsy jazz records. And this, in my fantasy, was only the opening chapter of some larger adventure I now see I was always hoping for on these solitary vacations, and perhaps from the whole project of living abroad: the sort of adventures where the strangeness of a foreign land bled together with the close warmth of friends and family, the larger the better.

​But I’d wandered into what looked like a quiet residential neighborhood. I was alone. If I’d collapsed––fell to the ground, split my head on the cobblestones––no one would have noticed.


​I spotted the cross from several blocks away, jutting out from above the doorway to a building of yellow brick. It was the squat kind of cross, with both lines of equal length, and lit by thin bands of green neon. I assumed––for no good reason––that this was the sign for a pharmacy, and that this particular pharmacy was open. Just walking toward it made me feel better. “Pepto Bismol!” I said to the empty street.

​When I reached the cross there was no storefront, no display window full of medicines, and not even a sign. Just the cross and, below it, a wooden door, slightly ajar.

​I stood there for a minute listening to the tiny hum of the cross’s green neon bands. Then I walked inside.

​It appeared to be an empty waiting room, with chairs arranged in a familiar waiting-room pattern on a floor of faded linoleum tiles, and fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Across from the door I’d come through was a reception window with no one behind it, and to the left of the window was another door, open, through which I heard female laughter, two distinct strains, and the major chords of what sounded like an ABBA song playing through tinny speakers.

​I walked to the open door and looked into the next room. I suppose I must have already realized I wasn’t in a pharmacy, but now it became undeniable. There was a hospital-style bed against one wall, medical supply cabinets against another, and a syringe dispenser on the counter. The two women, who had stopped laughing and were staring at me, wore blue nursing scrubs. They were both about five-and-a-half-feet tall. One had blonde hair, the other brown. They looked young––not yet twenty, I guessed––and wore what seemed to me a lot of makeup for nurses at work, though it could be such standards differ from country to country. My stomach gurgled again, and I remembered what I’d come for.

​The two women were staring.

​“I was looking for a pharmacy,” I said. I didn’t know the Italian word, so I guessed: “Farmacia?”

​The blonde shook her head and said some frustrated-sounding Italian that included the word farmacia, but also no, or non.

​“Pepto Bismol?” I pointed at my stomach. “Stomach.”

​The blonde said some more Italian––it sounded like a question––and then pantomimed swallowing pills.

​“No,” I said, shaking my head.

​She mimed injecting herself in the arm.

​“No, no. No drugs, no. It’s just . . . It’s not . . . No, it’s not like that.” But the sight of all that medical paraphernalia was making me feel even more weak, more faint––making me feel that I belonged not at a farmacia but exactly where I was, with nurses to watch over me. No amount of Pepto Bismol could undo what I’d done to myself; I’d been a fool, a child, and in fact I was about to vomit.

​The nurses must have seen it on my face, or in my posture. They sprang into motion, the blonde grabbing me hard by the arm and yanking me toward the trashcan, and so preventing me from spewing green vomit all over the floor, mucus-green stuff, gushing out of me with what felt like garden-house intensity. I tried not to look, but I saw it spattering up the interior walls of the trashcan, smelled the tang of ricotta gone bad.

​When I’d finished, the song I suspected was an ABBA song had finished and been replaced a song I knew for sure was a BeeGees song.

​I stumbled to the bed. “Oh thank you,” I said. “Thank you, thank you. I’m sorry. Grazie, grazie, thank you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” The mattress was thin, but its sheet was cool and inviting against my cheek. I couldn’t help it. The blonde looked upset; she didn’t want me complicating her night. But when I tried to sit up nothing happened. Again she asked me, with help from gestures, whether I’d been doing drugs or drinking. Again I told her I hadn’t. She stuck a thermometer in my mouth, felt my neck, put a gloved finger in my mouth and wormed it around.

​She said some Italian. I heard the word acqua and assumed she was offering me water. “Yes, please, yes. Si. Grazie.”

​She shook her head. “You––”she pointed at me––“acqua”––she pantomimed drinking from a cup––“to-day?”

​I thought for a moment. “No,” I said, sheepish. “No acqua.”

​“Zero?” She made her hand into an O.

​“Zero. Stupid.”

​She nodded. “Stupid.”

​Here, I think, my memory is fuzziest. The blonde nurse asked no more questions, none that I can remember. I looked over and saw her preparing a syringe. The brunette was gone––maybe dealing with the vomit-filled trashcan.

​A syringe. I tried, through the language barrier and the thickening fog of fatigue, to voice some concern. What was it? What if I was allergic? What I think the blonde said was: “No, no allergy, no. Is good, no.” I dwelt unproductively on the question of what these two young women would do if, having stuck me with whatever they were going to stick me with––for despite my alarm I knew I wouldn’t stop them––I broke out in hives, or began to convulse or froth at the mouth? Or if somehow I died, leaving Mom to wonder for the rest of her life why I’d gone to Rome without telling her.

​Who was it who undid my belt and pulled down my pants? How did I end up lying face-down on the bed? And when, exactly, did I realize the syringe was destined for my right ass cheek? I felt my underwear being moved down, the softness of a cotton swab, the needle. I probably tensed in exactly the way you’re not supposed to. Then my underwear was back in place, and the blonde nurse was walking away.


​The next thing I remember is the brunette sitting on a chair by the bed, looking through my wallet. I was on my back. The stereo was off. I tried to pull my pants up but my arms were heavy, and I wondered if the blonde, who was nowhere to be seen, had given me a sedative.

​When she saw I was awake, the brunette put down my wallet and picked up a clipboard. “Americano?” She said, with none of the blonde’s impatience.

​I nodded.

​“New York?”

​I shook my head.

​“LA?” For her it was two words: el, ay.

​“No,” I said. “Tiny town.” She made a note on the clipboard, I can’t imagine what.​“Carlisle,” I said. “Car-lie-el. Penn-sill-vain-ya.”

​The pine-scented cleaning fluid reminded me of Mom’s backyard in summer, which was among my favorite places in the world. It still is, I suppose, though I haven’t been there in years.

​The brunette nodded, smiled, wrote something down.

​“But not now. Not––I don’t live there now.”

​She nodded. I cursed myself for not having made the effort to learn even a few basic phrases of Italian. I guessed: “Non habito? Non habito in America?”

​She said some Italian that had the inflection of, “Well where, then?”

​“Abu Dhabi?” I don’t know why I felt such a need to set the record straight, when the record in question would almost definitely never be consulted by anyone, would surely be stuck in a filing cabinet until, on some inevitable day, someone tossed it out. But I persisted. “Abu Dhabi. Two years, Abu Dhabi.”

​“Boodabee?” She looked curious.

​I could feel frustration sapping what little energy I had left, and I wondered if I was in danger of fainting. I took a deep breath, and the pine-scented cleaning fluid raced up my nose. Had I fainted already, after the shot? Or just fallen asleep? What, technically, was the difference?

​“You know Dubai?” I asked. On my visits back home, I’d found that more people in Carlisle had heard of Dubai than Abu Dhabi, at least among Mom’s friends and my old classmates and coworkers. (It was different in Asia, especially South Asia, where both cities were known quite well, and many people I met knew someone who was working in one or both.)

​“Dubai!” The brunette had already been smiling; now she beamed.

​“Yes, Dubai. Same country. As Abu Dhabi. But––”


​She stood up, set her clipboard on the chair, and walked to the center of the room. After a deep breath, she struck a pose: legs slightly bent, arms raised above her head. The blonde came in––from where I didn’t see––scowling and smelling of cigarettes. When the brunette saw her, she let loose a string of enthusiastic Italian that included the words Americano and Dubai. The blonde said nothing and kept scowling. The brunette kicked one of her legs out and began to twirl, round and round with such fluidity that I wondered whether she’d taken ballet lessons as a child, or was perhaps even taking them now, during the days she kept free by working at night. She twirled round and round, propelled by nothing but her right leg, all the while keeping her arms above her head.

​“Dubai!” she said, twirling. Then a bunch of Italian. “Dubai!”

​She twirled, she was impossibly graceful, she appeared––to my tired, potentially drug-addled self––to be defying some law of physics, twirling and twirling without pause, without slowing. Even the blonde, I saw, had let go of her scowl.

​How many times can she possibly have twirled like that? When she stopped, her face was flushed from the exertion, and also with bashfulness, the special kind that comes only from having done something very well.

​“Dubai?” she said. “Dubai, si?”

​She looked so happy that whatever she was asking I wanted to say yes. “Yes,” I said, laughing. “Yes, Dubai, Dubai!”

​She laughed along with me, and kept laughing as she took up the clipboard and wrote on it. For all I know she wrote that I lived in Dubai. But I was tired, as if I had been the one twirling round and round, I was falling asleep, I still couldn’t think of any reason it could matter whether the form was filled out correctly. Tracking: in case I was somehow caught up in the early stages of a global outbreak of some terrible contagious disease . . . It was only after the brunette had set some water by my bed, after the room had gone gauzy and began to float up away––it was only then that I realized the brunette might have been trying, with her dance, to refer to the Dynamic Tower, brainchild of the architect David Fisher, who though born in Tel Aviv was based in Florence, and whose newest design would have been on the news in Rome, too, twirling round and round and murmuring through the screen to anyone in sight: Dubai, Dubai, Dubai . . .


​When I woke, my right leg was sore, but otherwise I felt fine. My nurses had been replaced by two short men, one with a shaved head, one with a mohawk. Once they saw I was awake, they hurried me out. They weren’t rude, but they obviously wanted me gone.

Outside the sun was starting to rise. It must have been the middle of the night in Carlisle; I wondered if Mom was awake.

​I hadn’t taken ten steps when someone called my name from across the street. It was the brunette nurse, sitting on a stoop with the blonde, and waving me over. Both were still in their scrubs, both had black purses hanging from their right shoulders, and both were smoking cigarettes. Their shifts must have just ended.

​Crossing the street, I caught a glimpse of myself in some storefront glass. My shirt was wrinkled and spotted with pizza grease. My hair and face were greasy, too. But I looked basically healthy, and I couldn’t help but grin.

​The brunette stubbed out her cigarette on the ground and pointed at herself. “Concetta.” Then she pointed to the blonde, who was looking me up and down with the same undisguised skepticism she’d shown me the night before. “Giussepina.”

​I repeated both names as best I could.

​Concetta asked me something, but of course I couldn’t understand. Then she asked Giussepina something, but all she did was sigh and shake her head in resignation, then set off walking, fast. Concetta gestured for me to follow. We trailed her for three blocks before she stopped, fished some keys from her purse, got into a red car, and got it started. The engine made a terrible rattling noise. Concetta sat in the front, I sat in the back. If there were seatbelts, I didn’t find them. The streets were empty, and Giussepina drove fast; no matter how narrow the street or sharp the curve, she wouldn’t slow down. Her car smelled of marijuana and lavender perfume. At one point, I thought we were going to hit a produce truck pulling out of an alley, but Concetta shrieked and Giussepina slammed on the brakes, throwing me against the back of her seat. She muttered something; I thought I heard the word Dubai.

​“Dubai,” I said. “You know Dubai? The tower?” I tried to put my hands above my head in an approximation of Concetta’s dance. “The skyscraper? That moves?” But neither of them responded. We kept careening down narrow streets. I recognized nothing from the previous day, and each time I spotted the sun through a gap between buildings it was higher in the sky. Concetta kept looking back, checking on me. I tried to wink at her, but instead a blink came out. I tried again; again, just a blink. She laughed, and I felt the pleasure of an adventure revealing itself to me, teaching me its language.

​To be home again with Mom, sharing life with her, day by day . . . It sounded great. The only thing that sounded more great was not to be there––to instead be exactly where I was, in this moment or another like it.

​Why wouldn’t Mom write like she used to?

​And why was I so sure, at that very second, she was sitting in the kitchen, in the dark?

​The car stopped. Giussepina and Concetta looked back at me as if awaiting instructions––as if something had to be decided, and I was the one who had to decide it.

Concetta pointed out the window. I looked; it was a street, just a street like all the others.

She pointed again. All I could do was shrug. “What?”

​She got out of the car and gestured for me to follow. Concetta walked up the nearest door and pointed to a tiny placard by the doorbell.

​It was my guesthouse. Or maybe (I thought for a moment) a different guesthouse with the same name. The street felt so unfamiliar I didn’t quite believe I’d been there less than 24 hours ago, napping and listening to boules.

​I took out my wallet to check the address on the piece of paper in my wallet. And remembered: Concetta had gone through my wallet. There it was, number and street, and behind the Euros was a laminated card I’d made with Mom’s phone number and, in several languages, the words EMERGENCY CONTACT. Every time I traveled to a new country, I reprinted the card to include whatever language or languages they spoke there. Mom’s idea. A good idea. Concetta was looking at me expectantly; I smiled and nodded with what I hoped looked like conviction, even though I still had no memory of having been here before. I wonder if maybe she’d seen the card and called the number, or thought about calling her. If the phone had rung at home. She put a hand on my shoulder, and I felt we might embrace, but then Giussepina honked her horn. Concetta hesitated for just a second, then kissed me fast on the cheek and hurried into the car. I like to think I saw her reaching for the window crank, maybe to roll it down and tell me her phone number, or invite me to a party that night at one of her ballerina friend’s houses. But Giussepina took off, tearing down the street, robbing me of further adventure, or at least whatever particular adventure this might have become, her car’s engine rattling loud enough to drown out my cries, loud enough to wake any of the street’s residents who were still asleep. Anyone who walked to his or her window or balcony to see what the racket was might have seen a disheveled young man running down the street in pursuit of a rattling red car pockmarked with rust, the gap between man and car growing larger and larger until the car was gone and he threw up his hands––less, it seemed, out of genuine frustration and more in simple recognition that he had been outrun.

Peter C. Baker lives in Chicago.

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