Because she knew she was a painter, Naomi worked as an Office Temp. She painted the word CANTALOUPE on the apartment wall facing the living room furniture: a three pillowed deep purple velvet couch. The wall was bright yellow. She used uncantaloupe green for the word, so that it would be both cantaloupe-like, and not. To temp, she bought a Goodwill version of a passable black dress, not exactly tasteful but good enough to work in an office for five days or ten, to look as though what she was doing was just filling in. Office temps often tended to be an interesting lot. They formed their own nation state in places like Rochester Button Company, Celanese, or NBC: large office spaces where people did who knows what. The temps usually had many future plans. One day, they told one another, they would build wooden boats, they would visit Bhutan, they would write an opera about mosquitoes and mice.
At Rochester Button, a frequently recurring employer, pleasant enough to go and come, Naomi met Albert, a gay African American man who, although he was born in D.C., pronounced his name AL BEAR. In the way that life happened then – was it age? Was it the time? Or something else about New York? Al bear and Naomi became instantly inseparable. A fashionista, he hoped to design his own line.
“Can you believe it?” Al Bear would begin every encounter. His life was one long and very incredible story.
“A while ago,” he said one day. It was a warm day for late March. They were eating lunch on Sixth Avenue and 50th Street, sitting on a wall. Sixth Avenue looked a little like an urban Grand Canyon. Buildings hovered above them right up to the sky.
Al Bear said he detested (another favorite word) people who carried lunch in ziploc bags. He would just eat apples, or oranges, or he’d devour a ring of dried figs. “A while ago,” he repeated, for emphasis, “my next door neighbor Alyoshus Zim he just disappeared. No one, and I mean no one at all, not even his mother, a nice Greek lady who bakes those wonderful Greek butter cookies, not even his mother had any idea where he went. He was there one day, and then he just vanished. Like that,” he said, and snapped his fingers. “Like that,” he said again.
“Tell me about him,” Naomi asked. She had a soft spot for people who’d vanished. She’d known a few. Although she herself never could.
“How much time do we have?” Al Bear asked. “I think our short pitiful lunchtime is nearing a close. Shall we indulge in a happy hour glass of five dollar wine tonight? Then I’ll be able to explain in as much detail as the story requires. Alyosha,” he said, “was not a simple neighbor. He could be anywhere now.”