An Inside Job
Of course, I’d missed the window for spray paint. I’d checked three hardware stores and you’d think that in a city where liquor bottles didn’t have a bed time and disposed clothes decorated avenues like trodden party streamers, there’d be at least one place open for a late night job.
But New York past 4 a.m. didn’t feel like doing me any favors.
A girl like me couldn’t be picky. Not at this hour and not with my sort of deadline [procrastinator, guilty as charged]. Sure, I preferred the cans [Krylon, Lime Green], but this was a quickie sort of job, a typical B&E inscription, the type you took into a gas station bathroom and did over the sink with your pants around your ankles.
I was huffing it through Madison Square Park, fingers flying across my iPhone’s cracked screen.
“I need a conduit.” Four dealers, all within five blocks. Somebody would come through [Joey].
At this point, I just needed an aerosol can, something with a good amount of pressure and kick. Could be spray-on deodorant for all I cared, though the powder in those made the delivery of characters shaky at best [Botched a simple carjack once]. It needed to stick for at least three minutes if I wanted to complete the inscript all the way through to see the magic bleed on the wall and hear the satisfying click of my bank account filling with the payout.
“5% cut?” [Joey, no surprise].
I’d already cleared the inscript spot, a small alleyway in the Village. I’d scoped it weeks ago when I’d seen a drunken frat boy lose his dinner on the corner. Narrow, dark, just out of the way of the main yuppie cohort. Perfect concrete slab of a wall, untagged. It was like someone out there was watching out for us taggers who needed the pores, the grime to do their magic tricks.
“Meet me at West 4th and Jones. 30 minutes.”
“You’re lucky. Got one can left. You Aeros are going off the charts this week.”
I grimaced at the term for users like me, the ones who could only conduct magic through pressurized objects. I’d loved the punkiness of it when I’d found out, almost like a graffiti artist but more dangerous. Just give me something with a nozzle and I could open every window in a house two miles out [Getting cocky, are we?].
“If you’re late, no commission.” I clicked the phone off and shoved it in my back pocket.
Veering, I started up on 5th Ave. Amped up my pace and trolled through crowds of high-heeled Manhattan summer waifs, the whiff of hairspray and BO-poisoned perfume mingling with the iron scent of trash. The sidewalks were oiled with rain and I shoved my hood up. [Faster, Miriam, Faster].
I had less than an hour now. I wished I was the type of jinxer who got the manila confidential envelopes but I was normally put on picklock jobs that came through as post-its taped to shitty cups of Wolfgang Puck coffee. [No names. Just a time and date, and a “you know what to do”].
It had been four days since I’d worked magic and my fingers ached with it like a belly bulge busting out of a suit jacket. I normally let it loose within 48 hours but you could only lock and unlock your door so many times before the jam wore out.
Closer now. I heard the NYU crowd. Smelled the stale beer from Down the Hatch, the half-disguised gum stains of the city streets.
I turned, just fifteen minutes to go now. The humidity beaded under my sweatshirt and I rolled the sleeves.
“Earlier than you. I deserve a percent for that.”
My hackles rose. Joey stood, one hand jammed into the front jean pocket, the other holding a tube. Small from the looks of it but at this point I’d take a shaken soda bottle. He smiled wickedly, his tooth jutting over a purpled lip and I shivered.
“Fine,” I said. Bad memory [Hairy hands crawling across backside]. “Hand it over.”
He didn’t make me take it from him, just tossed the can in my direction. “They really should pay you more. You hear about the burglary with casualties last weekend?”
“Good bye, Joey,” I said. [Don’t you worry, you’ll forget them, they weren’t your fault].
As he disappeared into the boozy morning, I looked down at the tin in my hand and swore.
Pepper spray. Not even the good kind. It was the sort you’d use on foxes. Black with a handle and a pointer for where to put your thumb so you didn’t spray yourself in the face [You’re too professional for that, Miriam.]
I didn’t have a face guard and there was no way I could eyeball this without some sort of slip but the worst that had ever happened was that it didn’t work. That I’d face the next two weeks living on ramen and white bread [Terrible nutrition, heart problems].
Never a planner, my mother whispered. [Oh mother. You commissioned a job on her yourself.]
Swiping a hand over the wall, I cleansed the space, my fingertips dusting across the concrete, sealing it like the tack I used on the holes in my Williamsburg grunge of an apartment. My hands were the sage you burned to ward off evil spirits [Except me, Miriam].
I took the marker from my back pocket and wrote the coordinates from the yellow ticket right on the gray sheet rock. For somewhere up in Gramercy.
I flexed my fingers, one hand on the nozzle. Just a front door unlock inscript: a checkered tick-tac-toe pattern with an O in the bottom right hand corner. Child’s play. It was one of the first I’d learned and I hadn’t progressed much past it.
Took a deep breath [Last breath, Miriam]. Counted it down from ten.
The spray hit the wall and air like a load of bricks. Eye peeled, skin seethed like I’d doused my fingers in oil. I beat back [quickly now] finished the lines. The O.
But when I opened my eyes I knew I’d missed. The lines hadn’t met. The O was a little too far in the middle. The heady rush of release pulsed within my palms as the wall wavered and slunk.
No. [Yes, Miriam, Yes.]
The magic had evaporated, swallowed whole into the concrete, my skin shaking in the fear of loss. I couldn’t move.
And then concrete turned liquid and dripped like water onto the sidewalk. The scent of rose water and olive oil. I tried to blink but my eyes wouldn’t shut, the edges graying.
A little girl stared at me from the wall, a pink bow set upon her mousy brown hair, grass beneath her twinned red shoes [maybe Kansas]. I knew her [We always know ourselves].
“Come on,” she whispered, a hand outstretched, staring at the can. “Where we’re going you don’t need that, you have me.”
And I didn’t step, just leaned forward to better hear her. Strange thing magic, that becomes what it conducts.
There’s a mural on West 4th and Jones of a little girl and an older girl with their backs turned from city lights. It smells of pepper and people tear up as they pass, understanding its melancholy without ever knowing why.