This item originally appeared April 3, 2009, in issue 1713.
?There’s culture on the streets too,? Fiona said defensively. ?You don’t need to be in f-ing Carnegie Hall to hear Ginsberg echo off the walls. He was ours long before he was yours.?
She stood tall, erect, and full of mock grandeur. ?I have seen the best minds of my generation?that was us, not you.?
Meghann grimaced as a rat?or was it a mouse??scurried over her peep-toe pumps. All the rage in Europe, she thought, and wondered what the street people there were wearing. Prada rip-offs?
?Fiona?come back inside, we can talk about this later,? Meghann pleaded.
Fiona sighed and took a drag of her cigarette. ?You don’t call me Truth.?
?Not this again. It sounds so puritanical.? Meghann shrugged. ?It’s just . . . not you.?
Down the street a bit an old lady was singing her dead dog to sleep under a piece of cardboard. Fiona listened for a minute. ?La la la la,? the old woman sang to the tune of ?Rock-a-Bye Baby.?
?It’s my name. When you weren’t there, they were. They gave it to me. They christened me Truth.?
Meghann couldn’t stand the way Fiona said they. It sounded like a cult: the unknown, like the Others on Lost.
?You don’t get it,? Fiona continued. ?The second You’re off the streets for good, you stop fitting in. You don’t fit in where you came from and you don’t fit in on the streets. It’s unsettling. Your friends, your family no longer recognize you. To them You’re a stranger, but you have nothing in common with your old family either. Say it.?
?No,? Meghann whispered. When Fiona was 17 she’d had a back alley abortion done by a Dr. Alice on a nameless street in Harlem, behind the strip club, by the dumpster, at half past midnight. She almost died. The doctor said Fiona could never have children; a week later she was gone.
Three years later, when Dr. Alice was caught and arrested, they were unsure whether to charge her solely with performing illegal abortions or with serial murder.
Meghann, four years Fiona’s senior, was supposed to protect her. Protect her from boys, drugs, alcohol, the streets, improperly done abortions. Girls from the Upper East Side didn’t wind up on the streets. They went to private schools, played the cello. They dripped with prestige and elitism. They married into wealth and had children with posh names in their late twenties. They had the best of the best, everything money could buy.
?I failed you,? Meghann whispered. ?I won’t call you Truth because It’s like admitting that over and over again. Come back inside, It’s your birthday. You used to love the cello.?
Fiona smiled. When she had slept in doorways in Harlem, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, she had dreamt of playing the cello again; had snuck into music stores to pinch classical CDs and a Discman; had crowded at the stage door at Carnegie Hall and the Met to listen to the cellos.
?I used to read Kerouac. On the Road was written line by line in the tunnels. It became a game?where was the next line? I would ride the subway with the change I panhandled for, around and around listening to the cellos and reading. It was?peaceful.?
Meghann smiled, thinking about Fiona sitting on subway trains listening to a Discman, her knees tucked up under her chin.
?I never told you,? Fiona said, ?but my favourite place to sleep was this abandoned building on Third. The ceiling on the second floor was painted with odd winged creatures like in 3 Women. It was like our own Sistine Chapel; I felt safe there.?
When Fiona was seven, the family had taken a trip to Rome, ending their trip in Vatican City to see the Sistine Chapel. As luck would have it, however, the chapel was closed to the public the entire two days they were there and Fiona was inconsolable.
?This place backs onto Third, doesn’t it?? she asked excitedly. ?Come on! Come with me!?
?You’re going to miss the cellos,? Meghann protested meekly, but she found herself climbing over garbage after Fiona anyway.
?Come on!? Fiona called as she rounded the corner and ran up a flight of stairs.
Meghann sighed?what a bad choice of footwear. A flight of stairs and a broken Jimmy Choo heel later, Meghann stopped dead next to Fiona.
?Look up,? Fiona whispered.
Light shone through holes in the walls and floor, illuminating the ceiling. Meghann raised her head and inhaled sharply.
A moment of silence passed between them.
?I want to hear the cellos,? Fiona said finally. ?Let’s go home.?