The two men unbuttoned their suit jackets when they slid across the taxi's backseat. A woman in a skirt and tights and heels handed a large wicker basket to one of the men through the open door, and then tucked herself into the remaining space. She pulled the door shut with a satisfying clunk. The basket sat on the lap of the man in the middle, and its prongs and fronds extended nearly to the roof of the car.
"24th and 3rd," the woman said. "Right side. Thanks." She was in charge. It was after lunch on the last weekday before Christmas. Everyone in New York was on a tight schedule.
"I think that went well," said the man with the basket.
"Really well," said the man at the window.
"Really really well," said the man with the basket.
The woman stared out the window. Third Avenue moved by, no faster than a brisk stroll. She sighed. "I suppose. I hate these parties. No one ever wears their name-tags. It's like they're daring you to forget."
Both men laughed. The woman looked weary, and closed her eyes.
The taxi jerked forward. Ahead, all the lights were green.
"Straight shot down to you, that's pretty nice," the man at the window said. He was the handsomer of the two, and spoke with confidence.
"What?" The woman said. "Oh. Yes."
They passed 42nd Street, too far east for tourists. They passed 34th Street, and all the girls with strollers and shopping bags from Macy's and Conway. The woman lived near Gramercy Park, though not so close that she had a key. People in the office knew this for sure. The two men seemed uncomfortable being knocked together by the movement of traffic, and the prickly wicker wasn't making anyone feel better about the situation.
When they were getting close, the woman said, "Thanks, guys. Really good work. I appreciate it." She tried to pull money out of her purse, but they both waved their hands and shushed her as politely as possible. The taxi slowed down, and pulled over to the curb. "Have a great Christmas." She hoisted the wicker basket off the man's lap and stepped out of the cab gracefully. She was well-rehearsed. It was like watching someone ride side-saddle.
When she shut the door, it was the man at the opposite window who spoke. "11th and 8th, please." The taxi pulled away from the curb and back into traffic. They didn't slide over, didn't make room.
"Why did you say that," the basket-less man said.
"Why did I say what," the man at the window responded.
"You called me your husband. I heard you." His lap seemed empty, and he tried to fill it with his folded hands.
"No one heard me. I was joking around. It was a party." The man at the window stared out. The taxi turned at 14th Street. They passed Union Square, where a shopping village had appeared for the holidays. Buses groaned in front and behind. There was some snow on the ground in patches, but not enough to amount to much.
"I heard you. If I heard you, then other people did, too."
"You're just being sensitive." The handsome man grabbed the hands on the basket-less lap. The other man pulled away, and slid across the seat until he was staring out the other window and clutching the door-handle, as though he might take any stalled opportunity to leap out.
"People talk, you know." In the park, people were going crazy for handmade pot-holders and silk-screened t-shirts. Everything said New York.
"I don't care if people talk." The handsome man turned to face him.
"Well, that's the difference." The world was light and cold and harsh, but no one outside seemed to notice. They all kept shopping, as though it mattered what they brought home and wrapped, as through anyone would remember.
The taxi turned down Seventh, and glided over to the right-hand side of the street. The two men were suspended in mid-air; they could have been talking about anything. They turned onto 11th. They were almost home.
As the taxi slowed down, the man without the basket turned to face the handsome man. There were miles between them. "I don't think I want to be your husband anymore," he said. When the car stopped, he got out, holding onto nothing.
Emma Straub's fiction has appeared in Barrelhouse, The Saint Ann's Review, Juked, and many other places. She co-edits the journal Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction, as well as the Read section of the Dossier Journal website. More information can be found at www.emmastraub.net.