QSFer Mike Karpa has a queer new future satire out (bi, gay, lesbian): The Wealthy Whites of Williamsburg.
Everything goes right for the White family: they’re upper middle class, live in the trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and have prestigious jobs. But Dad has a secret. Mom has a bigger one. And daughter #1 refuses to be a legacy to Yale. Five-year-old Daughter #2 gets life advice from popstars but will twerking, texting and inclusivity be enough to save them from not getting everything they want?
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Casey wandered the Port Authority bus terminal, newly disembarked off her bus from Memphis and feeling like midtown Manhattan had punched her in the face. A guy approached her. The man looked like a farmworker who’d wandered in straight off a granja—his brown skin weathered and creased, his white straw cowboy hat similarly battered by the elements. He was pushing sixty if he was a day.
“¿Cómo llego al JFK desde aquí?” he asked. How do you get to JFK from here?
Casey was surprised to have the question come in Spanish, because she didn’t think she looked particularly Spanish-speaking. But it felt like a welcome to New York. Maybe the five years she’d spent studying language and applied linguistics in Cholula, Mexico, had revealed itself in her choice of clothing, or the way she walked. Or maybe the old fellow just couldn’t see.
Casey had noticed plenty of signs for JFK plastered high on the walls of the Port Authority, so she told him he could take the subway from there or get a train from Penn Station, a ten-minute walk or so, which was faster and the same price.
“No mires tanto hacia arriba. Parecerás una turista. Es lo que alguien me dijo.” Someone had told him looking up makes you look like a tourist, he said. He tipped his hat as he left, in the direction of Penn Station.
Looking up is how I know how to get to JFK, she wanted to call after him, but the impulse wasn’t a strong one. No impulse was these days. She was grateful that he had wanted to protect her, and wary of being easy prey. Even after her years-long escape to pulsing Cholula, part of her remained in an implacable fog. She imagined herself walking the streets of Manhattan and looking up at all the skyscrapers. That kind of aw-shucks naïveté might be an improvement over the fog; most days it was more than she could manage to maintain eye contact.
Casey rolled her bag out of the Port Authority onto Eighth Avenue, not knowing where she was going, only that she had to get there. Car horns sounded, people yelled. Video screens were garish red and hot pink. There had been a recent rain and she could hear tires. Somewhere, jackhammers were going. I’m in a movie, she thought.
Crowds approached. Her chest felt tight. Her gaze fell to the sidewalk.
The dirty concrete was a comfortable place to rest her eyes. She avoided oncoming pedestrians by watching for their feet. She’d become quite comfortable out amongst human beings in Cholula, where people had accepted her as another earnest language learner, but once she’d returned to the banks of the muggy Mississippi the same distrust of strangers she’d fled Memphis to heal had come back in force. Within a month she was on a bus out of there.
Coming to New York was a mistake, she thought. All these miles between her and hell and she didn’t feel one bit better.
People jostled her, banged into the bag she rolled behind her, and cursed at her as they spilled their coffee. A standing man wearing a sign selling bus tours forced her to a stop. She collapsed the pull handle of her bag into its interior and held the bag by the side handle to reenter the stream of walkers. It was hardly better. She remembered the bag had a shoulder strap, so she dodged a bicycle to step into a urine-scented alley where she unspooled it. Now she held the bag in front of her, as she might have done on a Cholula bus—out of consideration for fellow passengers, to guard against thieves. The familiarity of the move helped her breathe.
A book in her bag listed inexpensive places to stay. Exorbitant by Memphis standards, let alone those of Cholula, but she’d had hundreds of miles listening to bus tires hum on asphalt to make her peace with that.
She spotted a diner that looked unexceptional, far more so than the chain coffeehouse next to it, whose jaunty, overly familiar logo promised some kind of reassurance Casey knew it could not deliver. She pushed open the diner door. The bell hanging from it rang. She took a seat at the counter and looped the strap of her bag around her stool as she tucked it where she could rest her feet on it.
An older woman, mid-forties perhaps, approached behind the counter, tossed a menu in front of Casey and continued walking, turning her mop of thick red hair back toward Casey just long enough to utter, “Coffee?”
“Yes ma’am,” Casey said. “Thank you.” A busboy slid a clattering white ceramic saucer and cup in front of her.
“Light?” the waitress asked on the return leg of her vuelta.
“Cream, honey,” she said, pouring coffee into Casey’s cup. “Would you like some cream?”
Pareces una turista, the waitress might as well have said.
Casey nodded. The woman poured a stream of cream into the shimmering black in her cup.
“I must seem like a tourist,” Casey said.
“Nah.” The woman pitched her voice low, in what sounded simultaneously like scoffing and praise. “New in town, sure, but I saw your maneuver with the bag. You seem like you’re here to stay.” The woman gave Casey a smile and patted the countertop twice next to Casey’s menu. “You’re in the right place.” She moved on to another customer.
Casey’s chest muscles relaxed further, allowing her to draw the first deep breath of her new life. A mild sort of terror had gripped her in Memphis, a terror she’d earned. Now it was gone.
The fog remained.
Casey took a sip of coffee. She knew she was not okay. But for the first time since she’d returned to the US, she thought maybe someday she would be.
Mike’s fiction, memoir and nonfiction can be found in Tin House, Foglifter, Tahoma Literary Review, Oyster River Pages and other magazines. He is the author of Criminals, a literary thriller that was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2022 (Indie), and the upbeat scifi romance Red Dot. He lives with his husband and dog in San Francisco.