I woke in the middle of the night expecting darkness, and was surprised by the brightness of streetlights and dim windows reflected and magnified by impish snowflakes as they fell in infinite numbers. Hypnotized by the kinetic movement beyond my lodgings, I drifted into asleep.
In the morning I felt the brush of cold on my skin as a phantom flake landed and melted. Snow had begun to infringe on my inner domain. It manifest as mote and mist that not only gathered in the space around me, but clouded the mind, leaving a chill of existential anxiety. I scaled a shaky ladder to inspect the ceiling, the roof, but there was no breach. I combed through my hair, inspected my skin, but there was no entry point. I closed my eyes. The delicate assault continued, within and without. Minute ice crystals, carefully crafted by an omnipotent alchemist’s hand had invaded space, time and memory. I’ve become complacent in its grasp.
The storm outside may subside with the whim of nature, but inside there is no just season.
The sun comes up over Queens in a red haze. I might see the moon set on the other side of the apartment if it wasn’t for the clouds.
The darkness turns deep navy.
I stand and settle, ease into my tai chi moves, Grasping the Bird’s Tail, Pat the Horse, Cloud arms…My body takes over, leaving the mind to clear, or to wander if I’m not wary. But mind does what it does and drifts off without my knowing. The body calls it back, the moves demand it. Where was I? What was I thinking? Old friends, events, pass through awareness and I come back to foot and fingers. The tune of a reggae song arises and I stray to it’s rhythm, the pulse of a serene heart beat. It suits the form.
The world lightens, moves about me. I catch the light of a star beyond my window.
But it moves away. Airplane?
The acidic color of sky, the light from the window of another early riser, nothing is “natural” there…except the clouds, the sun, and the slow movement of the tai chi player…
Day “breaks” but is not broken. It is not seized, but earned. Buildings shine pink with sunrise. My movements end as delicately as daylight unfolding.
For the last few weeks there’s been someone living in a tent beneath my window. I am twenty-one floors above and overlook the park where the tent is pitched. I’ve never had a tent-neighbor before and I’m intrigued. I wonder if I should go down and introduce myself, make an offering of cake or homemade chocolate-chip cookies. That’s what good neighbors did when I was a kid.
It’s rained much of the last two weeks and I feel bad for my tent-neighbor as his tent may not be completely waterproof. It was put together with overlapping tarps and cardboard. It sits only partially under a tree that’s lost most of its leaves.
I dare not invite tent-neighbor into my home as we are in the midst of a pandemic and I don’t know if tent-neighbor might be infected or contagious. I could be infected and symptomless, contagious to others.
Yesterday when the rain paused for a while, tent-neighbor covered the ground with something I thought might be Art. When I took out my binoculars, I saw that clothes had been laid out on a tarp (?) to be dried. Had they been washed? Had one of my house-neighbors invited tent-neighbor in for a shower? I was ashamed I hadn’t done it first, but still frightened of infection. Perhaps I should go down and leave coins for the laundromat. But would tent-neighbor spend them on Cleanliness? Or drugs? Alcohol? I don’t want to profile. I don’t want to enable.
A gift of food is a better idea. A sandwich? How would I guess preference? Perhaps I have a meatless tent-neighbor. Soup? If tent-neighbor isn’t hungry right away, is the tent equipped to reheat? And what food allergies might tent-neighbor have?
Back to cake. Or homemade cookies. No nuts. But I don’t…bake. Bread would be good, but I have no yeast, no sourdough starter, no technique. When my kids were young, bread making was one of our favorite winter activities—braided bread babies with an egg for the face. But it’s been years…perhaps a loaf from a bakery, something fresh and crusty. I remember eating Portuguese bread when I worked summers in Provincetown, soft in the middle, crusty outside.
Bread is life, but is it tent life?
There are a lot of squirrels in the park, and rats in the neighborhood, who would love to have bread. And birds…it could end up like a Hitchcock movie—in a tent. For that matter, I’m sure the neighborhood wild life would enjoy unguarded food of any kind. How secure is a tent?
Maybe a blanket.
Perhaps I should send my family and all my friends blankets, to hide under until this pandemic/election/nightmare is over. Friends and family could use a little coziness too. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Blankets for everyone! Everywhere!
Actually, I think I’m the one that needs a blanket.
Between the ages of four and eight, I lived in a north-end Pittsburgh neighborhood. Our rented house resembled the Adam’s family home: decrepit, dreary, distorted. Perched on one of two hills, with Jack’s Run Road running between, the old house was large enough to be divided into two living spaces. A family whose last name was Barefoot lived in the other half. The house was approached by a steep driveway and surrounded by a sparse lawn—neither my father nor Mr. Barefoot were fond of yard work. On the other hill there was a convent, beneath it a sprawling apple orchard.
My friends at that time had oddly alliterative names: Douggy Dobler, Billy Bickel, Bussy Barefoot. There was no attention paid to the fact that I was the only girl. Occasionally, my parents and I would visit old friends of theirs who had a daughter my age. Her name was Maureen and I have always called her Mar. I would gleefully announce to my friends that I was going to Mars. My parents would back me up, unaware of the implications. Of course, the glory associated with this deception lasted only until Mar and her family came to visit us and she was introduced to my playmates.
Childhood antics aside, the house on Jack’s Run Road was haunted. It was haunted by a creature that sabotaged my dreams and pranked my daytime composure. A shape-shifting creature that might have been a demon escaped from the nuns across the road. It might have been Mothman come up from West Virginia. Or a Phynnoddere, a bugbane, a Gef, that followed my grandmother to this country from the Isle of Man, perhaps Jimmy Squarefoot himself.
Whatever it was, it was there to menace the perfectly carefree childhood I should have had. Perhaps all children have such a creature frightening them, startling them, drawing on their darker natures. Perhaps none of us are allowed the freedom of uncontinual glee.
My creature slept in the coal cellar, rattled the windows in thunder storms, pushed me out of one of the nun’s apple trees, animated the shadow of the pear tree on my bedroom wall, sent a tiger to Billy Bickel’s yard to stalk me, smashed my face into a stump on Douggy Dobler’s sled, set fire to my dreams for a month, loosened the plaster on the ceiling so it would fall, sent an army of tiny soldiers climbing the wall of the school nurse’s office to harass me when I was sick, and periodically hid my possessions.
I don’t dwell on such nuisance. It’s the source of my (perhaps false sense of) fierceness, and certainly my sense of humor. It prepared me for what has come and what will come. It exposes the whimsy of fate and auspicious possibilities destiny.