New York City
I nearly missed that card from the post office, stuck up as it was against the side of the mail slot. Just imagine. Of such little accidents is history made.
I’d moved into the apartment only a week ago, and I didn’t know all the little tricks yet: the way the water collects in a slight depression below the bottom step on rainy days, causing you to slip on the chipped marble tiles if you aren’t careful; the way the butcher’s boy steps inside the superintendent’s apartment at five-fifteen on Wednesday afternoons, when the super’s shift runs late at the cigar factory, and spends twenty minutes jiggling his sausage with the super’s wife while the chops sit unguarded in the vestibule.
And—this is important, now—the way postcards have a habit of sticking to the side of the mail slot, just out of view if you’re bending to retrieve your mail instead of crouching all the way down, as I did that Friday evening after work, not wanting to soil my new coat on the perpetually filthy floor.
But luck or fate or God intervened. My fingers found the postcard, even if my eyes didn’t. And though I tossed the mail on the table when I burst into the apartment and didn’t sort through it all until late Saturday morning, wrapped in my dressing gown, drinking a filthy concoction of tomato juice and the-devil-knew-what to counteract the several martinis and one neat Scotch I’d drunk the night before, not even I, Vivian Schuyler, could elude the wicked ways of the higher powers forever.
Mind you, I’m not here to complain.
“What’s that?” asked my roommate, Sally, from the sofa, such as it was. The dear little tart appeared even more horizontally inclined than I did. My face was merely sallow; hers was chartreuse.
“Card from the post office.” I turned it over in my hand. “There’s a parcel waiting.”
“For you or for me?”
“Well, thank God for that, anyway.”
I looked at the card. I looked at the clock. I had twenty-three minutes until the post office on West Tenth Street closed for the weekend. My hair was unbrushed, my face bare, my mouth still coated in a sticky film of hangover and tomato juice.
On the other hand: a parcel. Who could resist a parcel? A mysterious one, yet. All sorts of brown-paper possibilities danced in my head. Too early for Christmas, too late for my twenty-first birthday (too late for my twenty-second, if you’re going to split hairs), too uncharacteristic to come from my parents. But there it was, misspelled in cheap purple ink: Miss Vivien Schuyler, 52 Christopher Street, apt. 5C, New York City. I’d been here only a week. Who would have mailed me a parcel already? Perhaps my great-aunt Julie, submitting a housewarming gift? In which case I’d have to skedaddle on down to the P.O. hasty-posty before somebody there drank my parcel.
The clock again. Twenty-two minutes.
“If you’re going,” said Sally, hand draped over her eyes, “you’d better go now.”
Of such little choices is history made.
. . .
I DARTED INTO the post office building at eight minutes to twelve— yes, my dears, I have good reason to remember the exact time of arrival— shook off the rain from my umbrella, and caught my sinking heart at the last instant. The place was crammed. not only crammed, but wet. not only wet, but stinking wet: sour wool overlaid by piss overlaid by cigarettes. I folded my umbrella and joined the line behind a blond-haired man in blue surgical scrubs. This was new York, after all: you took the smell and the humanity—oh, the humanity!—as part of the whole sublime package.
Well, all right.
Amendment: You didn’t have to take the smell and the humanity and the ratty Greenwich Village apartment with the horny butcher’s boy on Wednesday afternoons and the beautifully alcoholic roommate who might just pick up the occasional weekend client to keep body and Givenchy together. Not if you were Miss Vivian Schuyler, late of Park Avenue and East Hampton, even later of Bryn Mawr College of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. In fact, you courted astonishment and not a little scorn by so choosing. Picture us all, the affectionate Schuylers, lounging about the breakfast table with our eggs and Bloody Marys at eleven o’clock in the morning, as the summer sun melts like honey through the windows and the uniformed maid delivers a fresh batch of toast to absorb the arsenic.