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Winter Rain

5 Mar


Morning darkness, and the house is at its most gentle, whispering me awake.  Amy has gone upstairs to prepare for her shower while I lie warm beneath the covers, listening for the water, shaken by a dream.

I’m on a ramshackle camping trip, a bunch of us kids unloading gear from our beat up cars and station wagons, carrying it through the grounds of a small carnival to the old houses beyond the fairground.  And somewhere on this journey, it seems, I have made a friend.  She has short dark hair and great big eyes, and although we’ve just met, we’re like puppies in the back seat, leaning into each other, shoulder to shoulder, heads close, laughing, and then going quiet as the miles roll by because nothing has ever felt this good.

Then it begins to rain, and everyone’s a step ahead.

Tents have gone up, a garage floor has been cleared, and while I stand outside, my ratty, unrolled sleeping bag growing heavier by the minute, I realize I have nowhere to go.  She stands at the door of her tent, wringing water from a cloth, and even though she has plenty of room, there’s no way I can ask.  It’s embarrassing just to be standing there.  I move away, into the garage, out of the rain.  But looking around I see all the spaces have been taken.  Busy strangers ignore me as they smooth their pallets across the floor.

And then she’s there, her sleeping bag spread out, and she’s inviting me to join her.


“Yes!” she says, smiling, shaking her head.  I step lightly on the sleeping bag, and we laugh because it’s a little squishy from the rain.

Suddenly my knowledge accelerates, and in a flash, I see everything that’s about to happen . The longing, the intensity, and the unbearable sweetness of this friendship going somewhere I had never thought possible.

And then, for the first time, I remember my kids.  And Amy.  She would know.  And even were I willing to risk that, this young woman clearly has no idea I’m married.  My ring has been lost.  I’d be lying to her as well.

Morning comes.  The rain has stopped.  Friends and neighbors appear.  We share a big box of raisin bran.  It’s the best raisin bran I’ve ever tasted.  Revelatory.  As people pack all around us, I look for her, but she’s nowhere to be found.  Maybe she’s in the car.

The water downshifts to the low hum of the shower, and I have to get up.  Leaving the warmth of the bed for the cool morning air, the anger builds like a cloud in my head.  Tight and sore, my achilles tendons play hell with my balance as I head down the hallway, passing all the stuff we don’t really need.

She took me in out of the rain.

Hand on the rail, I climb the stairs,  squinting and unsure; not yet ready for the light of day.

B&W Rain

Land of Ghosts

21 Nov

Darkness comes early now and as cold winds beat against our thin windows the temperature drops, time seems to fall away, and my son and I watch trains cross the sky.    Less than 100 years ago our densely packed neighborhood was mostly farmland, and by traveling west down the hill upon which we live one came to Hellgate Field, a stretch of land where for thousands of years the Matinecock came to fish for giant sturgeon; where deep water, treacherous tides, and large obstructions with names such as Frying Pan Rock and Bald-Headed Billy claimed more than 1,000 ships; and where Heath now runs with his friends, plays on the swings, and comes to a complete stop whenever a train passes overhead.  During World War I the city spanned this most treacherous section of the East River with the Hellgate Bridge, building as well the massive arches that lead up to it, bisecting our streets and cutting a shallow diagonal across the sky. 

As evening approaches the trains glow warmly from within, and on icy nights their pantographs throw sparks from the overhead wire, thrilling my son.   For Heath loves trains.  In fact, he spends a fair part of his days being a train, barreling down Ditmars Boulevard, hugging the storefronts and hooting at anyone who dares to get in his way.  At four years old his imagination is strong and free and when he inhabits it he is joyous.  Hallie, on the other hand, has yet to find her passion, unless it be the joys of the raspberry.  From dawn to dusk, while Heath creates and enacts entire railroad empires before her, Hallie makes rude farting sounds and drools onto her chin.  She does this in her usual deadpan manner and is, seemingly, unimpressed with her brother’s efforts. 

I love to run on foggy mornings.  Early, just after the sun has risen, I’ll head west down Ditmars.  Coming to Astoria Park, I’ll follow the path beneath Hellgate Bridge and down to the river itself where the fog is often so thick I cannot discern water from sky.  Running along the river toward Hallet’s Cove, I almost always think of the General Slocum, a steamship that burned off these shores in June of 1904 killing more than 1,000 people.  I imagine the victims slowly climbing the retaining wall, hair wet, dresses dripping, waistcoats smoldering, trying, still trying, to escape the river.  And then they are gone, having failed yet again, and in the stillness I continue on, feeling slightly chilled.    Time is permeable here and the past seems very close.  A playground for my son, this park, for me, is a land of ghosts.  

We’ll both miss the park this winter, it’s frigid micro-climate making visits rare.  But it’s not going anywhere and we’ll all be back in the spring when Hallie, interacting with the world more every day, will begin to create her own relationship with this little piece of the world.  Until then there are cookies to be made, tracks to be built and stories to be told.  And of course there’s the trains, throwing sparks and illuminating the darkness as they travel across the river and into the night.