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Pattern and Forecast (Vol. 3)

Autumn 2018, New York
by Madeleine Watts
December 6th, 2018

This is the third entry in a series in which writers give a report on the weather. Any meteorological statements made may range from the personal to the scientific, from observable weather to the felt. Read the first entry, by Andrew Durbin; the second entry, by Amina Cain.

Greenpoint. A railroad apartment on the second floor of a wood-frame building, looking south through dappled light cast by the ash tree growing on the street below. A season of bad sleep, unease, and frequent nightmares.

It’s loud with the windows open, but I prefer them open, and I prefer to hear the sounds. Voices spill out of the restaurant next door. At night, sometimes, there are fights when the restaurant closes. In heat like this no one wants to have to think, and violence comes easy. In heat like this the body never wants to wake up and never wants to go to bed. It is September, and I believe that the heat will never subside.


 

On a FaceTime call with my mother she shows me the renovations she’s having done to the house. She is worried about me. Before saying goodbye, she asks, “Would you like to see some daffodils?” She flips the camera and shows me the garden beds. I agree that the spring daffodils growing on the other side of the globe are very lovely.


 

 

In the drizzling rain I walk to a party in Red Hook across the footbridge that passes over the cars streaming into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Madelaine and I stand in the garden under a tarp, heavy with captured water and distended above our heads. “Like breasts,” I say, and press my hand against the wet, white bulge. We smoke cigarettes in the green, dense wetness of the garden, watching the other people who, like us, would rather be damp than be inside.


 

After only two hours of sleep I wake up at 4:30. My husband packs the last of his things, enough to see him through for the month he will be away. I walk him downstairs to the waiting Lyft. I stand on the sidewalk barefoot, wearing leggings and one of his t-shirts. After the car drives away I linger there, looking down the block towards the film studios on the other side of Diamond Street, where the LED streetlights have a strange effect on the night. Everything beneath them resolves into mist. The night isn’t hot, but the air feels malarial, and clammy. The traffic passing on McGuinness Boulevard is muffled by the quiet, wet leaves of the trees that line the street. That night I smoke on a fire escape at a party and a man asks me for a lighter. He used to live here, but now he lives in Los Angeles. I tell him about William Mulholland, about the damming of the Colorado, about drought, and the impossibility of sustainable water sources in the southwest. He isn’t bored, and that surprises me. In turn, he tells me about burning chaparral, the Sierras, of landscapes designed to catch fire.


 

A nightmare wakes me at dawn and I can’t get back to sleep. I open the blinds, then the windows, make coffee, and bring it back to the bedroom to read. It is so quiet in the mornings sometimes. Just passing cars, birdsong, the low, tremulous horns of boats on the East River. I hear a child and woman pass by below the window. “Where did the sun go?” the child asks.

“The sun is out,” says the woman.

“Oh. The sun is out,” the child says, as though he needed the words to finally perceive the sunshine.

“Yeah,” says the woman. “It’s going to be hot today.” And then they’re gone.


 

The first night I sleep without the air conditioner, and the sounds of the street are appallingly loud. I finish the second volume of the USA Trilogy, and when I’m done I flick back to the introduction, to a line I must have underlined three years ago when I first bought the book. Dos Passos wrote literature as reportage, says the introduction, and the characters are “occupied almost entirely with their sensations and plagued by their longings, given mightily to drinking and fornication while their flimsy thought provides no anchor against the drift of their lives.” I lie in bed with my heart beating very hard. I sleep fitfully. At two in the morning I hear four gun shots, somewhere out there in the dark. I text three different people about the gun shots, but everyone is asleep, and nobody replies until morning.


 

I meet Umair at Troost. Before we part we smoke under the awning of a shuttered shop on the corner of Greene Street, and I’m not wearing a jacket, but I hold one in my hands. I tell him that I don’t know the names of any of the plants in this city. He asks me what grows in the city where I was born. I feel myself grow animated and vivid as I recite the liturgy. Bougainvillea, jacaranda, eucalyptus, bottlebrush, Moreton Bay Fig. They will just be starting to bloom in Sydney. Here, everything is dying.


 

Flash flood warnings wail from every phone. The sky lowers down and casts out Manhattan and its famous view. The clouds swallow the skyscrapers. And then the rain.


 

I lie on the bed surrounded by my plants, the humid air rushing through the open windows and the leaves of the tree outside. The light at times is so green it feels like I’m underwater. I touch the plants in the bedroom often, stroking the leaves, pressing deep into the soil. I long to be somewhere where the landscape engulfs me, where trees and vines and ferns climb over everything else, entwine, overrun me, spiderwebs and spores and fungal filaments clogging up the air I breathe. Meanwhile I have plants. But something is wrong with the rubber plant. The stalks are losing their leaves, and this morning I pruned off a dead stem to the soil line. I pressed along its length, feeling a softness, a space between its inner core and its papery, diseased outer husk. When I pruned the stalk I saw the mould. It was green, and dying, and beautiful, spreading through the insides of the stalk. The rubber plant is rotting, deep below my sightline. And I don’t know how to fix it.


 

When it’s getting close to midnight I walk down to Transmitter Park in the warm, wet breeze. This, my favorite place in the city, the place I have come to smoke and cry and be alone since I moved here. In a month it will be five years since I moved to New York. Tonight, the park is full of people. One man sprawls by his bicycle in the grass. Boat horns groan from across the water. I stand on the pier, watching. The wind lifts my hair. A tiny motorboat speeds across the river, approaching the shore. It comes to rest where the grass rolls down to the water. The man with his bicycle stands, steps down to the rocks, loads his bike into the boat, and gets in. They sail away, picking up speed as the boat moves towards the Williamsburg Bridge. I watch them as they sail beneath the Bridge, and out of sight.


 

September ticks into October. This morning I woke up to the sounds of the radiator. The clicking and groaning like a familiar ghost in the corner of the bedroom. When I moved to New York I had never encountered radiators before. Their sounds were alien, and petrifying. That first afternoon I sat in the living room of my new apartment on Kingsland Avenue, holding onto my knees, waiting for the building to explode, until it didn’t.


 

Madelaine and I leave Goldie’s at 1:30 in the morning. We walk towards our regular parting spot, on Nassau and Manhattan, halfway between her apartment and mine. We always part here, by the four points of the intersection under the same familiar awnings—Frankel’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, a bodega, a liquor store. Our parting at the intersection is a gesture of friendship, and reassuring to us both. Who else would walk out of their way, just to keep you company, in the middle of the night? Madelaine is shivering. “It actually feels like winter now,” she says, pulling her scarf around her neck.

“It’s not so bad,” I say.

“I guess it’s bracing,” she concedes.  She continues to shiver as we walk, but I have had two more glasses of wine than her, and I feel fine.


 

Now that the days are growing colder, I have taken to wearing an over-sized black denim workers jacket, with a black beret. I have been carrying around an 800-page hardcover book called Gunfighter Nation, bigger than a brick. My husband laughs, and says that with the book and the beret and the jacket, I look like a little revolutionary. He asks if he can hold the book for me. I say that the book doesn’t fit in my bag, which is not an answer to his question. I just like holding onto it.


 

Suddenly the tree outside has turned yellow. The light in the bedroom changes. Coming home in the late afternoon, I walk through the apartment throw my things on the bed, and am taken aback. “Lovely,” I exclaim, to an empty room.


 

My husband and I lie in bed looking for accommodation in eastern Arizona next month. “It’s very expensive to glamp in the Navajo Nation,” he observes. “I am not a person who glamps,” I insist. Nearly all the leaves on the tree are gone. Stripped overnight by a storm. The light in the bedroom is white now, and sad, and we can see into the windows of the apartment across the street again. My feet are very cold, and I wrap them in the fur blanket at the end of the bed. My husband scrolls through listings, reading reviews, checking ratings, while I contend that I would be happy staying in a cheap and threadbare motel, anywhere, so long as it’s warm.


 

The Catholic Church on N. 15th Street hosts a screening of The Thing the night before Halloween. Franciscan friars wearing festive masks serve us glasses of wine at the makeshift bar before the show. As I wait to pay, I listen to a young man my age engage the friar sitting beside him. “How are you involved here,” he asks, “I thought I knew most people who worked for the church.”

“Oh, I live on the Upper East Side,” explains the friar. “I just wanted to come and see the film.”

It is cold in the church, but beautiful. I do not take my hat off, and pull my coat tight around my shoulders as I huddle in the pews.


 

I wake screaming from a nightmare at 5:30 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. For an hour I sit in the living room in the darkness, reading a novel by Dawn Powell, light blueing through the airshaft window. The rain starts. I leave at seven thirty and walk to the subway. Wet boots, wet tights. Sad weather. Yesterday a man bought an Arthur Nersesian novel at the bookstore where I work. He said that a friend of his had told him to read it if he wanted to understand what the Lower East Side was like in the 70s. That’s the thing—you move to New York and you’re constantly told about how things were better before you got here. The man buying the book said that it’s always been like that. The people in the 60s were told how much better it was in the 40s, and the people in the 40s were told how it was better in the 20s. “How long have you lived here?” the man asked me.

“Five years.”

“You’re halfway to being a New Yorker, congratulations,” he said.

“I thought it was seven.”

“Seven, are you kidding? It’s ten. Five is long enough to feel nostalgia, though,” he admitted.

This morning, walking through Morningside Park, I remembered that conversation. The last time I walked through Morningside Park was two and a half years ago. My friend and I were drunk and holding hands and she had stolen somebody’s hat. She was my best friend, then, but we haven’t talked in a year. The trees in the park are brilliant red, the sidewalks slick and gray beneath the low sky.


 

A bright, fresh morning, with blue skies. The dogs in McGolrick Park luxuriate in the thick floes of leaves that smother the grass like a blanket.


 

Wind howling in the air shaft. At five in the morning I’m woken by somebody on the street. A man screaming. Fuck. Fuck. Help. Shit. Each vowel contains a unique note of agony. He calls a woman’s name. But she doesn’t let him back in, and it’s cold, and he screams. The screams wander up and down the street, until a deep, rough voice with a High Brooklyn Accents yells, “Hey buddy, shut the fuck up,” and the screaming stops.


 

“Where are you going?” asks Cam, when he sees me put on my jacket and my beret.

“I’m just going to the bodega to get a bottle of water. And maybe some fruit.”

“Are you ok?”

“I mean, I don’t think anyone’s OK.”

“Well of course not, but people don’t generally go out to get water and fruit.”

I shake my head, and I can’t return his smile. “Well, I’ve already been out once, to get coffee and cigarettes. I just want to be outside again.”


 

Snow falls.

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