SEP 11, 2022 

New York

'Gotham!' He loved that name, bestowed by one of his favorite comics. He couldn't imagine a better time to be in this sprightly city. Growing up upstate, he knew cows and rivers and everything in between. His clownish appearance, freckles with ginger curly hair and a goofy smile, were a sight. Complemented by a dated slightly faded navy blue suit, inherited from his father, accented by the loud flowery tie, and dated but polished dress shoes, his poverty-stricken rural roots effortlessly shadowed him. The only thing he wore new, was his Arrow shirt, gifted by his mother, a first-day good luck charm for his new job. Meandering amongst the brisk walking crowd, he stumbled foolishly as he stared up at the gleaming towers. Down, he walked, enveloped by the cool morning, towards the docks, for his first-day accounting. He loved numbers.

The gargantuan cranes, trucks, burly dockers, longships, the sight was far too foreign for Robert, or Rob, as he preferred. Despite never having crossed county lines, he braved this foray, embracing what he reticently thought was his destiny. He walked into his workplace, excitedly introducing himself to anyone and everyone.

Rob was squeezed into a tiny office, and almost immediately, he began counting the beans. Mr Ronan, his boss, a large boorish Irisher gladly handed over 'this nightmare', his reference to accounting, to a younger pair of hands. He loathed numbers and accounting in general. A trap, as he saw it, that he was glad to hand it over to the genial idiot from upstate. He was very glad.

It was too immediate, the whistle, catching Rob by surprise. Lunch came too soon. Time sped once he got to deducing accounts. He had not planned for lunch and was bewildered by his new colleagues all walking out with a pail. Rob, empty-handed, was unaware of how things worked. Feeling peckish, he walked off the yard, eager to hide his face. As he leaned by the electric pole, watching the waterway, he heard someone calling his name.

“Over here, lad,” said Mr Ronan.

He sauntered over.

“Come, let me introduce you to a city tradition.”

Rob's little knowledge of the Irish had him betting on a visit to a gin house, but, he was surprised as they headed to the diner down the road.

As they walked in, the cheery chirpy music from the radio welcomed them. He absentmindedly scanned the diner, walking slowly behind Mr Ronan. They sat in their booth, and almost instantly, Rob met his fate. Behind the horn-rimmed glasses, below the perfectly coiffured auburn hair, and deftly held within the simple striped uniform was this pale skinned vivacious looking woman. Almost immediately, his face lit up, as his heartbeat supercharged, forcing blood to course through his vessels at breakneck speed, while his ears, far too hot, deafened. His entire world, and everything else he knew, came tumbling in a heaping wreck.

“Lad, what would you like?”

Rob struggled to muster a response, but all he let out was a little squeal. Mr. Ronan, confused by a now dumb Rob, shook him.

“You OK laddie?”

No. Rob was not OK.

“Sally, bring us two coffees and two sandwiches, and a glass of water for the lad.”

Sally, running the register, waved her matronly hand at Mr Ronan, confirming their order. Rob struggled to compose himself, as they waited for their order. That waitress, the one who had inadvertently piled this arduous torture on him, walked over to serve them their coffees and that glass of water.

“Hi, Mr Ronan,” she greeted. “Sandwiches will be just a sec.” Rob, now critical, struggled to look up to her, reaching only as far as her name tag. Cora. He graciously quaffed down half the glass of water. She had paid him very little mind, accustomed to the colorful characters of the city. This, after all, was just another face in badly cut clothes. A minute later, she brought the sandwiches.

“Hi,” she greeted Rob, finally acknowledging him.

He murmured a greeting back, stupefied. As they ate their lunch, Mr Ronan chattered about the city, the docks, and his life, but the only tune playing in his head was Cora's name and Cora's voice.

All this was new, given that Rob's interaction with girls had been reduced to Becky Anderson pecking his cheek in 7th Grade. Beyond that, he had coarse instruction from his father, who had pointed out animals mounting each other on the farm. The actual intimacy aspect was lost to him, and in his world, companionship was not something he considered beyond reproduction. Girls were just that, girls, waiting for a superhero to swoon in and save them. That juvenile literacy in matters of the heart was all he possessed, until now, where, for the first time in his life, he realized that there was more to girls than superhero antics and animals mounting each other.

Back in the office, Rob considered the new implications. That Cora, that had barely noticed him, the hand that had served him, the sway of her petite hips in that uniform, all that was forcing him to delve into a realm he did not know existed.

The afternoon raced with Rob stuck between his old love, numbers, and his new crush, Cora. At the end of the day, Rob strolled home, still stuck in the debate about his future, which was now under serious review, and in greater detail, with Cora featuring prominently. Even the gleaming towers that he had, hours ago, obsessed over, drew pale comparisons to the new light in his life. His new mission in life no longer involved comics, livestock, or numbers. Tomorrow, Rob would wake up a different man.