DOWN NEAR THE RIVER a door slams; somebody wakes up, immediately flips over onto her back. She dreamed she went fishing, which is odd because she’s never fished in her life. She thought someone was calling her “baby.”
There’s a lot of January light crawling from beneath room-darkener shades, casting mobile shadows on walls and ceiling. The mobile is composed of hundreds of white plastic circles the size of Communion wafers. As they spin they wax and wane, swell and vanish like little moons. Their shadows are like summer, like leaves, the leaves of the plane tree at the window, which hasn’t any, right now, being in hibernation.
Though the crack between window and sill, air that tomorrow’s papers will designate Unsatisfactory flows over one exposed arm, making the hairs stand up like sentries. Long trailer trucks continue to grind along the one-way street, tag end of a procession that began at 4 a.m. with the clank and whistle of trains on dead-end sidings, as melancholy as though they were the victims they had carried across the Hudson. The trucks carry meat for the Village butcher shops, the city’s restaurants—pink sides of prime beef that you cannot purchase at the supermarket, U.S.D.A. choice or commercial, pigs, lambs, chickens, rabbits, helped off the trucks by shivering men who warm their hands over trash-basket fires.
In the apartment across the hall the baby is bawling, “I want my milk.”
It’s cold and bloody in the refrigerated warehouses where the meat is stored prior to distribution. It’s pretty cold in here, too. On her feet now, naked, she looks under the shade, which snaps smartly to the top of the window, disclosing a day: very clear for January. And colorful: stained-glass sky over a row of nineteenth-century houses pained pink and lime and lilac and beige, topped by clusters of chimney stacks, one of which emits a tornado of oily black smoke, fast dispersing. She ought to report it.
“I am sorry. The Office of Air Resources is closed till Monday. Please state the nature of the offense and the name and address of the violator and we will take action upon it when the office is open. This is a recording.”
A pair of eyes on the fire escape, the golden gaze of the fat seven-toed tom from the next apartment; she hasn’t a stitch on, backs away. Next thing, she’s in the middle of the kitchen, bare and green as a guppy, trembling from head to toe, so much that it is difficult to open the door to the lower cabinet, which turns out to house a sizable bottle collection. On her knees she pours into a glass an ounce of scotch, part of which sloshes over the linoleum in an amber puddle, fast dispersing. She gets the glass between her teeth. One, two, three, wait—the tremor peaks, subsides. She yawns and wipes the sleep from her eyes.