Sunday Rain

This morning it’s raining, so it’s quiet. This means that the people fighting outside the pub late last night aren’t on the streets, and if it keeps raining they’ll stay home instead of coming out to nurse their hangovers or renew the argument. The birds are still tweeting, so it must be warm enough, and not raining hard enough to bother them. There are a few cars, making that swishing doppler effect noise as they pass, the tires moving the water to one side, enough to make that wet sound which means its rained enough to saturate the streets, the water dancing on the tar, making it shiny and smooth. The surface tension of things. The reason we all wash our hands now, repeatedly. Disrupting the attachment. And water has a high surface tension.

Someone has just honked their horn. Do they want someone’s attention? Shouldn’t Sunday morning mean that you could wait another few minutes before crashing through the silence with an old rusty horn, tucked away under the hood (bonnet), making more noise than something that size should. A symbol of human endeavor, the beeping and honking of city streets, supposedly representing energy and excitement. Or, like the shouting in restaurants, a feature of pre-pandemic life that I don’t miss, but I suppose will return, a symbol of wanting to be a size larger. The yin/yang of modern life – those with high status must be both tiny and huge, all at once. How stupid it all seems, as a bony elbow juts out below the bejewelled hand that waves imperiously for a taxi. Or the booming demand for service. The cult of the strong personality. Another yin/yang – appearing to be in the vanguard, while tied up in service to rules.

The birds are still peeping at each other. They used to come early in the morning, after dawn, and chirp loudly until I put some food out, but I guess they have given up on me. A notice went under our doors. It was from the building and told us to stop feeding the birds as it was attracting mice. I hate to tell you, building, but the mice seem to be inside. One looked at me last night, coyly peeping around the edge of the trap. There was a certain defiance in that stillness, I think, a sort of pride at having negotiated three traps unscathed.

And so another connection with nature has been disturbed. It’s strange to think that city dwellers only see pigeons, and dogs, cats and the occasional rat, wood pigeons and here, crows and blue jays. When the wind blows from a certain direction, the seagulls come, swooping around the rooftops, landing heavily and briefly, then moving on.

There is a hawk that glides on the air currents sometimes, circling above the buildings and train tracks, appearing to be as high up as the tall buildings in Manhattan, and the new ones that have erupted on this outer borough shore. If you lose sight of it for a moment, it will swoop away, sometimes disappearing, sometimes returning, before heading towards the north. Usually always to the north.

A plane just came in to land, and here is another one. They follow a path from the southwest, then turn over Greenpoint, maybe, then angle again to head to the airport. The engines are muffled in the rain. When you stand on the 7 subway train station nearest the airport, the planes are directly above, their underbellies white and flat, as the pilots manoeuvre the steel bodies, paying attention to the wind currents under and over the wings, sometimes bucking against a shear wind that makes the engines speed up or slow down, as they continue along the path, clearance to land, descending over the rooftops of the low-rise buildings and houses that are scattered along what used to be farmland.

And then the planes land, and then people come out, and spread into the streets. The New York Times says that in NYC there is a very high risk of catching COVID, that in fact January 2021 was the worst month of all since it all started. But everyone has decided that they are either wearing a mask, or not, or getting the vaccine as soon as they can, or not, and in the meantime they will travel, and drink, and order hamburgers, and do all the things they want. Regardless.

It’s confusing. On Instagram you can see people eating at restaurants, celebrating, laughing, determined to see and be seen, to spend money, to live it up.

And then you read the news.

I wonder why the hawk stays here. Perhaps it is one of the ones born in the park on the Lower East Side, and it’s used to city life. By the train yards, there must be mice to catch. I’ve added to that count two mice that I’ve caught, to live their best life by the tracks, hobo mice, or perhaps to be eaten by some larger predator, like the hawk. I’d like to think they hopped a train, just to see the world, or maybe just Long Island.

There was a video on Instagram or Facebook – they are the same, so it hardly matters. People out in a boat came across a whale tangled up in lost fishing gear. The whale couldn’t move its dorsal fins, or its fluke – the huge creature was tied up, and the back of it was ten feet below the surface. They tried to radio for help, but then realized there was no time left to wait. The whale was tired, and struggling, and running out of life force. So they pulled at the netting, and cut and cut. They freed a fin, and the whale could swim a bit, so they were dragged along. Then it stopped again, and they continued to work together, pulling the netting away, cutting it, pulling more away. Finally, the massive tangle of nylon rope was on the deck of the boat, not suffocating the whale. And it swam away and breached and played in the water.

Some people think its anthropomorphizing to claim an animal can know things, or say thank you.

Perhaps many animals think we are very slow, but see that some of us, at least, are trying.

I’m not looking forward to a return to work and restaurants and people if it just means people shout to be first, and that work is about possessing our bodies and time, insisting that we remain right where they can see us. Raising the question whose answer is meaningless if you need the money – is work service, and fulfilling a need, or a transaction that ignores our need for each other. All that applauding didn’t turn into pay rises for the workers on the front lines, for the health staff of the NHS. Voting rights being fought over again across the right wing states of the US. The election may be done, but freedom from fascism, like freedom from COVID, is a long way off from some fabled herd immunity.

The birds are calling, hopeful, even in the heavy rain. I look out and there are two starlings, under the platform of the fire escape across the alley, sheltering. They might have come for bread, before. I hope they understand. I’m not sure I do.

There’s a train horn in the near distance, and the rain is hitting the windows, pitting against the air conditioner, water on metal. Surface tension as it sticks and rests, six floors above the ground.

©Alice Severin