Raining in New York
by Andrew Broadous
The half-million-dollar studio bumped with bass like a Lexus with all the windows down. Rodney Hall—lost in his headphones, which covered half his head—nodded to the beat. He turned down the knobs on the mixing console, then slowly brought them back up again. He peered through the glass to give the occasional thumbs-up or another hand gesture indicating more freestyle, more “slam” from the rappers. This was the fourth take, the last take. Musicians all over New York’s underground hip-hop scene were accustomed to the name: “Fourth Take Rodney.” Magic always sounded on the last note of the last measure of the fourth take.
Rodney slipped his headphones onto his neck and rubbed his beard, which he hadn’t had any time to trim or tidy up. He adjusted his black and white striped shirt on his somewhat pudgy midriff. He was a medium-toned African-American with thin eyebrows and prominent ears. His shirt and jeans had several pizza stains from the many overtime hours he spent mixing tracks for his new album, J-Walk. For the past few days, he’d even slept in the studio, called his impatient new wife, Koza, three times to let her know he was still alive.
She’d called him ten.
Every time Rodney answered, he’d keep the talking short and would play snippets of tracks for her, some of the best beats and lyrics he’d ever written for love songs.
J-Walk wasn’t due for several months, but Rodney took his work seriously, so much so that he cut his wedding reception short just to lay down a few tracks in the studio. At first, Koza was confounded like any other woman would be on her special day. But when Rodney told her he was recording a song just for her, her half-moon eyes smiled, and her cheeks were flushed rose.
Rodney’s dedication to his craft showed in his sunken brown eyes and in the way his neck twisted to view his Mac monitors. After the fourth take echoed and fell, Rodney stood in silence for a moment, then ushered his two artists into the control room.
One of the rappers sauntered his way in and bobbed his head, as if the music were still going. He had on white shades and wore a sweatshirt with a panda climbing a skyscraper. He fist-bumped Rodney, who smiled out of the corner of his mouth.
“You hit it, Sean,” said Rodney. “And Nezzy,” he said, high-fiving his other rapper, who towered over the producer. Nezzy donned torn, bleached jeans and a neon-blue tank-top that hung loosely on his slender frame. His snapback tilted slightly to the right, the way he always wore it.
“We hit the night,” Nezzy said.
Rodney studied the rapper and nodded. “Damn. I like that.”
“What you just said. That’s a song on the album. I don’t know where, but it’s going on it.”
Nezzy smiled like a coy fox and looked to the floor. He slowly brought his head up and noticed the gold wedding band on Rodney’s finger.
Sean yawned and stretched his arms high over his head. “I’m out, gang,” he said.
“Date?” said Rodney.
Sean nodded and gave the O.K. sign. “Babe,” he said, tilting his head back. He walked out the way he always walked anywhere: like he was the last man standing.
Rodney looked at Nezzy. “What about you?”
Nezzy shrugged. “The night’s young.” His smile was shallow. “Why didn’t you tell me you finally tied the knot?”
Rodney admired his ring. “It happened pretty fast.”
“I thought you two were on your way out.”
“For a minute, so did I. But it all worked out in the end.”
“Koza’s a good girl,” Nezzy said with a weak laugh.
Rodney nodded. “She is, isn’t she?”
Rodney’s longtime friend Nezzy had met Koza on only one occasion several months ago. She was Rodney’s girlfriend then. The producer had hosted a small dinner party at his apartment: shrimp cocktail, spritzers, and all. He and Nezzy had hung around one another the entire night, laughing and playing music together. Rodney asked Koza to join their merriment, but she stayed on the sidelines. Nezzy met with Koza for brief small-talk that went lukewarm, and for the entirety of the exchange, Koza looked at the rapper with eyes that seemed to accuse him.
Rodney ruffled his short dreadlocks. There was a quickened silence between the producer and his friend, enough to make out the faint humming of the electronics. Rodney considered going over to the mixing console or the keyboard to make some noise. Any noise to break up the distilled air in the control room.
Finally, Rodney glanced at his watch. “She’s making marinated salmon. It sounds good, but unfortunately, I didn’t marry a very good cook,” he said with a chuckle. He stretched out his striped shirt, noting the pizza stains. “But who am I to judge? All I do is eat.”
Nezzy laughed and touched Rodney’s arm playfully. Rodney flinched, but Nezzy didn’t seem to notice. He just laughed. Whenever the rapper gave a true, hearty laugh, he always closed his eyes to accommodate his wide mouth stretching over half his face like a sleepy lion. “Whatever she makes, don’t choke on it,” Nezzy mused.
Rodney glanced at the tawny lights in the live room. “They charge by the hour in here,” he said, grabbing his backpack, overstuffed with mixtapes and blank CDs. He retrieved his hoodie folded on a swivel chair near the mixing console and slipped it on. “Don’t run the bill if you don’t have to.”
Nezzy nodded and stood lingering at the console, peering through the glass in a daze. Minutes after Rodney left, Nezzy shut everything off and wandered out alone into the bright night lights of New York City.
The recording studio was situated on one of the busiest streets in the sprawling city. And the crosswalk to the subway station was a kilometer away. This fact was the sole inspiration behind Rodney’s latest album, for the producer would often dart across the road whenever there was a momentary lapse in traffic.
But this time, as Rodney tightened the straps on his backpack and made his way across the road, he misjudged an approaching Hyundai. Luckily, the driver, an old, waspy-looking grandmother, stopped shortly before collision. She pursed her lips and furrowed her thin brows under horn-rimmed glasses and let Rodney continue his course.
Rodney gave a relieved smile and waved. He turned up his hood.
Being a prominent hip-hop producer in New York, Rodney could easily afford a luxury vehicle. But then, as Rodney always said, he wouldn’t get the chance to see and hear what people had to offer on the subway. When he slipped inside the long silver bullet, Rodney sat comfortably perched on his seat, surveying everything around him.
A tall-headed man in a black suit leaned and whispered something to his wife, and she smiled coyly. The woman tilted her head and let the man put his lips to her neck. Rodney lowered his head into his hands. His song “Stay With Me” came to mind, which he had written a month ago. It was about a couple in the midst of infatuation wherever they went. They were passionate, inseparable.
Rodney turned, hands in his lap, and saw another couple, both high school students, he presumed, who scribbled small notes in each other’s notebooks and snickered. Then they closed the notebooks, and the girl rested her red-streaked head on the boy’s shoulder. They both shut their eyes and smiled, as if they were happy to dream of one another for only a short while.
A flicker of inspiration burned in Rodney. He had his next hit. He might call it, “Only Sleep to Dream of You.” And he had two people to thank for it—two unsuspecting teenagers he’d likely never see again, but they’d leave a lasting imprint in rhymes and a slow beat.
After a ten-minute ride, Rodney exited the train and traversed the bright tunnels blaring with the scent of cigarettes and handbag leather. As he walked, he saw a large advertisement shifting with photos of men and women in premier business suits, jeans, glossy dresses, and almost nothing at all. He let the images fade and transition to the next, watching men practice their best smolder and women trying to look their prettiest for the camera.
For some reason, to Rodney, it was like glancing at a framed painting in a restroom: just something to look at.
One of the women, Rodney thought, looked just like Koza. He was astonished by the resemblance. He took his backpack off and moved in closer.
The woman in the moving frame was Japanese, like Koza, sitting forward in her chair, legs and arms crossed, a waterfall of black hair spilling down over her chest. She wore torn jeans and a white T-shirt. Her eyes were smoky half-moons, like she had watched one too many television dramas. She even had Koza’s resigned lips, parting just enough to see a flash of her stunning white teeth.
Rodney felt his chest surge. He wondered if this woman’s voice was just as airy and deep and if her English was just as good. He put his hand to the screen, just as it switched to another model: a petite brunette with blurry eyes and thin wrists propping her chin.
Rodney returned his hand to the inside of his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. His wife’s face flashed up at him in a circular frame, along with an alert of five missed calls and two text messages. Rodney pressed the phone icon but was sent immediately to Koza’s voicemail. He called her again and met the same result. He pocketed the phone and marched out of the subway station, thinking of half-moons floating in the night sky.
Burning fish. The smell was sharp in Rodney’s nose as he unlocked the door to his apartment. Koza was scrambling at the stove, trying to scrape blackened salmon off a wok with a spatula. She dumped it into the sink and turned on the faucet.
Rodney greeted his wife and dropped off his bag onto the hardwood floor. He joined her at the sink with a butter knife. The wok was warped in the soapy water. After his attempt to chisel off what he could, Rodney walked into the living room and opened two of the windows.
“I would’ve eaten anything you made,” Rodney said. “Just like before.”
Koza said nothing. She only kept moving her hands furiously through the suds. She wore a thick apron and tied a headband around her forehead. Her hair was done up in a messy bun. Koza typically had a bun when she was angry or had to cook a meal—both were often one and the same these days.
Rodney reached for the two plates Koza had laid out onto the dining table.
“Leave those,” Koza said. “We’ve still got to eat something.” She rinsed off the wok and wiped it dry.
Rodney slumped on a cherry wood chair and sighed. He wanted to help, but at the same time, he felt powerless. If he asked his wife what he could do, he knew she’d order him to sit down anyway, that she’d make something else and he shouldn’t get back up because he “had a long day.”
Rodney looked out his window and felt a breeze roll through his apartment. His home was something out of an art deco magazine. It was spaciously restrained and bright, with leather sofas and quaint bonsai trees Koza’s mother had supplied them as a wedding gift. Rodney had gallery lights set upon three paintings in the living room—paintings he had bought from a renowned artist in Atlanta two years prior. He also had a grand piano and a small music studio in an adjoining room, complete with bongo drums, guitars, basses, flutes, one koto and shamisen, also courtesy of Koza’s mother, and two tenor saxophones. Rodney could play just about anything if he put his mind to it. Most of the time, his mind went nowhere else.
“I can order a pizza,” he said suddenly.
Koza sat in a chair opposite her husband. She nodded. “That’s fine.”
She began to tap her fingers on the table. It was a recently developed quirk she had when she wanted to say something but didn’t think Rodney wanted to listen.
Rodney looked at his wife. He couldn’t stop comparing her to the woman on the advertisement. Even her posture there in the chair was identical. He whipped out his phone and ordered a pie with sausage and extra mushrooms. Koza loved mushrooms. He set his eyes upon her again. “I tried calling you back,” he said. “Is your phone dead?”
“I turned it off,” Koza said flatly. She poured herself a glass of water from a pitcher sitting on the dining table. “It helps me cook without distractions.” She took a sip and set it down. “Look how that turned out.”
“I’m sorry,” said Rodney. He watched his wife’s fingers tap the table incessantly. He smiled out of the corner of his mouth. “I could’ve sworn I saw you earlier.” He also helped himself to a glass. “When I stepped off the subway, I saw an ad with a woman who looked just like you.”
Koza nodded. “Was she pretty?”
Rodney eyed her curiously. “I said she looked like you. Of course she was pretty.”
“Were you attracted to her?”
“I—I suppose so,” Rodney said.
“Did you want to touch her?”
“I supp—wait, what?”
Koza poured herself another glass. “Did you want to touch her? Just answer.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at, Koza. What’s going on?”
Koza paused. “We’re married now,” she said softly. “It’s not like when we were dating or the night we got engaged.”
Rodney looked at her expectantly.
“I know you’ve been busy with your new album, but—”
“It’s only for a short while.”
“I know that.” She heaved a heavy sigh. “But, I mean, we haven’t even—”
Rodney had that same wide-eyed look on his face, like a child who realized he’d spilled juice all over the floor, but his parents hadn’t. He rubbed his unkempt beard and stared deeply into Koza’s brown eyes. She was a thirty-three-year-old successful fashion designer from Kyoto; he was a thirty-six-year old producer without a good sense of style. Koza could have any man of her choosing. The small scathing critic in the back of Rodney’s mind regularly said Koza chose poorly in the end.
Koza sighed. “Never mind.” She stood up and walked into the kitchen.
Rodney remained at the table for a few more minutes and darted to the piano. He sat at the bench and started playing a slow melody in a high octave with his right hand. Then his left hand joined in. He filled the apartment with a sensual, jazzy number befitting the late hour.
Koza leaned on the refrigerator and watched her husband’s tender hands stroke the keys. She closed her eyes and let the music carry her off into a dreamlike trance.
“I wrote this one for you,” said Rodney, his foot on the soft pedal. “It’s called ‘Raining in New York.’ Kind of a working title.”
“It’s lovely,” Koza said, approaching the piano.
“This is what I recorded on our wedding night. It’s number one on the album.”
Koza set her hands on her husband’s shoulders as he played and kissed his neck all around. She ran her fingers through his hair and traced down his back along his spine.
“The pizza boy will be here soon,” said Rodney, hitting a sour chord. He stopped playing altogether.
“Then we’ll make it quick.”
“All we do is cuddle,” Koza protested.
“Koza,” said Rodney, sliding off the bench.
“Rodney,” she said, confused. “I don’t know what the problem is. You’re not—”
“You’re attracted to me, aren’t you?”
She looked at him grimly. “Then you’re not—"
“I haven’t been to church in seven years.”
“That’s not what I mean. You’re not—"
Rodney waved his hands. “That’s not it, either. It’s completely different.” He moved once again to the piano. “I just want to show you I love you.”
“Show me in another room,” Koza said. “We can be quick.”
“What about like this?” Rodney returned to his melody.
“But—” Koza said. Her half-moon eyes became glossy crescents.
Rodney slowed his fingers and brought them to his lap. “You don’t like it?”
Koza blinked hard and fast. “No, I do. I really do. It’s just—you said things would be different now. Remember?”
Rodney shut his eyes. He did remember.
The two stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Then a knocking came at the door. Rodney opened it and greeted the pizza boy—a stout, middle-aged man with receding auburn hair— and paid him promptly. Rodney brought the pizza to the table, unfolded the greasy cardboard, and cut into the zesty pie with a butcher’s knife. He and Koza ate in silence, without looking at one another.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rodney watched Koza pluck off the extra mushrooms into a corner on her plate, where they grew cold and mushy.
Three months before they locked hands as husband and wife in New York, Koza and Rodney first walked hand-in-hand down the wet streets of Kyoto, each wearing matching maroon raincoats.
“You said we’d both live here together,” said Koza, ducking under Rodney’s umbrella.
Rodney liked Kyoto. There was something old about it, something traditional and endearing. It was much easier on the eyes than New York. Every corner and every small pagoda felt like the Meiji Restoration. Here, the raindrops fell more gracefully. People were happier. Or perhaps they just appeared that way.
Rodney slipped his hand out of Koza’s and resigned to a bench near a still pond. He held up his umbrella, and Koza leaned in. “I know,” he said. “But it’s not like I can move the studio here. I’ve given it a lot of thought.” He and Koza had been dating for one year exclusively before Rodney finally had the nerve to officially solidify their title. It was only last week that he agreed to pack up and move in with her. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Koza sat with her hands in her lap and sighed. “So now what?”
Rodney opened his mouth to speak but fell silent. He watched the rain plummet to the earth. A little boy in a raincoat was laughing at two swans stuck on a muddy bank. They looked like they were doing an interpretive dance. Rodney smiled and closed his eyes. He began to hear it: the piano intro to “Laughing at Swans.”
“Are you listening to me?” Koza snapped. She brought her wet hair up into a bun.
Rodney looked at her, then looked at the swans. “I’m listening.”
“No, you’re not. You’re too busy making music in your head to actually care about something that matters.”
Rodney lowered his head.
Koza shook her head. Raindrops flecked Rodney’s cheek. She hushed her voice and sat rigidly. “You haven’t kissed me in weeks, Rodney.”
Thunder bellowed overhead, and a lightning streak shot against the gray clouds. “You know how I feel about that,” said Rodney. “You know how hard it is for me.”
Koza paused. “Rodney, do you want me?”
“Of course I do.”
“But do you want me like a man ought to want a woman?”
Rodney fell silent once more. He held the umbrella tighter. The rain pelted the flimsy black canopy.
“Can’t you talk to me?” Koza said. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know what you’re asking,” Rodney said. “I want you. I want to be with you. I just can’t up and leave everything behind just yet. I have a career, too. People depend on me.”
“So you’re not going to leave New York.”
Rodney exhaled deeply. “Not yet.”
Koza swiveled her head and looked at Rodney in the eyes. “Would it matter to you if we split up? Could you at least answer me that?”
Rodney looked away, at the dark clouds swirling in the distance. “It would be raining every day in New York if we did,” he said almost in a whisper. He set his eyes on Koza’s brown ones. “That’s my honest answer.”
Rodney took a long breath and fumbled in his pocket for something boxy. He retrieved it and opened the velvety black lid resting on delicate silver hinges. Inside, nestled in a crevice, was a golden band with a shimmering white diamond.
Koza stared at it, then stared at him. Her eyes reddened.
Rodney nodded, smiling.
She put her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay. I’m guessing that means yes?”
Koza nodded, hand to her mouth. She wrapped her arms around him once more, making Rodney drop the umbrella onto the ground, where it collapsed in on itself. The rain swallowed it.
Rodney puckered his stiff lips and pressed them onto Koza’s. He counted down the seconds when she would release, and he’d be free to pick up his umbrella and shield them both from the wet onslaught. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven...
Rodney was up before the dawn. He flipped the switch and watched the lights flicker on throughout the recording studio. Sean and Nezzy joined him shortly thereafter to help with a brief spoken word session for the intro before the first song on J-Walk.
“She really was a babe,” said Sean, which was the first thing he said as he and Nezzy left the live room. This time he donned black jeans and a T-shirt with a panda climbing a stripper’s pole. “She even did a little dance for me before we wrinkled the sheets,” he added.
“Nice,” said Nezzy. “Glad to hear it.”
“She was tight.”
Nezzy grimaced. “Too much information.”
“On principle, I don’t like redheads. But I couldn’t resist.”
Nezzy sighed and sat on a swivel chair.
“I counted the times she said my name.” He held up nine fingers, then stuck his thumb out.
“Sean—” Nezzy said, his fingers rubbing his temples.
“Well, it’s true,” Sean said, fiddling with his white shades. “Sort of loud, too. I could’ve done without that.”
“I was lonely there for a bit.”
“You,” said Nezzy. “Lonely?”
Sean nodded and adjusted his shades. “Happens to the best of us.”
“Do you even know her name?”
Sean scoffed. “Melanie.”
Nezzy folded his arms and raised both eyebrows.
“There it is.”
Sean gave his fellow rapper a hard pat on the shoulder. “You know how it is.”
Sean shrugged. “Maybe not. Maybe it’s just me. I know Rodney has to be having a good time with Koza.” Sean turned to Rodney, who was setting up in the live room. “Isn’t that right, Rodney?”
Rodney could hear everything from the live room. Sean kept his hand on the audio button in the control room. The producer dismissed the rapper’s query with a smile that quickly faded. A pang of guilt struck him like the night before. He loved his wife. He loved her.
Nezzy dismissed Rodney with a wave of his hand, then made his grand exit.
Rodney had his flute, ready to record an instrumental backing track. His sheet music was crisp and prostrate against his stand like he was rehearsing with his orchestra. Every musician he’d ever worked with had commented on Rodney’s elegance and classy artistry.
When Sean departed, Nezzy hung around the studio, watching and listening to Rodney’s riffs and high notes behind the glass window.
Rodney made a gesture to Sean on his fourth take that told him to stop recording. He had shown Nezzy how to operate the basic controls. Nezzy was beginning to think Rodney was just trying to live up to his namesake. He knew his friend could nail the session in a single take.
When Rodney emerged from the live room, Nezzy was sitting comfortably on a swivel chair. “Nice work,” he said with that same wide smile.
“It’s almost there,” said Rodney. “The flute part was the hard part. Nowhere to go but up now.”
Nezzy rotated his chair back and forth slowly. He offered to help Rodney mix his tracks, and the producer obliged.
Rodney showed his friend how to layer the different instrumentals as well as Nezzy’s spoken word track they had recorded. Then he added Sean’s.
Nezzy shook his head. “That guy. Did you hear him earlier? About that girl last night? Some things you just need to keep private.”
Rodney shrugged. “He has the right to feel loved. Everyone does.”
“Is that what he calls it?”
Rodney shrugged again. “Some people do.”
“What do you call it?”
“Not my idea of love.”
“Well, what is?”
Rodney sat back in his chair then sat up again. “It’s hard to explain.”
Rodney sighed. “Have you ever watched people? Truly watched them?”
Nezzy looked at the ceiling, then at Rodney. “I guess not.”
“When I watch a person, I feel as though I’ve known them for years, even if it’s a few short seconds.” He cleared his throat.” I get this spark of inspiration, and it’s like I’m looking in a photo album. I can see these people. I get the urge to write about them in lyrics or work them into something on my keyboard or drum machine.”
“Is it always like that?” Nezzy said.
“It definitely was when I first met Koza. That hasn’t changed.”
“Because you love her.”
Rodney paused his computer, which was listlessly chugging out recordings. He closed his eyes. They felt hot and seemed to weigh him down with moisture. His thoughts drifted to happier moments, ones that didn’t make him question what love was. What his love was.
Shortly after Rodney’s proposal, he slipped the ring onto Koza’s thin finger. The couple ran through the Kyoto streets back to Koza’s small house, laughing and drenched, with soggy shoes clip-clopping the pavement. The mud-flecked umbrella kept collapsing, so Rodney tossed it into a garbage bin down the road.
Koza slid the shōji open and yanked Rodney by the hand inside her tiny abode. Apartments were scarce in Kyoto; old wooden houses were among the only living quarters resting in the shadows of Buddhist temples and imperial palaces. The couple removed their soaked shoes and raincoats and laid them on a straw mat by the front doors.
Koza headed straight for the kitchen, put on an apron, and tied a long white headband around her head. She reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a ceramic dish. In it were two salmons she’d been marinating in olive oil, honey, soy sauce, lemon zest, and thyme. She then pulled out a bag of button mushrooms and poured them into a wok.
Rodney walked in and smiled. “I didn’t know you could cook. I think we’ve always eaten out until now.”
“My mother taught me,” Koza said, smiling and washing her hands. “And we have to celebrate, don’t we?”
Rodney washed his hands and grabbed the wok full of mushrooms. “Let me help.”
The two stared tenderly at one another as they prepared the meal. Rodney browned the mushrooms in butter and parsley, and together, they had their first meal together as fiancés. Koza had burnt the salmon to a crisp, but they still smiled and savored each bite.
Rodney connected his phone to a speaker mod and played lo-fi tunes against the pitter-patter outside. He watched Koza pop each mushroom into her mouth and wipe her lips delicately with a napkin. Her half-moon eyes seemed to shine on him.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been cold,” he said. “That’s never my intention.”
Koza set her chopsticks aside. “It’s all right.”
“Things will be different when we’re married,” Rodney said, helping himself to another mouthful of blackened fish. “We’ll be closer than we’ve ever been.”
Koza nodded, smiling.
When their elation died down, they each showered separately and settled on separate futons beside one another. As they slept, though, their fingers grazed in the night while the elephant-gray sky wept a lullaby.
Nezzy looked longingly at Rodney. He sat upright, his hands gripping his hat tightly. He moved his chair in closer.
Rodney spun around quickly and un-paused his computer.
Nezzy slumped back in his chair. He replaced his hat on his head. He slowly leaned forward again. “Would you have dinner with me?”
Nezzy nodded. “Tonight? Just me and you?”
Rodney bit his lip. “I—”
“Seven o’ clock?”
“Nezzy, I don’t know if that’s a good—I mean, that doesn’t sound—”
A door slowly opened in the control room, and a woman with dark skinny jeans and a white hoodie entered. Her half-moon eyes smiled shyly, as did the rest of her.
“Koza,” Rodney said. He felt momentarily flustered. He stood up abruptly and put his arms around his wife.
“Thought I’d surprise you at work,” she said, smiling still. “It’s been forever since I’ve seen you produce in the studio.” She glanced over at Nezzy and nodded. “Hello, Nezzy.”
Nezzy nodded back. “Good to see you, Koza.” He spun around in his chair and set his eyes on the controls. He swiveled back to the married couple.
Another profound silence cut through the air. Koza sat on a swivel chair and put her handbag in her lap. She tied her hair in a bun. “I hope I didn’t ruin your concentration.”
Rodney shook his head. “We were just finishing up.”
Nezzy looked at Rodney, then looked to the floor.
“Nezzy just asked if I wanted to go to dinner with him tonight,” Rodney blurted out. “We may be out a little late, so don’t—”
“That sounds wonderful,” Koza said. “I’d love to.” She grinned like it hurt.
Nezzy’s face turned the color of parchment.
Rodney smiled uncomfortably. “Good. That’s great. What time again, Nezzy?”
Nezzy tightened his jaw. “Seven.”
Koza nodded. “Seven.”
Koza crossed her arms and legs in a sleek red dress on the subway. She only uncrossed them so she could unzip her bag and check her phone every few minutes. She and Rodney would be meeting up with Nezzy and his date at Blue Heron, their favorite hibachi restaurant in New York. It had once been a quaint eatery in Kyoto. But popularity had linked it into a chain of restaurants throughout the United States.
Rodney had trimmed his beard and was wearing glasses with thin, rectangular black frames. He sat next to Koza, assiduously adjusting the sleeves of his crisp white dress shirt under a gray and black sweater.
“We’re going to be late,” Koza said, scanning her phone.
“We’ll be just fine.”
Koza continued to glance at her iPhone screen.
“Nezzy won’t mind.”
The subway came to a swift stop; Rodney and Koza stood to their feet. Koza was an inch taller than her husband in heels. As they made their way out the doors, Rodney saw the same advertisement flashing with the same male and female models. He darted toward it and motioned for Koza.
“Watch this,” he said. “It’ll be like looking in a mirror.”
Koza stared at the big screen.
Rodney waited patiently. The transitions came and went. Three men and four women in a loop. But no Koza.
“What are we watching, exactly?” Koza said.
Rodney looked around, confused. He ruffled his dreadlocks. “I swear this was the right one,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked at his wife, whose attention was turned suddenly to another screen nearby.
The woman in the frame was sitting cross-legged. Torn jeans. Half-moon eyes.
“Every man on earth would want you,” Rodney said.
Koza stared at the woman’s enlarged face—her flawless skin, lips, and long black hair. Koza’s mouth quivered visibly.
“She could be your twin, right?” said Rodney, nudging Koza playfully. “See? You should be a model.”
Koza turned her head away and continued walking.
Rodney followed alongside her. “What’s wrong?”
Koza walked faster and took in short, sharp breaths. “You are,” she said, wiping her eyes quickly with the back of her hand. “That woman didn’t look anything like me.”
Nezzy waved at Rodney and Koza as they entered the restaurant. The place was packed, save for the two padded stools Rodney had reserved by one of the smoking stovetops in the corner of the restaurant. Two bowls of miso soup awaited them.
Nezzy’s date turned around to greet them. She had a streak of violet in her dark hair and wore a black dress that accentuated her lean frame. “Hi,” she said, smiling. “I’m Sasha.” She reached out her hand, and a flashy silver bracelets shot to her wrist.
“Sasha, hi. I’m Rodney.”
“I know,” she said. “It’s a pleasure. I love your music.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Excited as I am for J-Walk?”
“So excited, he’s literally been sleeping in the studio,” Koza said with a hollow laugh. “I’m beginning to think he’s married to the music and not me.”
Rodney laughed weakly. So did Sasha.
Koza reached out her hand. “I’m Koza. I love your bracelet.”
“Thank you. It means a lot to me.”
“Where did you get it? SoHo?”
Sasha shook her head. “Vegas. It was a gift from someone.”
“That ‘someone’ has great taste,” Koza said.
Sasha turned her wrist over and let her jewelry shine. “He really does.”
Koza sat down and picked up her spoon. She ran it through her soup but never lifted it. Both she and Sasha were on opposite ends of the table. She leaned forward and turned her head sideways at the girl and her date. “Are you two together?”
The pair looked at each other and laughed. “Hell no,” they both said in unison.
“Friends?” Rodney asked, munching on the tofu and daikon floating in his broth. “I think you’d make a good couple.” He laughed.
“She wishes,” Nezzy teased.
The two couples made small talk and watched the hibachi chef make their appetizer. The round, smiling man in the white jacket tossed eggs in the air, caught them with his knife, and cracked them onto the stovetop. He chopped them up and added them to white rice, onion, ham, and cracked black pepper. He then tossed in shrimp and dished out the concoction to each guest. He kept two shrimp on the stove and scooped one onto his spatula. He made a gesture at Koza, and the woman shook her head. Rodney, Nezzy, and Sasha pushed her to give it a try.
Koza gave in reluctantly.
On the count of three, the chef launched the shrimp into the air. Koza leaned back and the shellfish whizzed just past her hair and landed on the floor. Everyone at the table clapped anyway.
On the next toss, the chef gestured toward Rodney, and the producer nodded. The shrimp flew. Rodney stretched his neck and caught it right in his mouth. He held his hands up in triumph. Even a table behind them cheered.
Nezzy clapped his hands enthusiastically. He laughed and grinned widely, patting Rodney’s back. He left his hand lingering there for at least ten seconds. Slowly, he brought it back to his chopsticks. Rodney was too occupied by his menu to care. Only Koza seemed to notice.
“So, what’s everyone having?” Koza said loudly.
“I’m thinking unagi,” said Sasha.
The chef nodded, smiling.
“Yellowtail,” Nezzy said.
Another nod. The chef set his eyes on Rodney and Koza.
Rodney turned to his wife and looked down at her rice dish and bowl of soup. “You’ve barely touched anything. Are you feeling okay?”
Koza feigned a smile. “Of course. I guess I’m just not that hungry.”
Rodney smiled and pointed to the mushrooms bobbing in Koza’s miso soup. “At least eat those.”
Koza pushed her bowl away.
“How about the marinated salmon? We haven’t had it in a while.”
The chef still looked at the married couple expectantly.
Koza sighed. “I’m not feeling it.”
“It’ll be just like old times,” said Rodney.
“I said I’m not feeling it.”
“But you love salmon.”
“Fine!” Koza practically shouted. “Order the damn salmon, then!”
The whole table fell silent. Sasha and Nezzy dropped their chopsticks and looked in another direction. Other couples across from Rodney lowered their heads. The chef gave the slightest of nods and started on the four protein dishes.
The stovetop sizzled with fish and steamed like a smoking fire in Hakone.
When the couple made it back to the apartment, Koza dashed straight into the bedroom. The subway ride had been long and excruciating, with an interminable silence.
Rodney lingered in the kitchen and drank a glass of water. He leaned on the countertop and glanced at his grand piano. He’d bought it seven years ago. He’d been twenty-nine, an up-and-coming pianist and DJ with big dreams he carried with him in a bulging backpack. He was in the underground’s underground then, a face few could put a name to. He wrote songs about people he never knew. And some he did. He tried to tell those people’s stories through mixtapes he created in a scratchy, awkward in-home studio. When he wasn’t DJing at a club or party, he was telling tales.
Then he met Koza, found a new story to tell.
Rodney sat down at his piano and played a slow tune in D minor. He just let his fingers go where they wished.
Koza reappeared in sweatpants and a gray hoodie. She shuffled across the floor in sandals.
Rodney closed his eyes, composing his impromptu piece solely by ear.
“I don’t want to hear that right now,” said Koza.
Rodney ignored her.
“Are you listening to me?”
Rodney laid his foot on the soft pedal. He played a final chord and took his hands off the keys. “I’m listening.”
Koza folded her arms.
Rodney hesitated. “You didn’t have to call attention to us like that. A simple no is all it takes sometimes.”
“You kept pushing me.”
Rodney looked directly at her. “It’s not like you haven’t done the same.”
Koza just glared at her husband.
“I don’t want this to be a fight. I have something to show you. Will you meet me at the studio tomorrow?”
“Show me what?”
“Something for you. For us. Please.”
Koza sighed heavily. “When?”
“When’s good for you?”
“I have an exhibition tomorrow,” Koza spat.
“Call it six o’clock.”
Koza breathed out like a rhinoceros.
“What do you say?”
Koza turned when she heard a soft tapping against the windows. Within minutes, the glass was moving downward in thick, clear waves. With rain.
The skies hadn’t cleared in the morning. The New York streets were runny and slick. Rodney had almost slipped on the way to the recording studio. Thunder whined and shots of lightning winked all afternoon. Rodney sat listening to the first song on J-Walk, his newly completed hip-hop masterpiece. He had the same song on repeat for an hour.
Rodney sat in his swivel chair and waited. It was 6:07. Song number one continued to cycle. He turned down the volume, folded his arms on the mixing console, and rested his head. Not long after, Rodney felt a buzzing in his pocket. He retrieved his phone and saw his wife’s face. He pressed the phone icon. “You on your way?” he said.
There was a pause on the other line.
A muffled sound came. “Is he there?” she said.
“Is who here?”
Another muffled sound and a gasp.
Rodney could tell Koza was crying. “Koza, what’s the matter? Where are you?”
Koza paused. “Is he there?”
“What’s going on? Is who here?”
“Do you love him?”
“Do you love him?” Koza demanded.
“I love you.”
“You have feelings for him,” said Koza through stifled sobs.
“I don’t have feelings for anyone.” The words escaped Rodney so effortlessly. He felt a weight slip off him, a weight that had been tethered to him his entire life. But he could never take it back. Couldn’t remix the truth.
He heard another gasp and sniffle from Koza, then a beep. Rodney called her again. And again. On the third call, she answered.
“Koza. I didn’t mean that. Let me explain.”
Koza hesitated. “No, you did mean it.” Then a beep and she was lost.
Rodney called her and kept calling her. And called her one final time. When he realized Koza had turned off her phone, Rodney stood up out of his chair. His hands shook at his sides. His head felt like a hot-air balloon, and his stomach churned. He sat back down and shot back up again. He walked slowly and opened one of the doors that led out into the rain.
Koza was standing just outside, the precipitation enveloping her jacket and shoes and jeans. Her hair was a sopping black mass splashed to the sides of her face.
Rodney felt as though his whole body had been injected with Novocain. He couldn’t distinguish Koza’s tears from the sky shower. He practically leapt toward her and embraced her.
Koza shuddered against Rodney’s shoulder, and her legs gave out.
Rodney brought her down gently to the sidewalk glazed with a thin stream. They both kneeled in a puddle. Rodney held her and trembled. The rain fell hard on the Big Apple.