I love the radioactive glow from the heat lamps on the roast chickens, and I love my guy from Bay Ridge slicing up cold cuts, who asks me how I’m doing. I say, I’m good, I’m good, I’m real good. I help myself to free samples of pita chips, and chunks of yellow cheese. I pick up a pack of baby lamb chops, imagine broiling them with a little lemon juice, imagine sitting down at my kitchen table, and eating that meal. I do the same with New York Strip, except mushrooms and green beans. I imagine the meals, and then walk way. It’s my Zen thing, my ritual, at the grocery store on Montague Street, after my brother dies. Phil Collins sings Take Me Home, and I join in. I never run out of the yahrzeit candles in aisle 2. At the cash register, I’m crying. To the people who are staring at me, I say, mind your own business. This is none of your business. The show’s over. But I really need the candles.
I find a swan in the lake adjacent to my new home. She’s on the far western shore. The trees are on fire. It’s late November. I walk down an incline, right to the water’s edge. She glides directly towards me, as if there’s been a direct path—cut specifically for this trip. She meets me at the shore. I think it might be my brother. It’s hard to get a picture of her because the sun is halfway up the eastern horizon, and is reflected, perfectly, on the surface of the lake. The light is half blinding me, but I got to get my shot. Her head slides in and out of the water, yanking at the weeds that grow from the muddy bottom; chewing them, eating them, and going back under again. She glides east towards a mud flat. On the surface, she spreads her wings and cleans her feathers. In Celtic myth, souls from the underworld take the shape of swans. After I read this, I am convinced it was my brother, doing his best to get back to me. So I would stop being so aggrieved that he left me here to fend for myself.
I pretend search for the apartment I will need in June. The world is frozen and I have a migraine. In my office, before my class, I tell the super that I have bad credit, but I’ve had the same job for twelve years, and lived in the same apartment for fifteen. It’s twenty below zero, but I will take the train from the Bronx and come see the apartment in South Brooklyn. I have no intention of actually renting that apartment. It’s only important that I pretend that I will. My intentions are pure, but they are not honest. At Court Street in Brooklyn, I transfer from the 4 to the 3. The tracks are covered in ice, and the rats are sluggish. Six stops later I come up to the street and call the super again. I stand under the awning of a small Indonesian bodega for warmth. He answers and says, no; miss, sorry, we can’t rent to you. I get a cup of shit hot coffee, and go back home. In the living room, I have boxes piled next to the red velvet love seat. I have boxes in the kitchen, and a few in the bedroom. My youngest brother calls, and I get back on the 4 train, uptown now, with my migraine, to pick up a new computer. I meet him in a bar and he is very drunk. We order cheeseburgers and more beer. At the computer store, he gets into a fight with the sales person. When the store closes, he goes back, and smashes the glass doors as the sun sets on East 85th Street. He lurches home, and I watch the cops arrive. I pretend to be an innocent bystander.
I make arrangements to check out a room to rent in Fort Greene. Then I walk down to DUMBO to pick up my prescription. Once I have my meds, I cancel the appointment, and go to the gaudy, dive-y Mexican place for lunch; rice, beans, roast chicken and frozen margaritas. At first I’m having fun, the food is so fucking great, and the place is filled to the brim with ultra cool people as well as complete assholes. A soccer game is on. Italy is playing Peru. It’s the middle of the day. I got thirty days left on my lease. No money saved. A dead brother. And an apartment filled with empty boxes. Every appointment I make to see an apartment, I cancel: a studio in Montclair, a one bedroom in Jersey City, a basement apartment in Queens, a garage apartment on Long island. Instead, another margarita.
I get up at 5:30 a.m. I have a large abstract painting that says, New World, Women Rule. I’ve had it since 2001. Three years ago my brother told me it was time to get rid of it. I said, no, it wasn’t. I love that painting. But, I carry it down two flights of stairs, and out the front door. At the little church, that is part community theatre, part day care and concert space, I hide it by the loading dock. Then I go back for my collection of perfume bottles, and bring them to the little pocket park, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I hide them behind the shrubbery, next to the bronze statue of a dancing bear. I carry a dusty, cobwebby box fan around the corner and set it next to the garbage cans of the apartment building that is directly in back of mine. By the time the sun rises in the sky, on my last morning in Brooklyn, I am ready. The move is surgical and precise. It takes exactly 45 minutes to leave my home of fifteen years.
On hot summer nights, around 11:30, I get off the train in a small town, and walk west down into a valley, lined with trees, a river and a lake with mud flats. I’m sweating because it’s so humid, but the air smells so green, like things are both rotting and growing at the same time, and even before I cross the stone bridge, I can hear the sound of the river beneath my feet.
This time there are two swans in the lake. It’s a cold winter’s day. The water is dark and elastic. Under the noonday sun, I can almost see its molecular structure, its tensile strength. A slight breeze, and It bends and stretches. And the sun, like the swans, glides across the surface, as if light is the only real thing in a world of illusion. I don’t know these swans. I don’t think either one of them are my brother. They aren’t souls from the underworld, but they are beautiful.
© Lillian Ann Slugocki
[This piece was selected by Sara Crowley]