“If I tell you” she replied “it won’t come true.”
“You’re thinking of birthday candles” I said. “The Cube doesn’t work that way. This is the City of Dreams; how can it grant your heart’s desires unless you make them known?”
Eyes closed, lips parted, she leaned in close enough for me to taste the sweetness of her breath, and paused. “I wished for a kiss” she whispered. “Just one kiss. From you.”
The Djinn of the Cube had spoken; it was no longer my place to deny her orison. In my capacity as a duly deputized agent of Wish Fulfillment, I ran my fingers through the onyx strands that flowed like the Jordan from her crown, and met her open mouth with mine. She was delicious.
At first glance nobody believes the Cube at Astor Place spins. Set in the shadow of Cooper Union, it’s precariously perched on a single corner, as if God herself had dropped a building block from heaven and the impact embedded it into the concrete. Designed to swivel on its vertical axis, this iconic sculpture had been a cultural landmark for decades before I discovered it in the early 1980s. The unofficial gateway to the City that Never Sleeps, the Cube has granted generations of hippies, punks, goths, students, sk8ers, hipsters, drunks and homeless, sanctuary.
Sometimes the only way to experience the wonder of a place like New York City is to see it through the eyes of a neophyte. I didn’t get off from work until well after midnight, but it was Rachel’s first night in the Big Apple; how could we not go exploring? I hoisted her oversized luggage into the enormous trunk of my ’72 Buick Skylark convertible, threw the top down and commenced an open-air impromptu tour of the only place I’ve ever called home.
It was a different time; in retrospect it was a time of (relative) innocence. The Twin Towers were still standing. 42nd St. was still “the deuce.” New York City was still seedy and edgy and dangerous; glorious in all of its unsanitary splendor. Somewhere between the Ballad of Betty and Veronica and The Emerald City, Rachel fell into my world with the force of a meteor. For (too brief) a time, she made everything and nothing matter.
It occurred to me as we cruised through Times Square that New Yorkers really never “look up,” especially when they’re driving. The JumboTron was turning night into day and the streets churned with the nervous energy of its sleepless throngs. Rachel marveled at things I’d seen all my life and taken for granted; the way the asphalt glistened with the night’s dew, the steam that rose in pillars from manhole covers. She was so young and so beautiful; a million miles from home having the night of her life in a place she’d only seen in movies. If ever there was such a thing as magic, that night was it.
Magic: a belief lost to a modern age that made sense of things beyond explanation, an understanding that beneath the rational hid the sublime, waiting to be discovered by those whose eyes hadn’t been encrusted by life’s disappointments. Rachel helped me see things that were right in front of me, helped me believe in things (I thought) I’d lost. Sometimes the only way to love is like you’ve never loved before.
I hadn’t abandoned hope, hope had abandoned me. Like a cicada waking from its slumber, that night I believed that if properly appeased, powers beyond understanding could be invoked, supernatural forces could be conjured. So of course providence bade we find our way to that Nexus of Possibility, the silent Guardian of the unwritten history of our tomorrows: The Cube at Astor Place.
They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. If you can spin that damn Cube, you’ve earned the right to believe it.
It was almost 3 A.M. Saint Mark watched silently over his children as they stumbled drunkenly from one place to the next. “Spin the Cube” I said “and make a wish.” The incredulous look on her face told me she was convinced I’d set her to a feat suitable for Heracles himself. Why she even attempted the task I’ll never know for certain. Maybe she believed in magic. Maybe she believed in me.
I watched Rachel square her feet against the concrete and brace her tiny hands against the monolithic hexahedron with a kind of perverse glee. Of couse, it refused to budge; the stoppable force had met the immovable object. “This is impossible” she squealed. “You’re lying to me and having a laugh at my expense.”
“Impossible?” I yelled back. “You’re halfway across the world in a city bigger’n your entire country. You giving up already?”
I stopped laughing long enough to offer my assistance. I put my arms outside hers, my chest to her back, adding my muscle to her ninety-eight pounds of straining sephardic sinew and shvitz. Two tons of ebon steel began to creak. We dug in our feet and pushed harder, the sound of metal grinding against concrete loud enough to awaken the deity slumbering beneath. Momentum or the Djinn was on our side, it spun for a full rotation. We collapsed into each other, exhausted.
“This is New York mother-fucking City” I whispered in her ear between breaths. “It’s fueled by dreams. We only attempt the impossible here.”
The kiss had been mandated by The Universe. Everything that followed was pure indulgence.
© Jackie Summerss 2011