Sunshine Came Softly
by Tony Noland
The steel door rattled, and Sunshine came out onto the roof.
I guess I should point out that I didn't know her name yet. I'd never seen her before, so as far as I was concerned, she was just somebody intruding on my second cigarette. Although I shouldn't say 'intruding', since the roof was technically a public space. She had as much right to be there as I did, which, to be honest, probably wasn't that strong of a case. I figured that if the building manager had known I was coming out onto the roof to smoke, he'd have told me to knock it off. It gave the act of going up there a little tinge of danger. When she came out, I felt like I'd been caught at a misdemeanor. I resented the fact that there was now someone who could rat me out to the super.
Juvenile and paranoid, I know, but I'm telling you this just to give you some context for what happened next.
She seemed as surprised as I was not to be alone. The steel door closed behind her with a thunk and she looked back at it. Later, she told me that she'd thought about turning and leaving, but that she didn't want to look foolish and timid. On the other hand, she'd come up to do a little sunbathing and she hadn't planned on having to do it next to some freak with a book and a pack of Lucky Strikes. Ours was the second tallest building for several blocks around, twenty-eight stories. As long as she set up on this side of the air conditioning vents, she was screened from any binocular-wielding pervs over at the Landsdowne. As the private side was also the sunny side, she'd had it pretty good all summer.
It was also the side of the building facing onto the alley, away from the noise on 132nd street. Which was why I always sat there at night. After four months of a rush coding job working 70 hour weeks, I had some time off coming. I was going to relax away from my computer to let my carpal tunnel subside.
Lawn chair in one arm, bag in the other, she stood looking at me. I ignored her and went back to my book. That was what people did in New York, right? They ignored each other. After a moment or two, she ignored me right back and set up her chair about fifteen feet away. It splayed out for a full recline. She propped her bag next to it, took out a can of mace and set it prominently in view. With a grunt and a cough and a couple of other attention-getting noises, she adjusted the spray can to make sure I could read the label: DEATH-TO-MUGGER SPRAY.
Then she took off her clothes and lay face down in the sun.
She had some difference in coloration from her back on down, with her buttocks being slightly paler than the rest of her. From the peripheral glimpse I'd gotten through my eyes-front focus on my book, her breasts were also somewhat paler. So, the all-over tan was either a new thing with her or something she did only occasionally.
After just half a minute, she turned her head to casually look at me, the way you would do to somebody on the subway. She made sure I wasn't staring at her, adjusted the spray can with another cough, then settled back down.
I mentally replayed the scene of her undressing. Sneakers and white socks. T-shirt and tank top, no bra. Jeans, no panties. No bathing suit of any kind. Therefore, she'd come up here intending to sunbathe in the nude, and this wasn't something she was doing just for my benefit. The fact that I was here was an irritant, but it didn't stop her from doing what she came here to do. She had a plan and she implemented it; even if things weren't going exactly according to that plan, she had a goal and she was pursuing it.
Lying before me, gently roasting in the late summer sun, was the distilled essence of what it meant to be a New Yorker. You decided what you wanted out of life and you made it happen, simple as that. If she was so unstoppable in such a small thing as getting a tan, what must she be like in other aspects of her life?
She was incredible. Not sexy or alluring - her nudity was too straightforward for that. She was just... impressive.
"Excuse me," I said.
Her hand flashed to the spray can and she sat up quick to face me.
I held up both hands. "Whoa, slow down. I'm just leaving. Before I went, though, I wanted to tell you that ... well, I'm not from New York originally. I try to be blase about stuff and just roll with it, but I guess I'm not up to this kind of a level yet. I'm just amazed that this is a city where somebody can," I waved at her, lying naked in the sun, "do whatever it is they want to do as long as they set their mind to it. I hope I can be that ballsy someday." I stood, slowly. Her hand gripped the can and kept it pointed at me as I crossed the roof toward the door. "See you around," I said. I opened the steel door and stepped through.
I turned. "Yeah?"
She'd put on the T-shirt and was sitting up. "I moved here from Kansas City six months ago. My name's Sunshine."
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