God didn't make Flushing; it's all landfill, ashes that the garbage men of Brooklyn dumped on Queens. Rats used to run all over. People who lived in shanties trapped animals here. My grandmother remembers this -- watching trash torch and glow at night across a field. "All of this," she says, looking out at the garden apartments broken up by big brick buildings, "It was garbage once."
A fist bangs on my door so thundering loud I think it must be the police. I throw a sheet over Leo, who is sprawled on the hide-a-bed, and crack open the door. But it’s only Mervin, the building superintendent. He leans against the railing outside my third-floor apartment, glaring down at the parking area, and shouts, “Don’t you know the rules by now? Visitors need a special pass!”
Last night I was in the Winn-Dixie on Carrollton Avenue inspecting grapefruit. I palmed a Ruby Red, juggled it from hand to hand. Then I punctured its thick, oily skin with my right thumbnail, like I always do. It’s a foolproof method for testing freshness that my mother taught me, but this time something went wrong. As I lowered my head to smell the grapefruit, I inhaled the steely smell of ripe blood, and in my hand was the severed head of John the Baptist. I don’t believe in visions, but there I stood holding the awful evidence beneath the fluorescence, a trail of blood snaking down my arm.
They moved into the old vacant house that backed up to the woods. He was of this world, a seller of money to millionaires. She of somewhere else, a vendor of tomatoes grown lovingly on front yard vines, advertised with blue poster paint on corrugated board: "Homegrown -- 10 cents."
My father sat next to me, pressing me awkwardly against the end of the first pew along the center aisle. I did not want to be there, next to him or anyone else. He had been staying close ever since my uncle brought me home a week ago. We were not close enough in heart and mind to be so physically pressed together, but the entire family had huddled collectively, as if the proximity would heal the rift that was tearing us all to pieces. No one wanted to be isolated; no one wanted to be left within their own misery, alone, on a second aisle, with distant family members or mere friends.
"If you loved me, you would fight with me -- you would at least argue with me -- you wouldn't just sit and stare," my late wife, Myra, would say. "Don't you care enough to argue -- to raise your voice? What kind of man doesn't have a strong point of view? Or any point of view? I'll tell you, a man with no love in his soul. A man with no soul, that's who. That's who you are."
The belly of the dog was swollen and wet. Wrapped in seaweed and ocean foam, peppered with pink sponge and black refuse. The things that washed up on the shore. You could never tell what you might find. It looked like a setter. Reddish-brown fur, matted to its fat body in patches where the skin hadn't torn from the bone. William bent down to look. No smell of decay, only the smell of the sea. He poked at it with a long stick. No tags. He looked closer.
At six o’clock in the morning, the sun had not yet risen, so dewdrops sat on leaves, unaware of their fate. The world was already half awake with school children who faced an hour-long bus journey, mothers who packed them off, and fathers who had started to worry if the economy would take a turn for the worse. After a night of respite, though, they were all at least ready for the battle.
Scorched wind blew in through the car window and whipped Mel's thistledown hair. Frogfur, her mother called it. Such sparse growth, only an inch long, stained pistachio green from hundreds of stolen midnight swims. She stared straight ahead to let herself be hypnotized by the gray rockscape unfurling beyond the Buick's pockmarked hood. The car jittered when her mother turned the wheel a second too late, trying to avoid a dead rabbit. Just a small bump, but Mel shivered and pushed her hands into the grit-and-gum-wrapper cleft between the seat cushions.
It is the same story, every morning, on the M104 downtown bus at nine forty-five. The bus pulls up to the bus stop, and the driver lowers the left side so the nannies can struggle up the steps with the fold-up strollers and the backpacks and the schoolbags and their purses and the kids too. The skinny blonde mothers stand in bunches and wait for their kids to find a seat. The kids plant themselves near windows and wave, their noses squished against the Plexiglas and no apparent sadness in their goodbyes.