I struggled to keep up with Macon’s long strides. “Do you know even know where you’re going?” I asked.
“Yep,” he answered. He kept his eyes on the street signs and changing lights as he walked.
“Any chance you want to enlighten me?”
“Nah,” he said. “You might back out once you know.”
I sighed and shoved my hands into my pockets. His vagueness was irritating, but he was probably right. I was realizing pretty fast that the list in my back pocket only provided so much extroversion, and without the darkness and the smoke clouds and the almost-concussion, I still didn’t have much nerve. Maybe he could sense that, and in a way, that bothered me. Still, though, I followed anyway.
The air was still thick with humidity, and the sun was still hidden behind haze. As the day crept on, the heat became unbearable. My shoes almost seemed to stick to the pavement below my feet.
After a whole lot of walking—maybe twelve blocks total—Macon finally stopped in front of a waist-level fence. The apartment behind it was undoubtedly nice, with wide white bricks and a few stairs leading up to an oak door. The building was on the corner, and I could see the winding fire-escape ladders that went all the way to the roof.
“Hey, Mr. Giordano!” Macon called over the fence. I hadn’t noticed the heavy middle-aged man in the garden until he stood up straight and peered around.
“Ah, Macon!” the man spoke, his eyes finally landing on us. Incase his surname and appearance hadn’t made his heritage obvious enough, I caught a heavy accent the second he had said Macon’s name.
He’d been equipped with hedge-clippers, but he’d tossed them down beside the shrubbery and started to hobble over. ‘Mr. Giordano’ had graying hair that, I’m sure, had once been as black as a freshly tarred street. It was present on the sides of his head, but he was balding on top. He wore a red button-down shirt that had apparently been stained enough to replace his yard work ensemble, and he had thick glasses with no bottom rim. Once the Italian man reached the fence, he grinned at Macon from underneath a thick mustache.
“What are you doing here, my boy?” he asked, his hands outward and his wrists exposed.
Macon shrugged and stuffed his own hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts. “I don’t know. Walking around.”
“Walking around with your pretty, how do you say…Girlfriend?” Mr. Giordano suggested.
I started to choke on air, barely managing to cover it with a cough, but Macon showed nothing but nonchalance. “No, Mr. Giordano,” he laughed. “Not exactly.”
The Italian man laughed, too. “Okay, okay,” he sang. “How is your family, eh?”
Macon shrugged again. “They’re good, as far as I know. My dad and my two younger brothers just moved into an apartment in Brooklyn.”
“Not you, too?”
The boy beside me shook his head. “No. I’ve been living in an apartment in the Bronx for a few months now.”
“Alone?” The Italian’s eyes went wide behind his glasses. “You are not even twenty years old!”
Macon raised both his eyebrows, but his slanted grin resurfaced. “I turned twenty-one in February, Mr. Giordano,” he said. “And I did have a roommate for a while, but he wanted to do some traveling, so he moved out a couple weeks ago. I’m in the process of looking for a new one. Rent’s hell without the split pay, you know?”
Mr. Giordano shook his head and held up his pointer finger, shaking that as well. “Macon, my boy… You need job back at deli? You ask me. I give to you.”
“Thanks, Mr. Giordano. I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got a job right now.” Macon paused for a moment and then added, “Actually, though, I was wondering if I could ask a different favor of you.”
“A different favor?”
“Yeah. I was wondering if you still had that old crib mattress in your garage. The one from when Vinny was a baby,” he said. “We—Andy and I, I mean—were wondering if we’d be able to borrow it for a little.”
The man looked from Macon’s face to mine and then back to his. Then, suddenly, he stole a glance down at my stomach. When it didn’t look as though it was protruding or anything, his face wrinkled up in confusion. “I go see,” he said, nodding, but his voice was drowned in puzzlement.
We watched from the sidewalk as Mr. Giordano went over to his garage and lifted the hatch. With all the crap in there, it was no wonder his car was parked out on the side of the road. There were lampshades and bedside tables and blankets and lawnmowers and cardboard boxes stacked everywhere. The old Italian quickly disappeared behind the towering masses that somewhat resembled the Manhattan skyline over his rooftop.
After some shuffling and a few big crashing noises, he stepped out of the garage again. Actually, a moving rectangle of fabric and stuffing stepped out of the garage, and as he carried the mattress toward us, all we could see were his brown shoes poking out from the bottom.
“Do you need help, Mr. Giordano?” Macon called to him, but the Italian refused and hobbled over by himself. He leaned the mattress against the fence. Then he wiped his forehead with the back of his arm and turned to look at us again.
“Thank you so much,” Macon said. “We really appreciate it.”
Mr. Giordano, out of breath, just waved the comment away like he was swatting at a swarm of gnats.
“How soon would you like it back?”
With another pity-filled shot in my direction, he responded with, “Keep it, my boy. I meant to get rid of it for long time.”
“Are you sure?” Macon kept his expression serious. “Thanks again, Mr. Giordano.”
The Italian nodded once more. “You need ride?” he asked, motioning to the car.
“Nah. It’s not far. We’ll just walk.” Before picking up the mattress, Macon’s hand clasped the Italian’s in a firm shake. “Take care.”
“Take care,” Mr. Giordano repeated to Macon, smiling at him. When he turned to me, however, the expression was much more forced. “And you… Andy, yes? How much years old?”
“Nineteen,” I cautiously answered.
His look of pity deepened. Then Mr. Giordano stumbled over his words for a moment before he finally decided on, “Good luck.”
I creased my forehead. “Uh. Thank you.”
Mr. Giordano waved at us, picked up his hedge-clippers, and returned to his yard work. Nonetheless, he peered at us through rushed glances from the corner of his eye.
After a bit of effort, Macon and I had flipped the mattress over the fence and gotten a weak grip on it. With myself in the front, facing backwards, and Macon holding up the back end, we started to take hesitant, wobbly steps down the block.
“Macon!” I hissed. I’d barely waited until we were out of earshot before I spat, “You are such an idiot!”
“Idiot?! I’m the one who just got you a perfectly good mattress!” Macon said. “And watch your back,” he added. “There’s a telephone pole.”
I glanced over my shoulder and took a step to the right in order to clear it. “Yeah,” I continued, “by making Mario over there think that you knocked me up!”
“Oh, chill out. Win some, lose some,” Macon replied. He was biting back a brilliant grin, and I could tell. “We happened to win this one. We just had to forfeit some dignity because of it.”
“We?” I scoffed. “You scored. I got pregnant. That’s pretty one-ended, if you ask me. Who was that guy, anyway?”
“He’s my family’s old landlord. We lived in one of the apartments upstairs—heads up, bus-stop bench—about two years ago. I also used to work at the deli he owns. He’s a good friend of my father’s.”
“Uh huh,” I muttered. “Now, what do you figure you’re gonna do when your father calls you up inquiring about how you plan to pay for your pregnant not-girlfriend?”
Macon laughed. “Ah, whatever. I’ll just say it was a miscommunication. Mr. Giordano always botches up his English. My dad knows that,” he told me, shrugging it off. Then Macon stopped and said, “Hey, let me get the front, okay? You’re going to maim someone.”
I agreed, though I was coming nowhere near close to maiming anyone, and the people on the street paid little mind anyway. Two kids carrying a rectangular wad of bedding down the streets of Manhattan, and no one shot us a second glance. I guess that’s New York City for you.
Macon and I leaned the mattress against a street lamp and then switched sides. We found that if we held it vertically and grabbed it with one hand under the edge tape and the other wrapped around the rope woven into the side, we could move decently fast without losing our grip.
Even so, the walk seemed to take forever. Every once in a while, we’d lean the mattress down against a mailbox or a crosswalk sign and rest a few seconds. For something made out of stuffing, it was surprisingly heavy, and my arms ached from the weight. Macon still wouldn’t tell me where we were going for the same reason he’d stated before, but even so, my anticipation was starting to build.
I was looking down at my feet when Macon veered off the sidewalk, leading us toward a stone wall. He propped the mattress against it. Then he stood up straight and stretched his arms over his head, trying to get rid of a knot in his lower back; I had one, too.
At first, I didn’t know where we were. I glanced around at the slabs of concrete and the gray stones we were leaning against. Then my eyes started to scan over the thick pillars and the three sets of doors. When I caught sight of the two lion statues perched on either side of the building, I realized where we stood: The New York City Public Library.
“I hope you’re goddamn kidding me,” I murmured.
“Opened in 1911, made of twenty thousand blocks of stone, stretches about three hundred and ninety feet over Fifth Avenue. See those two lions?”
“Thank you, Macon the Tour Guide,” I drawled, but he continued anyway.
“Their nicknames are ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude.’ To give Americans hope throughout the Great Depression and all that good stuff.”
“What the hell, Macon. How do you know all this?”
“Did a history report on this place in the sixth grade.”
“Uh huh,” I murmured. I propped my chin up with my fist and humored him. “And how many stairs are there, exactly?”
As he leaned against the stonework, Macon looked up at the fortress in front of us. “Dunno,” he told me. Then he shrugged a shoulder and his face turned suggestive. “Guess you can count on the way down, huh?”
I opened my mouth to snap at him, but a voice from above us forced me to shut it again. “What are you kids up to?” There was nothing but condescendence in the tone.
I craned my neck backwards to see a police officer leaning over the stone railing. He crossed his arms, his dark blue uniform creasing at the elbows. The officer’s eyebrow was arched beneath his cap.
“Just resting,” Macon spoke. He took a step towards me and placed his hand gently on the back of my neck. “Carrying this crib mattress back to our apartment. My wife’s expecting soon.” With the expression of sheer happiness on Macon’s face, I nearly believed him.
“Oh,” the cop answered. He then looked down at my stomach, just as Mr. Giordano had, and at that point in time I’d never been so thrilled that my style prominently revolved around loose-fitting clothing. “Alright. But, if your wife is expecting, sir, I really don’t think she should be carrying anything heavy.”
My mouth went painfully dry and I bit down on my lip, but Macon wasn’t fazed. “Oh, she’s not doing any heavy lifting. She’s just supervising. To make sure I don’t knock anyone over.”
I winced at Macon’s choice of words and hoped the officer had missed them, but his expression jumped from confusion to alarm. “Perhaps I should help you with that,” the cop decided.
“No, no. We’re fine. Our apartment is just a few blocks that way,” Macon said, pointing up Fifth Avenue. “We’re almost there.”
I stared up at the police officer, desperate for his response. Anyone knew that two barely-grown kids would never be able to afford an apartment on Fifth, nevermind with a baby on the way. I silently hoped that The Strokes had been pretty damn on target with their views about New York City cops.
Macon’s hand was still on the back of my neck, and now his thumb was lightly stroking the spot right above my spine. The simple action forced my knees to lock, and it was even harder to think.
“Alright,” the officer finally decided. “Just don’t injure anyone. And you’d better hurry up. It’s starting to rain.”
I glanced up to see that the hazy clouds were creeping together to make heavier ones. Every so often, a raindrop would hit the square slabs of concrete underneath us, leaving a splattered dot before it soaked into the ground.
“Have a nice afternoon,” the cop deadpanned. He turned on his heel and went back over near the doors. Then, leaning against a set of pillars, he crossed his arms and stared down at the mess of cars and taxis that crept along the dampening street.
I whirled around. “Goddammit, Macon! Stop convincing the world that I’m pregnant with your baby!”
“What?!” he spat defensively. His hand slid from my neck and despite the extreme humiliation he’d caused me today, I immediately missed the feeling of it. “At least we’re married this time.”
“I look like I’m twelve!”
“Oh, whatever,” Macon said, which seemed to be his catchphrase today. “He bought it, didn’t he?”
“I seriously don’t think so, dude. I think he knew we were bullshitting.”
“Well, by the time he catches on to what we’re doing, you’ll be halfway down a staircase with enough momentum to take out an entire pack of mammoths, so quit worrying.”
“Wonderful,” I stated. I pushed my hair off of my forehead, feeling the raindrops that had collected in the strands. “Macon, I really don’t think this is a great idea. Actually, I’m decently positive that it’s an altogether horrible idea.” But he wasn’t listening to me. His eyes were busy scanning over the scene in front of us, plotting things out.
“See those steps right there? The ones between the pillars and the railing?”
“Yes,” I said, but my voice remained hesitant.
“That’s our best bet, I think. The mattress looks just small enough to wedge in there, so it won’t go all out of control. And the cop won’t be able to see us from there, either. His back’s turned and the pillar’s in the way.”
“Macon, can we please just–” But he’d already wrapped one hand around my wrist and was dragging the mattress along the concrete with the other.
“We need to do this quick, okay? Up the stairs, position ourselves, and then go. That’s it. Come on.”
Despite my protests, he was still inching toward the staircase with the mattress in tow. I had no choice but to grab the back and help him. Still, my head was dazed by my nerves, and my movements were choppy and paranoid.
He and I furtively slipped up the staircase, staying pushed off to the side where we were, for the most part, hidden. Very few people caught sight of us, and those who did said nothing. They just shot us a few raised-eyebrow glances and looked away again. When Macon and I reached the top, he immediately snapped into gear. My legs, however, were rooted firmly to the ground.
Not only did the staircase look a million times steeper from here, but it was crammed with obstacles. Aside from the railings and pillars that I’d have to avoid, there were people scattered all over the place. Some were seated on the steps themselves, but the majority of them sat in green folding chairs on the landings, and there was no way I’d be able to clear all of them. How does one go about steering a goddamn mattress, anyway?
“Andy! Let’s go!” Macon hissed, just loud enough for me to hear.
I looked down and he already had the mattress situated between the stonework and the railing. He was right–it did just fit.
When I didn’t move, Macon grabbed my wrist again and pulled me toward it. He somehow forced my knees to bend and then I was sitting on the cushioned material. “Let’s go, before anyone notices!” I glanced over my shoulder and tried to hide the fear that was evident on my face. Heights were never my thing, nor was sliding down a fifty degree angle on nothing but an oversized pillow, but Macon wouldn’t stop egging me on.
“Are you going to be at the bottom when I get there?” I interrupted. “You’re not gonna ditch me, are you?”
“Not even close,” he laughed. “I’m coming with you.” Macon lowered himself down behind me, pushed off from the railing, and then placed his hands on either side of my waist. “Hold onto those ropes on the side. Really, really, tight.”
The two of us started sliding, and at first it wasn’t so bad. By the time we’d passed over three or four steps, however, I found that Macon had been dead on—we could’ve taken out an entire pack of mammoths. Or the poor unsuspecting people that were seated on the library steps. Either one.
“Move! Coming though, get out of the way!” Macon yelled from behind me. I just yelled in general.
People screamed and stumbled out of the way, and the noise was more than enough to grab the officer’s attention; he stepped out from behind the pillar and his jaw dropped. “You!” he boomed, his pointer finger exploding from the sleeve of his uniform. “Stop the mattress!” He jumped into gear and his feet went flying down the steps, but he was nowhere near as fast as we were.
We’d reached the second landing, and this one was longer than the first; I didn’t know if we’d have enough momentum to slide all the way to the next set of stairs. “Let’s get off here,” I yelled to Macon.
“No! I don’t know if we hit twenty five yet. Keep going!”
He’d swiveled around so we were sitting back to back, and his legs were off the end of the mattress, pushing off from the ground. We reached the last seven steps and, having lost the majority of our drive, we went down slowly. It was just as well, because when the mattress hit a sudden stop at the bottom, the two of us went plummeting off.
Macon landed on his knees, but I went rolling a few times and ended up on my back, staring at the gray sponge-painted sky. Clouds were rolling in from all sides, and I’d been too panicked to notice, but it was starting to rain much harder now. The drops hit my face and my limbs. I stayed sprawled out on the concrete, and it felt really, really nice.
Macon’s hands then wrapped into mine, and he yanked me to my feet.
“Are you alright?”