I wake up, as I do most mornings, to the sound of ambulance sirens. I look at the clock, nine, too early for a Saturday morning. My head is throbbing, my eyes feel like they may fall out, last night’s sweat has dried into a sticky, smelly goop all over my body. I smell of old gin and tonics. I can’t imagine looking into a mirror.

I decide to go back to sleep.

At 10:30 I wake up once again, this time of my own accord. My window faces east and normally around this time I’m shielding my eyes from the sun, but today there is no sun. I look out the window and see dark clouds and dreary looking people walking along Avenue B.

I see a mom pushing her child in a stroller. She’s talking on the phone with someone. She appears upset.

I see a teenager bouncing a basketball all alone. Just bouncing it. I wonder why he doesn’t go to one of the hoops in Tompkins Square.

I see a couple eating breakfast outside of the Spanish restaurant across the street. The man is doing something on his phone. The woman is staring sadly at the bleak sky.

My head and eyes hurt a little less and I feel like going for a jog along the water. The crowds will be light today and I need to work off some of that gin from last night.

I throw on some running clothes, put on a mask, pop in my headphones and hop out for a jog. These days I like to run to sad songs, stuff with soft melodies and poetic lyrics. It helps me think, I guess. It makes me want to keep running until I collapse.

I start off my jog going north along Avenue B. Things are so different than they used to be. Outdoor seating fills up the streets. Some of my favorite bars and coffee shops are now closed for good. I run by a brunch place I went to with my ex two weeks before everything shut down. I had chicken and waffles. She had eggs Benedict. She always called it eggs Benny. I liked that.

I make it to Tompkins Square Park and think of that boy bouncing the basketball alone. I wonder if he’ll still be there after my run. Maybe I’ll talk to him. Maybe we could go to the park and shoot hoops together. The courts are deserted. They’ve been like this all summer, even on the nice days.

I pass by a dive bar I used to frequent. We’d go there for cheap drinks and funny conversations with the bartenders. My friends and I would get numerous beer-shot combos. Those would get you drunk quick.

It’s closed now. Boarded up. Graffitied.

I turn off to my right and run toward the water. It’s always cooler by the water, even on a sticky, humid day like today. The song changes to something my ex and I used to listen to every time it rained. Every time. Even when we were apart she’d call me and we’d listen to it. It made her cry about half the time. Lots of things made her cry.

It continued on as I made it to the water. It felt nice but not like I’d imagined. It was empty save for a few other runners and a handful of bikers. I looked at the strong current of the river and imagined it whisking me away. All it would take is a jump and a splash and I’d be either drowned or somewhere new. I wondered where I’d end up.

I read somewhere that the east river flows in different directions depending on the time of day. Right now I would be carried south, maybe in an hour I’d be carried up toward Connecticut. I don’t know much about rivers, though I don’t think the east river technically is one.

Probably I’d just end up a news headline. Or at the very least in need of a long, hot shower.

I run past the bench I sat on in February, Valentine’s Day, flowers in hand. Peonies. I had on a long pea coat over a suit jacket, white button up and a purple tie. My girlfriend had to work late and we missed our dinner reservation. I sat there for a long time, my cheeks numb, lips trembling.

I knew she wasn’t working late. I mean I suppose I knew, somewhere, deep down. Who works late on Valentine’s Day?

The song changes to something happy and upbeat. I skip to the next one.

I run past a man walking and talking with his son. It makes me miss my dad. Maybe I’ll call him later. Maybe my mom, too. I haven’t talked to them since March.


It’s crazy how fast time slips by these days. One day you’re sitting on a bench in the cold with flowers dying in your hands, the next it’s the middle of the summer, the sky swirling with dark, dead clouds. Maybe I’ll stop blinking. Maybe time will move slower if I just stop blinking.

I turn back around toward my apartment and my thoughts shift back to the kid with the basketball. I remember growing up in the midwestern suburbs. We had a hoop in our driveway. I always had my brother or my neighbors to play with. I never played alone.

I run faster.

I have to make it to him, I have to ask him if he’d like someone to play with. I wouldn’t be creepy about it, just casual. Just a friend. Everyone could use a friend sometimes.

I’m running with the flow of water now but glance at it every now and then to see if it might change. If I blink I might miss it. I try so hard not to blink. Who needs blinking anyway?

I run past the bench again but I don’t look at it. I only run faster.

I have to gasp to breathe through the mask. I can feel my heart pounding, pounding.

Everything is the same only backwards. I pass the dive bar, the graffiti says: blink. Tompkins Square is still empty and lonely. The brunch place says: eggs Benny.

I stop outside my apartment and breathe heavily with my hands on my knees. Sweat covers my clothes. I can feel my feet squishing around in my old socks. The wind has blown my hair into a wild mess.

My hangover is gone.

I look to where the boy had been bouncing the basketball and he is gone too. Vanished.

I look at my apartment. The fire escape is brown with rust. The paint outside of the windows is flaky and chipped. The front door looks like it could fall off its hinges at any time.

The name card on my mailbox says: _d__ & Ol_v_a.

The song in my headphones says to blink.

I blink and turn away from my apartment, away from Avenue B. I go West with no real idea where I’m going. I start jogging again. Avenue A flies by in a blur. 1st Avenue, then 2nd Avenue both go by like a dream. Then I blink again and I’m standing in Washington Square Park, breathing heavily, no idea how I got there.

I sit down on a bench away from everyone, sweating and panting, my hair probably looking like the hair of a Troll doll.

The pigeon man is to my left. He’s always there. I’m glad to see at least some things never change. Even in life’s biggest catastrophes some things do stay exactly the same.

To my right I see a girl sitting in a makeshift booth. The front of the booth says: I’ll write you a poem. Tips appreciated.

I get up from my seat and approach her. I apologize to her for my looks and I tell her that I’m sorry I don’t have any money, but that I could really use a poem right now.

She smiles at me and asks for a word.

I ask if I can give her an image instead. She nods. I tell her about the teenager bouncing the basketball by himself in the street and how lonely and sad it made me feel.

She smiles an understanding smile and asks me to give her a few minutes.

I stare at the birds and the trees and the dark clouds. There aren’t many people around this park either. There aren’t even stoned college kids playing frisbee on the grass.

After a while the girl motions for me to come over. She hands me a small slip of paper torn out of a notebook. I turn away to read the words:

I am the sky, dark and dreary

I am the empty sidewalk, too.

I am alone in February

Petals falling on my shoe.

I am a boy playing on his own

A drunken, hurting mess.

I am a river breaking up stone

I am blinking less and less.

I will wake up tomorrow sun or not

An early morning riser.

I will give the day another shot

I am a survivor.

    I bolt around to look at the girl. She’s gone. Her stand is gone. It’s just me and a bench and the pigeon man.

    How did she know about the flowers in February?

    How did she know about the river?

    I sit down where she had been sitting and stare again at the trees.

           I blink.

September 16, 2020 12:36

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