Stories of living in a sparsely populated outskirt of a city without streetlights.
|On 73rd street, Neon worms wriggle alive to streak lime and orange on the pavement lining the block between Tavelli and Denton. |
On its corner is a Brazilian salon, with a single sleepy stylist sweeping up curls from checkered tiles, and an old footwear store, with shine and soles pressing up against its storefront. Mounted on the scratched glass, a poster advertises for a play by Theaster Hill on the Greek tragedies, its closing night already three weeks past, next to stickers that read "We Appreciate Your Business," and beneath, "We Call the Police."
Between these is "Rick's Jewelry and Loan," with only thirteen of its nineteen letters lit. Despite poorly-lit signage, the owner, a Chinese immigrant, maintains a good eye on Jewel and Loan customers alike. A hole in the sign bears the silhouette of the pawnbroker's icon, three golden circles, which Richard Hu had been forced to take it down after Mrs. Bravo's pearls, birthstone earrings (she was born in April), her boy's Playstation 3, and her girl's silver music box all ended up on the shelves. The Bravos had recovered their valuables; he lost $823.34.
Receiving no customers, he had taken up most of the day with inventory, tidying, and reading the periodical he picked up from Mayflower market in Chinatown. He went through a bag of sunflower seeds, and at 5:15 he gave his daughter a call. She did not pick up.
By 5:30 he heard Angela, the stylist, lock the salon up for the day and clop away on heavy faux-leather heels. He watched her disappear, and in the foreground dimly saw the locust trees shiver, shed naked of their tiny blades that scattered the asphalt. They lay blue in the disappearing twilight.
It was before a few minutes before closing time, but it didn't look like anyone was dropping by. Richard turned the key and flipped the sign before disappearing to the back stairs leading up to his own apartment.
Long past their usual wake-up time (5pm on most December afternoons), the row of lamps on 73rd kept their heads bowed in unlit slumber. Pedestrians on their way home walked under the watery glow from the odd window as shadows descended in veils of grey on untouched swathes of sidewalk.
Richard sat with hands folded at the windowsill. Darkened roadways seldom brings luck for store owners, particularly within the sort of neighborhoods that let his kind of business set up shop. He felt unease, but it was tempered by his insurance policy. Years of business here had given him experience, and experience had installed more than the just the bars in the windows of Rick's Jewelry.
He always felt that on a winter’s night a kind of loneliness would strain through the windows shut tightly against the cold. Here, it seeped from the streets in a staccato of slamming doors and passing cars against the long low note of wind. Richard felt himself drifting to this night lullaby.
"Ah, no good. I ought to make it to the bed. Pearl would laugh if she saw me trying to doze off at the window. Like some child! Old age turns the heart young, do they say? More like the noodle."
The room was softly lit by the mixed glow of moonlight and neon from ICK EWLRY D OAN, which barely touched the edges of a picture frame that sat on the small table by the bed. In it was a black and white portrait of a serious young Richard, arms around a lightly smiling woman. Both wore simple heavy cotton button-down jackets and cloth slippers, standing in front of a mud brick wall with octagonal holes.
He was no longer young enough to be falling asleep at windowsills, but it was the first night he'd seen the stars in 20 years.