Archive for April, 2010

in the cafe’s backyard

In the bright sun, an old man reads the opening pages of the Brothers Karamazov, then splays the book on the table. He’s got a cupcake the size of a softball in front of him. He slices off the bottom half with great care, breaks it up, and lobs the crumbs a few feet off to his side, as if to feed some invisible animals.

At the other end of the yard, an old woman in a grand sun hat and giant sunglasses whistles birdcalls into the bushes. After a while, she looks up and catches me watching. “Did you happen to find a cell phone?” I shake my head no. “That’s too bad,” she says. “I lost mine.”

on the subway platform

I only realize I’m late when I notice that the woman with Medusa’s curls isn’t here. People as units of measure. The clock of the world.

on the block

“Hey Stranger,” is what my neighbor, the ex-fireman, calls out when I walk by, but it’s been years since we were strangers. I know about the fall that busted his leg, and the pins in his knee that need replacing. I know where he grew up, and that his brother lives across the river. I’ve admired the hot red Lincoln that he stores for the winter and I helped him out of his plain black sedan once, when his knee was in pain. I know he ran track in high school, cross-country. He chides me on warm days when he doesn’t see me in running clothes, and he cautions me to stretch when I arrive home in a sweat.

I told him today that I’m moving. Not far, still in the neighborhood, he said. He shook my hand after all these years and said, “good luck to you.”

“I’ll walk by and see you sometimes,” I told him. It’s something you say to someone you might easily never see again, and I’m not even sure which house is his if I wanted to ring the bell. This is street intimacy, that’s all, I realized, and in a single handshake, I saw the boundaries crystallize. They are tricky, transparent. Like glass, they are solid all the same.

on the avenue

They’re young and spilling over with winter’s pent up energy, shouting and bouncing and swiping at each other. One’s got his hood up, he looks tough. I’m at the corner with them, waiting to cross the street, giving a wide berth to their erratic motion. The hoodie turns to me and says, “It’s a beautiful day, right?”

“Sure is,” I tell him. His face is narrow, his eyes a little volatile. I shift back a little more.

He points up at the house-high pear tree in full white bloom across the street. “You see how the trees are coming back to life,” he says. “That’s God, baby. Ain’t no Mother Nature, that’s right.”

He punches his friend in the meat of his shoulder and they run into the street, racing to cross in the lull between the cars, long before the red light comes.

in the neighborhood

The men on the corners chat me up. Affectionate catcalls, harmless appreciations. But to the boys who move in rangy packs, I’m invisible, or at least, I have always felt that way. Today the sun’s out, and it’s mid-afternoon, no time for kids to be out on the street. Still, there on the corner, is one of Dealer’s boys. He’s fat in a way I suspect he’ll grow into, and a boy who becomes a formidable man is far more enticing than one who turns out just like you expect. I want to tell him that. But he doesn’t even know I’m there.

Then he surprises me. He squints up into the sun and says, “Hey lady. You changed your hair.”

Across the street, an old man sings in Spanish about his aching heart.



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