by Christine Stoddard

Where I grew up, you could fuck in a garden without witnesses. Only honeysuckles knew how you spent summer afternoons. You’d wash away the sweat and dirt in an ice-cold shower, scrubbing all but the nostalgia off your raw body. Once you reached for a glass of sweet tea, that memory was ingrained in your mind forever. You could sit on the porch and fool people into thinking you were daydreaming about hummingbirds. That’s what sweet girls do, right? But I was daydreaming about sex. Hard and soft. Rough and gentle. Sex, plain and simple.

Now I live in a city where my neighbors know every time I fuck. The cockroaches, mice, and spiders don’t even need a ticket to watch the show. It’s always free admission. My bed has no give to it the way a Southern flowerbed does. I bought that rickety thing off Craigslist, like every piece of furniture I own. I can’t have anything all my own anymore.

Except for one thing. That’s my apartment rooftop. My neighbors never venture there because of a murder about three years ago. They know this because they are old-timers. Everyone here is an old-timer but me. I am fresh blood, fresher than the puddle that leaked from the victim’s head onto the sidewalk when skull met pavement. The victim was the building’s landlord. Now his brother owns the building. I put two and two together. I go to the rooftop, anyway. I soak up the majesty of the Manhattan skyline. I take photos. I smoke. I let my mind wander into the clouds, far above the noise, and gaze down onto all of the ants that fancy themselves important. I know that I am just an ant, too. We are all just ants that need our nooks and crannies and admission to free shows.

I collect things—more like experiences. That’s why I dared climb the stairs to the building rooftop in the first place. I had nothing but my Polaroid on me. After all, I came to Brooklyn to take pictures. With my trusty Swinger, I’m always at the ready. They should pay me to say that. Maybe then I could afford my rent. Maybe then I could afford some company again. You can walk for miles in New York City, pushing against human after human, and still be all alone.

Ironically, I don’t feel lonely on the rooftop. I try not to miss too much of the life I had before. I’ve already collected those experiences. They cannot be collected again, only recollected, but I’m not one for monotony. I try to convey that to lovers. They do not listen. Too often, the sex ends up being a repeated scene, a photo I have already taken. The composition is exactly the same. I never bring anyone back to the rooftop for that reason. I do not want to taint the greatest photo studio I have ever had.

Christine Stoddard is the author of Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing), Jaguar in the Cotton Field (Another New Calligraphy), and Ova (Dancing Girl Press), among other titles. She also is the founder of Quail Bell Magazine, a place for real and unreal stories from around the world.