Take Me Somewhere Nice

The second Jenny Kent found out Uma’s name was really Jenny, she felt the slow burn of one of those monumental instants in her belly. A breath of fire, like a gulp of whiskey. That instant, on the poured concrete stoop of the college student union before the sterile glass doors led into the cafeteria in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, the twinkle that shot from one pair of eyes to the other cemented their friendship. It was an unhesitating decision.

Jenny and Uma did not share any classes. They were not roommates. They found their rapport at meals or studying in the library basement between gunmetal grey stacks of books. They drank tea together in the afternoon. Sometimes weekended with Uma’s parents, sinking down into the Ohio River valley. Their fingers dangling in a creeky tributary Uma had known since childhood. Quiet hours passed where they blinked their eyes and changed position but said no words. Everything green and hopeful.

During their final year Uma met a boy. He stood tall and slender like Uma’s father. His skin was very white, giving him a fragile appearance. A delicate muscle. Everyone called him by his last name, Wicke. Within a week, they smoldered at the sight of each other.

“One more letter,” she teased him, “and you could be so evil.”

Wicke would sometimes ask her about the future, hoping she would mention him. She did not. This was college and though she loved him furiously she knew and end would come. They would eventually split apart. Wicke did not know this. If he did, he hated it. He worked against it, plotted ways for them to survive while awaiting the swish of the long skirts Uma liked to wear.

“Say it,” he said. “You don’t care. Say it. Say. It.”

“I do care. I told you I loved you and I do.” 

“That’s impossible.”

Wicke needed constant affirmation and Uma tried. He tested her relentlessly. This time he’d borrowed a car and would soon be off to a dressed-to-get laid party at a college two hours away. Uma knew if she asked him not to go, he wouldn’t. She also knew that if she asked him not to go, he would believe that he’d won a victory, something intangible and fruitless that neither could cherish. She thought it was childish. So she behaved that way, too.

“I don’t care where you go, tonight. Jenny and I made plans to see a movie.”

She noticed his floppy brown hair was sprouting out of the bangs that first drew her to him. As it grew longer, it dangled a boyishness on him. He’d grown it out to look older, more calculated, suave.

“If you go, you’ll have fun. I don’t want you to meet anyone. But listen, you can’t going manipulate me with this.”

“Oh God, Uma. I’m not manipulating anybody.”

“Yeah, you’ve counted on my protests. It’s like you’re fishing for comfort, for my hope in us.”

“Fuck you,” she said. 

“Fuck you,” Wicke said back.

Her words had hurt him. The twitching indent on the left side of his cheek told her that. Still, she continued.

“I tell you I love you every day.”

The torment in his face made her tremble inside. The pain rippled from his cheek to his forehead, usually smooth and taut like a green pepper at the market. She wanted to redeem everything she’d said, but that would be her manipulation. She left it all unspooled between them. 

Around 4 a.m., the phone started ringing on Uma’s hall. It was Danny, the boy who lent Wicke his car. Wicke was dead. She knew the moment the phone first rang. A siren placed there just for her.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, choking on a small sob. 

Wicke had been driving home from Oberlin. Dressed in only a toga he pinned out of a bedsheet. No wallet, nothing, but the sheet and his Tevas.

He went to pass a pickup with a camper top. It was a bad place to do it- against the double line, in the rain, on a bend. He pulled the 4-year-old brown Norwegian car past the pickup and immediately smashed into an 18-wheeler that smothered him and then scraped him off the highway, down an embankment and around an ancient beech tree. The State Police called Danny’s parents, wrongly identifying the body from the registration. Danny’s mother called her son’s hall phone. When Danny came on the line, surprise caused her to break into discordant whimpers. His father took the phone and explained the cresting wave to his son. 

“I called you first,” Danny managed to say in between quiet sobs to Uma. 

“I don’t understand what to do next. I never knew a dead person before.” His words trailed off.

“It’ll be ok,” Uma heard herself whisper into the receiver, warmed from her cheek. 

She marched over to Jenny’s dormitory in her bare feet and bathrobe. They cried and smoked cigarettes with Jenny’s Goth roommate until the sun came up. The smoke sticking in their hair like hatpins. 

Jenny and Uma were never closer than right then. Death activated a mitosis between them. No thing, person, word, or sound could get closer.

For Jenny this meant happiness. An Uma stood to this unspoken connection. Even as she mourned strikingly in her Jackie-O sunglasses, draped in black from head to toe. When they walked through town, when they retrieved their mail, Uma basked in the gaze of Jenny. She luxuriated inside of it. Lined with the despondent insulation of crying jags, the dashed hopes of childhood, this was where Uma spent the nights after the accident, a death defying Wicke pleading with her to say the things she had refused him. 

“Tell me a story,” Uma said one night as they sipped from 40-ounce bottles on the overgrown front lawn of campus. 

“I need to think about someone else’s life.” 

“I remember,”” Jenny began, when I was fifteen I felt invincible. Up to that point, nothing could stop me. Too young, ambivalent. No need for caution. Like I was impervious to disaster.”

She dragged on her menthol cigarette, exhaling the smoke through her nose. She’d been smoking them for weeks since the day Uma went to pieces at the grocery standing in line behind a boy with bangs like Wicke’s. 

“Just be cool, baby,” Jenny cooed. 

She fetched a white and forest green pack of Kools from the rack. Uma laughed the first real laugh she’d had since the accident.

“I had a good year for fifteen,” Jenny said. “My grandmother’s health deteriorated. Suddenly she stopped being so bitter and repulsive to my mother.  I know that sounds bad. But when she was healthy, oh, she was ice. Pure ice. When she was sick, not so much. My dad and I would drive into the hills outside of town, before long we’d be in Pennsylvania. The grass as green as Maryland. The same loping hills crested back to the valley before they rolled too big. School had ended. And, I developed these things finally after years of being too tall and very flat. Very, very flat.”

She paused, drank from the bottle. Uma brushed her hand across Jenny’s knees, drawn up into her chest. The stars above were unmolested by city sheen and they flickered over the two.

“I knew my mother and her mother and her mother before her. All their sisters. They were bosomy bitches. I was our family’s breast aberration. But when they grew, like overnight, I reassured myself because they’d bring boyfriends out the wazoo. It’s true. Those first couple of weeks, all the boys turned my way. Wracking their brains trying to remember where I came from. I’d let them twist up like that. Now I knew something nefarious. Now, something down right rotten hid behind all the fancy attention. It wasn’t that the other girls at school were giving me a hard time. No, this was the kind of trouble that males bring with them. These fucking geeky unsure kids with too little parental supervision. Calls into the night. Heavy breathing. Crude comments. Uma, they said the meanest things.”

Uma was dumbfounded. She clutched to the sound of her friend exorcising some 

teenaged demonics because she needed something to hold on to.

“My dad wanted to change our phone number. Mother stopped him. She told him that was how boys behaved. She started answering the calls herself. Worse than that, I caught my dad listening in on the extension. Mother had launched into some hardcore raunch. I guess that was the whole idea. Give them an adult dose of their own medicine. And there’s my fucking dad, completely mortified. When he saw me, he tried to hide his disgust. So, I thought to myself, that’s what love is.”

Uma put her arm around her friend.

“Let’s go to New York.”

She took the bottle, spilling the very last drop down her chin. Then she tossed it into the air. They watched it float there as a bat hesitated half a second, before swerving deftly from its path.

After the improvised graduation ceremony, the girls joined Uma’s family in the deluxe local restaurant that survived on these yearly after graduation dinners. Uma rubbed Jenny’s pale hand in her own. Jenny sat across from Mrs. Mcnally. Alcohol had turned the woman’s curiosity vicious. 

“Just who do the two of you think you are?” 

Mrs. Mcnally glared at the now pallid Jenny; cosmopolitan and sleek in contrast to the velvet curviness of Mrs. McNally’s figure. 

Uma eagerly changed the subject, explaining their plan to move to New York. The girls might as well have already landed in the city. Their minds raced as one along imaginary subway cars and train stations before finally stopping in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, just across the bridge from Manhattan. Uma watched her mother. A stranger since they were perfectly disconnected from the umbilical cord.

“We’re subletting from a friend, Mom. She went a little batty, decided to prolong the inevitable and got into grad school.”

Jenny touched Uma on her knee, beneath the table. A touch that said maybe this was the wrong tact to take. 

“It’s a sweet deal, Mom. Plus, we both have jobs.”

They had secured jobs at a bookstore in the East Village, an 8-block walk from the river. But these were also part time jobs that would barely cover rent. Uma drained the last of the wine in her mother’s glass.

“Don’t you worry your pretty, little head,” she said, drunk from the wine and the graduation ceremony and the wavering horizon.

Had she seen the look on her dad’s face as her hand patted the top of her mother’s skull? He shot up like lightning, motioning for waiter to bring the goddamned check.

Uma bit off more than she could stomach. New York couldn’t press her pain down as fully as she’d believed the fury of its cadence would. During their first week in the city, Jenny found herself slipping into bed beside her friend, as night terrors over took the girl while she slept. Uma screamed Wicke’s name out the second night. Screamed until she could scream no more. After the week was over, she began to sleep through the night. Jenny moved back to her bedroom. The trains that passed by their window worked themselves into their lives. Their mechanical rumble soon equated normalcy and predicted comfort with a clanging anesthetic. While Uma missed Jenny’s touch on her skin at night, she made do. She transferred the trembling kindness from Jenny to the trains. Soon enough, it was their rumble which eased her slumber. The ghost of bangs retreated. 

An afterhours club tucked behind their building had captured their interest. A dingy, no name joint, it was fronted by a sooty brick façade that opened to stairs that led to a basement of code violations.  There pooled within it a collection of string bean boys with haircuts and jaw lines angled from German expressionistic movies. A pair of Chelsea boot heels clicked twice would send them all floating atop the druggy music from a ridiculously ancient juke box. Everyone there was seduced by their own mid-American approximations of New York. The real city was sprinkled with the discomfort of rush hour commuters barging their way past homeless people, bodegas and cabs that populated every corner. Past the immigrants desperate to rebuild their lives, that was the same desperate notion everyone who moved to New York cloaked themselves with- the cacophonic habit. Living in that city was like being plunged into the noisy rattle of an MRI machine and still somehow managing to doze off.  

Jenny took to a handsome English drummer. His accent warmed Uma’s initial jealousy, if only for a heartbeat. Then her pride got in the way. Hadn’t she been the popular girl? Now, she trembled. Now, she faltered. New York, New York.

His visa was expired, months, maybe even years ago.  He was imprecise about that. About all things. Where he worked, what bands he drummed for, what he dreamed of. He protected the details. He told stories with vague lighting and apocryphal endings. 

None of this concerned Jenny. She dedicated herself to his cause, endlessly researching the legalization process. She trapped accented employees at lunch and forced from them any information they had about the INS.

Uma’s mission was not quite as clear. She sat in the store, sifting through endless boxes of books and searching their spines for answers to unasked questions. When they had stepped off the plane at La Guardia, Uma had been Jenny’s one and only concern. Where they had sought shelter and solace in the cavernous anonymity of New York, what they found instead was that the magnets inside of them were no longer sympathetic. 

Jenny partied into the night. Into the morning. Absolutely fulfilled by the listless purple and orange jumble sundown packaged her inside of. She bought a second-hand amplifier and crude guitar on which to play her callow songs. She sang them into the night awaiting her beau. Arctic Polar bears of New York.

While Jenny’s city expanded, Uma’s shrank to fit her despair. To combat this, she explored the neighborhood.  Every day, a new examination of a different part, until she knew the differences between the avenues and streets. Returning home after one excursion, she came across the afterhours club. The men who ran it were both standing outside. 

“I need a job,” she said, ignoring the anxious pangs clawing inside her chest.

“Really. Just a part time job.”

One of the men grunted.

“Ok sure,” he said. The other one was not impressed.

“What’s in a martini?”

“Gin, or vodka, vermouth, olives. In no special order, according to the customer. Sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, a jigger of that, a jigger of this.”

Uma felt emboldened for the first time in months. Neither man had said no yet.

“What about a gimlet?”

“I’ve been to your place. It’s shots and beers.”

They gave her two shifts a week.

The English drummer and Jenny had started a duo, purveyors of sad songs that went from quiescent folk to angry spurts of noise in the time it took the two of them to cast the other a glance. Uma found herself beguiled by the sounds that came from their apartment, even as she grieved at the emotional distance they provided. 

Those strong sounds giveth and Jenny’s black eye taketh away. 

“I fell,” she said, singing the loathsome, perfidious tune centuries of women have sung protecting their chicken-hearted men.

“We were loading his drums and I fell. So stupid.”

She turned away from Uma’s accusatory glare. Bottles piled up in their apartment. Malt liquor bottles, a proliferation of pints and half pints of the rotgut scotch the drummer favored. Almost as quickly as their rambunctious duo caused a light stir, they quit applying pressure. Rehearsals were supplanted by angry fuck fests that drove Uma from the diminutive space. Afterward, the two rusty ice picks lurched over to the afterhours club where Julio, a low-level dealer, peddled from behind the bar. It was here Jenny’s drummer boy bought coke on Jenny’s credit. Bad girl Jenny started ‘borrowing’ from Uma’s emergency stash, an old Medaglia D’oro espresso tin on the dresser. Uma recognized her Jenny did not come to that decision on her own. A decision bound to bruise her, one way or the other. Warm Jenny, warm, sweet Jenny, thieving Jenny. Uma learned how to make a walk around the block last for an entire pack of smokes. 

Mr. Bravo de la Serna owned the bodega across from their building. He ran it with his wife. His arms were strong and firm, but a hefty belly dented his Yankees apron. His wife was younger, darker, and only came out of the back to address him in brusque Spanish. One Saturday as Uma was buying cigarettes, he spoke to her as if they’d known one another for decades.

“I put tables outside the other day. No one sits there. Go and sit, will you? Have some coffee on me. My wife, she makes too much of it for me to drink.” 

From then on, each Saturday Uma woke up Jenny and the two college graduates would sit at one of Mr. Bravo de la Serna’s white plastic tables. Mr. Bravo de la Serna liked the two sitting in front of his business. He saw their charm and wore it as badge that offered the neighborhood proof of his value, his trustworthiness. That was worth two bottomless cups of coffee.

“There is a place,” Uma was telling her used bookstore boss. “It makes this place seem appropriate.”

Her bookstore boss wasn’t paying attention. The words Uma spoke wandered into the rickety stacks of books sliding from one lovelorn romance to the next, until, finally, they fell through the floorboards and out of range. Uma didn’t care. She had to get it out. She had to tell someone. 

“It’s what the writer thinks. So probable, so accurate a story pieced together, the world of imagination turns to the world of reality. These books, here. They represent the lost hopes of all readers everywhere. All the dirt and the shit and the homeless people that come together like lemmings here in this store make up the difference. You know? The fur lined majesty of make believe? It’s all predicated on the hope. That hope, this hope.  Your hope, my hope.”

Her boss looked at up sourly from the box she sifted through. 

“I can’t stand the dirt, Uma. There’s no magic needing Lava soap to wash off the scum of misanthropic collectors who died with armfuls of crappy pulp novels. Books I will forever dig through, hoping to find a sliver of paradise, a monster first edition with viable monetary value. You know how many million books I’ve combed through? “

They crossed each other’s bowsprits and funneled back into the silence of stacking books neither one wanted to read.

Jenny came to relieve Uma but instead their boss sent them to lunch. The night before, as Uma switched off her light, she heard Jenny confess she was pregnant over the phone. 

“Isn’t that great,” Jenny squeaked into the cordless phone her mother sent them. 

“Call me when you get this.”

It had taken all of Uma’s nerve not to get up and go punch her in the face. Pregnant by that lout and telling him by way of answering machine, who did that? 

“Guess what,” Jenny said, tricking herself into a grin. 

Uma wiped her nose on her sleeve, and stared at her.


Jenny stood there wearing that crumbling smile only she believed.

“What, what, what? What?”

“I’m pregnant.”

“I heard the phone call.”

“I’m asking him to marry me tonight.”


“It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m going to ask him at your bar.”

“Très romantique.”

“Uma, this is important to me.”

“To me, too.”

Her habits betrayed her. Jenny knew what she was thinking.  

“You’ve got it wrong,” she said, walking away. 

“I don’t have it wrong,” said Uma into the exhaust of a passing bus.             

Shortly afterwards, Uma gave notice at the bookstore. A few more months with these bitter souls, she’d become Miss Billy, the Ukrainian fixed on the register without ever looking anyone in the eye. Fat, widowed and blank.

She dragged her ring finger down the skeletal spine of a tattered volume by George Sand. Jenny was happy to pick up Uma’s shifts. The boss issued her a full-time schedule which included some medical benefit co-payments. 

Jenny was steadfast about her plan. They could get married. They could live the ever-after life.  His hand in hers. Hers in his. 

A few days later, after Jenny’s search continued in futility. Uma could hold her peace no more.

“Answer me this: where is that limey of yours, now he knows?”

She regretted her own casual disdain. Immediately she went to Jenny and hugged her and brushed the fair hair from Jenny’s welling eyes. An icy calmness ran through them both. The English drummer was gone. 

“I’ll be here, Jenny. I’m not leaving.”

She wouldn’t confuse her loss anymore, not for sexual attraction, not for loneliness.

“Yes. I know,” Jenny said drained of emotion. 

It was the first cold blast of winter. Jenny slipped her arm in Uma’s as a snowflake licked her eyelash. Uma squinted at the tall buildings obscuring the sky.

“What happened to autumn? I never saw a leaf fall from a single branch? My favorite time of the year and I missed it. Completely.”

“I’m going to keep her. I don’t care. It’s not political. She’s mine, that’s all.”

The snow came down fast, padding their neighborhood in silent inches of white. Mrs. Bravo de la Serna scooped the snow off the steps of the bodega. She stopped when she saw them, came over, and placed her hand on Jenny’s belly. 

 “Muchacha,” she said, and went back to shoveling. Uma wasn’t buying it.

“How does she know?”

Jenny put a finger to her lip.

“Watch the snow. Quiet blanket and so smooth.” 

As her belly expanded, their fourth-floor walkup became an aggravation for Jenny. She handled like a truck. She did not remember what it was to be pretty and maneuverable. Yet in that, she discovered something unexpected. The pregnancy liberated her. Only amoral monsters rape pregnant women. No, she thought, even amoral monsters know better than to rape a pregnant, single woman.

When her water broke, the stairs became Everest. Uma and the cabbie she hailed helped Jenny climb down them. She had the baby in a squat, pea green room lit by fluorescent overhead lighting. Uma was there beside a stocky nurse named Tanya who instructed her when to hold her to breath and when to push, just like on the videotaped Lamaze classes her mother sent. Uma wiped the sweat from her brow. Then from out of nowhere Tanya pulled the seven-pound three ounce baby girl from between Jenny’s pulsating thighs. It was like the infant was a small sack of granulated sugar. The baby’s newly oxygenated skin smeared with placenta gave her the look of a just excavated ancient Greek figurine snug in the nurse’s strong, thick arms. 

Jenny stared at her baby, speechless. Tanya swaddled the infant and let Uma hold her. Uma cradled her and rocked her once, then placed the infant in her mother’s arms.

“Uma,” Jenny said, at last. 

Tanya excused herself. 

“This place,” Uma said. “This fucking place. Insurance. Water birth. Where’s the fucking doctor? They’re going to charge you for him, I fucking know it.”


“I can’t stand the way they do things here. Not here in New York. Here, in poverty. They think we don’t know any better. Well I do know better. She kicked Jenny’s medical bed.”

“Uma, I’m naming her after you.”

Jenny wiped away the last piece of afterbirth from the newborn child’s skull. Uma collapsed in the chair beside them. Another nurse came and took the baby down for an hour of observation.  The doctor appeared, recorded Jenny’s vital signs, and disappeared before Uma noticed. 

The search for daycare was fruitless. Jenny scanned every corner of the neighborhood, attached at the hip to her baby. Other new moms popped up, cooing motherly nonsense until they discovered Jenny had been abandoned. Then, with the click of the finger, these other mothers slipped off as well. 

Jenny and the baby Uma stopped in the bodega for Gerber’s, or maybe that night it was diapers. Mrs. Bravo de la Serna was talking animatedly but under her breath, in Spanish, very quickly. Her husband nodded his head, trying not to acknowledge Jenny and baby right there before him. But he could not. The argument was over. Mrs. Bravo de la Serna proudly stepped up to Jenny.  

“If it is all right by you,” she said in her broken english, “my husband and me, we care for the baby in the daytimes.”

Uma came home as the sun was rising after a smoke-filled, juke box annoyance of a night at the afterhours place. Jenny had fallen asleep in a wingback chair they’d hauled from a move out dump up the stairs and reupholstered themselves. She wanted to break the news to first thing to digest Uma’s real take.

“You think I can trust them? Oh can I?  I mean, of course I can.”

“Jenny, there’s nothing to think about. They’re right next-door. It’s not like they’re  going to steal her. That’s not what people do when they kidnap someone.”

“Uma, really.”

Uma slumped against the wall and eating from a jar of applesauce. A street lamp’s light pushed shadows of tree branches onto the walls.

“You can go back to work. We’ll have enough money to be poor again.”

She laughed.

“Look at this place.”

They stood in a plastic sea of empty formula bottles and Top Ramen packages. The wooden floors they refinished were plagued with tabs from disposable diaper fasteners, white caps to the waves of their piney sea. Little Uma tucked into the antique wooden toy box Jenny’s mom had crafted into a ‘proper’ cradle and brought it with her on the train. 

“This is what our college degrees our worth.” 

“Optimism doesn’t run in your family.”

“Oh, like it just rains down in yours?”

That night with both Umas fast asleep, Jenny went about the apartment watching over these people she loved and from each room she peered out the window to the Bravo de la Serna’s store down below and across the street. 

New York knew was something different to them, more than a catalogue of boroughs collated into recollections you retrieved at garden parties, at the falafel cart across the street from the bookstore. It was the surreal beam of energy thrown off the subway tracks every few months that no one bothered to explain the same way twice. It was the pack of mangy dogs that prowled their street, not once baring their teeth at either of them. The city only implied glory. It delivered everything but. From dawn to twilight the clouds tumbled from one red hue to the next, collapsing into grey puffs only as darkness arrived. 

Jenny smiled like some waifish debutante examining her lilywhite gown for the first time. She tipped her foot onto the baby’s cradle, rocking it with the gentle ardor of a new mother.

The morning sun came into the apartment, differently, like it, too, was swayed by the cherubic addition. It played with the dust mites and struck up geometric patterns that they watched over coffee. Jenny took her baby, bundled her up, and left her with Mrs. Bravo de la Serna.

She rode the subway. She bought flowers. She found a pink and green baby jumper. She purchased cute stationery cards to explain the last year of her life to the people she thought should know. Her moments hovered on second hands. Tick, tock, tick. The caress of the future. At six p.m., Uma picked up the baby and brought her home.

The sun was down as Jenny slipped on her headphones, looked one way down the street toward the changing traffic light. It blinked green then yellow. She lifted her calf from the curb, distracted by recollections of this good day. She never saw the black car barreling toward her. 

Uma brought a bottle of formula from the fridge to give to the baby. An ambulance prowled nearby. The siren came closer, until its lights shot onto the kitchen wall. The baby cried out.

“A little light never hurt nobody, baby,” Uma whispered, hugging the little girl to her chest.

The flashing lights kept, pulling them further into the night. The baby’s eyes leading Uma’s to the kaleidoscopic abstract flares of the city, offering wonder before the oncoming shock of grief. Uma looked to Uma. 

“Baby, I hear the music of your heart beat.”

Henry Cherry has been a cowhand in South Texas, a chef in New Orleans and is now a journalist in Los Angeles. Recently nominated for the Pushcart and Orison Awards, he is winner of the Silver Needle Press Award for Poetry. His fiction, poetry and criticism have appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Cathexis Northwest Press, Australia’s Cordite Poetry Review, Otoliths, The Loch Raven Review, The Louisiana Review, Hello Goodbye Apocalypse, and The Nervous Breakdown.