By the time I publish this post, New York will probably be out of this heat wave, but right now we are in it. The air above the sidewalks shimmers, and the sidewalks have quasi-emptied out. The oldtimers who peddle the wares they find from newercomers’ discard piles have retreated into their favorite bodega; the strollers have all but disappeared. The little pool by our new apartment is packed but only a few brave eight year-olds run through the adjacent playground. Little, bright-colored shards of their water balloons collect in the bowls of water fountains before making their way into my son’s pockets and fists.
New York in the heat is a live wire. Tempers battle lassitude; people drink during the day to forget they are hot and fight at night when they remember. But there is a magic to the nights that the days lack; when I was younger, they could stretch on forever.
The last time I remember it being this hot for this long was in 2010, the summer after I graduated college. My ex and I were subletting a studio in Flatbush. The studio had high ceilings and an ornate, Moorish pass-through from the main room to the kitchen. What it did not have was air-conditioning, and I, on my penurious starting salary, was too cheap to buy a unit.
It was the summer of house parties, and guests. No one had air conditioning, and we all lived in old brownstones with high ceilings where the heat would cloud above our heads. We ate freezer pops and dropped ice cubes down the fronts of our shirts. At night, we’d pile out onto unfinished roofs, make out under the neighbor’s gables, pretend the taillights of planes were stars.
By July, the leaves on the beech trees were yellow — a false front for fall. I thought the summer would never end, that it would be November and I’d still be changing shirts when I got to the office. And then one Saturday morning in September, I walked through a real breeze to Iris, in Brooklyn Heights, and ordered a hot coffee. A few weeks later it was real fall and I was back in Massachusetts, glutting on foliage and wondering whether my stay would be so temporary after all. The winter that followed was snowy as all get-out and I luxuriated in it, walking the three miles from Harvard Square to my new office in Watertown, running through the slush that piled up along the Charles. The skies were endlessly pewter and perfectly matched the Arcade Fire album I’d listen to on repeat.
This year, another baby will arrive before fall does. Before we knew the gender, my husband wanted to name the baby “Autumn.” I wasn’t sure about “Autumn” — “Winter,” to my mind, is crisper, more elegant — but I didn’t scratch it off the list, because who doesn’t love autumn? Anyways, the baby, of course, is a boy, and the name we’ve chosen for him has nothing to do with seasons.
A few weeks ago, we moved. Or rather, finished moving. Only a few blocks — but in New York, a few blocks is enough to change all of the dailies: where we go for coffee, for a carton of strawberries, for picture hangers. Instead of an eight bodega problem, we have a single bodega grocery. But there are two playgrounds and a public children’s pool within spitting distance, and cutting through Fort Greene Park on the way to daycare is now the logical route instead of merely the pleasurable one. In the evenings, my son walks half or even most of the path himself, wavering to pick up rocks or point out trees. Some mornings, I run four loops of the runner’s path, early enough to not draw too much attention. It is not all-together comfortable, but I am grateful for the dirt paths and shade and constant proximity to home. I haven’t used the jogging stroller in over a month; I do not know if the peepers have come to Prospect Park. I don’t want to resurrect last summer, but it pangs me, not knowing about the peepers, not sharing their chorus with my son.
I have been feeling simultaneously drained by this damned heat and made restless by it. I propose Paris for Thanksgiving, Iceland next summer. “Let’s see how we feel after the baby comes,” my husband suggests, gently. But how can I predict future feelings? Why bow to their presumed recalcitrance when current me wants to seize the day? The analogy is not right, but I keep thinking of Prufrock and his mermaids — how determined he was, in the beginning, to go and find — well, something, only to grow endlessly distracted by the yellow fog, by idle scrutiny, by the thought that his was and would be a life measured out in indecision, in politesse and tablespoons. And then, when he did, at last, find the mermaids, deciding their song would not be for him. But he did hear them, didn’t he? He did walk upon the beach, and linger in the chambers of the sea.
A sea chamber sounds nice, in this heat. But for now, I’ll wallow in the children’s pool, and give my son, who wants to swim and swim and swim, a shelf to rest against.