A steel gust of frigid air cut down 7th Avenue. The scattered tourists leaned against it as they smiled up at the massive digital signs that hung like sirens, tempting them to buy a new pair of designer jeans and order a Big Mac. The lights created a flashing, false twilight at the crossroads of the world.
Alan stood at his post on the corner of 7th and 43rd Street. He leaned his back against the corner of a storefront. He could feel the cold sidewalk seeping throught the soles of his boots. His blue uniform hid a layer of thermal underwear he kept in his locker for nights like this. Christmas was only a week away and he needed the overtime to cover his mother’s hospital bill.
Two women laughed as they walked arm in arm towards Alan. He turned a friendly face to them. One of the women whispered something to the other. She turned stone-faced and glared at Alan as they passed.
This would be the first night Alan would not be staying with his mother in her hospital room since she was admitted and he was feeling guilty. She told him she understood, that he spends too much time there anyway. He should be going out and trying to meet someone. Alan had smiled at her and told her he would be back in the morning as soon as his shift was over. She was dozing in her bed. He pulled her covers up to her chin, careful not to disturb the tubes running under the sheets.
A young boy ran down the sidewalk and stopped at the edge of the curb in front of Alan. He wore a heavy winter parka and a wool cap pulled crooked over his eyes. The boy looked Alan up and down, a mischievious grin on his face. The boy’s eyes stopped on Alan’s gun, then went back up to his face. Alan smiled. “Hi there,” Alan said.
A woman quickly appeared and grabbed the boy by the arm. “We don’t talk to no police, boy, you know that,” she yelled at the boy. She dragged the boy down the block without looking at Alan.
Alan adjusted his cap and shifted his weight, folding his hands on his belt buckle. It had been a year ago today that he and his mother had sat together across the desk from the oncologist. The doctor sat down and looked at them in a way that told Alan everything he was about to say. Alan had barely been able to hold it together in the car on the drive down, but kept himself from crying for his mom’s sake. She needed to know that Alan thought she was going to be okay, that she didn’t have cancer. When the doctor was explained it, Alan found himself weeping uncontrollably while his mother pressed her fist to her mouth and stared at the office window.
A man hurried past Alan. He wore earbuds and held his phone. He started rapping along to the music in his ears. The man mumbled a few lines of the song then said, “racist fuckin’ pig,” as he walked past. He didn’t look at Alan.
Alan pulled his gloves tighter and shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. Alan looked into Times Square and scanned the interscection for parked vans. In a few hours he would walk to the hospital to see his mother.