Post Road Magazine #28

Goodnight, Moon

V. Hansmann

The storm blew itself out before dawn. There had been no sleeping through it, so around six o'clock, you decided to go in search of a coffee truck. A cup of hot coffee would distract and reassure. Enterprising New Yorkers would never let a little rain deter them, you thought. Surely there was commerce in caffeine and crullers. So, armed with an umbrella and a heavy little LED flashlight, you opened the door to the stairs.

The cold, blue puncture of its beam made the darkness even darker. The watery incandescence of an old failing flashlight would have assuaged, but the harsh light only compounded the trepidation. You took a breath, clicked it off, and slipped it into your pocket. Reaching out your hand, the measure of the stairwell felt familiar, the banister and the tread. Nevertheless, the descent was black on black on black and full of the suction of foreboding.

A branch from the nearby locust tree blocked the front door, a tangled obstacle to toss aside. Spattered across the sidewalk, its leaves winked like ghostly thumbprints, then vanished. The wind had moved on; the blackness in its wake was dense as tar, but the air felt thin and tattered.

The only illumination came from the headlights of the occasional automobile and a posse of police cars on slow patrol. It was impossible to discern much of anything. A person coming toward you could be detected only if they moved in front of a light source. Specters. Your eyes were as dilated as they could possibly be. The shimmer of obsidian wetness threw distortion like mylar confetti. Such discombobulation was thrilling.

Looking north up Broadway, the crown of the Chrysler Building radiated perfect consolation through a diffusion of ambient orange light, while downtown, a few unidentifiable buildings merely glowed. The two NYU towers that housed faculty shone brightly, while the third one of the set, home to people of low to moderate income, stood lifeless.

Along Astor Place, a formation of massive shapes hulked like military vehicles in mute readiness. You could not get a fix on their true dimensions or purpose, or read the writing on their sides, but after a few moments the details coalesced-a convoy of street sweepers.

You turned right down Lafayette Street and walked beneath an arcade of scaffolding. Hugging the foot of a building, a long row of large, soft humps. After a hiccup of speculation, they became human habitation. Weathering an elemental assault like this with no real roof overhead seemed incomprehensible, and on you went.

The atmosphere shifted from infinite night to denatured day. To the east, in the bleak undercarriage of the sky, a seam of the palest blue opened over the Puck Building. There was no coffee, nor had the world ended. You put your key in the lock and trudged the four flights to home.

From your window, you beheld people out and about conducting due diligence on their new day. The walkers of dogs took care of the basics. Your apartment was on the fifth floor corner above the intersection of Bleecker and Lafayette. Mulberry Street terminated there as well, creating a lively five-corners juncture. The Lexington Avenue subway ordinarily stopped at the corner, but service had ceased twelve hours prior. Yellow hazard tape blocked the entrance stairs.

The coffee imperative reasserted itself. Every morning, without fail, you brewed a pot to start your day. Down to the street again, only this time turning west, you reconnoitered Bleecker to Sixth Avenue. Nothing. On the way home, you noticed people milling outside a darkened bodega. Peering in revealed the availability of hot water and fried egg sandwiches. Their gas was working. You filled a large paper cup with hot water, which they waved away graciously, walked it home, and coaxed some Earl Grey into being. That, and a blueberry scone, felt like a reprieve of some kind.

You managed to make a couple of cell phone calls on that last foray. Reception was nearly hopeless, but you reached your parents, who somehow maintained you would soon appear on their New Jersey doorstep. "We're the only street in the whole town with electricity!" said your mother, "I'll make up your room." "I'd have to walk," you said. They're very old and it's a recurrent formality to disabuse them of cockamamie notions like this.

Clearly, downtown was kaput. But it was unclear just how far north one had to travel for life to resume. You recalled the night's telltale atmospheric sheen and hazarded a guess.

After teatime, it was naptime. You had not really slept during the hurricane. Something had wrenched loose at the construction site across the street, causing sonic booms from wildly flapping sheet metal.

Sometime before noon, you awoke to knocking at the door. The family from the floor above, returning from their first trip outside, inquired as to your wellbeing but bore no real news. That started you thinking like a Boy Scout: what could be done with the materials at hand? On one trip home to New Jersey, your mother had forced you to take an old transistor radio.

"Here, Bob, you never know."

You knew.

Never.

You took it anyway, because it was a 60s artifact in a leather carrying case with dials and a telescoping antenna. And because acceptance was always the most effective tactic with your mother and the onslaught of her benevolence. You recalled where you'd put the thing, which bureau, but not which drawer. Several remotes had to be cannibalized for batteries. Static, and suddenly-news. Chatter from distant precincts.

Lunch! Food will restore tattered equilibrium. You rescued two cooked chicken breasts from the fridge. A potential sandwich. Daringly, you swiped some mayonnaise across two slices of rye, but really, it would have tasted so much better on toast.

Somewhat later, more knocking.

What the fuck!

"It's Greg," said Greg from the stairs. You opened the door with a grin, "How the fuck did you get in the building?" "I have keys," he said. Of course. That's what neighbors are for.

You offered him a Diet Coke, chilled with the last of the ice, and the two of you sat and gabbed about this and that: the huge fire at Breezy Point, the extent of the power outage up to 34th Street, and the massive storm surge that had overcome the East Village and Chelsea to the west. Soon he left. He had a dog to walk.

The remainder of the afternoon you spent fussing-trying to organize stuff, trying to read, trying to conjure up cell phone reception. Finally, you found a spot, a random, susceptible location where, if crouching, you could hold a weak signal. You got in touch with your folks again, reiterating the impossibility of trekking to Jersey and spoke with both daughters and your ex-wife, who's in Connecticut without power for the third time in a little over a year.

Daylight fades from the room.

It's a quarter to eight. Candlelight and a concerto grosso from the transistor enfolds you. The turbulence has passed; the rain and wind, the confusion and anxiety, and the dissociation that comes with calamity. Soon we will know what exactly happened. You step to the window and look out at other candles flickering across the street, catching a glimpse of the devil moon as it ducks behind a flying scrim of clouds. There, sailing above the warm, glowing rooms of others, the implacable planetoid that had pulled tumult over the city's seawalls and into its tunnels, exploding transformers, and drawing this blanket of black velvet silence over your neighborhood.

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