Excerpt from Linda Danz's collection of short stories: Breath Visible, published by Bookbaby, December 2017

Breath Visible

AT AN UNGODLY HOUR ON CHRISTMAS EVE MORNING in an Upper East Side building, Dora Bauer waved off the doorman on her way out, startling him from his drowse.

It was well past two in the morning when she’d left her studio earlier. She had indulged, possibly too freely, in a bottle of Maker’s Mark as she applied the finishing touches to a canvas. Mindful of a boozy brume she biked with care up a ploughed route on Park Avenue. Back at the apartment there was only time for a shower and a quick change. She’d had to scramble to pack her bag with the essentials: her journal, a thick volume of Proust and a few slimmer paperbacks of poetry. She had pens, yellow legal pads, an extra sweater, woolen socks, an unopened bottle of bourbon and a pack of Dunhill Reds. Folded into underwear less sexy and more functional were a couple of freshly rolled joints.

She headed to Fifth Avenue in the winter darkness and hailed a cab. Dora’s spontaneous friendliness belied a cynical nature. New York cab drivers saw through that. Strange men often did.

The driver sped down the deserted avenue along a route of moneyed cliff dwellers and bare trees abstractly silhouetted along Central Park. They passed holiday displays in darkened department store windows. He talked about President Ford’s message to their bankrupt city. “We got the bailout awright,” he said, “but that guy’s goose is cooked fer shuah.” As native New Yorkers he and his passenger shared a certain laissez-faire attitude and they laughingly agreed that being told to drop dead sort of came with the territory.

Until they swept past the towering illuminated evergreen in Rockefeller Center, their chatter remained impersonal. He informed Dora that she was lucky; usually the lights were off by midnight. Except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then they were kept on for a straight forty-eight hours. She told him of her Atlantic City getaway and the reasons for it. He steered through Times Square and dropped her off on Eighth Avenue amidst swirling trash and the few vagrants huddled inside the entrance to Port Authority. The famously sordid strip along Forty-Second Street looked more than usually ominous in the freezing pre-dawn chasm.

“Take care yaself, okay?” he admonished. “There’s a lotta lunatics out there.”