Davis pushed the buzzer and waited. When the catch released he pulled open the heavy glass door. In the elevator he ran a hand through his hair and rolled his shoulders. He straightened his posture, made himself as tall as he could.
Jens and Vera lived on the seventh floor. It was the only apartment on the floor, and the elevator opened directly into their foyer. Jens was standing there with a glass in his hand.
“Look at you,” he said to Davis. “My fucking god let me look at you.”
Jens laughed and pulled Davis to him. Because of the glass in his hand he could only hug with one arm. Davis put his face to the side against Jens’s shoulder. The drink slopped onto the floor. The floor was wood, heavily varnished and gleaming as if mopped moments before, and the liquid sat there just as it fell.
“I’ll get that,” Jens said. “Don’t worry about it. For chrissakes, look at you.”
Jens was walking down the hall away from Davis. He wore a collared shirt, tight across the shoulders and tapered at the waist, with blue and pink stripes running vertical. His blue jeans were the dark, slim-fitting kind.
Davis stood there in front of the elevator. He looked down the hallway where Jens had gone. At the end it widened into another room, what looked like a living room. He could see the back of a couch and a fireplace. A fireplace in New York City, Davis thought.
“Get the hell down here already.”
Davis walked down the hall. To his left was the kitchen, where Jens was wrapping a big wad of paper towels around his forearm. The kitchen was large and open. A steel and granite island stood in the middle of it, upon which sat an enormous wooden bowl piled with oranges and apples and bananas. There was even a mango.
“Oop,” Jens said, and pointed to Davis’s shoes. “Vera will have a fit. Come on.”
They walked back to the foyer, where Davis took off his shoes while Jens cleaned up the slopped drink. Then Davis removed his jacket and hung it on a peg by the elevator door.
“This okay?” he said.
“Let’s get you a drink already,” Jens said. “Christ almighty. Five minutes and we haven’t even got a drink in you yet. What the hell has happened to us?”
Davis tried to smile. He started to say something. Jens clapped him on the back, steering him toward the living room. Davis sat on the couch while Jens moved across the room to a cabinet below the television set and opened the doors. Jens selected a bottle from the rows of bottles, and held it up to him.
“Vodka? What’s your poison these days? Still a tequila man?”
Davis waved a hand in the air. “That’s fine,” he said. “Whatever you’ve got.”
He looked around the living room, dimly lit by glass lamps and track lighting around the edges. There were two leather chairs on either side of the couch. The fireplace was gas, so there wasn’t the smell or sound, but it still looked nice. Jens handed the drink to Davis and sat down beside him. They clinked glasses to old times and new ones still to come.
“Where’s Vera?” Davis said. Already he could feel his face warming from the vodka.
“She’s reading a story to Quinn,” he said. “She’ll be in. Just hold your horses.”
“I’m not,” Davis said. “I mean, cut it out.”
Jens grinned with all his teeth. “Guess who I called.”
“You’re really going to make me guess?”
Davis shook his head and had some more of his drink. “Why’d you call her?” he said. The flush coming up his neck felt good. Without his noticing it, the pain in his back had disappeared. He let himself sink farther into the couch.
“I thought you’d be happy,” Jens said. He swirled his drink and opened his mouth wide for it. “I hear you haven’t had much luck out west.”
“That’s ancient history,” Davis said. “Please.”
“Calm down. They’re all coming over. The whole bunch. Allie, Whitney, Joel. All of them. It’s going to be a regular party. I was just messing around.”
Davis finished his drink and set the glass on the side table, making sure he used the coaster. Vera came into the room wearing a red silk dress, carrying a little boy in her arms. Davis stood up.
“Why hello there,” Davis said.
Vera kissed Davis on the cheek and adjusted the boy on her hip. The little boy had blond hair. He hid his face in his mother’s collarbone while she bobbed him up and down.
“Quinn wanted to come say hi,” Vera said. “Didn’t you, Quinn.” She used the little kid voice that parents sometimes use.
The little boy didn’t say anything. He moved his face farther from Davis and hugged his arms in close. Vera moved with him like they were dancing. She swung her hips and pirouetted.
“Where’s my big boy,” she said. “Where’s my big, big boy? Are you my big boy?” In her regular voice she said, “It’s past his bedtime. He’s just tired. Say goodnight, Quinn.”
Then she left the room the same way she’d come, and it was like they’d never been there. Davis sat back down, and Jens got up to make more drinks. He twisted the ice cube tray and rattled a few into each glass. He poured the vodka almost to the top and added cut limes.
“So when are you moving back home?” Jens said.
“I have a home,” Davis said. “I can’t live here anymore.”
“Are you working?”
“Here and there,” Davis said, which was not exactly untrue.
Jens crossed his legs and extended his arm along the back of the couch, angled sideways in order to look at Davis. “Guess who I called,” Jens said.
“You already said that.”
“No, honestly. Guess.”
“Orient Express,” Jens said. When he said this he lifted his eyebrows, putting on a maniacal face for Davis. “They’ll be here shortly.”
“They’re still around?” Davis said. “You still call them? I thought you’d stopped.”
“Oh please. This is a special occasion. I have my old college roommate in town and we’re having a party. This is a celebration.”
Davis’s stomach turned, and he felt it fill with something like gas. Or just the opposite. His stomach felt empty and open, as if he were hungry. He knew it was the anticipation, that there was nothing he could do for it but wait.
“How old are we, anyway?” Davis said.
“Not old enough, my good man. Never that old.”
Vera came back into the room and made herself a drink. Her shoulders sagged, she looked very tired. There were dark circles under her eyes.
“It’s good to see you, Davis,” she said.
Before Jens and Vera there had been Davis and Vera. It was only a short thing, but it was there. Davis tried not to think of it when he was there with them both. At other times he thought of it, though.
“You too,” Davis said.
Outside, the peal of an ambulance siren circled in the New York night. Three large windows looked out at the low rooftops of the Village. Beyond them, the high-rises of Midtown. Davis watched the city lights click on and off. The phone rang. The portable was in the kitchen, and Jens went to answer it.
“That was Whitney,” he said when he came back. “They’re going out in the Forties. The West Side. They got passes to a club. They want us to go.”
Vera and Jens looked at Davis. By now he’d finished his second drink and was thinking of having a third. It was like that with him: it was hard to stop once it got going. But he was feeling good. The vodka was softening the edges, and the couch was about the most comfortable thing he’d ever sat on.
“Am I sleeping here?” Davis said. “On the couch, I mean.”
“Do you want to go to the Forties?” Jens said. “That’s the real question.”
Vera said, “There’s a guest room made up for you. There’s three bedrooms.”
Davis was impressed. It was not an easy thing to have three bedrooms in Manhattan. Jens and Vera were doing fine. Of course he knew that the moment he entered the apartment and saw Jens, with his drink and his slim-fit wardrobe. It was as if no time at all had passed. The money had accumulated, but that was bound to happen.
“Fantastic,” Davis said.
They stayed where they were.
Later the buzzer sounded and Jens went to the elevator and returned with a kid who couldn’t have been sixteen. The boy wore jeans pegged at the knee for cycling, tall socks, and a bag slung over his shoulder. He had a rash of acne across his cheeks. Davis looked down at his drink. Vera got up and went to the stereo. Jens rubbed his hands together.
“White,” he said. “Two grams should do it, my good man.”
The delivery boy removed his bag. Jens handed him some bills. Davis was trying to focus on the music, but he kept looking over. The kid took out two glass vials with black screw-tops and passed them to Jens. Then he looked at Davis and Davis looked away. Jens walked the boy to the elevator as Vera lowered the needle on Exile on Main Street.
They arranged the cocaine on a round mirror that Vera produced from the liquor cabinet. But before this they all made fresh drinks. The vodka was getting low, but Jens said there was plenty more where that came from. Vera said oh boy. Jens went to the bathroom and came back with a razor blade. He cut the cocaine into a dust. It was chunky and resembled chalk. Davis put his finger in it and rubbed it on his gums. Then there were three lines and a rolled twenty, and they each took turns leaning over the coffee table on which the mirror sat. They passed the bill around.
Davis swallowed. His throat felt swollen. But he knew where he was and why, that the world was outside and at bay and he was inside, and he felt comforted.
“I can’t believe,” Davis said. “I seriously can’t. Who would have thought? I mean, man.”
Jens and Vera laughed. Vera held her nose closed and let go, wriggled it. She sniffed.
“Welcome back,” Jens said, and raised his glass in the air.
All three of them clinked glasses and took great swallows to wet their throats.
The Stones were singing “Rip This Joint.” If only, thought Davis.
“What?” Vera said.
Davis looked at her. “What?”
“Didn’t you,” she said. “I thought you.”
“No,” Davis said.
Then they all laughed. Jens turned the first vial over and poured more of the cocaine onto the mirror. They filled themselves back up again. The telephone rang.
“It’s Allie,” Jens said when he came back this time. He was wiping his finger under his nose. “They’re coming down here, they said. The club was a bust.”
Vera cheered. Davis wanted to do the same, but he was bent over the mirror. He held the bill to the crooked line he’d drawn in the white dust.
“You see what you’re missing out on?” Jens said. “All this fun we could be having.”
“I don’t know about that,” Davis said. “It gets to a point.”
“Look at us,” Vera said. “What about us?”
She leaned into Jens’s lap and swayed to the music. Jens put his arms around her and moved along with her. Davis watched from the other end of the couch. He held his drink in both hands.
“Dance with me, big boy,” Vera said.
Davis watched them get up off the couch and move to the center of the thick oriental rug covering the floor. Vera closed her eyes and lifted her arms to the high, lofted ceiling. Jens moved toward her, leading with his hips. They kissed and held each other close, swaying.
In the bathroom he whistled as he stood over the toilet. He looked at himself in the mirror. His face was red from all the vodka. But his eyes were wide and bright and clear. Not that bad, he thought. He rolled his shoulders again, and when he was done he flushed the toilet and turned sideways in the mirror. Davis sucked in his belly and pushed his shoulders back and tried to get a good honest look at himself.
The master bedroom was huge and dark. The only light came from the windows, from other apartment buildings. When his eyes adjusted he saw it was still the old parquet in here, with a couple shaggy-looking rugs placed around the bed. A large mirror was mounted on the wall facing the bed and the windows, making the room seem even bigger. It smelled like vanilla and candle wax. Once, years ago, they had all been so similar. Davis looked at the dresser beneath the mirror. He was tempted to open a drawer, find Vera’s underwear. He knew it was wrong, but he thought it. Davis sniffed and rubbed his nose and left.
There was a light on across the hall. The door was open partway and Davis pushed it. A nightlight was plugged in next to the narrow bed. Quinn was sitting up, hugging his knees. Before Davis could back out of the room, the boy looked at him and said, “All the superheroes live here.”
“Oh,” Davis said. He thought the boy was still dreaming.
“Yeah,” Quinn said. He looked back at his knees. “Like Batman. They call it Gotham but it’s really New York.”
“You were dreaming?” Davis said. He took a step into the room.
“I can watch the movies,” Quinn said. “They let me. Plus, I have twenty-seven comic books. I can almost read, but I look at the pictures.”
Davis glanced at the boy, then at the walls. There were some crayon drawings of nothing he could tell tacked up over a low desk in the corner. The only other thing was a National Geographic world map, the fold creases reflecting light, hanging on the wall above the bed.
“Cool map,” Davis said and pointed. He sat down on the floor and ran his hands over the thin carpeting. The friction warmed his palms.
“You don’t live here,” the boy said.
Davis said, “Not anymore. I used to, though.”
“I know. My parents tell me stuff.” Then he said, “I could be a superhero too. Some of them are just regular people first. And then they don’t die. Sometimes they pretend to, to fool the bad guys. But they always come back.”
Davis couldn’t tell if it was the drugs. He wanted to sit and listen to the boy all night.
“You’re a smart little guy,” Davis said.
Quinn shrugged. “I’m pretty smart. There’s kids smarter than me. We play sometimes. Are you smart?”
Davis smiled. “I don’t know,” he said. “That’s a hard thing to judge about yourself, I think. I guess if I had to answer, I’d say I’m reasonably smart.”
“You talk weird,” the boy said.
“You talk weird,” Davis said, before he could stop himself. He looked at the floor and laughed, just a quick, loud intake of breath.
“I don’t think you’re smart,” the boy said.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” Davis said.
“You’re not very nice,” Quinn said. All at once he seemed to be struggling to keep something down. “You’re not nice and you don’t live here.”
Davis put a hand out. He wanted to calm the boy down, talk more about superheroes. It was already crumbling. He didn’t know what had happened. The boy appeared blurry in the low, reddish light from the floor.
“It’s okay,” Davis said. “Everything’s cool, buddy.”
“Go away,” Quinn said. He hissed it. The boy’s voice rose, his lips curled, and his eyes filled with water. “I don’t know you.”
Davis was afraid Jens and Vera would hear him.
“I’m sorry,” Davis said, getting up.
His feet made a soft shushing on the hardwood floor of the hallway. There was little other sound in the apartment. His head ached and his throat was dry. He felt sick, although he couldn’t be sure he hadn’t imagined the whole scene.
When he entered the living room Davis saw Jens standing by the television with the remote in his hand. The music was turned down and the television was on, but there was no sound coming from it. It was past midnight now. The first bottle of vodka stood empty on the coffee table. There was another one right beside it, though, with almost nothing out of it.
“Hey,” Jens said. “Where have you been? Hey.”
Vera was cutting a line. Davis looked at Jens.
“I almost forgot,” Jens said. “Guess what’s going on tonight.”
“Enough of this guessing,” Davis said. “I’m tired of guessing.”
“I can’t believe it. I read about it this morning. You’re going to flip. Look. Look.”
Davis looked. On the television a crowd of people stood blowing plumes of breath into the cold night air. The camera zoomed in on a green street sign that said 34th Street. When it zoomed out Davis saw again the crowd of people and then, beyond them, the elephants that were marching down the middle of the street. A man rode the elephant at the front of the pack. The elephants were marching down the middle of 34th Street in Manhattan. Traffic was stopped and people were running along the police barricades set up along the sidewalks.
“You’re kidding,” Davis said. “This is too weird.”
“Do you remember?” Jens said. “We brought a thermos of gin and ran with the elephants? Those fucking elephants, man. Remember?”
Davis was thinking that it must have been ten years since. They had been boys. They were drunk and running with the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus elephants as they marched from the Queens Midtown Tunnel down 34th Street to Madison Square Garden. Just children, really. He remembered the elephants being smaller than they’d expected. He remembered being so drunk that he threw up behind one of the elephants, and then the cops had chased them. Or was that a different time? The elephants had smelled, though. He knew that. 34th Street had smelled like a zoo. It had been a moment to hang onto. Elephants in Manhattan, stoic and solemn and linking trunks to tails, tails to trunks. It had been something to remember. He hadn’t though, not till now.
The buzzer rang for the third time that evening.
Vera was running the bill along the newest set of lines. “That’s probably them,” she said. “Davis, can you let them in?”
Davis moved to the coffee table. He pushed his finger into the cocaine and sucked on it. The whole night was a dream, just a real one.
Jens was still by the television. He was pointing at the screen and bobbing up and down. “My fucking god. Can you even believe it?”
“Can you let them in?” Vera said. “Davis?”
Davis sucked on his finger. He reached down and picked up the fresh bottle of vodka. His glass was gone somewhere and so he drank straight from the bottle. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Everything was moving at a certain pace, his heartbeat measuring time. The elephants marched down 34th Street. The buzzer sounded again.