Along the East River off the 23rd Street exit, where children are escorted to well-powdered schools, the city meets its glorious end at a chain-link fence. Tufts of yellow and white plastic bags in the winter wind, snagged by the fence and fluttering like the feathers of little horror-stricken painted birds. I watch the black shirt of that river, its ripples, its shove and coil and somersault slap… That is the housewife's dream, I think to myself. That is what I long for. To tip over the edge and succumb to you, weightless going down, carried down by the longest day, dragged into one foolish decision after another… How beautiful. That would be a true commencement, that would be accomplishment. What achievement for a Tuesday morning. What relief.
But I walk by and deliver the children. I always do. I can resist its draw again (though the effort drains me for the rest of the day). It’s just another luscious temptation. It’s just another eternal Sunday morning, flowering into its own private community. Or in the psychiatrist’s words: Remember, they’re only feelings.
It is 8:35AM. The river children pass through the wire gates tossing yellow paper flowers against the black current for the love of the drowned and the persecuted and almost-extinct. Along the East River the paper flowers float happily, the way angels will drift and debate without fatigue for hours. But none of this matters anymore. I’m almost gone. It’s off to milk and pineapples, avocado, root beer, limes, 12 purple lilies and that crazy bastard fusilli. I’m pretty good. I can harvest a cab-load of sustenance for the family in the midst of a raw, urban winter in less than an hour. I don't have to bend over in the field once, or send my children out harvest with baskets on their backs, or bleed my fingers, or pray to God as if my life depended on it because my life, apparently, does not depend on it. My life depends on Trader Joe's.
Which is where I find myself at 9:45am with my collection of fruit, listening to the man bagging groceries----being lulled by his thoughts and dreams--- his brother's wife donated her kidney to his mother; he plays the oboe at Tanglewood on summer weekends; he dreams of the Peace Corps; he has a child he never sees; and his secret… he has a secret he will never tell...
Me too, I whisper and we wink to each other as he hands me the receipt. I balance the pineapple on my head and proceed to the elevator where an artist with a show coming up in Chelsea pushes the button—he’s going to be Famous! Not an elevator man, but famous! He is nervous, doesn’t sleep, still has so much work to do! I am a proud mother suddenly. I will be there, I promise. Little do we know, as we ascend together, that three miles south eight feet of water is beginning to churn and desire and yearn. Little do we know, this morning, that the art show in Chelsea will never happen, that the river’s hunger will surge over all the civil agreements, leases, contracts and rights. That it will spare no canvas or hand-made book or potential fame. That only three little maple trees along the West Side Highway, so sweet and magically untouched by the ravages, their yellow leaves still fluttering and burning---a true commencement, such achievement, what a relief---will remain in tact.