‘Reverting to a Wild State’ by Justin Torres


From The New Yorker:


I spotted a golden feather on the edge of the concrete platform, waiting for me, while I was waiting for the train. I thought of a joke, about rats devouring an entire golden pigeon—but there was no one around to share the joke with. A bum slept expertly on a too small bench, a woman pulled herself inward and stood far away, watching her toes, and a very young man gave me a very rough look. I picked up the feather, which was on a thin gold chain, but I stayed squatted, close to the edge, leaning my head into the danger zone. I could see all the way to the next station, where the train idled, its headlights like tiger eyes in the tunnel-jungle. I waited there, poised, fascinated, as the train approached and the eyes widened. When I finally stood, the woman and the young man were staring baldly. We were all connected, all relieved that I had not jumped. I dangled my feather for them on its chain, as if to explain myself—all of this in just a blink of a moment—then the train roared its arrival, doors opened, and we stepped into separate cars. It was late, past midnight, and I was headed uptown to clean for a man.

He lived in the penthouse suite of a building overlooking Central Park. There was a doorman whom I had to tell my name and the name of the man I was there to see. I used a made-up name for myself, Salvatore. The doorman introduced himself as Freddy and gave me a wink. He was a light-skinned black man, likely in his fifties.

“You Latin?”

“Puerto Rican,” I said, pushing my hands into my back pockets and puffing out my chest.

“Yeah,” Freddy said, grinning. “Course you are.”

On my way to the elevator, Freddy called me back. I stood before him and Freddy made a motion to suggest that I come even closer, as what he had to say was only for me to hear, though we were alone in the lobby.

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