Strange Currencies by Sara Hopkins

New York mugginess clings to pores. It investigates the crevices and peaks of the skin and bone. It encourages the body to pour out undue amounts of fluid. Once caught by fabric, whether cheap or expensive, the humidity reveals its nature – opportunistic in its waiting for moments of embarrassment or desperation.

The sweaty armpit begins to spread the smell of green onion. The dewiness beads on the cheekbones, the upper lip, and the chin. The feet slip off the edges of sandals where the heel or ball also give into the oppression of both weight and heat. The bangs splice across a forehead, the drenched hair hides close to the neck, droplets sting eyes, hands brush against it all in a futile attempt to sop the moisture and fling it somewhere, anywhere else.

The sighs uttered from the cooling of sweat, the drying of dredged places, and the necessity of this built in air-conditioning unit commiserates in relief until everyone steps outside again. Sometimes the unit fails, the elevator breaks, the body must climb concrete step after step

all the while creating layers of this angry substrate that causes something else to build – a snap of the tongue, a shove of the shoulder — all of it a sizzles in the heat, to the touch of it all.

Ann cannot wait to get off the train, walk into her apartment, fling her bags to the floor, and run a bath. Of course, she will briefly rinse before she prunes herself. She is not an animal, after all. No, not a beast. Well, maybe. She glances around – do these people know what I have become? The men seem to notice. They avoid her at all costs. In their primal senses, they fear her, not in a way that is veiled through intimidation. Not anymore, at least. Men jump out of her path as if she might leap onto them and eat them. She has watched men walk toward her then abruptly run away, their short or long legs turning and taking them as far away from Ann as possible. She has looked them in the eye and listened as they stumble through their words, many times abandoning them all together.


Today she feels her mind wanting to float around the memory of a particular trip to Chinatown. The weather feels similar, as if it had always been variations of a perpetual summer. Ann finds a comfortable spot. The noise of traffic and voices, the smells of food and bodies, they each fall away. Even the light becomes muted as if a partial solar eclipse passes. To an onlooker it appears that she is going to meditate, but she doesn’t seek to clear her mind. Instead she begins to see the world in front of her transform time. There I am. I forgot how good I looked, even cooking in this oven. So much time has passed, it feels like years, but only nine months. Other women, their voices wavelike, try to chat with her, chime in, but she ignores them. Ann watches an overview of this previous iteration of herself – she waits for an Uber outside of her agent’s office in Midtown. She waits in traffic and somehow makes it to Mott Street before 6 pm.

She dodges people and jogs down the sidewalk in a dandelion colored leotard and damp skinny jeans, hoops knocking against the side of her cheeks. I love those hoops. Whatever happened to them? Sophie happened to them. A competing vision intrudes, one of Sophie in Ann’s bedroom, in front of the vanity, admiring the hoops and pushing the curved wire through each lobe hole. I hope she loves them as much as I do. She sees Sophie’s reflection smile.

Ann rewinds time again as if she is pressing a mental button and feels how she felt then.  Here she finds an ATM and withdraws cash from her account. Who uses bills these days? These small inconveniences will soon be worth it when she holds her new treasure – a tincture of fragrance made only for her, made of her essentially – she did have to suffer a slice of the skin and drainage of blood to get it. This one becomes the first of many. She thinks about Sophie’s recommendation to the place.

It will cure your anxieties and nightmares. You have to go. I’ll pay for it. Ann had protested, but only in the way friends might do as a gesture of good will in response to good will. Of course, she would go. Of course, Sophie would pay.

In the backseat of the car, Ann tweets about minutia, always looking for points of entry to engage women of certain predilections – baths, perfume, silks, vintage, books, film, musicals – she cultivates the women as if she is growing a garden. Of course, this is how she maintains work. The inner workings of her writer’s life needs an audience that also translates to a readership, a following of anything she interprets, she experiences for them. Her followers keep her in the game, one where she excels. She is not commanding her own stories and their handling, but soon. Anything is possible. It’s happened before. It can happen again.

On this day, she writes pithy comments about the humidity, how it’s destroying her life because she finds a complete, accurate reflection of her own angst. The pollution fills her throat with mucus, so she sounds gravely, affected like a blues singer. She likes it though, and this is her doorway. She likes relishing in the dust, the dirt, the filled air, and allowing it to lift her. Anything is possible and she sings an old song to herself. One she frequently parodies about her zest for this city. Since she has a throatiness about her, she practices g-words and r-words and the clipped sound of t-words. She lowers her eyelids and flutters the lashes, as if a dame on a stage. Gonna get me my very own tincture and toiletry – her made up song causes the driver, a middle-aged bearded man with an equally fluffy middle-aged torso to stare at her in the rearview and purse his lips. Could you not do that, he asks and turns up the stereo volume. Ann cranks hers in a battle of scores and tips. She smiles and laughs as he averts his eyes and shifts in his seat. His aura stays close to him. She is left alone to stare out the window, though she quiets herself to a hum. Present day Ann imagines the man’s arteries blocking a little more until his lips turn blue.



Sara Hopkins is a former photojournalist, who lives in Georgia. She writes fiction and is currently working on a short story collection.