about the author

Richard Prins is a lifelong New Yorker who also spends time in Dar es Salaam. He’s underway with his MFA degree in poetry at New York University. Hobbies include politics and the blues; his work appears in such publications as Night Train, elimae, > kill author, Foundling Review and Catalonian Review.

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The Sixth Borough

Richard Prins

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I must have looked more like a person than a bat, because someone was shaking me. His accent sounded like it came from the longest island on earth, which is Greenland. “Come, fella, let’s line up a shark jaw of bourbons and rake it across our livers, it’ll be the happiest hour we’ve had all week.”

I suspected he might be a lunatic by the horse’s head he wore. But he treated me to a bottomless whiskey and told me to dance with the lady who came limboing through the back door, wrapped in sequin discs. The night before I’d asked a woman to dance and she slapped me. We were both drunk as hundred dollar bills. “But what if she says no?” I wondered, uncertain whether I was looking into his eyes or the horse’s.

“Tell her I sent you. I’m the borough president here. Stick around long enough and you’ll be reelecting me.”

“Which borough is here?”

“The sixth borough, of course. Where the male and female subway voices elope. I just presided over the most exquisite wedding—maybe I’ll do the same for you tonight.”

Her skirt was short and hung with price tags. Men came jousting through the door, wearing the helmets of chess pieces. The borough president passed around my drink, neighing as his constituents swarmed the barstools and took giant gulps. Still the highball glass showed no sign of emptying. They rooted for me as I traced sine curves around her hips. They pelted cash at an octopus swiveling through, her lipstick smeared, balancing a tray of spiced meat on her tallest limb. The bills all stuck to the slimy epidermis of the dolled-up cephalopod; she blew them pink kisses with six of her unused limbs, skewered chunks with her seventh, and spun the tray in my face.

“But I’m a vegan!” I protested, grinning like a game show host at my dance partner. “What’s your name, by the way?”

I thought she said Eleutheria, but wasn’t certain. For the octopus was squirting a tube of ketchup at her romping maw as she lapped the bangled arm of meat.

“Mole flavors,” she smacked her tamarind lips, snapping open a beer bottle with the tortoiseshell plectrums on her fingers.

“A thief will dance too close,” the borough president yanked my elbow back to the bar. “Drink up, your ice is melting and you’re not even halfway done.”

My glass refilled itself as he spoke, the way saltwater will creep back into a hole you dig towards China too close to the surf. “It’s true what they say, the worst cops make the best cabbies. They’re napping outside. The only ones really enjoying themselves. The only ones you can trust.” My glass refilled itself again as he whirled around on his stool. “Sit with your back to the counter like me. Soon a paintbrush will lick any unclaimed tailbone.”

Sure enough, all ten of Eleutheria’s antsy plectrums snatched my spinal column and tugged it out the door. The bats were chirping and shitting above our passage. The lodge’s proprietor inquired with a peanut wink behind his monocle, “Are you here to sleep or just to rest?”

“As long as the sheets are flammable.” My fingers were turning to cigars as they swatted her towards our room.

The next thing was a bat-dark subway car, shaking with the rhythm of a tired maraca. Its PA system crackled the same words of every other day of the year. But they sounded nothing like I’d ever heard. Stand clear of the closing doors please was grunted raunchy like a tongue in the ear. The next stop is also sounded quite lecherous. I rubbed aching gunk out of my eyes and licked it off my fingers. I smelled at least three days on myself and heard confidential hisses, a tossing on of clothes. The lights pranced to life. “The next stop is,” she repeated, out of breath, irritated. She did not remember what the next stop was. “Take me straight to Kosciuszko Street, and this can stay our little secret,” I shouted loud enough for the car to whistle into motion.

Before I knew it, I was enjoying a nightcap on the toilet. Even taking baby sips, I downed it, and felt a panic of relief staring at its diamond bottom.

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