“This can’t be right.”
“I’ve followed the directions to the letter.”
“Then, let me see.”
With an eye roll and a sigh so over the top anybody down the block could have seen it, he handed the little pink notecard to Eloise. As great a show as Dell put on, Eloise made an even greater one of pretending not to notice. She pulled the card from him so it bent between her fingers and made a whip noise through the air, and held it up in front of her face. Dell resisted the urge to stick the tip of his tongue out at her. Barely.
Instead, he spun slowly in place. The two of them had lived in the city for their entire lives, except for those two years Eloise refused to talk about, as though even mentioning them would cause Dell to pack up and take the next train east again. They had been to the beach and most of the parks. To the planetarium and the zoo. They had grown up in the south and lived near the college and then moved to the north. They had seen the city in the pink-sky mornings, under heavy clouds booming with thunder, and lit up orange at night by the sodium vapor lamps. But in all their time, they had never been here.
‘Here’ was the bad part of town, quite literally on the other side of the train tracks. Following the blocky letters on the little pink card had taken them away from the soaring glass buildings of downtown and down long streets lined with small row houses, each a different flavor of dilapidation. This one had its paint peeling. That one had its windows boarded up. The one on the corner two blocks back had part of its roof caved in. It looked like the set of a disaster movie, but the world hadn’t ended here. Music came from windows and folks sat on porches watching them walk by. The bodega they had hustled past had been filled with people. Loud, tough people that barely looked at them as they walked by, but had made Dell check behind them for blocks to see if they were following.
Of course they weren’t. They had never been to this side of the town, but that didn’t mean either of them had money. He could watch the runs in Elise’s stockings stretch as she walked, and he had to be careful how he bent his left arm or the hole there in his sleeve could get bigger. No one was going to jump them. At least, that’s what the logical brain said. Prejudices didn’t live on the logical side and, perhaps like them and this place, had never even seen it.
Now they were standing at an edge. The row houses were behind them. In front of them, on the other side of a tall, ugly fence, was the distribution yard, filled with big men putting bigger boxes onto even bigger trains, all the while making the biggest noises. A couple of stories above them, blocking the sun, the passenger rail soared over them. Dell had been on it plenty. It was the very train he had taken east. Had he ever looked down? If he had, he didn’t remember.
Eloise pushed the card under his nose, close enough to tickle his mustache. She didn’t wait for him to take it before letting the card go so she could dramatically wave her arms above her head before crossing them tightly in front of her.
“We did everything right,” she said, miffed.
Dell followed the card as it fluttered in the air, catching it inches before it hit the puddle at his feet.
“You mean I did it right, and you don’t have to sound so surprised about it.”
Eloise straightened her coat and didn’t look at him.
“Well, does it look like the right place?”
“How am I supposed to know, but-”
“It doesn’t look right,” Eloise spat, “so you can’t blame me for making sure-”
“Making sure?” Dell asked, stepping out of the puddle. “Making sure what? Making sure I didn’t fuck up?”
“No, Eloise, I’m sick of this. You’re always doing this. I…it just feels like you don’t trust me to even read directions.”
“And don’t say you’re just analytical, that’s bull. You just think I can’t do something simple like read directions, directions you wrote so if we’re in the wrong place-”
“Dell, shut up! We’re not in the wrong place. Look!”
Eloise had her hands in her pockets and she was walking away from him. No, not exactly. She wasn’t walking away, she was walking toward. Dell traced the path she was making. He gasped.
Built into the overpass, now shaking as the passenger train blew by overhead, was an impossible wooden door.