Eve in the City: A Novel

Eve in the City: A Novel

by Thomas Rayfiel

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“They say the city never sleeps. It does. Just before dawn you can hear it snore. Light hangs in the air, directionless, not yet pressed into rays. The smell of a hidden sea soaks through stone. The streets themselves have that booming emptiness of a shell held to the ear. Everyone is dreaming. It’s when I began to wander, that time in between.” …  See more details below


“They say the city never sleeps. It does. Just before dawn you can hear it snore. Light hangs in the air, directionless, not yet pressed into rays. The smell of a hidden sea soaks through stone. The streets themselves have that booming emptiness of a shell held to the ear. Everyone is dreaming. It’s when I began to wander, that time in between.”

For Eve, newly arrived from a religious colony in the heartland, the sidewalks of New York aren’t conveyors of humanity, they are sacred symbols, holy places. In the early morning, when her shift as an after-hours barmaid ends, she roams the deserted neighborhoods. It is a pilgrimage of sorts. Like so many before her, Eve has come to Manhattan to find herself among the lights and noise and sea of anonymous faces that make up the city.

One night, her nocturnal meanderings lead her to a scene that will set her life on an unexpected course. She sees two people pressed against each other in the shadows of a building. Is it a mugging? A rape? Or is this what love looks like when viewed from the outside? Eve's gaze locks into that of the struggling woman. There is a moment of connection, of silent communication, and then she is gone, the sound of her footsteps swallowed by the city, leaving behind a man . . . bleeding on the pavement.

As Eve attempts to understand what she actually saw, she becomes involved with an up-and-coming artist who draws her to him even as his actions push her away; she meets a peculiar, father-like detective who pressures her to talk about a crime she now thinks may not have even happened; and she contemplates a marriage proposal that will give her a lot more than a last name. Everyone seems to want something from Eve; now if only she can figure out what, exactly, she has within her to give.

With Eve In The City, Thomas Rayfiel has written a love letter to New York, from empty dawn streets to the glitter of Bloomingdale’s to the galleries of SoHo. Here is a smart, often dark-humored novel of a young woman’s search for self.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Eve retains some of the sudden glowworm quality she displayed in the obscure confines of her Iowa upbringing. Here in Manhattan, though, she is a glowworm under klieg lights. In many ways she is quite as splendid as in the first book, and this gives Eve in the City moments of acute, astonished delight. And certainly Rayfiel has a grittily haunting feel for New York. — Richard Eder
Publishers Weekly
A young woman grasps at self-knowledge against the backdrop of a seedy New York City in Rayfiel's uneven third novel, a sequel to the author's well-received Colony Girl. Seventeen-year-old Eve left a "tiny religious colony" in Iowa and moved alone to Manhattan, where she lives in a garret and works at a grimy after-hours bar operated by Viktor Kholmov, an illegal Russian immigrant. Returning home at dawn, Eve sees a couple struggling: the woman flees, and the man collapses, a knife in his gut. She files a half-hearted police report, and shortly thereafter she attends a gallery opening, mostly because she can't figure out how she got an invitation. There she meets the artist Marron McKee (a "creepy beauty" obsessed with "the Male Gaze") and a kindly painter named Horace Dean, with whom she tentatively begins a relationship. Viktor proposes marriage to Eve, and she, in her particular brand of muddled thinking, considers it, while Arthur Jourdain, a downcast, solitary detective investigating the alleged stabbing, keeps tabs on her and takes a paternal interest. Eve decides that she should search for the victim herself, and she learns that one of New York's most powerful citizens has an intense personal stake in what she witnessed. The favor he asks challenges Eve just as she always imagined the city would. Improbable encounters are necessary to advance the plot toward a conclusion that strains credibility; at times the narration is choppy and the chronology cloudy. What shines through is Rayfiel's knowledge of, and affection for, the public and peripheral worlds of New York City. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rayfiel�s third novel continues the education of Eve from Colony Girl (1999). An enviably intelligent piece of writing. Agent: Neil Olson/Donadio & Olson

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Chapter One

They say the city never sleeps. It does. Just before dawn you can hear it snore. Light hangs in the air, directionless, not yet pressed into rays. The smell of a hidden sea soaks through stone. The streets themselves have that booming emptiness of a shell held to the ear. Everyone is dreaming. It’s when I began to wander, that time in between. I had been in New York a year, and even though I worked until five, five in the morning, still I couldn’t close my eyes. I had the urgent sense something was happening, something important, the very reason I had come here in the first place. I felt there was a secret structure to the city, a true form, and if I gave myself up to it, became one with the seeming chaos, then I could master it and, I don’t know, attain magical powers, become who I was destined to be. I was seventeen.

“Eve is looking for God.”

“Actually, I’m fleeing the Devil.”

“It is the same thing, yes? Takes you to the same place.”

I stumbled but kept walking. That couldn’t be right, could it? But like everything Viktor said, it made a kind of twisted sense.

“Get in the car, Eve,” Brandy yawned.

“No cars in the Bible.”

Then was the way to God through the Devil? To head right at him? At Him?

“If you were wiolated,” Viktor called, “I would feel personally responsible.”

“If I was wiolated, you probably would be personally responsible,” I muttered.



He acted as if it was one of the big benefits of the job, that you got a ride home. Door-to-door service, he called it. But if she wasn’t careful, whoever he dropped off last got more like door-to-bed service. Besides, I had brought my sneakers. I wanted to walk. I wanted to be alone. After seven hours at the bar, I felt like an ashtray.

“You know, honey, it really isn’t safe,” Nora said.

She was nice, older, maybe thirty, with dark maroon hair and this throaty smoker’s voice. She sat up front. Brandy and Crystal were in back. Viktor kept rolling alongside me. I knew all I had to do was turn, go on a one-way street, and he wouldn’t be able to follow. But I didn’t want to be rude. He was my boss.

“I’ll be OK. I promise. I like to walk.”

“Let her go, Viktor.” Brandy was getting mad.

He stopped, and I obediently stopped, too.

“Why?” he asked. “Why do you like to walk?”

I shrugged. It was nothing I’d ever considered.

“I guess because I like to think.”

Brandy and Crystal cracked up. They were both drunk. I never drank at the bar. That’s how I made my money. When a customer bought me a drink, I got water and pretended it was vodka. That came out to more than my tips, most nights.

“She likes to think,” Brandy gasped.

I was red. Even Nora was smiling at me in a kind of pitying way. Crystal couldn’t stop giggling.

“Shut up,” Viktor said.

They did. We always did what he said, when he spoke in a certain way.

“I’m sorry.” Why are you apologizing? another part of me asked. “It’s just that—”

And then he took off. It was so typical. He had to leave me standing there, breathing the taste of his burnt rubber. What he couldn’t take was anyone walking away, turning their back on him. It wasn’t about me personally, I realized, which was certainly a relief. I watched the car get smaller and smaller and felt this Wait welling up in the pit of my stomach. Wait for me! I loved the way we would all slide against each other when he turned, how he accelerated so fast you were pinned to your seat and the whole evening, all the bad smells and ugly looks, got blown out the window, got left behind.

But it only lasted a minute, that feeling of wanting to belong.

Later, I don’t remember how long after, I stood in the middle of Madison Avenue. With no traffic, the signals revealed their pattern: red, green, yellow, red again, rippling down out of Harlem. In a store window, male mannequins modeled suits. They had no hands. Cuffs sprouted, perfect tubes, around each absent wrist. A trick of reflection placed me among them. If you asked, I would have said I had no destination, that I was only obeying the lights, that I was as subject to forces as the sheet of newspaper blown across my path. I had nothing to do, nowhere to go. The green finally reached me and I began to walk.

At Seventy-third Street a couple was making love. Her feet were off the ground, clamped to the waist of a struggling, bare-buttocked man. His side was this S that kept clenching and unclenching, trying to straighten itself out. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. I was mesmerized. My feet were glued. Here was something that was such a crucial part of life, and I had never actually seen it. I mean, never from the outside. Why wasn’t that allowed? Maybe because if this was what love really looked like I was going to join a convent. She let out a cry. Or maybe he did. It was punishment. They were urging each other on. I couldn’t tell who was obeying whose will, or if they were both in the grip of a power bigger than either one of them. And then something changed.

Is she getting raped? I asked.

Because now that I thought about it, that’s exactly what it looked like. I did this flip, this mental maneuver, and in the same exact scene I had just been watching, one thing became another, all because of what was going on in my head. The way her hands were frantically pushing, how her feet, which just moments before I thought were trying to stay up, now seemed to be fighting to get away. What should I do? Should I scream? That’s what she had been doing. But screaming . . . why? Anyway, she wasn’t screaming anymore. Whatever it was, was finished. They slowed, then stopped. In silent agreement, he let her down. I must have made a sound, a cough, or scraped my shoe against the pavement, because she turned. I glimpsed a face packed tight with anxiety—a bud, cut open—then white legs in black stockings. Her heels echoed in on themselves. She was walking away. She was gone. Like she had never been.

And I was still here. Alone. With him.

“I’m sorry,” I called. “Was it my fault?”

He didn’t answer. He was propped against the wall, pants still down around his ankles, penis pulling him stiffly to one side, like a dowser’s divining rod or a bad shopping cart.

“I didn’t know what to do,” I went on. “Stop, or keep going.”

He made a noise, halfway between a sigh and a moan, then fell.

I walked to the curb, staggered once, adjusting to the new height, then kneeled. The lights threw conflicting shadows. The streetlamp, high overhead, outlined regular features, straight nose, square jaw, while the don’t walk sign, lower down, made a mess of his stomach, a muddy shape that was still in flux, still forming. I reached to steady myself, and part of it came off on my hand, hot.

“Oh,” I said stupidly, seeing now, planted deep down in his belly, not a penis after all, but instead, wagging in crude imitation, the rubber-coated grip of a hunting knife.

“Oh my God,” I corrected, as the pool of blood moved toward my shoes.

The city spun. I was running, but it felt more like my feet were busy staying on top of things while the ground jerked this way and that, changed directions and height, tried to throw me off. I had to find a place with lights, not signs or signals but the warm glow of cloth lampshades, of thick candles. Someplace where humans might be. There were no all-night stores, just locked buildings with doormen sleeping inside. I finally found a Korean fruit stand and after babbling incoherently got them to tell me where a police station was. By the time I got there I was exhausted and panting, my mad dash turned to a crawl. I pulled open the heavy metal door, squeezed in, and plodded to a high desk where a man in a uniform sat reading a newspaper.

“Yes?” he asked, without looking up.

I opened my mouth, then shut it.

“Are you here to report a crime?” he asked.

A crime. What just happened? It didn’t go with words. It came from another part of my brain.

“If you’re here to report a crime, you have to see a detective. But there’s none available right now. I can give you a form to fill out and a detective will call you later.”

“I saw something.”

He closed the newspaper.

“You’re a witness?”

“Yes,” I decided. “I’m a witness.”

I opened my mouth again, then asked, What did I see? It wasn’t so clear. What I’d seen. It also wasn’t so clear what I should do about it.

“Miss?” the policeman asked.

What actually happened?

I heard myself saying, Yes, I saw a robbery. Two people struggling. And then someone getting stabbed. Of course. That’s what it was. A robbery. I was making it up now, lying my way to a new, better truth. A cleaned-up version. And then I ran away. Yes. It all made sense. I didn’t say anything about what couldn’t be, what I had actually seen. While he wrote things down and talked to someone on the phone, I glanced at my hand. I had been frantically clawing it against my side, so the stain, if there had ever been one, was gone. There was just skin, rubbed raw.

From the Hardcover edition.

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