by Alexandra Naughton, who has written ten books, including American Mary and A Place A Feeling Something He Said To You. She is editor in chief of Be About It Press. Subscribe to her newsletter.
Sunken islands. We are living on sunken islands.
Well, they feel sunken, like hungover eyes all peeping only slightly because it’s straining. Like there isn’t much space to move around in. Like the way you act when we’re in public together.
There is no green anything. I can see the Statue of Liberty from my Philly window, Manhattan's metallic cones hundreds of stories high like quills jutting, a beastly back and head submerged like it can't deal anymore, smack needles in sidewalk cracks. I guess I always wanted to live in the big city.
All those offices. Fuck.
It’s coming soon I think, and I touch that part of my back that doesn’t touch the bed. It’s like a pocket. It’s a space for my hand. I touch that part of my back just above my ass and feel knuckles against spine. Everyone is looking for security.
I know or I don’t. I leave.
I walk outside and join melting faces beginning a crowded commute. I don’t think I’ve ever been good at any of my jobs. I used to think it was because I’ve never been paid enough to give a shit but lately I’ve been feeling like that wouldn’t change anything. I don’t know how some people do it. How can I perform for another first.
We take a deep breath, scrape our feet, and step inside a bus with no roof, just poles to grasp. Better for everyone, emissions, they say, but really the city is strapped. At least for us. We can complain and we do, it’s like a song. We all know the words and the right time to sing it. Right after exchanging pleasantries.
Old ladies carry shopping bags stuffed with recycling. They mostly crouch or prop themselves on the accordion panels but one standing slips and reaches out to hold my leg for stability. Almost a daily occurrence. I look down and we smile at each other.
You can get used to anything if you don’t care about anything.
Watching pink and orange clouds through an opening. They don’t float or drift, they wallow and stay with you, less like puffs or wisps and more like a neon mashed potato spread, falling heavy and clumping.
Every day is an experiment in distractions. I can’t concentrate on anything outside for too long, it just makes me remember. I try singing songs that I like in my head for comfort and familiarity. Passing where the Schuylkill was, now just a curdled puddle.
Something like a cavity, like sticking a soft spot.
From Strawberry Mansion Bridge dots wade. People with plastic up to ankles collect cans. Trash is burning, their choking fumes enrobe. The lady curled around my calf rummages through bags for a sheet of newspaper to cover her face.
Outside the still open South street occult shop, patrons wait to grab the last of the bat’s blood. We write our regrets in letters.
We always write letters, it’s the only place we know how to hide.