In an alternate universe,
we painted this wall yellow—
goldenrod like a kitchen should be.
I see our shadows cross
entryways and hover over the wall
by the stove. Your hands
were the setting sun, bringing down
the hanging plants for thirst.
In another universe, the two-bedroom
is a three-bedroom, or only
a one-bedroom. It is sunny outside,
or rainy. Here sirens are going by
again. I hear two discrete
wails moving in different
directions. In that other life,
our life continues. I see the doors
of that apartment opening
and closing. Shoes by the door,
shuffling back and forth
from the shoe rack
to the mat as we carelessly
move about in space. For the fifth
night, the death toll in New York
has been hovering at 800. Those two
sirens have faded, but a third now
comes closer and grows louder.
I focus hard on the other
timelines. Here we are four
instead of three; here we
are packing for vacation;
here our toddler surprises herself
with the cold splash of
a playground fountain. In this
world, this now, this city,
the roads are quiet. A roar
has become a hush. Another siren,
so remote it should be
inaudible. I look away from
the window and the howling
EMS vehicles, I look away from
those alternate families. They are not
what is in front of me. We put the volume on
high. We hold hands and jump.
Curls freeze around my daughter’s
face. They bounce and bounce.
The walls are lavender, and the sunset
turns them pink as cheeks.
In the Pine Grove
I could almost forget that this is not the world
I was promised. The floor is springy; an owl hoots
above in the upper limbs of a white pine. I didn’t know
pines could grow this tall. What is missing is the dull roar
of traffic on the Jackie Robinson, the ice cream truck
melody, the dinging of helado vendors, chatter
from the blacktop and playground below the park,
an easy breath, mindfulness, any number of ingredients
to keep my sanity. My daughter remains resilient. She flings
herself between the new, small pines, planted to replenish
the unique habitat here in the middle of Queens. Her fingers
reach without worry. I try to locate the tree we planted
three short years ago, my body already encumbered
with pregnancy. It is now one tree among many, and who knows—
it may be one of those that has now died. I didn’t think
about the ease in my life. This is what I know we have
been doing wrong. And really: nothing was promised after all.
In quarantine I think about Rainier cherries. In Chinatown
they sell them 1.99/lb. The big metal scoops are just
for show—the yellow and pink flesh too prone to bruising
are instead lovingly hauled by hand to the hanging scales.
Even nine months pregnant, sweating and in compression
socks, I walked up Broadway
to return with bright red bags brimming.
My husband would bring me five pounds at a time.
Their season is just around the corner. My daughter
learned to love them, too. The pucker, the sugar,
the ping of the pit as it hits a ceramic bowl. The juice
and the blush of the thin skin. We are lucky;
I know it. We work and share childcare.
Our paychecks still come. Our daughter
is not not okay. Food fills our kitchen. I am selfish
to still think about the cherries. Will they rot
in the branches? Will the workers be kept safe
and distant? Will they ship to stores I’m too scared
to shop in? Will they taste the same, without
the pavement pounding, the salt on my upper lip,
the pink cheeks from my lunch hour walk, with no sunblock?
Emily Hockaday is the author of five chapbooks including Space on Earth and What We Love & Will Not Give Up. She can be found on the web @E_Hockaday.
Photograph by Dapo Oni.