Eric’s was the only block with a tall tree for at least ten blocks. The tree on 103, right outside of Eric’s second floor window, was a sign to anyone on foot that they were soon leaving el barrio. The tree seemed to be the only sign of growing life on the block. The residents, especially lately considering the weather, were of the overworked, uninsured variety of urban life. People left their homes before the sun showed up to beat them down and they came back whenever the 6 decided to stop malfunctioning. Eric loved the tree because if he stared at it long enough he felt he was somewhere very far away from el barrio and for the life it hosted. Squirrels climbed the tree rapidly and he enjoyed hearing their tiny skittering. Swallows and sparrows perched themselves to sing their songs and hop from branch to branch. But cicadas also lazily buzzed in this tree, and between their incessant noise and the thick humidity that permeated from the outside, Eric lost any chance to sleep on this particular morning. The slight chill of the night before had allowed him to cover himself with a thin sheet, but now he flung it off of himself in frustration.
Heat alone he could take, and his mother could give him more than enough blankets to help keep warm in the increasingly long winters in New York. Humidity on the other hand, especially in these recent summers, was unbearable for Eric. He rushed to the bathroom, in the middle of their railroad apartment, hoping for the invigoration of a cold shower, but all that came out of the head was a disheartening dribble. He wrapped a towel around his waist, went to the kitchen to find no ice cubes in the freezer and the pressure of the water in the kitchen was more forceful than the shower but nowhere near as cold as the disappointing drops from the shower.
Eric didn’t want to be in the house another second. He rushed back to his room, picked up the grey jeans and white t-shirt he shed earlier and pulled on his sneakers. There was no time for breakfast or underwear. He needed to leave to find some reprieve.
He jogged down the stairs but stopped when he got to his stoop. He took note of the tree of 103, a clowder of brown street cats walking briskly in the shadows of the parked cars to avoid people and traffic, the labored but measured breathing of the old Chinese woman doing her morning exercise while making her way down the block, the occasional chirping of a swallow, and the neighborhood loco, Tio, leaning against his stolen shopping cart filled with blankets and smearing red lipstick on his face.
Usually a survey of his neighborhood filled him with a sense of determination but the clouds, hanging over him like a thick blanket of cotton, and the humidity drained him of it. Eric needed to fight this malaise but how? The cooling centers were closed, though summer had extended itself well into September. Central Park wouldn't be worth the walk. It then occurred to Eric that the slight but petulant breeze off the East River might help. The best spot overlooking the river wasn’t far away. He didn’t contemplate it any longer.
He began to walk at a quick pace but after two blocks he slowed down. The sweat on the back of his neck, that he could feel accumulating since he stepped out onto the stoop, was now dripping down his back. He wiped his neck with his hand, but that only served to spread it around more. This perspiration was different under the humidity. It clung to his skin in the same way the humidity hung in the air, like tension before an explosive street fight. But this tension was everywhere, it was present in the air no matter where you went to escape it: the artificial cooling in a subway car, the overcompensating cold in a library or a classroom, or the sputtering intermittent blasts from the air conditioning units in the bodegas. Only a few more blocks to go, but Eric felt that they stretched for miles. He considered stopping but it would only lengthen the journey. His legs felt heavy and it seemed that they were barely moving him along. He regretted his haste and the jeans that resulted from it. With one swift swipe he dug his fingers into his dark, thick hair, moving it backward but opening up small canals for the sweat to flow down easier into his face.
Eric finally reached the walkway that lead to the Ward’s Island Bridge. It was early in the morning and too far on the east side, nobody was out walking around like him. The only sign of other life that Eric saw while crossing the bridge were the cars zooming below him on the FDR Drive. He arrived at his favorite spot right before the bridge itself, still on the walkway, which was a good vantage point. He breathed in deeply, but there was no slight breeze, only the disappointing stench of the river.
Eric tried to make things better. He imagined the rush of water around him and he ignored the pull of the knowledge that while the river was cleaner than it had been when he was a kid, swimming was not safe. But then something else tugged at Eric.
Another September in New York City, contending with the never ending summer was going to be hell. He knew that it would not end there. Summer would continue to take more months in the years to come before giving way to sudden and miserable winters. The city would be filled with this unending unease only to make way for an isolating gloom. Eric scratched his chin in contemplation. Feeling his unshaved face reminded him of another way he added to his own misery in this oppressive weather. But really how much of his own misery was he responsible for? The only full life he knew belonged to the tree outside his window. Eric felt guilt and shame wash over him as he pictured the tree in his mind. Unbending, unwilting, full of life and green in the summer. It did not give in to the humidity and the misery that accompanied it like he did.
Maybe it was better to launch himself into the East River, embrace the relief of the water and hold onto to that feeling as the water rushed into his lungs and his body sank deeper until he touched the dead riverbed. As he leaned further over, the idea started to become more clear in his mind. The city was getting hotter, more crowded, more sanitized, yet he never felt dirtier walking around in it than he did now. He heard himself say, “This city is dead” and he thought immediately after that the only reasonable thing to do was follow suit. And no sooner did this thought occur to him, did the sky, with a loud crack, send down a heavy downpour and break the tension.
Kim Morales is queer chapinx-boricua and an emerging writer, born not based, in Brooklyn. Her work is centered around the experiences and perspectives of femmes of color in the United States. Through her poetry and fiction she hopes to create a strong connection across arbitrary borders between femme-identified people. She is working towards an efficient writing practice that writes in support of community, complicating narrative, and promotes accessibility to art.
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