The West Side is never truly quiet. Traffic screams past at all hours, day and night. Arguing couples are heard from open apartment windows. Loud bangs echo through alleyways. Something is always smashing, breaking, shattering, cracking, bleeding, falling apart.
Maria and Anita had been all of these, and it was never quiet inside of them, either. Dawn rose the morning after the death of Tony. The sun didn’t change, or the noise, or the incessant passing of life in the city within the city. Every sound seemed like it shouldn’t be there, that it was an insult to the memory of the dead. Maria could not weep. Instead, she sat in silence, like an old woman, and stared out of the window through the bars of the fire escape. Anita left her alone. Words would have been violations.
Neither of them could enter the bridal shop for a long time. Anita put her bottle of Black Orchid into the back of a drawer, unable to throw it away, unable to look at it. Maria hung her white dress on a hook on the back of her bedroom door where it was visible only if the door was closed. When she was alone, it was always closed.
The world turned, the sound went on, jukeboxes played at drugstore soda fountains, seasons changed, cold bit the air, and still Maria and Anita both felt the sensation that time hadn’t passed at all, that these things were lies. The Jets simply disappeared. They had essentially disbanded, some moving away, some staying in the neighborhood, but the days of late night rumbles and fights over territory were gone. The Sharks, too, turned inward and away. Some of each gang went to others, joined tougher crowds, but most had had enough. Maria saw Baby John one day working at Doc’s. He stared at her, his mouth open, his mop still in his hand, and she wondered if it was the same one Tony had used. He said nothing, but every breath was a panicked apology. She said nothing as well. It was the only absolution she could give.
Anita had wondered at first if she and Maria would remain friends with her brother gone, the thread that had originally tied them together in the giggling innocence of girlhood, if anything on the West Side was innocent. Maria had been, of course, but she hadn’t been from here. She was pure Puerto Rico, the soft breezes and warm sun of the island without the grit and blood and dirt and sex of New York pummeled into her. Maria was different now. Nothing here remained untouched. It was that same gutting pain that went through her that bound the two of them, and in a little while, Anita no longer wondered. The connection they had would not break. It was at least something.
Winter came, and with it dark nights, a winter more of freezing rain than soft snow. It chilled their bones, gnawing them. Chino’s trial was over now. He would serve twenty years in jail, less if he had good behavior. Maria tried very hard to remember that Chino had once been her fiancé, that he wasn’t any more evil than her brother had been. She had been taught by her mother that to be forgiven, one must forgive. But Maria wasn’t sure she wanted to be forgiven. She was no longer sure of what her crime was. Love? Stupidity? Trying to change the world? Being naive enough to believe happily ever after was possible? It hurt.
But it hurt because she was alive, and that was also something, Anita thought. When April came, Anita looked through the open door of Maria’s bedroom and saw a pot of flowers on the fire escape. They were red geraniums, almost painfully bright, but living and growing. Anita knew somehow that Maria might never truly be all right again, just as she herself would not be, but that life would go on, like the incessant beat of the city.
It took time, and sometimes they bled at every step with loss and anger and weariness, but slowly, with the exquisite beauty of experience and hard-won strength, they both rejoined the city’s dance.