They had arranged to meet at the Met. Several years earlier. Just for the sake of saying they would. It was a grand romantic scheme, she thought, to meet each other on September 9th, 2009, exactly three years after they had last lived in the same city. But he was never that for her. Mostly, she thought that when the planets aligned, you had to do something momentous.   

In her dead red leaf cardigan she thought of The Cardigans who had played on her iPod on the walk over.

You’re dancing with a smokescreen. Going under with your daydream.
What a dream New York seemed. She waited on what she knew to be Neoclassic steps, a classic beauty beneath bantering Metropolitan banners. She looked around. Nobody there knew her name was Natalie.

People passed by. There was a man in a tux by day, his evening overcoat dull in the muted sun. Disheveled and on the phone, “I’m sorry Cindy I’m running late.” He was walking. A girl in a fuzzy pink sweater cursed her chapped lips. She had white ice skates slung over one shoulder. A line bunched outside the hotdog vendor’s cart. It was nine o’clock in the morning. Most people didn’t want relish.

 

In the morning, he stumbled past his laptop on the way to the bathroom. He pissed and flushed. After, he read something Colin Meloy had tweeted:
Foregoing a shave this morning in favor of visiting art museums…well worth it.

He rubbed his own stubble when his eyes wandered to the upper right of the screen. He jumped. Fuck, it’s today, nine-nine-nine. When was the last time we talked about this?

His jacket was balled up under his ratty red couch. There were fuzz balls hanging off it that he had to peel from his jacket. He almost woke Ben banging around last night’s bottles and boxes looking for his wallet and keys. He looked back at his glowing screen and thought briefly about turning it off. Then he raced for the subway, his jacket balled up under one arm.

“Good morning Gary!” Meredith stopped him on the street in front of the florist’s shop Gary lived above. When Natalie helped him move in, she said that was the one thing that made his place bearable.

A brief wave, “Can’t talk now.”

But then they were talking. About tulips, not a fall flower. “What’s a, you know, good flower right now?”

“Irises.” Meredith handed him a bunch. 

The Irises were blue, or purple on the train. 

He fingered the change Meredith had given him. There was a penny in there. Had she given it to him face up or face down? In any case, it was a dirty penny. He told himself he didn’t believe in such things. When he lit up his cell to check the time it said 9:19.

Natalie changed the song playing on her iPod. At the top the time glowed 9:09. She was getting chilly so she pulled her cardigan tighter around her middle and looked around from side to side. An old man approached in a gray and black newsboy cap. He wore soft brown loafers. Everything on him was well worn. He stepped up to her until she saw him.

“You waiting for someone too?”

Natalie nodded.

“You remind me a lot a my daughter. She’s who I’m meeting. I picked the Metropolitan on purpose for her – and it’s been so long since I seen her, but I been waiting here for almost an hour now.”

There was a pause.

“I’ve been waiting a bit, too.”

He looked at her asking for more, “Actually," Natalie said, "I moved away a couple years ago. For school. But I told my – Gary, my friend Gary – I told him I’d be back.”

The old man, watching Natalie, flicked a smile, “Should we wait together then?”

Natalie nodded. She stood looking at the old man, “Why did you pick the Met for your daughter?”

“Oh, she loves music.” He said, “It must skip a generation though. I don’t have one pretty bone in my body, but my father was something of a musician. Well, a man who found love in music, anyway. That’s why I got named Charlie, after that Yardbird fellow. But then my Amanda picks up the piano like it’s nothing. After her mother died she came out to New York to pursue the thing.”

Charlie looked at Natalie without the slightest bit of abashment about sharing his life with a stranger. Then, she had a revelation.

“Charlie,” She tried out his name for the first time like she knew him for a long time, “I think you’re thinking of the Metropolitan Opera. We’re at the Metropolitan Museum." She said it like a native to an out-of-towner.  

He blinked, thinking. “I do want the music place.” Charlie looked around calmly, “I hope I’m not too late.” He looked around some more.

Natalie pulled her iPod from her pocket. The time glowed 9:19. “Let me walk you there.”

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Problem Child offers an alternative medium for publication of poetry, prose, artwork, essays, and other creative media by semi-annually publishing the Problem Child Literary Magazine. Problem Child aims to publish and promote individual original thought by creating and hosting a creative community.