Nothing for Something

— Hilal Isler

Inside the apartment it smelled like rodent piss. Tiny oval droppings littered the stovetop. In September, I discovered a half-dozen pups living inside the oven, sleeping curled in a muffin tin; their mother: skittish, beady-eyed. Sometimes, when I heard rustling and remembered they were in there, I’d pry open the oven door long enough to toss in a few torn chunks of bagel. One night, before the holidays, I came home, pulled a personal pan pizza from the freezer, and set the oven to preheat, 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Stupid. So stupid. The smell lingered for weeks. I never used the kitchen again.

It was a small kitchen—everything in the studio was small, in fact; toy-size, the whole place not much larger than a walk-in closet. Above my bed, I had puttied onto the wall, a large color poster of Yasmeen Gauri in her prime. Vogue, 1992, it said. I wasn’t even born then. What I ought to have done is read up on Yasmeen’s methods, studied her approach, practiced her gait.

My apartment was in Bushwick, one street over from the subway stop and that short string of hipster-spots: the kitschy Turkish restaurant, the taco bar, a white-tile store that had the appearance of a health clinic but just sold CBD tinctures. If I was coming home late, the streets looked different: foreign, shadowy, like the set of a movie taking place in Mexico City or something. Not that I’d ever been to Mexico. The only country I’d traveled to outside the United States was Turkey—twice—to visit my dad’s side of the family. My cousins had poked their boney, white fingers into my cloud of hair and told me I looked like Beyoncé. I look nothing like Beyoncé at all.

When I arrived in New York, I rented that studio, and put the remainder of my money into the bank. I would stretch it out, spend it wisely on essentials like toothpaste and toilet paper, and the occasional ticket to a matinee. Sometimes, I bought weed at the park. I was usually up by ten, already on the train into the city for my casting calls. I liked to study the strangers in the car, watch them roll their strollers in between the sliding glass doors, listen to them mutter and sigh. Who were all these people? What were they thinking, who were they texting, why did they always look defeated? I’d never encountered life in this way - so much of it, so heaving, so up close. There were times I’d get off at Union Square, sit on a patch of grass, watch the kids in their baggy pants and beanies skate around, a scraping sound down the length of a low, concrete wall.

At the corner, in Big-Box Book Emporium, I’d wait for a spot to open up on the hard, wooden seat in the magazine section; flip through the glossies, sniff the cardboard inserts of eau de whatever. I’d ask for samples at the gelato place next door—maximum three per customer—getting the same kiddie scoop of dairy-free mango every time.

At first, I waitressed at the Turkish restaurant on Starr Street, near my apartment. The manager hired me on the spot. I was young with a flexible schedule. I could pronounce the names of the dishes correctly: imam bayıldı, sütlaç, the Beyti kebab platter. They gave me an employee meal discount which I used exclusively on the grilled chicken skewers and a side of Shepherd’s salad. Everything else was too heavy, too much, not something an aspiring model should be eating.

In the mornings, I rode into Manhattan, my thin portfolio tucked under my arm, and sat around agency waiting rooms filled with hollow-eyed girls, snapping their bubble gum, their legs always restless. I’d eye the competition, quickly assessing how much skinnier they were, how much taller. I developed a minor ulcer from being in those rooms. They gave me anxiety, made me miss Saint Cloud. I kept a dark amber bottle of CBD tincture in my purse that was supposed to taste like piña colada and calm my nerves. Three times the recommended dose was just enough to loosen my jaw, uncramp my stomach. Menopausal women in black turtlenecks and skin pulled taut ordered me to walk up and down the length of the room, asked me to look straight into the camera and pronounce clearly, my full name. Back in Bushwick, I streamed music to fill the apartment, to distract me from my loneliness. I didn’t care what was playing. I just let the algorithm decide.

Late spring, I quit the restaurant and got another job. I needed a change and waiting tables wasn’t enough to pay the rent. My modeling career was going nowhere. My new boss’s name was Sunshine Jones. Early forties. Five five. Her long, corn-silk hair was so blonde, under a certain light it appeared white. She always had a clean French manicure and would wear glasses I later found out weren’t even prescription. Her breasts were enormous, and she would push them up with a bra that would peek-a-boo out from beneath her Lycra scoop-top. She had two cell phones and drove a silver Corvette. Her teeth were bleached: two rows of pristine chicklets. She liked to tan, to get deep tissue massages; ordered the Cobb salad mostly, wherever we ate. She was pretty in a way I wasn’t. Aggressive-pretty. Confident-pretty. American-pretty.

Sunshine Jones was the regional sales manager for a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. Her first year as a junior sales associate, she had pulled in six figures. “And you can do the same,” she promised. I believed her. “Kevin wants to see us succeed. He wants you to succeed,” she said, her surprised blue eyes wide. Her pupils, I noticed, were dilated. I had never met Kevin or anyone else in upper management at that point; just seen pictures of them in the company brochure. I found the company through an internet ad. No experience necessary, it said.

Sunshine Jones interviewed me at the Panera Bread in Bryant Park. She didn’t ask me why I had dropped out of the University of Minnesota with no degree. “You have an exotic look,” she said instead. “But you need to pad your bra. Socks. Cotton balls. Toilet paper is okay, but less comfortable.” She would start me off in Rockaway, she said, “They’ll trust you there.” I didn’t ask her who would trust me, or why.

Sunshine told me that if I met my quota, I could move onto other boroughs. She said I could scale the corporate ladder, provided I convinced enough doctors to not only prescribe our Percaul over other painkillers on the market, but if I could coax them to up the dosage over time. “We call it titration,” Sunshine explained, “you’ll want to remember that.”

During training week, Sunshine let me ride next to her in the Corvette. I believed I was special. Her protégée. I never saw another junior sales rep with her, put it that way. Inside her car smelled rich, like expensive perfume, and its windows were tinted black. Sunshine toggled continually between the alternative rock stations on satellite radio. A misshapen purple crystal dangled from the mirror, swinging back and forth as she drove. The cup holder usually contained an open can of chocolate SlimFast. On the dashboard, a sticker read: I’m not perfect, but at least I’m from Florida. The seats had been covered in leopard print. Once, when Sunshine popped the trunk open, I saw fitness equipment inside: pilates resistance bands, a wet sports bra balled in the corner, a fresh pair of neon Nikes. I admired her for that, for maintaining her figure, despite her age. Sunshine was single. No kids but she talked about her two Pomeranians a lot. “My babies,” she called them. She carried their picture inside her wallet, would sometimes have tufts of dog hair stuck to her jacket. Sunshine preferred boxy, fitted blazers, cinched at the waist, the spray-tanned flesh above her breasts on display, like in an old-time portrait. She drove fast, but I didn’t mind. I liked everything about her, actually. She was a buoyant person. She treated me well, taught me the ropes, looked out for me. She gave me beauty tips, and I listened, in the manner of a girl soaking up the advice of a wise older sister.

Sunshine believed I’d do better in the field with an improved wardrobe. After a speakers’ lunch in Jersey City, she took me to Newport Centre to do some shopping. I was dressed in a black peplum tailored suit that day, the same one I had worn to my parents’ funeral. Sunshine drove recklessly, speeding up whenever we approached a yellow light. She told me how she ran away from home, age eighteen; ended up at a shelter in the city. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, isn’t that right?” she said. “Look at me now! You remind me of myself, have I told you that? Moving out here. No family.” She asked me how it had happened. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” she said.

“They hydroplaned,” I answered. “My dad was the one driving.” Sunshine made a sad, clucking sound: tongue against chicklet teeth. “It’s okay,” I reassured her. “I’m used to it by now.”

We drove in silence for several minutes. “Everyone at the office loves you, by the way,” she said later. “And Dr. Pratt asked about you specifically, the last time I called.”

“He did?”

“I encourage all my reps to develop personal relationships with the physicians. Chartering jets to Cancun? It’s been done. Sex with two anethesiologists at once? Who am I to judge. Because with relationships comes what? Trust. And with trust comes—” she took a French manicured hand off the wheel, rubbed the tip of her thumb against her index finger, “—lots of it. Tell me something. Are you motivated by money?”

“Isn’t everybody?” I said.

“Exactly. Good girl. Exactly right. So who loses here?”

I thought about it. “The patients?” I ventured.

“Nobody. That was rhetorical. ​Nobody​ loses,” she said. “At the end of the day, if a prescription is getting written, what does it matter if it’s for OxyContin or Subsys or for Percaul? Where there’s a demand, there will be supply. You should remember that, too.”

I kept quiet the rest of the way to the mall. Sunshine sped up on Marin Boulevard. I stared out of the tinted window, the snow long melted, the sky gray and low like a lid pressing down on everything. The clouds, the gas station, the coffee place, all of it reminded me of home.

Up until my parents died, my life in Minnesota had been pretty decent. I liked high school just fine; had plenty of friends. I was on the cheer squad, got into State early admission. After the funeral, I could have maybe kept the house, finished my degree, married some guy from church, gotten a real estate license or something, but I didn’t want any of that. Just being in the house depressed me. The air still smelled like my mother, somehow.

Senior year of high school, my entire class went on a sleep-away trip to New York City. We stayed at a Holiday Inn, took the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, went down to see the 9/11 monument. It made an impression on me. The pigeons, the buskers, the tiny man sweating inside an Elmo suit in Times Square. I told Kiley, my friend from cheer, that I could picture myself living here one day. “It just feels right, you know?” I said. “I can’t explain it.” We had group tickets to that Broadway show about Alexander Hamilton. I hated the story, but everyone seemed to love it, so I kept my opinion to myself. I think it bothered me that slave owners were being glorified; rewarded with their very own musical.

At the mall, Sunshine kept steering me towards sexy, nightclub clothing. “You have a great ass,” she said to me. “Your ass is an asset.” She laughed at her own joke. She brought pleather pants, mini-skirts, and skin-tight jeans, dangling them over the top of the changing room door. “Give these a try,” she kept saying. She told me to come out after each fit. I stood under the cold lights, and when she instructed me to turn around, I did. All this effort was draining.

I explained to Sunshine that I wasn’t a big fan of shopping for this reason. “I get tired easily,” I told her. “I have to take iron supplements for my anemia.” Sunshine handed me a pair of round, orange pills and told me sit and wait and she would bring us coffee. The food court was full of the elderly that afternoon; moms, too: their toddlers banging around and drooling and shoving food off their tray tables. I swallowed the pills down without any water and waited to feel something. Sunshine returned with a cardboard carrier. “Sugar free,” she said. “Non-fat. Extra foam.”

She sat across me and typed on her phone. The keys let out a pleasant, quick clicking sound. She read out loud from the screen. “Don’t pitch the bitch,” she said, and then she looked up at me. I stared at her blankly. “It’s what Kevin always says. Don’t pitch the bitch. Remember. You’ll want to specifically target male physicians. You’ll want to play up your assets.”

Two weeks later, I went on my first solo sales call. I was crossing the Marine Parkway Bridge, nine in the morning; traffic, the cut of skyline. The absurd blocks of beaches in Queens, so at odds with everything else in the city. I sat inside a stuffy Corolla, my pants tight, and asked the Uber driver to slow down. The roads were quiet and dirty, and when we came to a parking lot filled with cars, people sitting on the curb, smoking, empty soda bottles rolling on their sides, I instructed the driver to pull over. “You sure, miss?” he said. “That’s a pill mill.” I stepped out of the car. He powered down the passenger window, leaned his elbow on the seat. “You’re too pretty for that shit!” he shouted.

The Midwest had its fair share of pill mills, so I was familiar enough with them even before I took the sales job with Sunshine. The further up you went from Saint Cloud, the more the city thinned out, and the grimmer everything became. Whoever was vying for political office would make it a point to parade through town, megaphone bursting with promises they couldn’t keep: how they’d hold corporations accountable, or legalize this thing and the other. As far as I could tell, nothing ever changed. Not that it mattered to me personally, or anything. We lived in a nice enough neighborhood. My dad taught middle school science. My mom was regular. Nothing edgy. PTA. She drove me around for cheer, had her bingo nights, liked to watch televised dance competitions. We never went anywhere and, in fact, until that senior trip to New York City, the farthest I’d traveled inside the United States, was to visit the waterpark at Wisconsin Dells.

After the double cremation, I sold what I could, and bought a one-way ticket, non-stop, to JFK International. I suppose I could have splurged on first class, but this felt needless, decadent, maybe even immoral. I was still grieving, after all. I was given the window seat, with a full view of the plane’s metal wing. The cabin lights dimmed, and I peered out as we took off, a million little lights flickering yellow and white: the tip of my nose, pressed cold against the glass; a hot tear sailing down the roll of my cheek.

During snack service, the old woman seated next to me leaned over and said, “You’re not allergic, are you? You don’t mind the peanuts?” I didn’t mind the peanuts. I cracked my knuckles, and sighed. “First time flying?” she asked.”


“Relax,” she said.

My face burned as if I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t have been. The old woman nudged my elbow off the arm rest and stared directly at me. Her eyes were milky, lids heavy, vision clouded, as if she had an illness. Maybe she had trouble seeing, I don’t know. She tipped the crown of her head to me.

“So,” she said. “What brings you out east?”

“I want to model,” I replied.

“A model!” she said. “You certainly have the face for it. How tall are you?” she asked. I told her. She reached a hand, its skin paper-thin, dusted with a constellation of age spots, and patted my thigh flatly. “You’ll be fine,” she said, and I could smell the sour of her breath.

I turned my head away and pretended to be interested in the view. I didn’t want the old lady to see me smiling. I would be fine. She knew it. I knew it, too. I had the face for it. Why not me? Wasn’t this why my dad had emigrated to begin with? To pursue the American Dream? Of course, all dreams were extinguished abruptly when he knocked my mom up - age nineteen. But now! Now, I had the chance to make it right. To make it all worthwhile. To make something of myself. I’d glide down those runways, steady and poised, rows and rows of camera phones pointed at me. A famous boyfriend, eventually. Page Six. New York Fashion Week. A devoted following on social media. Maybe I was born with it. Maybe it was the Maybelline. A cover or two. Yasmeen Gauri. The first person in history to put Saint Cloud on the map. Why not me, after all?

At luggage claim, I stood on the far side of the rickety tincan carousel, maximum distance from the old woman, and tried not to look anyone in the eye.

Sunshine Jones was excellent at her job. She was responsible for roping in Dr. Joe Bennett, of Long Island City, the largest prescriber of Percaul in the nation; a man who had written out an astounding seven million dollars worth of prescriptions for us over the years. This was such an unprecedented amount, it had boosted Sunshine’s standing in the company, and she was placed in charge of regional sales for the entire eastern seaboard. Sunshine said the company had paid Joe $138,000 in bogus speakers fees.

“Did I bribe him at first? My condo in Boca?” She cupped her plump breasts, squeezing them together, jiggling them around. She threw her head back and laughed. “Joe Downpayment Bennett, baby! Take my advice. Just do what it takes, by any means necessary.”

We called our high dose guys our “whales.” Bennett wasn’t the only doctor we owned. One Monday, Sunshine took me to Balthazar’s on Spring Street for lunch, and wanted me to order without any regard for the price. “But let me take care of the wine,” she said. “Look at me. Pay attention. If you feel poor, you’ll never get rich. Your subconscious is the motor of manifestation. Decide who you want to be, and then be it. My birth name is Geraldine.” She waved the waiter away when he arrived with a basket of fresh bread. “Tell me: do I look like a Geraldine to you? A Gerry?” he shook her head and rolled her eyes, as if mocking her parents’ lack of imagination. “I was on my first ever journey with ayahuasca, when my real name came to me. It was revealed, actually. Like Mohammed at the mountain. I rented an RV and tore straight across the state of New Mexico right after. Totalled the vehicle. Two complete flips. Everything went boom. Up in flames. Just like the movies. I walked away, not even a scratch. A miracle. They interviewed me for the 6 o’clock news. Sunshine Jones, it said on the bottom of the screen. You can see my aura on film. I’m a magenta.”

Sunshine said she lived her life according to the alchemical principles of magic. Intuition. An internal navigation system rooted somewhere in the loins. “Your yoni. You can tap into that, too, you know. I recommend trying the Percaul. Microdosing. Nostradamus prophecies. Do you work with a past life regressionist? In this city, everybody has one, even though they’d never admit it. Hedge fund guys. Major suits on Wall Street. In a former life, I was Joan of Arc.” Sunshine waited for me to pull out my cell phone, then made me save the contact information of her numerologist. “Angel numbers,” she said, firmly. “Ancient wisdom. Pay attention to repeating sequences. Number eight means you’re receiving a Divine Download.”

When the check arrived, it was for two hundred dollars. Sunshine charged it to the company card. I averted my gaze as she signed the receipt.

“Thank you for lunch,” I said.

Sunshine retrieved a travel-size hand sanitizer from the pocket of her boxy jacket. She squirted generously and rubbed her palms together. It smelled like peach cobbler. Like summertime. When she looked down, I noticed her false eyelashes peeling off at the ends. “The first time you’ll be nervous. It’s normal. I once had to give a registered nurse practitioner in Weehawken a hand job, and I just burst out crying. I don’t even know why I was crying. He felt bad for me, I guess, so it worked out in the end. Three 800 microgram ’scripts that week. 1100 em-gees will kill you, by the way. But you didn’t hear that from me.”

Except I ​did​ hear it from her. I heard it and did nothing.

At that point, there had been just one fatality publicly linked to Percaul. A small claims court judge in Boulder had been paying one of our whales for partially-used blister packets, injecting the drug she extracted from them directly into her veins. Forty-four years old. Colorado State grad. Daughter of a pastor. “This was a case of one bad actor. A bad apple. A lone physician acting in bad faith,” Kevin, our CEO calmly told the journalists who descended on our headquarters. “What happened to Carol Barthel was horrifying and tragic. But it is an isolated incident that simply is not our fault.”

Stock prices continued to rise. At the company sales retreat, Kevin took to the podium and pumped his fist in the air as he announced another record quarter. If you got a health provider to write a prescription, Sunshine explained, you’d see a bonus on your paycheck. The higher the dose, the fatter the cut. The more they were in pain, the more we collected a profit.

I felt part of a community at GaxoPharm. I admired Kevin, enjoyed being with Sunshine, found her company strangely soothing. She had snapped at me just once, when I forgot to reserve a table for the doctors at Anderson Therapeutics, and we were made to wait in the cold, outside the restaurant. After that, I made it a point to set a series of reminders: alarms, sticky notes. I never committed the same error again. There were other junior sales associates, of course, but I didn’t have any sort of meaningful relationship with them. There was this one guy who had a brief career as a hip hop recording artist—one song that had charted, back in 2005. He would cup his hand over his mouth and beatbox, shifting his weight back and forth, back and forth, as if preparing for a rap battle. He kept a single gold chain tucked under his shirt. Sometimes it would spill out, catch the light. He had a Soundcloud, unfortunately, and would periodically email us about his latest freestyle efforts, alerting us in all caps: Mixtape out now! Cop it!!

Another junior associate had recently graduated from City College. He smelled sharp; a discount cologne that could be detected from several feet away. One time, I saw him burrow deep inside his nose with a hooked pinkie, pulling out then examining the bounty before licking his finger clean. When he noticed me standing there, staring, he winked and blew me a kiss.

I still lived in Bushwick. Same studio. I paid for a pest control company to come in, do a thorough sweep, plug every hole up with balls of steel wool, set traps. I stopped going to auditions but would still eat at the Turkish place, on occasion. In the mornings, walking to the subway station, the busboys would swing the windows wide open, spritz them with blue liquid from a spray bottle, wiping the glass clean. “Olá, Miss!” they would say. Now that I had more money coming in, I’d tip everyone there heavy. Thirty-five percent. Fifty-five. One time, drunk off rakı, I left a crisp hundred dollar bill behind.

“Good morning, you guys,” I’d say.

“You find another job?” asked Mesut, the lunch manager, once. “You join corporate America? The rat race?” Mesut spoke with a Turkish accent. Sometimes he’d swear in Turkish. “Eşşoğlu eşek!” Son of a donkey, he’d shout, whenever he found fresh paint graffitied on the back wall. “Look at you now!” Mesut liked to call out to me. “So professional.” He would whistle in approval. “A business woman,” he would say. “A new millennium woman.” I’d smile and correct my posture, lifted temporarily by his words. I was hardly a new millennium woman, whatever that even meant. After all, I spent my workdays plotting how to get ordinary people hooked on prescription heroin.

The day before that morning Uber ride, out to Rockaway, Sunshine sat across the desk from me, inside her office. “Nervous?” she said. “You’re on your own now. Remember to play up your assets. Remember to enter the room with your chest. Wear the pants.” I took her advice, her words a Holy Grail. Carrying a Tiger’s Eye gemstone was required for material success, she informed me. Pushing for higher doses—for a wider range of patients—would pave my path in this field. An objection was to be taken as a buying signal. Men wanted a challenge. I had to carry myself like royalty; Sunshine carried herself like royalty. Five five, but she appeared taller than me, somehow. Had the air of someone with absolutely nothing to lose. A self-made woman. I wanted to be a self-made woman, too. Who did I have left to rely on, after all, but myself?

When the driver pulled over that morning, I stepped out of his Toyota, and thought: I did this. Me. I found this place. This could be my moment. He could be my Joe Downpayment Bennett.

I kept a suitable distance from the others who were waiting—the teens in hoodies, sharing a smoke, scrolling on their phones. Royalty. I kept rolling the word around, like a marble inside my head, as absurd as that word seems to me now. I clutched the Tiger’s Eye, smooth and cold in my palm, and stared at the sign. Higher purpose pain management. A man built like a tractor sidled up, trying to catch my eye. Vivid crew cut. Cargo pants. Circling me like some sort of scavenging bird of prey, going around back, probably to check out my assets. I kept turning the rock over in my hand, kept staring at the sign. No one else paid any attention to me.

It was nine thirty when the door clicked open. At eleven, I began my sales pitch. The doctor showed me a chair, asked me to sit, busied himself with something on the computer as I stared at a framed painting on the wall. Canadian geese in flight. I was supposed to talk about the slow-release formula. I was supposed to mention how our internal research had found less than a one percent rate of addiction. I forgot the name of our main competitor. Instead of 1,100 mgs, I replied 1,200, when the doctor asked about the maximum dose available.

“How long have you been doing this for, anyway?” he asked.

“Two years,” I lied.

“Well, you suck at it.”

I said nothing. He had sounded impatient. I considered leaving the room. The doctor sighed. He leaned back in his swivel chair, laced his sausage fingers together into a net, clapped them behind his thick neck. He propped an ankle against the knee of his other leg, such that I could see the sole of his foot. A considerable insult in Turkey, I remember thinking.

“What else do you have for me today?” he said.

“I don’t understand,” I said, for whatever reason.

“Come here,” he said. I did. “Sit on my lap.” I could feel his erection against the seat of my pleather pants. “Take your top off.” I began unbuttoning. “Now. Try again. Try selling me your drugs,” he said. I told him about how our patented blister packs had revolutionized pain medication delivery in this country.

“Our sublingual spray is a Godsend to terminal cancer patients with breakthrough pain,” I said, sadly.

“Better,” he said, “much better.” He placed a meaty paw on my left breast and squeezed. “You should get these puppies done,” he said. “A nice, solid C cup.” I stared straight ahead at the geese on the wall. He took my right hand gently, placed my index finger inside his mouth, and sucked on it. I felt the sponge of his fat tongue against my nail. I wanted to push the rest of my hand inside, too, to push it in all the way until he couldn’t breathe. He pulled my finger out. “Stand up,” he said. “Put your top back on, for fuck’s sake.” My wet finger trembled around the buttonholes.

He scribbled something down on the pad, by his computer. “I did my part,” he said. “Now you do yours.” I continued to stand. His screen came to life, animated blue lines, spiralling, spiralling. “Go on,” he said. He leaned back in the chair again, arms crossed against his chest, this time. He lifted his chin at me. My gaze traveled down to the wheels of the swivel chair, to the dirty, industrial carpet. Sky grey. Ribbed. The doctor laughed.

“On your knees,” he said.

I didn’t. I couldn’t.

“What’s the matter?” he said.

His bullfighter neck was so pink, so sturdy. He was chewing gum. White powder clung to the stubby black hairs sprouting from his nose. I don’t know how long I stood there for. I watched him rip the top leaf off the pad, tear it down the middle, crumple the pieces into a ball, rocketing them into the waste paper basket by the door. I took a step back, dizzy, ramming into the corner of the examination cot.

“You should probably just leave,” he said.

Outside, on the boardwalk, at Beach Eighty-Sixth Street, I ordered a plain burger on a potato bun and an ice-cold metal can of Coca Cola Classic. There was a wooden bench, bolted into the concrete; partially shaded, overlooking the surf. I placed the greasy paper sack beside me, and ate slowly. The air smelled like salt, like sunscreen. I pulled my phone out and typed in her name. The only record of a Sunshine Jones I could find in the city, was a former exotic dancer affiliated with a gentlemen's club in the Bronx. When she called, I picked up on the third ring.

“He wasn’t interested,” I told her down the line. “He told me to get my tits done.”

Sunshine made her sympathetic clucking sound. “But you know,” she said, “it might not be such a bad idea.” Sunshine waited for me to stop coughing. The emptied can of Coke tipped, then rolled on the bench beside me, tinkled out a pattern against the wood. A young woman in the distance hurled a stick into the sky, her dog, bounding across the wet sand.

That night, I carefully arranged my pants, my new clothes, the tags still on, setting them on the short wall by my apartment, underneath the streetlight. Free, I wrote on a paper. Please enjoy. By the time I left my place the next afternoon, everything but the paper had been taken. I folded the sheet into a small, thick square, and I tucked it inside my pocket. I walked slowly until I reached Starr Street. The windows had been propped open, as far as they would go. They were all there. They all looked so happy. They were very pleased, they said, to have me with them again. They had been hoping I would return.

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