On a dock a half mile down the silent shore, a man clears his throat. The sea birds scatter.
Archive for October, 2008
It’s morning and the light filters through the diminishing leaves. People have their heads down, watching the sidewalk as they move along beaten paths to the day ahead. Across the street I see a woman, I think she is someone I haven’t seen in fifteen years. Then I get a little closer. It’s not her at all. It was just the way she kept tucking her hair behind her ear.
One of the bodegas is gone. I’m standing in front of the drawn metal shutters trying to remember when I last saw it open. A few days, a week, maybe. A big man with a little dog trailing passes by shaking his head. “Ain’t right,” he says. “Hurt’s comin’ down.”
It’s very early. The warm air is full of dew. The place is empty, and almost elegant now that it is stripped of the bright fabrics and plastic bottles and bored women. Only the man who runs it is there, passing a load of whites from a metal cart into a dryer. There’s a radio on, in Chinese. The man comes over to weigh my bag. Then the radio switches to English, but it’s not a radio after all, it’s a language lesson. “When-will-the-car-be-ready?” The soothing voice asks three times, each with a different inflection. Then another round, Chinese and back to English: “I-am-ready-to-face-tomorrow.”
The Chinese place is closing. Someone is pulling the metal shutters down over the side entrance. Two men jump out of a van at the corner shouting, “Wait, wait!” They cross against the light, darting in front of an approaching bus. The driver leans out his window and yells at them, “This bus don’t go to the hospital.” One of the men sticks his foot in the front door of the restaurant, and shouts back at the passing bus, “Neither do I.”
The warm day has given over to a slight chill. It’s Saturday night. People are milling around, winding up to things that come later. There’s a butter-colored Cadillac parked out front. The door sits open and the song on the radio drifts out into the air. There’s a man sitting in the car with his feet on the curb. He’s wearing one of those old man caps, and seems old enough to have earned it. He sings past the volume of the radio, his voice fluid, with just a little gravel in it. I smile at him, and he tips his hat. “That’s right, baby,” he says and meets up with the song again on a high, trailing note.
At certain hours it’s like the shift change in a factory town. A crowd spills out, merges briefly, overtakes the sidewalks and quickly disperses toward home. I’m walking uptown, at each crossing the Western sky is all violet and smog, darkening at one-block intervals. A pack of boys with piercing whistles trails behind me. They are delighted with their disruptive noises, their own unsupervised presence in the stately district to which they are infrequent visitors. All around them the German tourists frown.
There’s a round woman who sits all day on her stoop. She’s the age of a young grandmother, maybe. She’s round and she smiles and watches the people cross her view. When I pass by I always say hello to her. She looks at me for a long moment, and then the corner of her eyes crinkle and she squeaks a kiss at me. It feels like a blessing.
He’s standing by the doors as we cross over the bridge in the morning’s clear light. He’s wiry and unshaven. He looks at me just a beat too long. Then his gaze drifts back to his girlfriend, her back is to me. She tugs a hank of her long dark hair. He shrugs, and raises a flat hand to the level of her chin. He wants to change her. She shakes her head. They’ve been holding hands but now he drops hers and turns back to the view of the wide river. She keeps looking at him as he rests his temple on the glass and watches the blue girders of the bridge flash by. She puts her fingers on his chest, and getting no response she settles back. He looks at me again, his eyes say: it would be different if it was you. But he is wrong. Who among us is happy?
I’m walking home at dusk, feeling sour about the inexorable shortening of the day. There are two big women on a bench, a third standing before them leaning into her speech like a preacher. “We’re Christians,” she says. “We’re not supposed to wear jeans.”