My mom was in the city yesterday taking an oral exam at a local high school. I couldn’t go in with her, so during her test I wandered the neighborhood, waiting until she was done.
I found myself beneath an on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. I couldn’t say how I got there, or how I’d find my way back to the high school, but I became fascinated by the spray-painted symbols on the underside of the on-ramp.
H, as in what? Hello or Help or Here? Someone more knowledgeable about bridgework would know.
I kept walking.
I passed the police station.
I passed an impromptu skate park.
A friend from high school randomly happened to see me and called out my name. He was visiting just for the day from upstate. I was surprised to be recognized. Then it felt okay, that I could still be that same person—much more bitter inside—but still the same.
I meandered. An old man in a suit and hat stared through a hole into a construction site. He watched the quiet hole in the ground for many minutes. I wondered if he’d once lived there—in that spot, before whatever had been there had been demolished.
I let him be.
Then I found the alleyway pictured here, a narrow tunnel between streets, overhung with construction scaffolding. I ventured inside to take pictures. It was lit at the opening and lit up faraway at the end—and between all darkness. The walls were painted with what felt like advertisements from a century ago. Who would have walked this narrow alley to see them? I stood inside a while, traffic and noise outside, in the light. I’m drawn to the spaces between buildings, the gaps in the streets that aren’t really streets, the secrets. Dangerous, I know, but still magnetic.
I didn’t have much time to spare, so I soon tore myself from the edge of the alley and found a café to read a magazine until her test was over. I sent my mom good thoughts. Soon enough, I had to find my way back.
Afterward, she came out smiling—we hope she did well on her test—and we took photos of ourselves in front of a statue of a yellow-and-blue dog to commemorate the day. I don’t know what the yellow-and-blue dog had to do with her test, or the day, or anything really, we just like taking pictures of ourselves, just to prove we were here.
It was at Grand Central that I gave my mom a story I’d written, recently published in a literary journal. I told her not to read it in front of me. An hour later, she called me from the train to tell me she liked it. She is always surprised how I describe places, she says, the details of what I remember. In that story, it was the paper walls of a friend’s house. Maybe someday it will be the dark, grimy walls of an alley downtown, or the passageway under a bridge, or the patch of sidewalk while seeing a person I knew in another life, or a peephole into a construction site, or a yellow-and-blue dog. It’s impossible to say.