Ironic, considering how I long to forget sitting in the front pew of that church my family had never attended, Chloe by my side, a smattering of mourners mute behind us. The poem was read by my high school English teacher—the kind and wonderful Mrs. James, her voice ringing through the silent church as she spoke the opening line.
On the back Ingrid has left me another note.
SORRY ABOUT YOUR ARM
With the same pen and paper I used earlier, I write my response.
It’s fine. No worries.
I put it in the dumbwaiter and send it to 11A, having an easier time this go-round. I’m prepared for both the weight and the distance.
I receive a response five minutes later, most of that time taken up by the dumbwaiter’s slow ascent. Inside is a fresh poem. “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost.
Some say the world will end in fire.
On the back, Ingrid has written not another apology but a command.
CENTRAL PARK. IMAGINE. 15 MINUTES.
As instructed, I’m at the Imagine mosaic fifteen minutes later, looking for Ingrid among the usual crowd of tourists and grungy buskers playing Beatles songs. It’s a beautiful afternoon. Mid-sixties, sunny and clear. It reminds me of my childhood. Of pumpkins and piles of leaves and trick-or-treating.
It also reminds me of my mother, who adored this time of year. She called it Heather weather, because that was her name.
When I finally spot Ingrid, I see that in her hands are two hot dogs, one of which she holds out to me.
“An apology gift,” she says. “For being an idiot. I’ve always hated those people who look at their phones instead of where they’re going. Now I’ve become one. It’s inexcusable. I’m the lowest of the low.”
“It was just an accident.”
“A stupid, preventable one.” She takes a giant bite of her hot dog. “Did it hurt? I bet it hurt. You were bleeding a lot.”
“Did you need stitches? Tell me you didn’t need stitches.”
“Just a bandage,” I say.
Ingrid’s hand flies to her heart as she exhales dramatically. “Thank God. I hate stitches. They say you’re not supposed to feel them, but I can. Those wire threads pulling at your skin. Ugh.”
She starts to move deeper into the park. Even though a mere minute in her company has left me exhausted, I follow. She’s fascinating in the same way tornadoes are fascinating. You want to see how much they’re going to spin.
Ingrid, it turns out, spins a lot. Walking a few paces ahead of me, she whirls around anytime she has something to say. Which is about every five seconds.
“I love the park. Don’t you?”
“It’s, like, this perfect wilderness smack-dab in the middle of the city.”
“It’s all man-made, you know. Everything is by design, which makes it, I don’t know, more perfect.”
Two whirls this time. Quick, looping ones that leave Ingrid flushed and slightly dizzy, like a child after one too many cartwheels.
She reminds me of a child in many ways. Not just her excitable spirit but also her looks. I can’t help but notice our height difference as we stop at the edge of Central Park Lake. I’ve got about six inches on Ingrid, which means she barely clears five feet. Then there’s her thinness. She’s nothing but skin and bones. In all ways, she looks hungry. So much so that I give her my hot dog and insist that she eat it.
“I couldn’t possibly,” she says. “It’s my apology hot dog. Although I should probably also apologize for the apology hot dog. No one knows what’s in these things.”
“I just had lunch,” I say. “And your apology is accepted.”
Ingrid takes the hot dog with a grand curtsy.
“I’m Jules, by the way.”
Ingrid takes a bite, chewing a bit before saying, “I know.”
“And you’re Ingrid in 11A.”
“I am. Ingrid Gallagher in 11A, who knows her way around a dumbwaiter. Never thought I’d learn that particular life skill, but here we are.”
She plops onto the nearest bench to finish the hot dog. I remain standing, staring at the rowboats on the water and the handful of pedestrians currently crossing Bow Bridge. This is, I realize, the ground-level version of the view from 12A.
“How do you like the Bartholomew?” Ingrid says before popping the last bit of hot dog into her mouth. “It’s dreamy, right?”
Ingrid uses the back of her hand to wipe away a speck of mustard at the corner of her mouth. “Here for three months?”
“Same,” she says. “I’ve been here two weeks now.”
“Where did you live before that?”
“Virginia. Before that was Seattle. But I’m originally from Boston.” She lies down on the bench, her blue-tipped hair fanning out around her head. “So I guess I don’t live anywhere now. I’m a nomad.”
I wonder if that’s on purpose or out of necessity. A constant flight from poor choices and bad luck. Someone not unlike me. Although, honestly, I see nothing of myself in her.
And then it hits me: I see Jane.
Both share the same rambling, manic-pixie personality that gallops right to the cusp of being too much. I never felt fully balanced around Jane, even though she was my sister and my best friend. But I loved that lack of equilibrium. I needed it to counterbalance the rest of my shy, quiet, orderly existence. And Jane knew it. She’d take my hand and whisk me to the woods on the other side of town, where we’d stand on stumps and do Tarzan yells until our throats hurt. Or into the shuttered headquarters of the town’s old coal mine, guiding me through musty offices that had been untouched for years. Or through the back exit of the movie theater, where we’d slip into our seats after the lights went down.