Words and Photo by A.A. Reinecke
The sucked dry half of a lemon stood atop a saucer, posing as an inverted rose. The other half was raised to the lips of a brunette. Outside, through the window, the yard was snowed; the oaks sat proud in their age, the previous day’s snowman lounged beside the hedges. Town’s outline—pointed roofs and chimney smoke—was visible from the whited lawn. Beyond the waltzing smell of fire was the Hudson spread at the foot of town, deep gray polished like glass with the weather. Speckled lights of steamers hummed down the way and a fearless sail boat inched along the shoreline.
Emmeline and Ryan Corrigan, the former the brunette sucking the lemon rose, stood in the front foyer of a very clean, large, white house, which out front bore the revival columns of Rome set down in New England. The girls were a panoply of browns and grays in cashmere stockings, pullovers, wool coats. Ryan tugged at her corduroy skirt and then at her hair. “Know Ryan saw them,” she said, tugging. “Them ‘raffes got purple tongues.”
Emmeline took to the lemon.
Ryan looped a curl, “So we going?”
“They really have purple tongues?”
“Them ‘raffes got purple tongues!” Ryan cried, “All of ‘em got purple tongues. They do, they really do.”
“Fine,” said Emmeline. In the car she buckled Ryan into the back seat before pausing to push the snow from the windows.
“We going?” Ryan kicked her legs restlessly.
Emmeline blasted the heat to ’75. After driving the hour along the water she parked where Sixty-Sixth Street met Fifth Avenue, and they stepped out onto the busy sidewalk. Tall gray buildings rose from the ground and socialized with the sky. Central park lay wide and open, crisscrossed by the boot prints of small feet: a child’s dream.
They walked through an opening into the park, between two long stretches of benches. Ryan spotted a blonde trio; a mother and father swinging their daughter by the arms, the child’s cerulean eyes gleaming. Snack carts on the path edges called like sirens, soft pretzels in heated glass boxed, golden brown and salt-speckled.
“Me Emmie, me.” Ryan tugged at her sister’s hair.
At five dollars it cost an exorbitant amount for a pretzel, but was hot to the touch and left on the mouth copious salt granules. Hung over the zoo’s entrance gate was a sign which read ‘closed’ in villainous red letters, with beneath it, a testament to the fact that the animals were inside and warm.
Ryan stomped her boots and wrapped a curl. There was snot and saltwater over her face and the top of her head was spotted with white flakes.
“Hot chocolate?” Emmeline said.
“Fine,” Ryan said, through the snot.
Fifth Avenue was a painting: snow perched on lampposts, people in handsome fur coats, and taxis, as bright as they’re said to be, covering the road in a carpet of yellow. The Met’s cake-layer steps welcomed as a spread of American flags waved in a row, calling upon the patriotism of passerby. “Well how do you do? And how ‘bout this country here’n?” Pigeons combed the ground for stray breadcrumbs, traffic symbols blinked, and newsboys held up the day’s print like prizefighter’s belts.
Over hot chocolate, hair damp from melted snow, eyelashes frozen at the edges, the two partook in a velvet settee near the fireplace to defrost. Ryan sipped contentedly, cream on her face, lashes defrosting at the fire’s heat.
“Skating yeah, just got back,” a clean-cut man spoke from a table over.
“Oh, just beautiful out there. The tree and all,” his wife gushed.
“She’s just a natural on the ice.”
The other couple offered silent applause, turning up the edge of their mouths in acknowledgement.
Emmeline watched as the lobby filled and emptied, a continuous flow, the occasional blast of cool wind slipping in the doors.
An hour later, at FAO Schwarz toy store, the shelves were lined with infant reveries. The giant piano keys, each six feet long and imbedded in the floor, lit up in colors as children ran across them. Mothers oohed from the sidelines.
Ryan ran at the piano, pulling up sounds with each movement of flank. The chorus of young laughter and radio music paled against that particular clean, white smell that funds the evergreen candle shelves full each year at Target. Silver bells silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city. Hear the bells go ring-a-ling, soon it will be Christmas day…
Across the room were animals, rows and rows. There were plastic bath toy animals and miniscule animals for stockings, inflatable pool animals and stuffed animals in velvet furs. There was a shelf of paper doll animals and animal ornaments to hang and the familiar red boxes of Barnum’s Animal Crackers. In the very back stood a herd of real-as-life animals; hippopotamus round as balls and giraffes which towered over shopping parents. Ryan stared admiringly at the shelves, wide eyes searching for the brown and coffee spots of her favorite creature.
The toys were long and lean, with stilt legs and tremendous eyes: starlets of the jungle. They had childlike lashes, dark and soft, curved back to brush their fur. Their faces wore droopy plush ears, stubby antlers with furry ends, and rounded muzzles the color of half milk cappuccinos.
“Loooook,” Ryan pushed her patent leather toes into the ground, reaching for the animal. The fictitious giraffe stood tall, neck stretched towards the room’s gleaming center, nodded her svelte head at the will of the child’s hand. And surely, from beneath the cappuccino hued nuzzle of the stuffed animal’s mouth, protruded, in small and felt, a tongue in a beautiful and modest hue of dark and muted lavender.