“I’m only interested in what is not mine.”
—Oswaldo de Andrade, “The Cannibalist Manifesto,” 1928
“Fred, what we want is, I think, what everyone wants, and what you and your viewers
have—civilization. […] We want to be civilized.”
—Brain Gremlin, Gremlins II: The New Batch, 1990
Saturday, August 19 – Waning Crescent
I wake from unsettling dreams to my mattress jingling with loose change. My brown belly is divided into sections, striped by the sun slicing through the half-open vertical blinds. The lines extend and cover the room with bars. With a monstrous hangover, I peel a penny stuck to the skin next to my belly button, then remember my passport.
I stand up too quickly and shield my right eye from a beam of sunlight. Wincing at something hard digging into the sole of my foot, I look down and see that I stepped on my treasured Gremlins keychain, fracturing my poor Gizmo’s tiny plastic back. Tissues, tampons, chapsticks, and a fitinha do Senhor Bonfim had spilled to the floor when I shook my purse upside down last night. The air is thick with spices, a mixture I can’t properly identify (tamarind? turmeric? saffron?) coming from somewhere within my building. I steady myself, one hand on the wall and the other on my belly. The smell. The heat. I close the blinds. Part of my nightmare returns (sun, salt, me with insect legs, scurrying south in city streets).
My phone hides in my papers on global localization strategies (I work with semi-automated corporate translation), betrayed only by its limp cord, hopelessly disconnected from a power source. I plug it in and anxiously wait for power. Reflected on my dead screen, I look like a vermin (night, sleet, handcuffs frozen shut, my escape: wrists shrinking into insect arms. A dream, I remind myself). My latest Etsy purchase, a white framed triptych of a Pop Art Carmen Miranda, winks at me from up on the wall, her three heads heavy with fruit. I wipe away the notifications. No missed calls. No emails from work. My nausea gathers and condenses into a singularity in my stomach. That part was not a dream. No messages about my missing passport. My passport, holding my H-1B, my work visa, is gone.
Sunday, August 13 – Waning Gibbous
I was having cheerios for lunch on the shelf I Ikea-hacked into a counter in my kitchen, which was also my living room in my studio impersonating a one bedroom. I’d worked late on an analysis of our human translator testers on Saturday and was burnt out, so I spent most of my Sunday morning on Pinterest. My pre-war apartment was almost there. My view consisted of water towers on one end and a dumpster on the other, but I had an exposed brick wall, tropical plants, including a Monstera. My berimbau I couldn’t play. The stylized carved wooden statue of a washerwoman carrying a basket of clothes on her head. But I hadn’t found anything that worked on Pinterest that day (already a bad sign).
I swiped out of the news Google had selected for me (rumors of raids in Queens, seven steps to boost your career, tips for watching the Great American Eclipse) and checked there were no emails from work. On the Brasileiros de Nova Iorque Facebook group, a post advertising a facial had three likes. Seven likes on a picture of a Minnie Mouse cake surrounded by brigadeiros. 137 combined sad faces, angry faces, thumbs up, at least one laughing emoji, and fifty comments on a post by a woman thinking about divorce, but afraid for her green card application. The top comment began “I get that there are many out there that don’t respect the law. But if you choose to do things right (like I certainly do), there are only two ways: it’s either a real marriage or an employer sponsors you. Now if you choose not to educate yourself, not to work hard, or…”
I stopped reading, startled by something moving on a spoon on the counter, just under where I was holding the phone. I thought it was a cockroach, but realized the dark lump trapped at the center of the spoon had been my reflection. I heard a buzzing coming from the window. There was a fly there, trapped between the glass and the screen. I didn’t want to kill it per se, I just wanted it gone. So I looked for help on YouTube, which led me to The Fly, a movie I hadn’t seen since I was a child. I watched it instead of dealing with the real fly, and that was my Sunday. Nothing else happened, but the comments from Facebook stayed with me the whole day and through the night.
Monday, August 14 – Last Quarter
That Monday, I missed my alarm and woke up late at eight-thirty. I got ready in a panic. I was desperate to get promoted. My boss Meredith had told me about a position opening up, and briefly mentioned this one guy as my competitor. I didn’t know him and imagined a skinny suit, gelled hair, pointy overly shiny brown leather shoes. The position had to be mine. There were the usual things: yes, career, I needed more money. But mostly, I was entering the last year of my H-1B visa and needed to ask the company to sponsor my green card, as they had vaguely alluded to when I was hired.
I was about to leave, but paused at the threshold of my open front door. I sent a message to Meredith, apologizing for trouble on the F line and saying I would be there as soon as I could, went back in and sat on my green velvet couch. I opened the Brasileiros de Nova Iorque Facebook group and scrolled through the post on the president’s tweets, the eclipse, and microblading. The woman wanting a divorce seemed to be gone. But I wasn’t after her. I kept scrolling until I found the ICE thread. Those who had passports, visas and green cards were arguing about whether to always carry them (“I thought that was just an Arizona thing,” “How will they be able to tell,” “In 25 years nobody has ever,” “Well, they asked me,” “If you have nothing to hide,”). Of course, the rule didn’t fully make sense, as a Brazilian guy who appeared white in his profile picture had pointed out in the group. If they stopped non-citizens to check their papers, wouldn’t they have to stop citizens as well? How would they know whom to stop? It wasn’t like non-citizens put stickers on their lapels indicating non-citizenship. He reminded me of the guy in the studio control room in Gremlins 2, mocking the logic of the “don’t- feed-after-midnight” rule, speculating what would happen to a gremlin crossing time zones. As he begins to laugh at his own jokes, a gremlin springs up and eats his face.
There it was, right after the comment on rumored ICE activity on the 7, the USCIS link. I clicked. The open-armed blue and white eagle greeted me in its familiar unnerving way. I read the passage (“every alien,” “at all times,” “personal possession,” “alien registration,” “comply,” “guilty,” “fined,” “imprisoned,” etc. etc.) again. Yes, supposedly, it applied to all of us. Anyone not considered a citizen had to be ready with the applicable papers. At all times.
I thought of my opponent for the promotion. I imagined him thin, with a sharp jawline, blue eyes, black hair, walking into our building, taking confident sips of his morning kale smoothie. Fresh and ready for action, having started his day with yoga or spinning or both. I imagined Meredith’s boss, Mr. Koning, and his lot of higher ups nodding to each other in approval. They’d notice a commotion in the background, turn and see me being shoved into a van while trying to appear professional in a pencil skirt. Handcuffed, I’d still wave meekly at Meredith, who would admit, embarrassed, that the woman being taken away by the authorities was the candidate she’d suggested for promotion.
I went back in for my passport, safely cocooned in a ziplock bag, inside a shoebox, under my bed. I opened the H-1B stamp page, hovered my fingers over my picture, the signature, the seal, just short of touching it. I closed the passport and put it inside a compartment in my respectable brown leather Banana Republic-outlet bag and zipped it, then closed and buttoned the top flap.
On the subway to work, I let go of the pole momentarily and searched for any new posts about H1-Bs on the Facebook group. I grabbed the pole again and clicked with my free hand on the link someone had posted of a forum that crowdsourced updates from applicants for various visas and calculated current processing times. But I lost reception before it opened. I had looked at the forum repeatedly, and most likely wouldn’t have found anything new, but I couldn’t stop checking.
I swapped the hand holding the pole, brushed lightly against the hand of a blond woman and apologized. She looked straight ahead. I managed to divert my thoughts by going over my plans for my day at work. I would have a meeting with the translators. I would walk to their back room, the same room where I worked when I first joined, have them leave their cubicles and sit with me in a circle over cookies and coffee. Nothing formal. I would remind them again of how I had started just like them. How Marisa had helped me find everything the first day of work, how Miki had stopped me from accidentally entering the men’s bathroom. Then I would pivot to introducing the basics of the new rewards system. Not all the details on the points this time. I just hoped they understood the opportunity available to each of them. If only they could see it. I was lucky to have had Meredith help me. Maybe I could do the same for one of them. After the meeting, I’d go over the new targets with Meredith. I knew we could increase the output on our end, if we just tightened the ship a bit. I was also thinking of a new metric, a simple addition requiring translators to rate the work of their colleagues as it moves through the workflow. It would be a chance for them to get more credit when they worked hard. And it would address our concern about individual accountability. Meredith would love it.
My body swayed with the subway, I felt more relaxed and let my mind wander away from work again. I thought, with surprising affection, of The Fly. Brundle’s tragic and hilariously gross journey from scientist to giant fly. His skin smooth, then stubble, then blisters, then gooey raw meat. All done in analog in 1986. The whole thing had to do with movement, teletransportation from one place to another, which fascinated me. He entered a pod a normal guy. He couldn’t see it, but by the time he stepped out of the other pod, he’d already become a monster. The subway sped up, a man in a suit reached for our pole, squeezing by a latino man wearing jeans and work boots. The blonde woman sighed. I counted the five hands sharing the pole, including a woman, brown like me, but with electric blue nail polish, who just managed to grab it with her fingertips. I couldn’t see her face. The subway was still packed, though slightly less so than when I was on time. Across the cart, I spotted a muscular white man with a crew cut, dark grey pants and a black polo shirt, sitting on one of the orange seats. A photograph from the Facebook group sprung to my memory: men in black shirts and sunglasses, “ICE” written on white letters on their backs. Without thinking, I ran my hand over the pocket carrying my passport. Then shook my head, reminded myself I was being silly, overreacting again. As I approached my stop, a message from Meredith popped up on my screen: “Everything is fine over here. Don’t worry about a thing.” Followed by another, “Great job yesterday btw xoxo,” as the doors slid open. I stepped out.
Saturday, August 19
The passport lasted less than a week being carried everywhere in my bag. There were a couple of times when it felt right to have it there, close to me. That one time in the subway; that afternoon walking under the rows of American flags, by the rows of police (or military or both) at Penn Station; that time going through the security desk and turnstile when I joined Meredith for a client meeting in a different building. But mostly I felt a constant low-key anxiety over losing it. It was like being resigned to having a fly trapped in a room: sometimes you forgot it was there, then it came back buzzing and you had to wait until it stopped and you forgot it again.
And now here I am. Two caplets of Tylenol, a mug of water, and my phone lay on my imitation marble coffee table. Next to them sits a sad baby banana seedling I ordered online, its two little leaves wilted and browned. I call the Mandarin Hotel bar then balance my phone between my head and my shoulder as I wait, squeezing the sides of my broken Gizmo keychain as if trying to undo the split along its back. With the back open, its head no longer stays firmly in place. Nobody answers at the bar. I try the main hotel, where the receptionist informs me the bar opens at four. I think of the USCIS passage (“alien,” “at all times,” “personal,” “possession,” “guilty”), sitting amongst the other words on their site all this time. And the same text in dusty books before there was such a thing as a USCIS website, the letters set in bookshelves while I played in our muddy backyard in Brazil, my cousins laughing as I imitated ALF’s dubbed Portuguese voice. And the same words in other shelves somewhere in the US before that, long before I was born.
On my own bookshelf (a Billy I had hacked by adding trims and an antique tint ), I put up my broken Gizmo. The shelves are full of classics I haven’t read. A couple of titles in Portuguese (O Incidente em Antares, O Estrangeiro), the rest in English. Part of an effort to convey that I am a particular kind of person I couldn’t have pretended to be back in Brazil. An ambition possible because Americans don’t know what my accent in Portuguese or my name or my parents’ names mean.
Gizmo’s head falls off and rolls close to the edge of the shelf, but I catch it right before it drops and carefully place it next to its sad cracked headless body. At the vintage store where I found it my first year in the US, there had been a couple in mismatched plaid shirts ahead of me in line who saw the keychain first. They looked at it with mild interest, and put it back. When the woman said the word “gremlins,” it took a second for my brain to map the word as she said it to the way the word had lived in my head as a child. We said “gremilins” in Portuguese, that extra i added like a drop of water to the back of a mogwai, giving rise to an additional syllable. When I realized the keychain was Gizmo, I reached for it immediately. I estimated how many times I’d watched Gremlins 2 in “Sessão da Tarde” reruns in Brazil. Every afternoon I ate lunch with my brother and sister and watched the soap operas. After the novelas came the few movies TV Globo had dubbed in Portuguese. The same recognizable voices regurgitated out of the mouths of different actors, over and over in all the movies they showed. How strange to feel at that moment that the little Gizmo was more rightly mine than theirs, that American couple who clearly missed the movie’s brilliance.
I push the broken pieces back, further into the shelf, to make sure they don’t fall into the mess of the apartment, and go get ready to leave.
Friday, August 18 – Waning Crescent
I last recall checking on my passport late Friday afternoon, just before I walked out for drinks with Meredith. She had found a way to bring me along for after-work drinks with Mr. Koning, her boss. After lunch at the office, she had held my shoulders, looked me in the eye and told me the timing was perfect. I had been giddy about it all afternoon, but now I was worried about what I was supposed to do, about not messing up my great chance. We were at an exclusive spot at the Mandarin Hotel. A place just like I’d imagined people like them went: a little Mad Men, somewhere along a lineage of leather Chesterfields, dark wood, shelves filled with matching book covers, seamlessly mixed with dark mid-century furniture. And those floor-to-ceiling windows again. Here the city appeared brighter and closer. It felt as if the people in the other buildings could see everything and everyone, including me. It felt familiar, though I had never been there. A déjà vu. I couldn’t place it and that made me more nervous. I ordered a Malbec.
I sipped it quietly as they discussed projects outside of my department. Meredith alternated her posture, sometimes sitting back and propping her elbows on the back of the chair, grabbing her whiskey on the rocks in the relaxed I-don’t-care manner of Mr. Koning and other seemingly powerful men in the restaurant. Sometimes, sitting up, cross-legged, arms close to her body as if trying not to occupy space. Sometimes leaning into the table and touching her hair, almost flirtatiously. Mr. Koning didn’t notice how she advanced and retreated strategically, slowly gaining space. She indulged all his interruptions and came back around in a gentle way, until her points were made. Even after everything Meredith had taught me and what I’d learned by watching her, there was so much more. I was struggling to find an opening. I realized I was hiding behind my wine glass, not varying my posture, not saying anything. Mr. Koning didn’t seem to notice me. I put my glass down and leaned into the table slightly, bending toward him. I decided my focus now would be to appear fascinated by whatever he said (which was?). I knew Meredith would manage to bring me into the conversation in a manner that was most advantageous to me. I waited for her cue. She always looked out for me.
Maybe it was the office the view there reminded me of. Those nights when I snuck out of my cubicle to work alone by a window in the conference room, after everyone had gone home. Yes, this was familiar. But there was something else too.
When I was close to finishing my glass, she asked what I was drinking. Mr. Koning wasn’t looking, fiddling with his phone, so she shook her head and scrunched her face at her whiskey. We both smiled. Before I could answer, she said softly that I had to try her favorite drink, a passion fruit Caipijito. I always felt stupidly possessive of Caipirinhas, which I didn’t usually drink. Already my brain was activating the heuristic script for expressing how the drink conformed or deviated from the elusive original and an explanation of how Caipirinhas really were back at home (as if they were really that different). But I knew I shouldn’t deny her. Besides, it sounded like a good drink.
Mr. Koning answered his phone.
“Fantastic!” He nodded to both of us, still talking to his caller (the second time he had looked at me, the first being a glance during introductions). He stood up and headed out toward the elevators.
Meredith audibly exhaled. Her body seemed to soften as she fluffed up her blond hair with both hands. She explained that she didn’t always get to come out with Aldert (Mr. Koning) and that we were only here for his pre-drinks, while he waited for whatever important people he was here to see. But it didn’t matter, she continued, it was still a good opportunity. She was excited she finally got to bring me this time.
“It’s good for you to be on his radar,” Meredith mock whispered, touching my hand with the corner of hers and looking about the room conspiratorially. “Sometimes it’s productive, but sometimes he’s just in the mood to be entertained. Then we just have to be agreeable and split without being awkward, before the big guys come.”
“Got it.” I nodded. The drink was delicious. I was so grateful to her. This place was perfect. I held both her hands in a way I had never done before. “Thank you, Meredith.”
Meredith smiled. She’d been happy with me the whole day. I wasn’t sure why. “How’s the cocktail?”
“So good.” I took another sip.
“Oh my God, isn’t it though?” She looked even more pleased. “You are doing great. I knew you would.”
Meredith had been a little guarded when I first met her. But with time, she saw that I both worked hard and didn’t cause trouble. I was able to understand things she could not talk about to anyone else at work, often to do with navigating power structures as a woman. I wouldn’t start petitions or go running to HR if she talked about things as they truly were. One day, she sternly called me into her office at the end of a quarterly status meeting, but her summon had only been an excuse to remove me from a conversation with a guy from another department, known to be creepy. She gradually opened up and became a mentor as well as my boss. Sometimes, like right then, I wanted to hug her, which would’ve been silly so I smiled at her instead. She smiled back. I hoped she knew how grateful I was.
I looked at the moon through the windows of the Mandarin Hotel. A thinning curve, most of it disappearing into darkness, pulsating faintly, almost a mirage. I realized what this place, the large dark glass windows reminded me of. Gremlins 2. I had framed an 8×10 version of the film poster and hung it on the wall between my bedroom and bathroom. The illustration shows a solid wooden desk and the scratched back of a plush leather chair. Only the hand of the creature facing the view of the city at night is visible, its skin scaly and green, its black-clawed finger lingering in the air, about to tap down the ashes from a lit cigar. They didn’t dub the gremlins when they sang “New York, New York.” The creatures performed and ran amok to the sound of Sinatra as the terrified humans did whatever they could to keep them from coming out of their dark glass enclosure—and now, here I was. New York City outside those large windows. Meredith and I clinked our glasses with the last sips of our Caipijitos. She ordered two more.
I wondered what time it was (“always midnight somewhere”) as I stabbed an olive. I thought of the green skin on the hand dangling the cigar. I thought of how the green in steaming hatching gremlin cocoons looked like the neon green light coming out of the pod in the promo poster of The Fly. I thought of myself sitting there, my body filled with American proteins. American water. American sugar. The alcohol taking over my brain and liver. I remembered reading that it took ten years for a human skeleton to be completely replaced through cell renewal. I had American bones now. I’d thought I was the eater, but America had been eating me the whole time, from within.
Saturday, August 19
My gaze crawls down the six flights of my walk-up, from the middle of each step to the shadows in the corners, searching for my passport.
Outside, the sun is inhuman and oppressive. I pull the brim of my hat closer to my large dark sunglasses. Across the street, a man walks a pug. A couple with matching cups of coffee pass by me, followed by a woman talking on her cell phone.
“Home,” she says and laughs. I search the bases of trees, flower beds littered with cigarette butts, trash cans, the ground near the garbage bags piled high on the sidewalks, trying to undo my steps from last night.
I stop by the tree where I was sick the night before, wincing at what I might see. But there seems to be no trace of me. I reverse the route I walked, looking down between the streetlamps, now under bright sunlight. I retrace the course to the subway station twice and find nothing. A man dressed in black crosses the street in my direction, startling me. He keeps walking. I cross my arms. My head throbs, the city pulsates with heat, pressing down on me. I descend into the subway station.
It’s only 2:55 p.m. when I reach the Mandarin Hotel. I have one hour to kill, but I am too nervous to wait at the hotel lobby. Those impossibly high ceilings, granite and glass. It is clear I don’t belong there. So I leave and wander the blocks between the hotel and the subway again, eyeing the overflowing trash cans. It would be impossible to find it if I left it on the way. I sit on the bench across and start looking at the USCIS website for the list of requirements for an InfoPass appointment.
Friday, August 18
Meredith and I cheered at the arrival of our second round of cocktails.
“I knew when I saw you that you were different from those other people you worked with,” she said.
I laughed and thanked her.
“I don’t mean anything by it. Nothing to do with, you know…”
I didn’t know, but I was smiling. The Mandarin Hotel swayed a little.
“They just seemed like such slackers! And you, you worked your ass off to get that first promotion.”
“Thank you, Meredith.”
It felt good to hear. I did work a lot. And I paid attention. But something about what she was saying bothered me, though it was difficult to understand it on the spot. She’d been so generous to me, but she’d spent hardly any time with them before speaking about them so harshly.
“Oh, don’t thank me! Thank you!” She raised her glass, took a gulp and proceeded to tell me how my idea to rebrand translation as a Bidirectional Quality Assurance option had been great, but that the International Reputation Monitoring package had been a genius move. “I mean, before, it was all that talk about cultural competency, blah, blah, blah. It’d never worked. Until you pitched it like that. You’re gonna be a rockstar.”
I didn’t have to try to smile at that. I’d been too hard on her. My work never went unnoticed with Meredith. And it wasn’t just words. She always tried to give me credit in front of others and to get what she could for me as a reward. A day off when things were not too busy, a strategic introduction, a recommendation that I be the one to take on new responsibilities. I took another sip of my Caipijito, delicious and sweet, a wonderful invention. I was glad I’d come up with BQA and IRM too. They were how I paid my rent and bought my green velvet couch.
Meredith fished a basil leaf out of her drink with some difficulty and bit it, then continued about how brilliant I’d been to reposition the translation piece not as a boring administrative necessity, but as a value adding expansion of our client’s brand. “What I’m trying to say is,” she stirred her drink, “you got it. You’re gonna be promoted.”
I hugged her. And I felt so happy as I thanked her. Or did I? I did. I felt happy. Relieved. But it was different from what I’d imagined. A little more subdued. As if I’d already celebrated and now needed to work on the next thing. She was talking about how the promotion was part of the “whole department revamp thing” and something about Mr. Koning and the board. I was drunk but put effort into making sure my face revealed only pure joy.
Mr. Koning was walking back to the table, adjusting the lapel of his suit over his slightly stumpy body, running his hand over his still thick but graying hair. He seemed surprised to see us at the table, as if he’d forgotten we were there.
“This one is getting promoted!” Meredith pointed at me.
“Oh, that’s nice.” He looked at both of us briefly, then at the screen of his phone as he placed it on the table.
“She was instrumental in the BQA and IRM packages.”
“The what?” He looked at Meredith without much interest.
“The new services JBS picked up.”
“Oh JBS!” he perked up, “JBS was good!” He looked at me as if seeing my face for the first time. “Nice work!” He offered me his hand for a handshake. A single shake, brief but forceful, like a salute. Then he looked away toward the bar. He spotted a waiter and motioned for him to come to the table. “That’s great, ladies. I’m glad we got to celebrate.” He looked at his phone. “Now, I’m afraid my time’s up.”
It took me a second to remember what Meredith had said earlier. He meant we had to leave.
Meredith and I both stumbled into the elevator.
“This’ll be so good for you. We’ll lipo some fat off that department, make it more efficient. Make ourselves some money.” She pressed forty-five, which was where we already were. “Whoops!” She pressed L and leaned on the brushed metal wall beside the vintage style buttons that lit up and faded as we passed the floors. “I don’t know if I should tell you this, but…”
I leaned on the wall on my side too.
“Oh, what the hell. You’re cool, and you may as well learn these things. It always helps to know how things work.” She closed her eyes and said, “They specifically wanted someone to, you know… We’re beginning to look bad at certain meetings, depending on who the client is. Don’t get me wrong. They wanted someone good.” She brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes, even though they were closed. “They wanted some diversity, but someone who wouldn’t, you know, stand out too much.” She paused and opened her eyes briefly, as if checking the effect of what she’d just said.
I began to feel angry. Not at Meredith. No. It was at myself, my face. My face had told her it was OK to continue.
“There was only you and that other guy I mentioned. Some Eduardo from another department. Do you know him?”
“Eduardo?” Maybe I’d heard the name or maybe not. I tried to search for a memory. Nothing. I tried to name the kale smoothie drinking man I’d imagined Eduardo.
“Oh, are you guys, like, friends or something?”
“No, no. I don’t know any Eduardos.”
“Oh good.” She touched my hand. She’d slid down the wall a little and adjusted her position back up. “Anyway, I just found out this afternoon that they picked you! I was so happy. I mean, you’re amazing, in my team. And also”—Meredith raised a fist and let it go limp—“we need more women!”
The elevator arrived, Meredith steadied herself from the jolt, straightened up, and walked out. I followed her through the foyer and out of the hotel. There was a warm breeze. I felt temporarily sober with the sound of passing traffic.
“Don’t tell anyone,” she said.
She looked up at me as she entered her Uber. “The other guy, Eduardo—he turned out”—she looked into her purse, having accidentally dropped her phone there—“to be DACA, and you know”—she found her phone and smiled at me—“who knows what’s happening with all that.” She closed the door and said through the open window, “You lucky girl. Congratulations!”
Saturday, August 19
I return close to 4 p.m. A man comes and wipes the bar counter. Another picks up the chairs and stools that are upside down on the tables and whistles, half-sings and hums to accompany the song playing softly inside. He doesn’t seem to know the words. I don’t either, but I recognize it (the one with Anitta and Poo Bear). I walk over.
I ask if they have a lost and found. The man shrugs.
I try Spanish. “He perdido algo.”
“Brasileira?” he asks in perfect Portuguese.
I nod, sensing my voice is about to falter.
He tells me to wait and goes to get the bartender inside.
The other worker looks at me with concern. “Estás bien?”
I ask him for a glass of water, and he gets me one straight away. The other man returns and gestures for me to come to the VIP room.
The room, which I didn’t know existed last night, sits above the main room. Through its windows, I can see the table where we sat yesterday and all the other tables downstairs and the city too. Though here, in daytime and from this angle, it feels as if I can see the city but it can’t see me.
A blond woman I don’t recognize from last night is polishing glasses by the cash register. She shows me a pair of sunglasses and a credit card.
I shake my head. “Are you sure there’s not anything else?”
“It doesn’t seem like it. What did you lose?”
“My I.D.” I feel ashamed. “I mean, my passport.”
She frowns a little, then nods, opens the cash register and lifts the fasteners over the cash. She bends to look deep into the drawer, then under the counter, then asks me to wait and goes to the back. I see myself reflected on the corner of the mirror behind the bar and mirrored back wall, doubled, tripled, quadrupled, so many of me. She comes back frowning, but when she sees me her eyebrows reverse like a raising bridge. She sucks her lips inward and shakes her head.
Monday, August 21 – New Moon
I bring all the documents I have to work, planning to duck out to a USCIS office and try for an InfoPass appointment. The scoop on the Brasileiros de Nova Iorque group was that it took about six months from an official appointment. At least, that’s how it’d been before the election. Or for green card holders. Worst case scenario, I might need to go back to Brazil to get a new H-1B stamp (that would be the worst, I can’t take a vacation now). Or I might be able to legally stay put without a stamp as long I didn’t leave the country. It wasn’t clear, but either way, I would make things work. What else could happen? Nothing else will happen. As terrible as it is, Deus me perdoe, they are only going for undocumented people, and maybe people with DACA, I tell myself.
I don’t know what kind of paperwork HR may require with the promotion. I arrive early to prepare myself for a productive day at work to show everyone they made the right decision. The promotion hasn’t happened officially yet, but it will be formally announced sometime soon, Meredith assured me. I want to be finished with the unpleasant tasks by lunch and then go to USCIS. Dragging it out longer will not help matters. Ultimately, the truth is I have no choice over what will happen. If I don’t do what I am about to do, someone else will. The only difference is that I would likely be fired too. I feel confident in my choices, I reassure myself. Lucien is frequently late, smokes too much, and is too often behind in both his deadlines and word-per-hour quotas. Plus, I fear his whole work-life balance attitude may be contagious. Miki is an excellent translator. But, as much as I felt terrible for her, the demand is low for her region, and we can get by with freelancers. I’ll write her a good letter of recommendation. Then, there is Marisa. A good writer, deep in her deliberations. But she just doesn’t seem to get that our clients are a corporate American audience. What they want is added value to their brands, not the cultural nuance she spends hours trying to subtly imply in her work. I don’t have much room to choose people given how many I am required to let go. My list makes sense. There is no way for me to know everyone’s situation and immigration statuses. Even if I could dig that up, justifying my choices in those terms would only weigh against the very people I try to protect. And it would drag me along with them.
I leave the building at 2:15 p.m., planning to come back and stay late to make up for leaving early. By the time I walk out through the revolving doors, it is already easier to push away the image of Marisa, sitting across the desk from me, her petite shoulders hunched as she stares blankly out the window. The sight of her reminded me of that day the fly was buzzing trapped in between the glass panes of my window. I feel bad for her, I remind myself. As stressful as the situation is, it’s been good, in a way. The whole thing with the passport occupied my thoughts, distracting me from this. Sometimes things have a way of working out.
I squint at the light bouncing off the glass windows of Crate and Barrel. I can hardly see the outlines of the sofas and lamps, and the glass reflects the silhouettes of people rushing to and from their lunch breaks. Instead of wondering, as I do from time to time, if any of them would be fired, I wonder if any of them have done the firing. I feel sorry for all of them. And for myself, and for Marisa. And Eduardo. But my sympathy is of no use to anyone. I spot my reflection, adjust a strand of hair that was out of place, and keep walking.
A block from the USCIS office, the sky gets a little darker, as if from a very dark cloud. But the sky is clear. The city is made strange by the light, the shadows slightly distorted. In the distance, people stand as if frozen, staring at the ground. Others look up wearing cardboard glasses. Of course. I have forgotten. The eclipse.
I remember to look down to not damage my vision. The light is painting curves on the sidewalk. I splay my fingers, place my hands on top of one another to make a grid, and watch the transformation of my shadow (I picture the shadow of a human turning into a werewolf in an old silent movie). Something moves on the ground, blurry under the edge of my telephone screen. I shift my focus and see the cockroach run in between one pile of trash bags, hiding under the dark plastic. I feel a tenderness for it. Everyone wants to squash it dead, and yet, here it is keeping me company. I wonder if it notices anything about the strangeness of the celestial bodies moving above it. I shift my gaze to a crack on the sidewalk and see the dappled light bent into the shape of the moon, asserting herself in the sky. I imagine she can see me, looking down at her, surrounded by a sea of crescents, a thousand C’s.