“Visiting Hours” and “Night and Day”

Visiting Hours

It no longer exists––that dock on the Southern tip of Manhattan Island where I would sit, and sometimes do my math homework, and other times settle for the particular purpose of finishing a good book. 

It was a place where the ground would dance against your back but be still beneath your feet, where I imagined I could feel the rumble of 1.5 million footsteps––or at the very least the R train, which ran parallel to the Hudson river and which I would take home from school each afternoon. Summers I would sit with my headphones on and dip my head back to let the wet city heat paint freckles on my cheeks. In the winter my jeans would freeze to the wooden bench, clasped hands against my puffy jacket and hat pulled over my eyes, falling victim to a deep afternoon nap.

Those who formerly lived on the West Side, from Battery Park to Midtown, can visit on even-numbered years. Those who lived above 36th are grouped with the Harlemites, who are granted access during odd-numbered years, but neither during the rainy season. There is a similar sort of rationing arranged for those who lived along the East River, outer Astoria, and anyone near the Brooklyn-Queens expressway or Jersey City. These are the places that were hit the hardest. 

For some time I let those even-numbered years pass in a haze. I wanted to remember the city as it looked from the window of my childhood bedroom, jewels of gold and silver glittering through the night, never dark. Now––standing at the corner of a street I haven’t set foot on since my evacuation––I see that everything I’d ever known is submerged in water and green rust.

Night and Day

Each time I open the refrigerator I see his face fifty years from now, bruised and wrinkled. I see it in the apples and lemons he leaves to rot. I see it in the foul juices that collect at the bottom of the plastic bag under the sink, which he would expect me to replace if he noticed it, but which he will never notice.

Shower. Shave. Place the toast in the toaster. Brush my teeth. Butter the toast. Drink espresso. Play with the dog. Watch the sunrise. Read the newspaper. Sort the mail. Respond to emails. Manage our finances. Shine my shoes. Drink espresso. Play with the dog. Iron my tie. And all before she wakes up.

At times I wish the pillow would suffocate me. Instead I use it to block the noise. The electric shaver, the dog, the doors slamming, the toaster, the news… and all while I’m trying to sleep. He sleeps on his back and doesn’t stir, from the moment he falls asleep until the sun comes up.

I like her more when her hair is wet. When it dries, she ties it into this nest on her head and puts on the same clothes that she wore before showering. I like her when she’s happy, but lately she’s been looking old. She sleeps later and later in the day, sleeps with her hands folded under her chin like she’s been stepped-on. I don’t know what I can do to make her happy.

I like him more when he’s asleep. When he’s up, he needs to move. He looks like a mantis the way he fiddles his hands as he types. His back is so straight. It makes me wonder whether the time we pass together is, for him, time passed, like two trains running in opposite directions, or the atoms in my finger, and his, intertwined yet never touching.

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