Written by Habiba Warren
Illustrated by Helena Goddard
It is the first day of my senior year at Sarah Lawrence. I sit in the passenger seat of my friend’s car. A pack of ten plastic hangers from Bed Bath & Beyond is wedged uncomfortably between my legs and the door. Hot air trickles in through a cracked window while we wait at a red light. Serge Gainsbourg’s “Ballade de Melody Nelson” plays softly on the radio.
“I haven’t had sex in more than a year,” I say. I stare at a woman in green athletic shorts waiting by the crosswalk outside. She is fanning herself impatiently with a takeout menu.
“Jesus. You want me to set you up with someone?”
I shrug. “Who?”
“A friend of mine, Morgan. I’ll put in a good word for you.”
“Okay.” We’re almost back on campus. I open the zip of my purse, looking for the keys to my dorm room. The last lines of the song drift through the car speaker, Gainsburg’s voice low and sad. "Oh! Ma Melody… sine qua non de ma raison."
Later on that day I am in Morgan’s room. He had come up to me earlier during a party on the lawn in front of his dorm.
“You must be Habiba,” he said, and had made a vague invitation to listen to music together. Now, I’m sitting next to him on his bed. I stare at a poster of Kennedy on the wall (“Leadership for the 60s,” it says) while he scrolls through iTunes on his laptop. “How come I didn’t see you around campus last year?” he asks, turning away from his computer for a moment to look at me. His greenish-brown eyes are lit up by the bright white of the screen.
“Probably because I was abroad. In Paris.”
“Cool. My ex-girlfriend lived there, she’s fluent in French.”
“Ah.” There’s a pause. I pull at the hem of my skirt, in the silence suddenly aware of how tight it is. I wish I had worn different underwear too—it’s bright pink and cotton, the lace trim bunched uncomfortably around my waist.
He looks back at his computer, still searching for a song to play. Our shoulders touch and I don’t move away.
Next week I’m walking under a large cherry-blossom tree, on my way to class, when I see Morgan. He looks at me for a moment and we make eye contact, but neither of us smile. I pass by him quickly. Lowering my head towards the ground, I notice a fallen cherry blossom, crushed and brown on the concrete.
“I don’t even think we’re supposed to be here,” Misha says. I laugh, sitting down next to him on a wooden bench. We’re in the courtyard of Yours Sincerely, a cocktail bar in Bushwick. There was a plant blocking the entrance of the courtyard, but we came out anyway because we wanted to enjoy the weather, warm for the end of October. There is only one other person outside, a man smoking on the bench across from us. He types quickly on his phone in between drags of his cigarette.
“Great song.” Misha nods his head to the music that can be heard through the open door to the bar.
“What’s the band?”
“The Ramones. You should check them out, I think you’d really like them.”
I stand in front of a booth at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar with Misha. We look at a display of handmade magnets on the table in front of us.
“This is cool,” Misha says, pointing out a magnet printed with an Andy Warhol soup can illustration. “Hey, would you want to make a poster for my band’s show at The Footlight? I was thinking about something in this style, vintage pop-art, I love that kind of stuff.”
“Sure, I think I could do that.” I pick up the magnet to look at it more closely, running my fingers over the smooth enamel surface.
After ordering a beer at the bar, I turn towards the door of The Footlight and I see Misha walk in, talking with a short brunette woman. I’m about to go wish him luck on the show when I see him put his arm around the woman. He sees me and waves briefly, continuing his conversation with her. I try to smile.
Later, when the show is over, I excuse myself from a conversation and go into the bathroom across from the bar. I lean against the grey brick wall and pull my phone out of my purse.
"Hey Misha, you guys sounded great tonight. Texting you about this against my better judgment, but I guess I didn’t really know what to think when you showed up with another girl…" I hit send.
A few minutes later: "Hey thanks for coming out. I’m sorry if things got confusing. Didn’t mean for them to be. The poster was awesome, by the way. You should make more of them."
Someone knocks on the bathroom door.
“Hold on,” I say, a catch in my voice. I go to the sink and turn on the tap, letting the cold water spill over my hands.
“Do you have a lighter I could use?” he asks. I am standing outside The Footlight, smoking.
“Sure.” I take the blue lighter out of my pocket and give it to him.
“I’m Seb, by the way,” he says after he lights a cigarette.
“What did you think of the band that just played?”
“They sounded great. The guitarist, Misha, he’s a friend of mine, I guess.”
“Oh really?” I nod. There’s a brief silence.
“I like your pants,” he says. I smooth my hand over the navy and white polka dot pleats.
“Thanks.” I smile. “I got them last week at Topshop.”
“They have good stuff.” He finishes his cigarette, letting it drop onto the sidewalk.
“Do you…uhm.” He clears his throat. “Would it be weird if I asked you for your number? Or Facebook or something. Is that what the kids are into these days?” I laugh because he’s probably only one or two years older than me.
“That wouldn’t be weird.” He hands me his phone and I write in my number. “There you go.”
A few weeks later, I’m in an Uber with Seb. It’s our third date. We just finished dinner—ramen, at a place that he chose.
“I’m sorry, guys, but another passenger is going to join you,” the driver says, slowing down the car next to the curb.
“It’s Uber Pool, what can you do,” Seb replies, shrugging. “But we’re going to be late for the movie.”
A young woman carrying a large Michael Kors bag approaches the car. Seb looks at her through the window.
“Ugh, she looks annoying,” he says. Before I can respond, she opens the passenger door.
“Hey! How’re you?” Seb says when she sits down. As the car begins to move, they start to make small talk, Seb’s tone pleasant and engaging. I don’t say anything, instead looking outside at the snow that has begun to fall on the street.
My grey fur coat is spread on the sofa in the corner of the apartment. Seb and I are lying next to each other on his bed, watching an episode of The Office that we’ve both already seen.
“Can I kiss you?” Seb asks after a moment. I nod. When he leans over me, I can smell the musky scent of his cologne. His beard is rough against my cheek. He begins to undo the buttons of my collared shirt, my jeans. He takes off his own clothes.
“Stop,” I say when Seb begins to pull off my underwear. “I… I don’t want to have sex.”
I’m not sure why I say this. It isn’t because I don’t know him well enough; I’ve had sex on the third or even first date. But this time, for some reason, is different. I feel exhausted.
“Okay,” Seb says. His expression is neutral. “Can we still do, you know, other stuff?”
He kisses me, harder than before, on my face and neck. I turn my head towards the wall across from his bed, looking at a book lying on his desk. The book is called Dry. On the cover, dark letters ominously (artistically?) bleed black ink onto the white background. When I asked him earlier, he said the book is a sobriety memoir about a guy who works in advertising.
My phone buzzes. “One minute, sorry.” I grab the phone off his nightstand. “Shit, I should actually leave, it’s late. I don’t want to miss the last train.”
“You have to leave right now? You can stay the night, if you want.”
“No, no, it’s okay. Thanks though,” I say, grabbing my jeans from the floor. Seb looks at me while I dress quickly.
When I finish putting on my clothes, I grab my fur coat from his sofa. “I’ll talk to you later,” I say. I kiss him briefly and turn to go.
I’m walking along the street outside Seb’s apartment. The seafood restaurant at the corner of his block, Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Co., is closed and dark inside. Further down, a fluorescent sign lights up the sidewalk in a pale red glow. "Kestane Kebab," the sign says.
It’s after midnight and snow is still falling. I pull my coat more tightly around me. A taxi passes by but I don’t raise my hand to stop it. The cold air feels good. I continue down the road, alone.
I take a sip of water, clearing my throat.
“So, uh… Do you like to cook?” I say.
“Yeah, I do. I make a pretty good chicken noodle soup. Sometimes I grill.” Alec adjusts the brim of his cap, looking away at a waiter passing by our table with a plate of steaming couscous.
I met Alec for the first time at Sarah Lawrence. He played tambourine for Misha’s band when they performed on campus in September. We ran into each other at a bar in Brooklyn months later, and after talking for a while, made plans to get drinks at Soft Spot on Bedford Avenue.
Tonight, since we were both hungry after finishing our drinks, I had suggested Bar Omar, a North African restaurant a few blocks away from Soft Spot.
Now, at the restaurant, I fold the corner of the napkin in my lap. I feel awkwardly overdressed in my long floral skirt and black turtleneck compared to Alec, who is wearing jeans, Nike sneakers, and a plain t-shirt. I try to think of another question as the silence stretches longer, glancing at the couple sitting next to us. They are holding hands over the table as they talk.
“You sing in a band, right? You mentioned last time we talked…” I trail off.
“Yeah. It’s called Bad Habit. We play kind of punk-pop stuff, you know.”
“Nah. Are you asking that because of my hair?” He laughs and pushes a few errant strands out of his eyes. I laugh too as I reach for my glass of water, taking another sip, larger this time.
I am pulling on a pair of high-waisted grey pants when I see my phone light up on my bed. It’s a text from Alec. "What are you up to tonight?" He says. We messaged each other a few times since the dinner at Bar Omar three months ago, but conversation never continued past small talk.
"Getting ready to go out, wbu?" I type quickly, reaching for a bottle of perfume on my dresser after I send the text.
"You wanna come to a show at Baby’s All Right tonight? I have an extra ticket."
I pause for only a moment before responding.
"Yeah, I’m down." I drop my phone back on my bed and open the bottle of perfume, spraying it a few more times than I usually do on my wrists and neck.
Alec is still sleeping when I leave his apartment the next morning. After closing the door quietly behind me, I hail a cab passing by in the street.
“Grand Central, please,” I say to the driver. I settle into the leather car seat and pull out of my bag the book I have to finish for class tomorrow. I open it to the last chapter.
There are water stains on the passenger seat window. The sun, still rising, projects them as small circular shadows onto the open book in my lap. I read the first sentence on the page, "La femme trouvera l’inconnue." Woman will find the unknown.
I take a shower when I get back to my room two hours later. As I stand under the steaming water, slightly too hot to be comfortable, I see a stamp from the show last night still on my forearm. ALL RIGHT, in thick black letters. I put a little soap on the stamp, rubbing my skin until the ink blurs and begins to fade.
Habiba Warren was born in southwestern New Mexico. After completing her BA at Sarah Lawrence College, she moved to Brooklyn, where she currently resides. Habibaplays keyboard and sings in two bands, occasionally performing in venues around the city. She works in creative marketing for TV/film.