“It’s all fun and games until it’s not,” read the transfer in typewriter font underneath the polypasted image on the wall. Marta stopped in her tracks slightly at this ominous warning. She’d been playing a lot of games lately, none of them all that much fun. Though she always prefaced every sexual encounter by telling a man that she had an STD, he still seemed to think she was just “kidding around.” Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. She couldn’t remember the last time she got tested. It was definitely not in this decade though. Rather than heeding her warning, her what she thought was foolproof tactic for getting him to put on a condom, the man of the moment would laugh it off and continue about his pleasure seeking.
But the person from last night actually seemed to be semi-decent. No, he didn’t offer to put a condom on either… yet still, Marta could tell he had a genuineness to him, the sort that could only come from being fresh off the boat. Gabrielo was from Utah, but wasn’t a Mormon. However, perhaps being forced to be “among them” all the time helped steer him toward a certain wholesomeness. The two found one another, naturally, admiring the same Georgia O’Keeffe painting at the Living Modern exhibit that summer. He made some cliche comment about brushstrokes that Marta chose to overlook because his enthusiasm was so earnest that she couldn’t bear to begrudge him. They both found that their shared love of the Southwest was in direct contrast to being in New York, but that each had a separate pursuit that required them to be there. In Marta’s case it was a film production internship she had landed after completing her degree at SVA. She was sure, or so she told herself, that if she just stuck out this thankless, unpaid position long enough, it would lead to something more promising, that the contacts she was making on this movie–an animated short about a family of deadbeat bears living in California called Bear Minimum–simply had to secure her more meaningful work in the future. Gabrielo, on the other hand, wasn’t so artless as to start off his tenure in New York with an attempt at being an artist of any kind, instead going after his real estate license in between holding down a bartending job at a cocktail bar on the Lower East Side called Nitecap. This didn’t mean that his latent appreciation and yearning for the self-indulgence of art didn’t call every now and again–had indeed been the very thing that pulled him out of his hovel in Harlem to come all the way down to Crown Heights. After he and Marta had sufficiently established their firm rapport, they decided to take it to a new setting, Tom’s Diner, supposed to be the very one that inspired the Suzanne Vega song of the same name, though Gabrielo was highly skeptical about it, insisting that it was nothing more than the restaurant’s gimmick. It was always so strange to Marta how men tended to be more cynical than women, when they were the ones least disappointed by life. Maybe there’s a formula to optimism–you’ve got to be shit on constantly to have any. As she finished telling this theory to Gabrielo in the midst of eating her turkey burger (he had ordered a normal one), he demanded, “What’s happened in your life that’s made you an optimist then?”
She gulped uncomfortably. “Well, since you ask…my sister died recently.”
Gabrielo barely flinched. “How did it happen?”
“She was, um, a tour guide in London. Right in the thick of all the bullshit, you know. And she got caught in the crowd when that van mowed everyone down a week ago.”
Gabrielo stopped chewing. One never knows what to say in these instances, especially in the emotionally stunted times we live in. “I’m so sorry, I just can’t believe…”
“I’m still a little stunned myself, you know? She was my only sibling.”
“What was her name?”
“Lidia. She was twenty-six, just three years younger than me.”
In the back of his mind, Gabrielo was beginning to think this was all getting to be a bit too intense. Here he thought he had picked up this cool, calm, collected girl when, as it turned out, she was apparently one more loose thread from being unraveled. That also meant her vulnerability was for him to do what he wanted with.
“Marta, I can’t even imagine what you must be going through. I don’t know how I can comfort you, but I’ll do my best.”
She sighed and took a sip of her water. “Do you want to come over for a drink? I live just down the block.” Her invitation wasn’t, as she saw it, necessarily sexual, though she wasn’t so ignorant as to rule out that Gabrielo was probably assuming something would happen between them.
As she poured him a glass of wine in the kitchen and took it back to her room–“My roommate might come home and I really can’t deal with that kind of social interaction right now,” she explained–it truly began to dawn on her what she was invoking. Was she trying to cope with her grief, or feeding into what Gabrielo had seemed to want from the outset? She always was a people-pleaser–maybe that was the real reason she had gone into film production.
Rather than making any further subtle indications, Marta maintained her distance on the satellite chair in the corner, while Gabrielo sat on the edge of the bed. After a bit more conversation covering an excess of the standard ground as well as an abridged history of how Lidia came to live in London (“she was obsessed with The Mighty Boosh, that’s when her Anglophilia began”), Gabrielo became visibly antsy. What was he doing here, he thought to himself. How did he fall into this unwanted role of comforter to the bereaved?
So she finally did it, finally gave in. Even when he swore up and down that he had no form of protection–not even the half-hearted promise to pull out. And the next morning, when they both had to leave to get to their respective engagements, he assured her that he would meet back up with her at the coffee shop after he went to buy an empanada from the allegedly nearby stand that she later realized must not have truly existed. And that once they reconvened they would ride the train together. It was on her way to the 4 in the wake of this cold rejection that she noticed the aforementioned warning, “It’s all fun and games until it’s not.” Oh Marta, doomed to fall prey to her own optimism time and time again.