I ended up in Southie on Friday because I had to pick up a watch that I had left at my friend's house. We slept together. I forgot it. After calling him several times, emailing him and even complaining about the watch to people who didn't know him or me, I moved from New York to Boston. I had been living in Boston for two weeks when he texted me:
"I sent the watch. I expect nudie pictures in return."
It's a shame that he's so good in bed. Sluts get a lot more practice than the rest of us.
So I go to Southie to pick up the watch at the UPS Customer Service Center. It takes three hours and three transfers to get there. I'm glad it takes that long. I'm familiar with his sense of humor. I'm afraid of opening up the package and finding used condoms or something smeared all over my clock.
I get off the stop I'm supposed to get off, Summer St. on the Silver Line. The Silver Line is the best line, in my opinion. It begins as a subway, turns into a trolley and then is released as a bus once outside the city bounds. What do you call something like that?
Does it actually transform from a subway car to a trolley car to a bus? Or is it always what it is—the Silver Line toward City Point? Perhaps we should just call it a vehicle—but if we're going to ambiguate terms, then a body is just a vehicle too. Sometimes it runs, skips, dances—these are all just different expressions of movement.
I smell the ocean. I'm not sure if it is the ocean, but it smells like seashells and it sounds like seagulls. The building in front of me says 435 and I have to go to 457b Summer Street. I know where I am and I know where I'm going. This always puts me in the best of moods. I notice a woman in white walking by.
"Excuse me miss, could you tell me where 457b Summer St. is? It's the UPS Customer Service Center?"
"Oh, Hi! Um, let me think. I know there is a FedEx just across this bridge and I think it might be a UPS too, like a combination UPS/FedEx or something. Yeah, my girlfriend was telling me it was. Go just across the bridge, make a right and it's right there. You can't miss it—oh wait, maybe it's just across the street, behind that 435 building—see those trucks? They look like UPS trucks! On second thought, go over there and then if it's not UPS go across the bridge and it will be there."
She has pearls on her neck and mermaid-like hair, all kinked and wavy, pulled back behind her ears. Maybe she's hiding gills.
"Is there a beach around here?"
"Yeah! Castle Island! Just keep walking down this street, Summer St. and it turns into L Street and then take a left on East Broadway and you'll end up on the beach."
"But be careful. One of my girlfriends was there the other week, just reading a book, when one of my other friends says to her, 'I don't want to scare you, but this guy's been watching you and he just took your picture.'"
"He took her picture?"
"Yeah. So be careful! It's the middle of the day, so there should be a lot of people... so you should be ok. I just thought I should warn you."
"Thank you very much; I'll watch out for any creeps."
She walks away and I walk across the street. I knew it was across the street; I looked up the directions before I left.
The Customer Service Center is boring. I get my package and get out of there. Should I bother to open the box? I've undergone this sort of heroic quest—I guess it's complete? I finally have my watch back? I look up and see two church pillars. What sort of place needs two churches right next to one another?
Opening the package, I walk toward my next adventure. The packing peanuts fall out and I debate picking them up. They're not biodegradable, but the concept of leaving a trail behind me is too appealing. I litter. I'll be able to find my way back.
A bicyclist attacks. Shocked, I exclaim, "Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to Castle Beach?"
"Uh, it's like really far from here. You should take the bus, the nine. The stop is over there."
What terror. I didn't see him until he whirred right by me. I went on autopilot.
Eventually, I find myself between the two churches. I guess there are a lot of Christians here. I wonder if there's a rivalry between the two, perhaps for parking on Sundays. Honk Honk! I want to worship god! No I was here first! Screw you! Fuck off! That's how it would happen.
I notice I'm on East Broadway. Excellent. Make the left. Walk along East Broadway. I pass two beauty salons and four pubs. I like this place. The beauty salons are filled with women getting manicures and pedicures and facials. I hate the smell that seeps out of their doors, like fashion formaldehyde—keeping them young and prim. The pubs smell like French fries.
A woman waits for a bus. The number nine. She wears bright pink lipstick and holds two grocery bags. Her back is hunched over; they weigh her down. Her jacket is also bright pink, with zebra stripes. She is perfect. I want so badly to take her picture; my hand is already on my camera—No. I want to remember her. I never want to see her again.
"Goddamn, I love Irish girls."
Two boys are walking in the opposite direction as me. I'm not Irish. I'm Greek, Jewish and Russian. They're talking about the girl walking ahead of me. Where does she get her hair done? I'm the only person on the street with curly hair.
I pass a few more churches, many more hair salons and more old ladies. None as impressive as the first few. I see the beach. For some reason, it doesn't smell as strongly anymore. I think about how nice it will be to take of my shoes and sit. Listen to the ocean. Think about reading my book and refuse, because my own thoughts are too good.
It's covered with dead jellyfish. I've seen this before.
When I was younger, I used to go to Miami with my family for Thanksgiving. We would all walk together at night; children running ahead, parents drunk and stumbling behind. Someone had to be the designated parent. My Poppy.
"Rachel, don't run that way!"
"Because there are jellyfish all over the beach at night."
"No there aren't."
"Yes there are. If you run on the beach at night you'll get terrible stings all over your feet and legs, but not at first. You, Rachel, are such a fast runner that if you ran on the beach at night you wouldn't feel anything for half a mile."
"A whole mile!"
"And by the time you started feeling the stings, you would never make it back alive. Your feet would hurt so much they would stop working, flopping until they stopped entirely and you fell face-down and were stung by dead jellyfish to death."
"But those people are on the beach."
"They have a blanket."
I did not bring a blanket with me to Castle Island. It was too cold and wet to sit down, so I started walking back and forth, looking for someone to take a picture of. I would get to be the creepy photographer today. I used the jellyfish as stepping-stones, seeing how far I could get only by way of those gooey, harmless discs. My toes and their tentacles.
I looked at my watch, it was getting late. Time for the trip back. Back by way of jellyfish, East Broadway, packing peanuts and the Silver Line.
A sign for free books. Really? Free? I had forbidden myself from buying anything not food or transportation related in the wake of my graduation from college. Free books were allowed.
"Take anything you like."
"What you're doing is wonderful!"
"Oh, he's moving. Got too many books."
"You can never have too many books."
The woman in charge never looks me in the eye. Her hair is triangular and her body is pear shaped. Somehow the features match, giving her a two-tier appearance. I make my way up the stranger's porch, ready to grab ancient copies of Dune and King Lear and suddenly realize how photographic the arrangement is. I take out my camera.
"They would really make a great picture."
It was the "Goddamn, I love Irish girls" girl. She was beautiful.
"If you like, I can send you a copy."
Her name was Laura Hayes. I enjoy her watching me take photographs. I perform for her; crouching down low, canting the angle sideways, wasting more film than I need to.
I put away the camera, get close to the most ancient book and pick it up.
It's the Bible. There are hundreds of Bibles. There are books about miracles, Jesus, modern day saints, the Holy Spirit and one English Dictionary.
"Take as many as you like. I can't take them all. I got more in the basement."
An old man in an old sweater comes onto the porch.
"Thank you very much. This is a wonderful thing you're doing."
"Oh, it's nothing really. I used to teach a Bible study. I have Bibles in all sorts of languages—Spanish, Chinese, Italian, even more in the basement."
He leaves and goes down to what I'm guessing is the basement. Where the hell am I? I don't want a Bible. What a creep. What a freak. These are not books; these are Bibles.
There is one Alcoholics Anonymous book. That's interesting.
"Would you mind if I took a portrait of you with all of your books, before you depart from them?"
"Are you a reporter or something?"
His eyes relay his doubt. He's frightened.
"No, no, not at all. I just take photos for myself. I don't have a job; I just graduated from college. Really, I promise. I just feel like there is so much of you here, exposed, I would like to take a photograph of it."
"Let me pray on it."
He looks at me, eyebrows raised and palms outturned, expecting some sort of recognition, a response, proof that I know what he's talking about, where this is going.
I'm perplexed. I'm a good girl. I'm a good person. The photo wouldn't be about him. The photo would be about me.
He talks to Jesus in his basement.
I just want to see what makes him believe.
Emily Anne Epstein is a multimedia journalist who tells stories in whichever medium suits them best. Her clients range from Getty Images to the New York Times. When she's not abroad or reporting, she can be found in a downtown cafe thinking in Spanish and writing in English. Novels, plays and flash fiction fill her free time.