When you return to the city after some time away from it, you notice its clamor, the noise that is part and parcel of urban life, that people immersed in it no longer hear. Sirens, heavy trucks, trains rumbling under open grates in the sidewalk—and throngs of cabbies slapping their wheels impatiently, unrelentingly, in anger and frustration: a klaxon, it’s called—the sound an electric horn makes—the ‘signature’ sound of the city, as one journalist had opined. The ‘Don’t Honk’ ordinance had finally been a lost cause, with no way to enforce it and a beleaguered metropolis throwing up its hands. Lucy could have predicted this outcome. People become animals, especially in the jungle, not least of all the urban one. She was thinking this while she skimmed the menu at this famous little eatery in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, waiting for her aunt. That clamor had once been her lullaby, supplanted by the primordial song of the cicada. She could find the beauty in each of them.
Aunt Jo’s familiar silhouette materialized in the light of the open door, but now her features came into crystalline focus as it closed behind her. You had to admire a woman her age who still wore her hair long, unapologetically, just as she had always. Jo screeched when she saw Lucy and kissed her loudly on the cheek. Lucy had no choice except to inhale the smoky veil when her aunt embraced her and then unbound the gossamer scarf from her neck; later they’d walk down Park Avenue together with locked elbows and Lucy would marvel at how many times Jo lit up and smoked over the length of only a few city blocks—the long side to be sure, but still impressive. It would dawn on her just how fragile this woman’s health had grown.
“My GOD, you are so grown UP! You look just like your father. I thought maybe the Olive Garden,” she said in her unmistakable Manhattan-ese, without missing a beat. “But then I remembered this place.” Lucy sent up a silent thanksgiving prayer, to whoever might hear it, that she was here with her aunt and not at the Olive Garden. “Will you have a drink? I need a drink. Waiter!” Aunt Jo now whipped her head around one way and then another like a periscope, scanning a mostly empty dining room; it was still early.
Here he finally came, annoyed for the interruption: the man Lucy had already calculated as a blowhard alpha. He’d abandoned his interest in her the instant a pair of hair-tossing, giggling young things swept into the place. They were seated a few tables over, where alpha had been fawning on them. This spectacle was an embarrassing cliché; you have no chance, Lucy thought, but knock yourself out. Right after you get your bald ass over here and fetch my aunt her drink. It was the kind of sentiment she wanted to trumpet across the room but could not, because she was after all a lady, and a little time out of this rat race had already begun to soften her.