“Sorry sorry sorry,” Raya says. She leans over and kisses Isaac on the cheek. She steps around to the chair opposite him, slings her bag over it, and sits down, huffing. “Traffic.”
“Used to be you could get anywhere in the City in fifteen minutes.”
“When was that?”
Raya shrugs. Her Mylar skullcap crinkles and sends a glint of sunlight into her brother’s eye. “What are you drinking?” she asks.
“Let me get you something with rum in it.” Before he can stop her, his little sister has pulled out her wallet and is up and gone inside, toward the restaurant bar. With all the shit going on these days, you can’t get table service outside.
Isaac sips his coffee, sets it down on the table, and looks out into the street. The sun has poked around his table umbrella and is machine-gunning rays into his elbow. He’ll need to move his chair, or he’s likely to get burned. Fuck it, he decides.
The light turns green. One taxi cuts off another. Horns blare, and the two cars take off up the road, scissoring in and out of one another’s path. One of them grazes the side mirror of a parked delivery van halfway up the block. Neck-and-neck at the intersection, and they crash the yellow light. Belatedly, the van’s driver runs out from a storefront. He slams his dolly down on the ground in frustration.
Isaac calls out to him. “I’ve got their numbers.”
The van driver shambles down the block. Loose black jeans and a Coca-Cola corporate polo. “Drivers?” he asks.
“Empty seats,” Isaac testifies. Suggesting two possibilities: (1) owners remote-piloting them from their easy chairs in Queens, or (2) bot-based models running illicit aggro drive-style scripts downloaded from the Internet.
“Jerks,” the driver says. “The City needs to pass that ordinance before we all get killed.”
The Times Metro section ran a story last week — NJ Analytics Firm: City Streets Safer with In-Seat Cab Drivers. Isaac’s team at DataDart did that work under contract for the Mayor’s Office. He had been finalizing figures for the white paper when Jean took her Jeep off auto-drive, crashed it, and discorped. The irony was not lost on him.
Isaac recites the cab medallion numbers to the van driver, who thanks him and steps out from among the café tables to call NYPD.
Raya is back now, with drinks in each hand — big tropical productions topped with skewered slices of fruit and multicolored straws. She slides one in front of him, slips into her chair, looks at him the way she does.
“You’re not wearing your hat.”
Isaac reaches up top, runs his fingers through his hair. “No, I suppose I’m not.”
“It’s not like you, not to take precautions. You okay, Brother?” she asks.
“Yeah.” He waits a beat. “I think so.”
“Have you talked to her?”
“I haven’t. She’s in Quarantine. Henry calls me with updates.”
Raya nods toward the glass Isaac hasn’t touched. Obediently, he picks it up and has a pull through the straws. For all that, it doesn’t taste like anything. But maybe that’s the point.
“How’s work with it?” Raya asks.
“Bernie’s fine. Says I should take all the time I need. It helps we just finished a big project.”
They sit for a minute, amid shafts of sun. Tires squeal, and pedestrians, too. Somebody walks by with an antique 1980s boombox on his shoulder, playing dub reggae from a cassette deck. The van driver throws hands over his ears and shouts into his phone. Time passes, and in a moment of relative quiet, Raya leans over the table and finally asks him:
“So where do you go from here, Brother?”
He toggles back to the coffee. A sip, a sigh, and an anticlimactic answer: “I don’t know.”
“Well, you still love her, right?”
He gives a bitter laugh.
“What?” Raya says.
He can’t say what. If he does she will skewer him. Brother, Raya will say, you’ve given your soul over completely to statistics. But the data are damning: eight of ten crossover marriages end in divorce, and 36% fail in the first year. Go to any of Manhattan’s fine restaurants on a Saturday night, and it’s not hard to see why. See the maître d’ seat a well-dressed woman at a candlelit table for one. See him fetch a brick-sized speaker box, battery-powered with WiFi, and set it down in front of the woman. See Man-in-the-Box and his PhysWo Missus exchange fewer than a hundred words over the course of the evening. See her down an entire bottle of wine on her own. See if she so much as cracks a smile.
“Isaac, I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you. I got back as fast as I could, after I heard.”
“Used to be you could get from Tokyo to New York overnight,” Isaac says.
Raya takes a deep breath. She lifts the little plastic sword from her drink, bereft by now of its several pineapple and melon chunks, and seems to talk herself back from stabbing her older brother in the eye with it.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m a dick.”
“I’ll make an allowance,” she answers. She flips her dyed-red hair over her shoulder. “But I’m here to help. Don’t push me away.”
“Jean’s law partner Talia is throwing a ‘re-wake’ for her.”
“Is that what it sounds like?”
Isaac goes to his phone and conjures up the invite. Our Sleepy @Jean opens her eyes again, one week from Saturday! Please join us for drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the Fault Line restaurant and pub at eight o’clock.
“Jesus Christ,” is Raya’s first reaction. “These people you hang with do some weird shit. Makes me want to go back home to Flyover Country and farm the fields.”
“I’m going to need you with me,” Isaac urges.
“Yeah, sure. Sounds … interesting. I’ll wear my prom dress. I think it still fits.” She pauses, ceases to be wry. “Wait: will you be able to talk to Jean before this party?”
“Not while she’s in Quarantine. It’s against the rules.”
Isaac shrugs. “Her carrier’s. We can’t talk, but she can send me messages.”
“Have you written her?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“I can think of three easy words,” Raya says.
“Easy for you to say.” Isaac pulls the cocktail sword out of his drink, flicks a piece of skewered pineapple onto the concrete beside his chair. A pigeon waddles up.
Raya pinches her face at him.
“For me,” he says, “it’s always been harder.”