When You Visit Manhattan on Saturday and Your Boyfriend Who Lives in Queens Says He Can’t Come by Nathan Xie
“When You Visit Manhattan on Saturday and Your Boyfriend Who Lives in Queens Says He Can’t Come” is one of three editors’ choice selections for the 2022 Amelia Gray 2K Contest. These pieces expertly highlight the wonderfully diverse potential of flash prose.
“When You Visit Manhattan on Saturday and Your Boyfriend Who Lives in Queens Says He Can’t Come” is more than a love story. It’s a snapshot into the lives of two lovers, a crackled Polaroid of two men standing in two boroughs, both poised before a chasm of vulnerability. Xie’s positioning of the intimacy of hope against the massive backdrop of Manhattan is truly masterful. This hope is patient, unlike the city. It is gracious, much like love. —CRAFT
after Jenny Offill
On the hour-long train ride to New York City, you read a book about a divorce that almost but doesn’t quite happen. Your boyfriend says he’s knocked out from miscellaneous paperwork and allergy headaches and his family is home. You know he hasn’t come out to them and you understand because you’re both sons of Asian immigrants. He texts: Why don’t you text me updates of your day instead? Okay. The narrator in the novel keeps asking questions with confusing, sort-of double negatives. No, right? Isn’t it? Aren’t you sure?
You get a haircut at a Korean hair salon. The stylist wears rose perfume and has the gentlest touch. She asks whether you part your hair to the right or the left. It’s whatever my bedhead decides, you say. It’s not under my control.
Your boyfriend asks for a picture. He’s not actually interested in the haircut; he likes you for who you are, not how you look. However, just for you, he’s trying to be more superficial. You take a selfie on 32nd Street. He says your middle-schooler haircut is cute.
Your iPhone cannot pinpoint your location on the map even though it’s fucking Fifth Avenue. The summer stench of crowded streets rises to the top of the skyscrapers. Several wrong turns later is the Museum of Modern Art. There are fewer people in the first-floor gallery than sunbathers in the garden outside.
Equal by Richard Serra: Giant cubes stacked on top of each other. But when you look closely, it looks like there’s an inch of dark space between the cubes. Like they’re not actually touching.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan is the World’s Largest Gothic Cathedral. Except, of course, that it is a fake; first by the simple fact of being built in Manhattan, at the turn of the century. But the stone work is re-inforced with steel which is expanding with rust. Someday it will destroy the stone. The Cathedral is in Morningside Heights overlooking a panoramic view of Harlem which is separated by a high fence. by Jimmie Durham: Is a moose.
1st Light by Paul Chan: In a dark room, trapped within a window on the floor, is a shifting aurora. People cast shadows over the gold-green, lapis lazuli, violet-red. A couple asks you to take a picture of them.
On the train back home—well, correction: the train doesn’t take you back home. It prematurely stops at New Rochelle and the speakers tell you there’s no electricity and no estimated time of arrival and they’re sorry for the inconvenience. You call your boyfriend and tell him you’re in the middle of nowhere. By that definition, he says, 99 percent of the world is nowhere. Together, you explore all alternative routes to your apartment (buses departing in three hours, Uber drivers who don’t want to drive you) except the obvious one. Your boyfriend lives an hour away and an hour passes before he finally says, Okay, I’ll pick you up. However, just before he gets into his car, an Uber driver finally agrees to take you. It costs $100 for a twenty-five-minute ride.
The Uber driver is Middle Eastern and has a kind face. You tell him every would-be train passenger in the tristate area is fucked. He says, How terrible. In front of your apartment, he makes a show of giving you a five-star rating on the Uber app. You’re a five-star passenger, he says, you’re the best. On your phone, your fingers give him a little dance too. You say, We’re both five stars! Being the best is simultaneously an impossible challenge and a matter of saying the right words.
At home, your boyfriend texts you, Let’s watch SPY×FAMILY. Neither you nor he turns on the camera as you watch the anime through a shared screen. The family in question overreacts to knives and runaway cows and kids who smack each other across the face. The family isn’t a real family, they’re all liars, but they do care for each other’s happiness.
Your boyfriend asks to see the pictures you took at the museum. He doesn’t say he wishes he had been there. He says, I’m glad you had a good time. You ask him how his day was and he sends a GIF of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet letting go of a sign that says Thank you. Then they bow to you.
The last chapter of the not-quite-divorce book awaits, but you don’t need to read it anymore. You can’t forget Ikkyū repeating what he considers the highest wisdom: 念. Which, in Chinese, can mean to study as a verb or commemoration as a noun. In Ikkyū’s context, the kanji translates to:
NATHAN XIE lives in New York. He is a recipient of One Story’s 2023 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship and a Periplus Collective Fellowship. His work appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, Waxwing, Ghost Parachute, and more. He is working on his first novel. He can be found on Twitter @n897x1974 and Instagram @find_mucked.
Featured image by Aiden Patrissi, courtesy of Unsplash.