Requiem for Brooklyn and My Late Brother
by Lillian Ann Slugocki
I wake up to dark clouds on the western horizon, late August. I get up, brush my hair, and I’m next door at the deli for a big iced coffee and two eggs on a roll. The Albanian expats behind the counter have become my best friends. Back at this apartment, which is not a home, I drink all the coffee, like it’s a dangerous drug, and take my dog for a walk. She shits on the pristine sidewalks. I kick it into the street. Locals give me the stink eye. We walk down a steep hill, parallel to the Bronx River Parkway to the east, and a village of tall Tudor apartment houses to the west. It’s a tiny urban valley, with gorgeous emerald lawns and signs that say, keep off the grass. The only people I see down there are the workers who trim the trees and weed the flower gardens.
Back at the third floor apartment, I cut up Molly’s turkey and sweet potatoes in a kitchen I rarely use. I still have three cardboard boxes on the black granite counters, and one on the white marble floor. When I use, let’s say, a pair of scissors, I don’t put them back in a drawer. I put them back in the box on the floor. The dishwasher is a mystery. The problem is that I like washing dishes; it’s a Zen thing, meditative, yet in no way resembles actual hard work. But I don’t have a dish drainer. I’ve folded a dishtowel on the counter, and when I wash three glasses and a bowl, one knife and one fork, I leave them to dry on the counter. However, the towel gets mildew-y which transfers to the dishes– that’s when I put them in the dishwasher, and run it without soap, and start all over again. I’d like to use soap, but I don’t know where to buy it. I see this today, I see all of this, and for once I don’t give a shit. I ash my cigarette in a crystal shot glass that doesn’t belong to me, and go back out again.
I walk around the lake that is part of the Bronx River, but it’s really more of a pond–except the water always moves south, until it spills into a waterfall and becomes a shallow river again. Yesterday, I saw a grey heron, and today the same man is fishing on the wooden bridge. There are willows along the muddy banks and flocks of geese who are very aggressive and remind me of people. It’s easy for them to waddle up from the mud flats, onto the path and approach me. I treat them with the respect they deserve, and keep walking. It’s my mandala. I’ve seen small brown rabbits, squirrels, blue jays, and gophers. and today an old man, on a stone bench, reading a tiny black book. At first I thought it was an android, but no, an actual book. Men and women on the path all wear black bike shorts or yoga pants, in fluorescent colors, and now I want a pair. I’m the only girl wearing straight legged jeans and flip flops. But at least my bad haircut is growing out.
I have big plans to wash clothes and bedding, and mop the hardwood floors. Instead I roll a joint on the desk in the large empty living room. It’s the only piece of furniture in this room; not counting the kitchen chair where I’ve propped a large framed photo of the Rolling Stones at Altamont–a gift from my late brother. The very same picture that fell off the wall the first day here, and completely shattered a glass topped coffee table. I didn’t have a broom, never mind a dust pan. It happened at five in the morning, still dark out. My first thought; I’m taking this fucking picture and throwing it in the river. Because once I started to let go of things, it was hard to stop. On that morning, as the sun rose, I picked up murderously sharp pieces of glass, and dropped them in a tall cardboard box, covered it up with an quilt, and placed it in the foyer, where it still sits, eight weeks later.
It can sit there forever as far as I’m concerned.
In that same first week, I jammed my right hand in a stuck window, and it immediately puffed up, like a balloon. Damn, I thought, this could be serious, iced it down. It was swollen and bruised black, not even blue, for two weeks, and none of this surprised me, at all. The following week– I got a second degree burn from placing my left hand, face down on a hot burner. I did this because for 17 years, I had a gas stove from the 1960’s. The blue flames always told me: it is on. It’s very unambiguous. But here, the burners don’t even glow when they’re hot. You’re just supposed to remember, and I didn’t. I walked downtown, to the drugstore, with my burned hand in a glass of iced water–to buy ointment.
The month of July featured a flooded kitchen floor from an over-flowing dishwasher–the same night the power went out because a large tree, for no apparent reason, crashed into the power lines. In mid August, the water in the bathroom sink hadn’t drained for three days, and I knew mosquitoes would follow. I poured a toxic drain cleaner into the sink, and while this was an effective solution for the clog– the chemical infused water drained out onto my bathroom floor. Surprise! It took three days to get this fixed, while the bathroom smelled like a vat of bleach. All through June and July, dust bunnies the size of small animals, wafted across the hardwood floors, in the open prairie of the living room.
I’m not going to get any work done today.
I close the bedroom door, smoke that joint, and listen to Yo-Yo Ma play the cello. I’m eight weeks into leaving my home of 17 years in Brooklyn, and 10 months into burying my younger brother. This apartment, 15 miles north of Midtown, and a million miles from Brooklyn, is a temporary stop–it’s like a hotel room, or an artist’s residency. It’s not my home, for the first time in almost two decades, I don’t have a home. I’m mid flight, with no net.
I’m just beginning to understand how free I am.
Lillian Ann Slugocki has been nominated for Best of the Web, a Pushcart Prize, and winner of the Gigantic Sequins prize for fiction. She’s been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, The The Daily Beast, The Nervous Breakdown , Hypertext Magazine, Blue Fifth Review, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, The Manifest-Station, The Forge Literary Magazine, The Daily Beast, BUST Magazine. How to Travel with Your Demons, a novella, was published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in December, 2015. She has a M.A. from NYU in literary theory and creative writing.
Image source: Elena Gaillard via Creative Commons.