My sister threw open the door so that it banged against the little console table she kept by the entrance. “Silas,” she said breathlessly, before even removing her coat, “I have to tell you something.” Which was enough to make me feel trapped, as though the words out of her mouth were expanding and filling up the space in her tiny apartment. I told her to calm down and apologized, and then I began making excuses for myself. I had assumed she would be angry at me because of the previous night, so I was primed for what she might say when she got home from work.
“Don’t be so defensive,” Bernice said. “I’m not talking about that.” She tapped my legs so I would move them and then plopped down next to me on the love seat. The chill from outside clung to her body. I saved my reformatted CV, set my laptop on the floor, and listened.
The man who sang out of tune had been waiting for her again. He had started standing near the card shop on Amsterdam Avenue during her lunch hour two weeks earlier, and she had quickly noticed his repeated presence. As she passed him that afternoon, he faced her directly and gave her a meaningful look, which was more than he had ever done before. “But all he did after that was keep belting it out in that terrible voice,” she told me. “A sentimental song, you know? The sweetness of making love in the morning.” Even though he was thin and light-skinned and wore those big, clunky headphones—“Not my type at all,” she said—Bernice did find him somewhat handsome. But since he didn’t say anything, she just went inside the shop. She liked to go in there during her break because her job could be tough. She worked as a guidance counselor for high school kids, soaking up their troubles all day long, and the cards, however hackneyed or sentimental, gave her a daily boost she enjoyed. When she emerged a bit later, feeling affirmed, the man approached her. With the headphones clamped around his temples, his gloved fists tight around the straps of his backpack, he said he was sorry for bothering her, that he hoped she didn’t mind but he had seen her walk by the other day and thought, well, she was beautiful. “Meanwhile,” she told me, “with the kind of night I had, I’m sure I’ve never looked worse a day in my life.” She didn’t shake the hand he offered, but smiled at how flustered he was. His name, which he said was Dove, pleased her, and the way he scrunched his lips together and shifted them from side to side had what she described to me as a clarifying effect.