New York City

by Abigail Dunn

Our neighbors are returning. After several weeks of near silence, we now hear footsteps overhead and dogs barking and doors slamming. I had wondered when this would happen, when those who fled would reappear.

In the evenings, if it’s warm enough, my partner and I sit on our fire escape, pretending we are elsewhere, sharing a beer. Lately, we’ve been speculating about our neighbors’ reasons for returning to their tiny apartments. Did they miss the city? Was paying for the upstate rental no longer feasible? Did they just get bored? I like to think that our decision to stay was a choice, but the reality is a bit more complicated. We don’t discuss those days in late March when we did come very close to leaving. Anyway, that feels so long ago now. It was cold then. Spring is here. You can see little slivers of it from our fire escape, or our “Ischia,” as we jokingly call it.

“Ischia” overlooks a back alleyway behind four different buildings, all of which face the rear of a parking garage. The vines covering the brick walls of the garage have sprouted, washing one side of the building in a brilliant green. Even this small manifestation of the season lifts my spirits, though it’s still too quiet back there in the alley. Normally, one can hear car horns and dishes being washed at the Italian restaurant. But the restaurant has been closed for some time, so no clinking, no water rushing.

Sometimes, I go to “Ischia” to do work, hauling my laptop and yoga mat out onto the iron landing, hoping to feel the sun on my skin. The first time I did this, I had my computer perched on my knees when a screaming ripped through the sky above my head. I looked up just in time to see one corner of the Blue Angels formation. I had completely forgotten about the flyover, this grand salute that I didn’t entirely understand. I know it was meant to honor the essential workers, but who actually had the luxury to see them except those of us doing the bare minimum by staying at home?

Sometimes, I think my cynicism is just a symptom of claustrophobia, a sign that I need to get moving. So, like Ishmael taking to the sea, I go for a run around the neighborhood. I make a point of jogging past the businesses we love. I smile when I pass the café selling negronis from their front window. I peer into the bistro where my partner and I had one of our first dates. It’s closed and dark, but I can make out the interior, which has not changed since that night over a decade ago. In New York there are so few constants that such places feel like little miracles. Now I suppose they need a miracle to survive.

Out there, on these runs, I wear a mask. At first, I didn’t because I was having trouble breathing with one on, and then I read about how runners leave a wider path of respiratory droplets in their wake than pedestrians. Now I always cover up, and I actually believe that my lungs are adjusting. Is that possible? I think so. After all, it’s remarkable how the body can acclimate to these things.

Published on May 13, 2020