Beth Allen stopped for coffee; not at Starbucks for she really didn’t care to socialize this morning. She just wanted coffee and a little time to think. Outside, the morning air had been cold and she still felt a few quick shivers. That seemed all too natural, for the recent days had all been gloomy and cold and depressing. She tried to blame that for her own depression but she knew that there was much more to it than that. Mainly, she just felt dead inside. The dreams of her young adulthood had been melting behind her advancing years like the slush which always covered the city streets just before spring. Ah spring; perhaps she would feel better in a month or two when the world would come alive again. Of course that might take a while longer in the city than in the country. A dull cold hung longer here in the dull air between the dull apartment buildings of Amsterdam Avenue. For just a moment Beth thought of how much prettier it could be just a couple of blocks away, beside the Hudson. There was an ice free channel with barges on the river and on a clear day the Hudson could be pretty in winter; but this wasn’t a clear day. It was gray and cold, and doubtless windy so close to the river.

Beth found a quiet little table in a quiet little corner. A young man came over to take her order. Probably an actor too, she thought. He didn’t smile at her pretty face and his feet hardly touched the floor. No, perhaps he’s a dancer. “Plain coffee, black.” No, not espresso; not anything with an Italian or pseudo European name. “Just coffee – please. OK, with a cheese danish.” When she wasn’t acting, which was most of the time, Beth was a model. Not fashion though. She did ads and some girlie stuff and it paid the rent. However she didn’t feel like watching her figure this morning. Why should I?

At least the windows of the coffee shop were clean but the nearby buildings were old. She began musing on what it must have been like to live here when her grand folks had. Maybe not so different. Dirtier certainly with coal fired furnaces belching all over the city and from Jersey across the river., but were people back then more accustomed to the damn cold? Surely they were poorer but at least their fewer clothes were real wool and cotton and a lady’s dress far longer.

Her grandma had been named Beth too. It was a name that had been passed on for at least five generations. Surely it must have been something different in the old country but had been chosen here for its very American sound. She was Beth the fifth, Paganne. The Beth remained though marriages had changed the family names. Beth Paganne? What was the origin of Paganne? Her folks had never said much about it save an occasional joke about Scottish kings somewhere way back. Probably they didn’t know much about it either. However, her mother had let one piece of information about the Beths slip. Beth III had also been a model and her family name had been Schierloh, a good old German name so she knew that her ancestry wasn’t purely Scottish. There were a few black and white photos of her which Beth V had inherited. She was not modeling in them however, just posing for family snaps taken, her mom had said, with a box Brownie which must have been old style even in the nineteen fifties.

Beth V finished her coffee and danish and went into the cold mean street. Yeah, there was still a bit of the forties and fifties, and even the thirties about the neighborhood, even an old Chesterfield ad on the side of one apartment building, exposed when the neighboring parking garage had been demolished and a sad little park built. It wasn’t a real park, just one of the little hippie neighborhood parks so beloved of the city’s one-time mayor John Lindsay. Hippies? The love generation? Beth IV, her mom, had always put on a rather sad and disappointed look when the subject came up. “The love generation? No way. Gas, ass, or grass; no one rode for free.”

Despite Beth’s intent to stay warm she found herself drawn to the Hudson. Just for a moment, a quick look, she thought, knowing full well that she would linger there in the cold a bit longer than intended. Her first sight of the river was just ice, an undefined gray sheet of it far down fifty eighth street. She hurried, for the air was cold. Why am I doing this? Beth asked herself. It’s cold. It’s mean. The river will still be there tomorrow. But will I?

Will I? What a damned depressing thought. Beth pulled her coat more tightly around her and wished that she had a scarf to keep her head warm like Beth III had in one of the old photos she’d been thinking about. She knew that it had been taken somewhere nearby. The scene was nearly entirely different of course. but one of the buildings seemed recognizable, and on this gray day nearly as monochromatic as in the old snap. In her mind’s eye Beth III was still there. She would still be there so long as the photo resided safe in the possession of some Beth. She took a certain pleasure in that thought and taking out her android she set its timer. Then Beth V posed as nearly as possible like her namesake grandma had.

Enough nostalgia. It was time to get out of the cold. It was time for another coffee. Maybe drink it in some dead dark old church. But then what? By eight the sun had begun to disperse the gray, and the wide Hudson ice was pastel shades of pinks and pale gold in the morning glow. That’s better, she thought; and almost reluctantly letting go of her comfortable gloom she turned her back to the now sunlit river. Spring will be coming in a month or two. With that thought – almost against her will – hope in tomorrow was returning too.

There will be work, good jobs. Maybe a part off Broadway. Screw my figure.

This fine morning she would have a cookie with the coffee.