We met in a Cuban diner, Margon, on Forty-sixth Street near Times Square. It was the dirtiest place I'd ever gone to in New York, but the food was the best, and Görbe was already into his third plate by the time I arrived. He watched suspiciously as I made my way along the narrow space between the tables and the people lined up by the counter. I'd told him over the phone I really wanted to "clear the air" over what happened at Lotus, my voice edging into an apology when he just coughed nervously into the phone and said, "Forget it, it's nothing, come have lunch at Margon."
"How's your back?" he asked, and it took me a second to realize he was referring to slamming me against the bar. I shrugged, dropped my coat, got my food, and came back just as the waitress, who knew Görbe personally, was bringing him his fourth plate.
I waited until we finished eating, talking in the meantime about nothingthe business of writing, the stories we were working onbefore asking, "How's Zella?"
Görbe looked like he wanted to jump the table and grab my throat. But he was too fat, and was hemmed in by the people behind and beside him. In fact, the only way he could stand up was to upend the table, along with the food of everyone sitting there.
"I know about Dr. Norris," I said, "and the terrible decision you have to make . . ."
But it was coming out all wrong, even to my ears. It occurred to me then, staring into Görbe's enraged face, that I had no idea why I'd come here. I had thought, sitting in the library and the subway on the way up, that knowing what I knew would show Görbe I sympathized with him, and maybe I'd finally break through the front he put up, maybe he'd find in me someone he could talk to. But I wasn't really there for Görbe.
"You shut your fucking mouth," he said, pushing his chair back, bumping the man behind, who fell into his food and turned intending to say something but stopped when he saw how huge and mean Görbe was. "You don't know anything about Zella." I slid out of my seat and stood across the table out of reach. "You're just like me," I said. In that moment it dawned on me why he didn't seek out Dr. Norris, why he didn't want Zella to wake up. "You're nowhere," I said, more to myself than him.
I left the table and went into the street. Görbe tried to get at me through the crowd but I was too fast, and he followed for only a few blocks before giving up, stopping on the edge of the crosswalk outside Toys "R" Us looking after me as I paused on the stairs to the subway. "You don't want her to wake up!" I yelled, though it's unlikely he heard me over the honking of horns, the roar of music, the shouts of Times Square. "You want her to sleep forever so she won't see what you've had to become!" But it was obvious Görbe wasn't listening to me. His gaze had gone beyond that, beyond whatever I might have been saying, all those unhappy truths, beyond even Hungary itself, where he'd been young once, and happy, and with Zella. For that was the person she would have looked for had she awakenedthe self Görbe had left behind in the effort to get her here, to the best doctors and medicine, the best chance at recovery, doing whatever he could to foot the bills even if it meant turning himself into a monster she'd never have recognized. He was invisible in the eyes of the only person he cared about. Like me, he was a zero.
But I was wrong about that. Though it wasn't until the following year, in the bookstore with Benjamin, that I realized it. I had thought that Görbe, like me, was trapped in a world of failure, and we'd found each other, two men without any illusions. Except of course I was full of them, for I had at home what Görbe would never have, only I didn't know it, didn't treasure it enough, and I think this recognition was what he'd been expecting from me during our time in New York, as if his tough talk and violence could jolt me into awareness. Instead, I had gone to Margon to extend my affection to show the monster he wasn't alone in his world only to find that I was the monster, the only one, without the slightest clue to what affection really was.
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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