The year was 1933 and Henry felt more alone than he ever had in his life. It wasn’t simply the fact that he had no friends or family; his family had long since been taken from him by Tuberculosis or, as it was commonly called, Consumption. No, this was loneliness quite separate from the void that had been left after that fateful time in his life; this was the loneliness that came when one moved to a new place.
Henry had never lived in a big city. When the disease had taken more than half his hometown, leaving few survivors to be quarantined and then evacuated, he had nearly found himself in a sanatorium, so he'd decided that he wanted to see more of the world. He had no money, little education, and even less possessions, but that also meant that he had nothing holding him back. He hitchhiked and train-hopped his way from his sleepy little town in Pennsylvania all the way to the “biggest little city on earth,” New York.
In 1933, the world was in an upheaval, not because of the Great Depression—the world had long-since had time to get used to that—but because President Roosevelt was taking action to fix the economy. Prohibition was ending--which was a big deal in New York--Ford had just created the Model B vehicle, motion picture films such as King Kong were running rampant, and a young man named Albert Einstein was arriving in the United States as a refugee from the Nazis. 1933—indeed, the entirety of the 1930s—was a time of change and commotion in the United States.
The first thing that Henry had done when he'd gotten there was to find a job, which happened to be washing dishes in a restaurant in Brooklyn. Not the cleanest restaurant, but the owners allowed him to live in a room upstairs for next-to-nothing, and he could eat whatever leftovers he wanted at the end of the night.
He was always dirty, and tired, and never had much privacy, but he was living his dream—living in New York City—and if it wasn’t the best conditions, well, it wasn’t forever.
This was one of his rare nights off, and he wasn’t going to waste it lying around in his room, so he went out to see the city. He’d only been there for a few months, but most of his time was spent working in the restaurant or trying to get sleep in what seemed the in-between moments of working. Needless to say, he hadn’t gotten the chance to really go out and explore.
The first thing he wanted to do was visit the Statue of Liberty. Though climbing the Statue is free, going across the ferries was going to cost half the money that he'd brought with him for this trip. He had more in his room—one of the benefits of working all the time was that you had little time to actually spend the money you made—but he did not intend to be spending a lot on this night.
Henry, being the dishwasher, was considered hired help—though in America at this time it was not considered polite discussion to refer to him as such. For those with such a title there was a separate entrance and exit in a back alley that led behind the restaurant, meaning he had to go through the kitchen in order to get outside.
Before he left his room he checked the mirror to make sure that he looked presentable. His deep chestnut hair was slicked back—when he was younger the other boys would make fun of him because they thought he used some sort of product to keep his hair that way and never believed it was natural—and his clothes were clean. That was about the best he could say about his clothes since his mom had simply mended all of his clothing until he'd outgrown them, but unfortunately he hadn’t grown much since he was 15 years old. This meant that most of his clothes were well worn. His brown aviator jacket had patches sewn onto the elbows and there were more than that on the inside, but it was the only thing he had left of his father. He straightened the collar and walked out of his room.
As he pushed and yelled to make his way through the kitchen he saw Marie, the owner’s wife, yelling at one of the kitchen preps. Though she was a bulky woman, one look at her arms told you it was not fat. Her brown hair was tied up in a bun on the back of her head, covered in a hairnet, and she was shaking a knife under the prep’s nose.
Even without hearing what she was saying Henry knew she wasn't threatening him with it, but simply using it as an instrument to gesture with. Though not an official title, Marie was in charge of the kitchen, and when she thought you were doing something wrong it didn’t matter if you were a chef, an undercook, or a customer, she would grab whatever was handy and use it to gesture with while she gave you a lecture to make your ears ring for a week.
Henry kept his head low so as not to attract her attention; even though today was his day off he wouldn't put it past her to make him put on an apron and start washing dishes. And as much as it gulled his pride to admit it—and he’d only do it to himself, of course—he knew that he wouldn't even object.
He pushed open the door and came face-to-face with Jack, Marie’s husband and owner of the restaurant. Henry nearly screamed out-loud. He closed the door and looked to the man.
Jack Killian was a robust man with salt-and-pepper hair and a deep scar across his cheek that Henry never dared ask about. Henry had met him and his wife—who was just as big as her husband, if not equally graying—perhaps a week or so after he'd moved to New York completely by chance. He was having his daily meal in that very restaurant—he barely had enough money with him to afford to eat once a day, and even that was running out by this time—and Jack had approached him and asked where he was from. After a lengthy conversation he had compensated Henry’s meal and offered him a job. Henry would be forever grateful to Jack and Marie, and they had grown to be great friends over the past few months, if not like surrogate parents.
“Do you have one of those I can bum from you?” he asked, gesturing to the cigarette Jack was unsuccessfully trying to hide behind his leg.
“Jesus Christ, Henry,” he breathed. “You scared me half to death! I thought you were Marie!” Jack had been ‘trying to quit’ for going on 5 years now, and if Marie could give a kitchen prep a lecture to make his ears ring, then she could make Jack’s ears bleed. “Yeah, I’ve got one for you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pack.
“Thanks,” Henry replied, taking a cigarette and using Jack’s lighter to light it. “I forgot mine upstairs, and I wasn’t about to risk a night out just to go get them.”
“You need two-bits to get yourself a pack?” Jack offered.
“No, thanks," he responded. "I’ve got the cash with me to get one.”
“So where are you off to tonight?”
“Figured I’d check out the Statue of Liberty,” Henry noted, taking a drag from his cigarette. “Do the tourist thing for a little bit.”
“Well you be careful. You won’t be back before nightfall—not unless you robbed a bank and bought yourself a horse and buggy—and you ain’t no New Yorker, kid. Streets around here can be dangerous after dark.”
“I’ll do my best,” Henry promised. “Besides, I think between everything you and Marie have taught me I can find my way alright. I don’t plan on being out all night.”
“You’d better not be; you’ve got to work bright and early tomorrow.”
“You really know how to lift a guy’s spirits, don’t you, Jack?” Henry mused sourly.
“Have you met my wife?” he jested with a wry chuckle. “After 20 years of that, you should be surprised I’m not like that Edgar Allan Poe fella!”
“Well he had 40 years to work up to that point,” Henry remarked, smiling and taking another hit of his cigarette. “Give it time and you’ll get there.”
Jack laughed out loud. “Thanks for the vote of confidence! Get out of here before I tell Marie where you’re hiding so she can haul you back by the scruff of your neck.”
“You tell on me, I tell on you,” Henry warned, chuckling as he walked towards the mouth of the alley. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
When Henry headed out it was closer to evening than afternoon, but he knew the way well enough that he didn’t have to waste time asking directions. He'd mapped this out almost as soon as he'd gotten to New York; this, and Coney Island, and all the rest of the marvels that this great city had to offer.
Regardless of how well he knew the route, it was almost sunset by the time Henry made it to Battery Park to board the first ferry; he'd stopped and bought cigarettes. But he didn’t mind because he'd heard the city was far more beautiful at night anyway.
He paid his money, shuffled on board with the rest of the passengers, and waited eagerly. At this time in the night, it was still early enough that there were quite a few people, but late enough that the crowd was nowhere near as bad as it would've been during the day. It was light enough for him to see the young woman standing toward the bow of the ferry looking ahead to the Statue--far away but monstrous enough that it was still looming over them.
Her hair poured down her back in brown waves that put the ocean to shame, and her skin made him want to reach out and touch it to see if she was real. The lights coming from the Statue, and from the ship, reflected off the water and set her aglow as if she were a goddess from the heavens, here to grace us with her presence. And at that moment that’s how he felt.
He walked over to her, standing there all alone, and stood silently. She looked at him, but then turned back to the Statue. Neither said anything for a moment as he studied her features while pretending to look at the object that they'd both come to see. Her eyes were like pale emeralds, reflecting the light from the water in a way that allowed him to see flecks of gold in them.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?”
Henry gave a start. Was I staring? he questioned himself. What do I say? What do I do? Henry! You idiot! “I’m sorry?” he uttered. That was the only thing he could bring himself to say.
“The Statue,” she elaborated. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Oh, yes,” he breathed, nearly laughing out loud. He looked back to the massive form rising out of Liberty Island. “She’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like it. Is this your first time here? What am I saying; you’ve probably seen it a million times. I’m sorry. That was a dumb question.” Henry cut himself off when he realized he was rambling. Making a fool of yourself out here.
“No,” she replied, “Actually this is my first time seeing it. I’m not originally from around here.”
“Where are you from, if you don’t mind my asking?" Everything that he said sounded hollow and unpracticed in his ears; he felt like he was making an idiot out of himself. But she hasn't walked away.
“Virginia, originally,” she responded, “But I’ve traveled around a lot.”
“By yourself?” Henry felt his chest tighten. He did not see a ring, but that did not mean that she didn’t have a beau. “Or is your family with you?”
“No,” she answered. “My family is gone.” A look of sadness lit her eyes, and it made them that much more stunning.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he lamented slowly. “May I ask what happened? If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand.”
“No, that’s alright. My father died of Consumption, and my mother caught it not long after. They put her in a sanatorium, and refused to let us see each other; wouldn’t even let us pass messages through. I heard about it weeks after she died; they released a list of all the patients who had passed that month, and her name was on it. So I decided to leave. There was nothing there for me anymore.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Henry consoled her, shocked at hearing a story so similar to his.
“What about you?” she returned, looking curiously up at him. He wasn’t a tall man, but she was slightly shorter than average. “What’s your story?”
“Much the same,” he responded. “My parents came down with Consumption and I had no other family, so I left. I had always dreamed of coming to New York, so after my grief had left me I packed what little I had and came here. Not quite living the dream; I live in a room above a restaurant and wash dishes the majority of the time.” He took out a cigarette and lit it, offering the pack to her, which she accepted.
“No, no,” she objected, turning towards him, “You mustn’t look at it like that. You’re doing it! You had a dream, and now you’re actually fulfilling it. Who cares what you’re doing to make it happen as long as it’s happening. That’s something to be proud of.” He held out the lighter so she could light her cigarette, and he marveled at how soft her hands looked as she cupped them around the flame.
He came to his senses and smiled. “I guess we should both be proud of ourselves, then.”
In order to get from mainland New York to Liberty Island, it is required that you take two ferries: one from Battery Park in Brooklyn to Ellis Island, and then from Ellis Island to Liberty Island, where the Statue is. They spent their time on the second ferry much as they'd spent their time on the first ferry, which was to say simply talking.
When they got to Liberty Island, they decided that they would climb it together. It only seemed fitting, since they were both there alone, and this was the first time for both of them. As they walked and talked, neither could deny the kinship that was between them. At first it started out as small similarities, but then grew to something more. It grew to shared goals and dreams, to outlooks on things and perceptions of the world.
“It’s gorgeous,” she admired once they were at the top, looking over the city.
“It’s like something out of a picture,” he mused. “I knew it’d be beautiful but I never thought it’d be like this.”
Henry snapped himself out of his trance. He'd grown up in a small town where the biggest thing for miles was a windmill out on the neighbor’s farm. He looked over at her and saw her turn away; he hid his smile and nervously looked back out at the view.
It felt like they stood there for days, staring out at the lights of the most famous city in America. Every few minutes an awkward silence would fall over them and Henry would feel his face heating up as he tried to think of something to say. He had no idea how she felt, and every now and then he’d catch her out of the corner of his eye looking at him, but when he’d look over she’d turn back to the city. He didn’t know if that was a good sign or a bad sign, but he decided to take it for the former.
“I want to see you again,” Henry noted when the ferry was pulling into the dock at Battery Park. “This was the best night that I’ve had in a very long time.”
She smiled. “Mine, too. When can we do it? Name the place and time.”
He thought about it and replied, “I work all the time, but I’m sure I can get some time away. How about in two days at noon at Central Park?”
“I’ll be there.” She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. Henry raised his hand to it and could almost feel the heat radiating from it. As she was turning to leave, Henry realized he didn’t know her name, so he called out to her.
Without turning around, she responded over her shoulder, “It’s Monica.” The most amazing, beautiful woman he’d ever met, with a name to match. He wanted to scream, and to sing, and to run all at the same time.
It wasn’t terribly late, but far past a decent hour if he expected to be okay to work all day tomorrow, so Henry hurried along.
By the time he got back to the restaurant, everything was shut down and the lights were off. Jack was sitting on a stool in the kitchen smoking a cigarette, reading a book. He took one look at Henry and smiled
“Is she pretty?”
“What do you mean, ‘she’?” Henry asked suspiciously.
“You’ve been running,” he replied, still not looking up, “And the only reason that someone runs through the streets of New York City at night is if he’s being chased or if he just left a dame. I imagine I’d know it by now if you were being chased, so is she pretty?”
“Gorgeous,” Henry said, laughing and jumping up to take a seat on the countertop, which he’d only dare do in front of Jack; Marie would kill him. “She’s smart, and funny, and she’s an out-of-towner, like me. It’s like we were meant to meet!”
“Well,” Jack started, “A little piece of advice, kid. Whether it’s with this girl or with another one that you spend the rest of your life with, rememberthis feeling, because there’s going to be times when that’s the only thing that keeps you from killing her.”
Henry laughed. “Maybe with Marie! But she’s…different.”
“They’re all different,” Jack chuckled. “Give it time, my boy. So what’s this girl’s name?”
“Monica,” he said, leaning back. “Her name’s Monica…”