La Femme Assise

            When she’d entered the subway near her home in Brooklyn just before noon she was excited about getting to MOMA to see the Picasso exhibit before it closed that evening. She’d always admired Picasso for his fractured vision of humanity, especially the seated portraits of his wives and mistresses, many entitled ‘Femme Assise.’ Celeste was drawn to their distinctiveness, all the more tangible with their rearranged features and body parts. The likenesses – one eye placed on a forehead, a nose where the ear should be, lips split but closed – depicted the complex and multi-dimensional women in his life. Each portrait declared his affection or loathing for the sitter at the time of the portrait. Picasso never ceded to abstraction, but held fast to representation, recognizable objects or figures when most Twentieth Century artists had veered away. 

A young man she hadn’t noticed on the street brushed past her on the steps. He abruptly stopped in front of her, knocked her backward onto the stairway and fastened his sizable hand to the bridge of her nose in an instant. It hurt. A lot. Attempting to move her head made it hurt more. 

            Her mugger was young, but he’d lost the clean dirt smell of boyhood. Celeste recalled chiding her teenage sons that they must remember to use deodorant. Mother nature’s nasty little trick made teen girls extra sensitive to odors simultaneous with the boys-to-men smelling like wet goats.

            “Don’t fucking make a goddam sound. I’ll break your nose.” He sounded ominous and confident in his convictions. “And keep your fucking eyes fucking closed,” he hissed.

            He pried her cellphone out of her hand and smashed it against the edge of the stairs.

            In her youth, Celeste had been a temporary criminal. Her high school boyfriend and his brothers, experienced shoplifters, had cut their teeth on an extended family of trusting shop owners in their town. Her role was minor, but key. She carried an oversized shoulder bag and an unsullied conscience. They’d enter a shop casually. One of the brothers would troll the interior and sidle up behind her. He’d rest an affectionate arm on her shoulder pointing out an item of interest while dropping his loot into her bag. She only discovered later what she’d stolen. Celeste was lucky. She decided to retire at eighteen with a clean record. Her mugger might not be so fortunate.

            Her initial inclination to sneak a peek for future identification purposes was abandoned. The pain between her eyes nearly blinded her anyway. Before she was knocked down, she’d caught a glimpse of a skinny kid in black basketball shorts and a grey tee shirt.

            “Anybody coming?” he stage whispered.

            “Naw. You’re good,” a quiet voice above her replied.

            Of course, she should have known there was a lookout. Any savvy mugger would bring along his wingman to waylay his quarry in a stairway hidden from the street. 

            But surely, someone would walk by soon, Celeste prayed. This was New York City. There were eight and a half million people living here, close to three million in Brooklyn alone. Where the hell were they? It was a gorgeous day in June, sunny, mid-seventies, a ‘ten best’ day for sure. There was hint of honeysuckle on the breeze as she walked to the station. Celeste willed someone to come right now. Please God, now.

cont. p. 3

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