Archive Page 2

My first novel is coming out in June 2011!

I’m so excited to announce that my first novel, called Follow Me Down, will be published in June 2011 by Red Lemonade.

Follow Me Down is a work of fiction, but it’s set in the real world you’ve been reading about here in Municipal Archive. So, you’ll recognize some scenes and characters, now given larger lives. My writing–in general and this novel specifically–has been really enriched and energized by the enthusiasm you’ve shown and the conversations I’ve had with you all on this blog. Thank you so much!

Check back later today to see the cover…

over the bridge

I forget to look up until the train comes out of the tunnel into the light. It’s wonderful here. A man at one end of the train is sleeping in swimming goggles, his eyes pulled tight where the suction connects to his skin. At the other end are two girls, the younger swings on the armholds like gymnastic equipment, the older one cocks her hip and rolls her eyes.

Next to me, a man is marking in a library book with a dull pencil, and across from him, a woman catches my probing eye, then yawns and stares off into the distance.

By the door, a tall man holds a woman’s hand between his palms and murmurs in Russian. I can tell by the look in his eyes, he’s pleading for understanding. This goes on the whole way over the bridge, and eventually, as we ride back under the city, she smiles.

I haven’t been on the subway in a long time.

down by the canal

A fence encompasses a field of gravel and a few insidious weed-tree sprouts. It’s two-thirds of a block, and used to be solid with warehouses. They tore them down and wrapped the lot in its fence and then nothing happened at all.

I’m in front of the fence with my camera, trying to get the light just right, when a man walks up and says, “Can I ask you something?” He’s got a clipboard, I’m wary, but it’s an airy sunny day, the kind of day that makes it hard to say no.

“Ok, sure.”

He points to the sprawl of the lot. “What do you see here?”

Now I’m smiling. There’s a joke and he hasn’t gotten it yet. “I see something funny,” I tell him.

He pulls his chin back a little into his neck, waits for further information.

So I point to the small metal sign that someone has pinned to the fence. It says, “KEEP OFF THE GRASS.”

He looks and after a quick beat he’s laughing and laughing, doubled over into one raised knee. It would not be imprecise to say that he sounds like the devil is tickling his ribs.

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.

in the neighborhood

I’m moving apartments soon, and today the streets are full of stories I know. There is the man I thought was a spy. There is the woman I always think is someone else. There is the mother who yells at her sons in the sharp snaps of a language I don’t understand. There is my neighbor with the pain in his hip. There is the owner of a closed café. There is a man with whom I danced in a bar. There is the man whose life story I overheard. There are all the people whose life stories I overheard. There are all the people who gave them willingly to me.

in the neighborhood

Some days it feels like I’ve been through all the strangers. This is a logical impossibility of staggering proportions, and yet the feeling lingers against all rationality. Today is one of those days, and so I set out hunting. I walk slower. I smile at everyone. Nobody’s biting. Finally, in a patch of sun along the sidewalk, I catch the postman’s eye. He’s the kind who drives around in a truck and leaves a trail of dreaded orange slips behind him, requiring trips to the post office, and who wants that punishment. Despite his devil’s errands, he’s cheerful, and we talk about the snow for a while.

“The worst part,” he says, “is after people clean up.”

“Really?” I’m not following his logic.

He winks, and points at the little mountain of packed ice that makes a border between the clean sidewalk and the cleared street. “It’s one of those things, a paradox, right? Everyone thinks they’re doing good, but they’re just leaving these glaciers in my way.”

Then he picks his way over the mound of dirty snow as gracefully as a dancer, boards the truck, and drives away.