A dragonfly at the tip of her finger was enough to make her happy. It made her smile to reference God’s extended finger touching a handsome prototypical man on a ceiling within a chapel’s cranium. In the small world she resided in, rarely did her thoughts venture out to wider places. Smallness immersed her within its infinite wonders.
A microbiologist by training, Lori Kramer never found herself or wanted to, and she worked in an unrelated field when rendering buildings not yet constructed. These theoretical entities existed as of yet only on the sterile blueprints she fleshed-out on artist’s paper or as her 3D models like purposed dollhouses. There were no actual dolls that inhabited these, although their exteriors routinely feature faceless interchangeable visitors to their grand exteriors. After all the effort of coloring her configurations, after setting tiny roofs, walls, and steps into place, Lori never visited any of the actual sites to see how accurately her small scale representations measured up to the working models. She had little interests, and was little interested in seeing one from the inside, although she had done so several times when shopping or paying overdue utility bills. It did not fill her with pride. It must have been the same for Michelangelo, who inserted himself as God in the commissioned fresco, his long white beard brushed into the plaster, unimpressed with what he saw every time he returned to his work.
Lori worked from her tiny Brooklyn studio apartment. The section of town she lived in for the last 5 years was undergoing rushed radical transformation. What attracted her to the place was not only rent lower than the gentrified districts of the borough, but the quaintness and historical value acquired over centuries of refurbishment. When she first arrived there, the neighborhood had the localized moniker of Wharfside, this appellation dating back to the early 18th Century; but the oligarch developers ambitiously courting nouveau riche trendies began promoting the locale as Harborview because, it was rumored, Wharfside’s phonetics conjured up the image of someone bent over and vomiting, that and its allusion to rats and slime. From where Lori’s single window faced the harbor, no water could be seen, and certainly, no smoking stacks on tugboats or freight laden barges. One got a hint of the salty brine only when strong wind gusts pulled the damp several blocks inland, usually in the late fall or early spring.
It was two weeks before Christmas and her sinuses were stuffed up. So were the streets clogged with snowfall, soot, and slush, the traffic sibilant from the arterial a few blocks further inland, sloshing. Her residential street of row-houses, brownstones and less picturesque tenements, was deserted at 11:30 PM. Walking in the deposited matter was a tricky affair, the cold less irritating, but enough to dissuade many from abandoning their modern fire-logs spewing moving images and sound, but no substantive heat to brave the weather for an evening stroll. Lori heard the familiar theme of Carson’s late night opening penetrate her ceiling from one of the apartments above her second floor, that and laughter soon after from an unidentifiable voice, maybe televised or from another tenant. She could not be certain which until she heard it again and recognized it as Ed McMahon’s, Carson’s sidekick, the equivalent of canned laughter.
How lonely she had been since Tony’s death. The skinflint financial advisor to multi-millionaires, he who steered others to prepare for uncertainties with blue chip investments and land purchases, had left her nothing in his will, not after their 5 years together. It happened suddenly, a mugging in Manhattan gone sour. The assailant went to prison, but it changed nothing for her. Now she was 29 and alone again. Sometimes, she reminisced about their frugal weekend summer jaunts to the less luxurious Catskill mountain hotels, the creeks below the road with large turtles sunning undisturbed, swooping osprey in the ponds, the neon blue darning needle that perched on her finger and studied her, and Tony with his aquiline guinea nose and wooly black hair, the amiable smile. Lori heard laughter again from above her, a different voice this time, maybe the host himself laughing at his own joke. Besides her sinus trouble, Lori’s ears were stuffed up.
It was the new project that gave her hope. She smiled wanly as the appellation Harborview interrupted her sanguine reverie. Harborview. It was the new promotion on billboards and on the UHF television stations she picked up with her rabbit ears on the idiot box lately that brought it to mind just now. That was what the builders wanted. The only advantage to the name change for her was the distinguishable identification of newbies from the long-term residents because the old guard always referred to the place as Wharfside.
The very project she was currently working on would be only 2 blocks nearer to the murky fouled water parallel to rows of warehouses. These were slated for demolition to make room for a high rise. Her office building was intended to complement the changing urban landscape, but she saw it now as an eyesore of incompatible design. The firm Lori Kramer freelanced for called it a template for the future. If that was true, the future was streamlined and efficient, devoid of character, lacking the human touch. Hence the manikin people. Only yesterday, housebound by the snowstorm and her own congestion, she pored through the portfolio of her architectural rendering and 3D models. None of the pictures exuded personality. Even the inhabitants she placed on their walkways were modular stylized sketches no better than scarecrows in a farmer’s cornfield, but meant to attract, not repel.
Lori loved detail, small and intimate touches, the way Tony burped with childish embarrassment whenever he drank his ginger ale, the way he counted money in his billfold like a thief, always turning his back to her as he aligned the bills with the lower denominations shielding the inner larger ones, the way no waiter carried his wad. The freelancer switched thoughts like television stations she dialed into, how she had always wanted to inject some dash of individuality into the human constructs she drew for the agencies which contracted her, something forbidden because it distracted from the end product. One of the figures in Yeshiva University’s new wing, last year’s work, hid a smile she snuck in. Mostly though, the people she inserted were just like those living around her, anonymous accessories for the city’s landed plotters. Accomplishment. Accessory. Accomplice. She had a hand on making it so, only blocks away where the placards announced the construction of her office tower with her rudimentary pastel sketch on it.
It was the new project she was called in on that kept her going. Lori walked into the kitchen and opened the pliable flap of a box of Oreo cookies. She enjoyed separating the halves with one black crisp supporting the soft frosting she licked off before finishing the two separate wafers for a less sweet finish before resuming her preference of the simplest taste sensation. Sometimes, she took an exacto knife and carved detailed faces into the layered half, the cocoa background serving as contrast to the white filling. Usually though, her portraits ended up looking like Tony, and it saddened her. She did not like those, but chewed them into a mealy pulp she swallowed down. The laughter from above broke her concentration on the familiar ingredients she’d read a hundred times over, always the same. Lori heard snow plows outside, and occasional horns, muffled shouting. From what she’d read, outer space had complete silence. Her mind traveled to where the new project was to be situated, far above the ionosphere. Space station. It had a good sound to it for a silent realm.