Up Wandering the Upper West Side

A short story about pitying birds

Jared Barlament

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I was walking with a girl at night in the wind in the winter. We were friends, but far from more, and though we’d had our fun doing some sterilized and since-forgotten social thing in Midtown, it was over, and I think we were both just waiting for the moment we could be alone in bed again.

“It was nice of you to take me home,” she said, a little ahead and far on the other side of the sidewalk. It was late, and hardly anyone else was out. It must’ve been the coldest night of the year, too; we kept hands stuffed in pockets, eyes glued to the ground, and feet shuffling fast as we spoke.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way!” I exclaimed, loud enough for a faint glaring figure on the other side of the street to hear. I didn’t pay him any heed. My senses had stayed scrammed by the mix of blood and honey I’d had to drink. “It was a little loud in there to get to say much of anything, right?”

“No, really, wasn’t it? Oh my god,” she laughed. I looked to her; her smile had already fled but she made sure to restore it for a second more. “I enjoyed getting to talk to you on the way back.”

“I did too.”

“And that’s my place!” She skipped to the door. I stood and made a show of a hearty laugh.

“So I’ll be seeing you around?” I cried after her.

“Yes, obviously, stupid! Goodnight!” she cried back, already turning around to open the door. “Have a nice walk back!”

“Goodnight!” I shouted, and saluted, for some reason, as the door swung shut.

When I nodded in acceptance and turned around myself to face the way back, I realized I had no idea where I was. We’d gotten off the subway a lot closer to her apartment than my dorm. And yet, since I wasn’t about to pay another fare late at night just to get accosted and get my country bumpkin ass lost worse than I would on foot, I was walking it. Whatever. The cold in this city couldn’t hold a candle to my hometown, and the drink had me feeling warmer anyway.

I consulted my phone and put my music on and proceeded through yellow-lit city streets occupied at that hour mostly only by rats. The residential buildings lined up in impossibly long rows on either side of me were luxurious, for sure, with all their ornamentation and well-worn stone symbolism. They would’ve been pretty, too, if it were earlier in the day…

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Jared Barlament

Author and essayist from Wisconsin studying anthropology and philosophy at Columbia University.