Belize wasn't having the best day. In fact, all things considered, Belize was having a pretty shitty day, quickly turning into one of the shittiest days ever, and it was barely even his lunch break.
It started with some asshole on the subway pushing him out of the way in the last minute. He had to wait for the next train – which was fucking late – and arrived at St. Vincent's almost twenty minutes into his schedule. That was just the beginning however; at work he found out Trish had called in sick and a new girl – Jenny – would be filling in for her. Not that Belize had anything against the new girl, but when she messed up three IVs in a row and he had to take over before the patient – a seven year old kid – got truly hysterical, it didn't improve his mood. He started a mental tirade about nurses these days before cutting himself short – that kind of talk was a sure sign of getting old and girlfriend, he wasn't anywhere near old yet.
After that there was the pleasure of Carlos in room 16, always the highlight of his fucking shift, who consistently refused to take his medication and threw a shoe at him in the process. After ten minutes Belize said fuck it and handed Carlos duty over to Irana for the day. She owed him one anyway. For about half an hour after that the universe allowed him to believe getting bruised by the heaviest slipper he'd ever seen was going to be the worst of it, and then a patient he was in the middle of admitting threw up on him without warning.
In the back of his mind a voice kept reminding him that all of this was bullshit. Why should it grate on him? Objectively, he'd had much worse days on the job. But no, today wasn't just any other day. When he woke up today the world was a little emptier than last week. Belize grabbed his coat, pulled out the pack of cigarettes he'd told himself he was going to throw away after the funeral and got in the elevator, pulling out his lighter as soon as he was outside.
The trees on 11th Street were covered in snow; fresh - it must have snowed again while he'd been inside. He took a puff of the smoke, inhaling the nicotine deep, letting it mix with the cool air and settle in his lungs. He let himself think about the next few days. The beginning of a new millennium. How little had changed in the world; how different the world had become. New York still looked nothing like San Francisco. Happy fucking New Year.
A woman walked past him, saying into her cell phone: "No, listen to me, I'll be back on Tuesday and we'll discuss it. No, don't let Jack make that decision on his own. Why? Because he can't tell his ass from his ankle--" she rolled her eyes, covering the phone with her hand and stared at Belize. "Can I have a smoke?"
Her hair looked messy, like she'd stopped combing it a week ago, and her clothes were slightly askew, but her manner and phone all said gainfully employed professional. She sighed impatiently while Belize ruffled in his pockets for the pack and ended the call by the time he handed her the lighter.
"I don't remember it being this cold," she said, leaning against the wall of the building, next to Belize. "I used to live here, years ago. Well, not here here, in Brooklyn. When did it start getting so cold in December?"
Belize weighed his options. He didn't feel like spending the rest of his break looking for a quiet spot; on the other hand, she'd likely make a scene if he told her to fuck off and he was not in the mood for that shit. The universe was determined to fuck with him today, one weirdo tourist at a time.
"So. A smoking nurse," she said, exhaling smoke in little puffs. "Bad day or are you one of those healthcare professionals who are only good at giving other people healthcare?"
"A little bit of both," he said, flicking ash decisively onto the sidewalk.
"My husband slipped on a banana peel – an honest to God banana peel – getting out of the subway this morning. He says it's the ice that made him lose his balance but I'm sticking to the banana story. Too good to pass up as a conversation opener, you know?" She peeked at her watch. "I told him New York's no place for a tourist."
"What, they don't have stairs where you're from?"
She smiled at him, bright and amused. Obviously she was either a former mental patient or a former New Yorker – or maybe both. "Oh he's from Florida. They don't have winter where he's from."
To his surprise, Belize didn't find her cheerfulness annoying. There was an honesty there, an underlying sense of commiseration, devoid of pity. For a second he could swear he'd seen her before.
"You know, you really remind me of someone." She squinted. "Maybe if you had a mustache." She took another puff and tossed the butt on a patch of snow under a tree, putting it out with her shoe. "I hope your day gets better," she said, before disappearing.
Belize stayed, leaning against the wall of the building for a few more minutes, finishing his cigarette and briefly considering lighting up another. The air was cold but not crisp, not really pleasant the way it could be in winter. His hands were beginning to freeze.
The sun came out for a moment, shining on the snowy patch that was now smudged black and grey with ash. After work, he decided, he'd go to the park and visit the angel, before heading home.
Belize took a deep breath, stuck his hands in his pockets, and headed back inside.
Harper didn't remember going to sleep, but when she opened her eyes and saw a long corridor decorated with marble statues of handsome young men she knew she wasn't in Manhattan anymore.
She'd been here before – just once. The corridor led to a large room with a piano and a make up table and a beautiful fireplace. For years she'd associated this place with badness, heartbreak; the haze she'd spent so many years of her life finding her way out of. But now, when she was finally back here again, all she felt was the twinge of familiarity, like looking at a scar.
"Yoo-hoo!" a voice said from the sofa.
"Oh, it's you!" Harper couldn't contain her glee. The man she'd seen in a dream just like this, years ago, was there again.
He smiled at her, warm and welcoming. "Look at you! Pretty in pink!"
Harper looked down at herself, suddenly realizing she was still wearing the same pink long sleeved pajamas she'd worn to bed. This wasn't how it'd happened last time.
"Well, you look… less festive." She said, appraising the man's shortly cropped hair, baggy jeans, tshirt and hoodie. He looked older, but then so must she.
"So, how's life in the big wide world?" He asked, stretching out more comfortably on the sofa, moving his feet to give her room to sit down.
"Oh my god, you're dead, aren't you?" The words escaped her mouth before she even knew what was happening.
The smile faded from his lips. She rested her hand on his thigh. "Sorry. Threshold of revelation."
He sighed. "I'm still a little bummed about the whole thing, what can I say. You'd think living with the possibility for so many years, being constantly aware of your body would help you prepare but it didn't, really. Not in my case. It's not that I'm ungrateful, but there's never enough life to go around, you know?"
She nodded, trying to keep the sadness out of her eyes. He wouldn't appreciate pity, somehow she knew that for a fact.
"So, how's life been?" He said, grabbing her hand in his. "Not still on the fun pills, I hope? Things work out with the homo husband?"
"No, no pills, no homo husband, either." She smiled. "A different husband. A kid, even. A job. Calm, stability. Good, good things."
He looked at her, waiting for the rest of it. She reclined on the couch, settling in. "No more knives under the bed, or risking pneumonia on freezing rooftops," she couldn't help but smile at the memory. "The dull, stupefying routine of what, I suppose, passes for happiness."
He nodded, sagely. "Glad to say I had some of that; though God knows I was beginning to doubt that I ever would, for a while."
"I know it's a really stupid question but…" She winced. "Does that mean you died happy?"
"It is a really stupid question, but… I suppose, for certain values of the phrase, I did." He sighed. "The new millennium – I came so close, you know? Just a few more days."
Harper rolled her eyes. "It's not really the new millennium you know. There was no year zero, so the real millennium won't start until 2001. This is just people getting excited because the number's changing. Changing numbers are always more exciting than boring facts."
He chuckled, sitting up on the sofa; his bare feet settled on the floor. Nothing was ever cold here, Harper noted. Marble wasn't real marble, skin wasn't real skin. Everything was just an approximation, a kind fantasy.
He put his hands on her cheeks and stared into her eyes, casual and amused. "You're going to have a very, very long life," he said, quietly. "Great grandchildren. Though not flying cars, not in your lifetime, which is disappointing."
Harper felt something bubbling up, wanting to spill out of her, but she pushed it down. She could be sad later. She knew, with certainty and without warning like every other knowledge that came to her in this place, that she'd never see this man again. "I don't believe you. It's the year 2000 – how much longer could flying cars possibly take?"
His face grew serious. "Go, live." He kissed her cheek, gently. "I wish you happiness."
His eyes were as blue as they'd ever been, steady and calm and when Harper closed her eyes there was nothing but blackness and the white-green walls of her hotel room, after that.