Drownings (part one)
While the world was buying nothing, and working at nothing, the city underwent its heart-rot. Apartment houses ceased to cohere…
Not the residents, still and always pleased to avoid each other, but the bricks and beams. A few had money for heat and ran it; some, walking their afternoons away, no spur to unbundle from their beds in early mornings, allowed the rooms of richer neighbors to preserve their own.
Toilets once flushed in the sync of employed lives burdened drains at odd times. Gas ovens ran incessantly with windows cracked. Doors slammed, walkers coming home, no business they had rattled the knob of wanting them. Doors slammed when marriages broke, slammed volcanically when tenants were evicted. Buildings swayed to this different pattern of vibration; hot water ran in cold pipes, caulked panes of glass fell loose. The breathing, through stairways and elevator shafts, became a wheeze. Rainfall worked in. Saturated masonry froze and expanded.
Structures, lonelier and chillier, misted by fogs, began to occupy their horizons with promises of impermanence. And then there were the bodies in the river.
Newscasters liked saying “suicide wave”. The river emptied into the harbor and took the tidal bore—the joke might be meant. The question was whether any of the drowned mattered. You got some comfort thumbing your nose at death, when it embraced mere strangers.
McAlley and his companion were in active search.
“How easy?” he asked her.
“I don’t see why not. I mean, how can they say no? A friend might be able to put a name. No one goes around with special proofs they know a particular person.”
McAlley tapped the wool-coated elbow, hovered close to her on the towpath, operated as a guardian with this privilege of touch, while he kept himself from knowing Faia so well she lost her angel status. She had a bare face and frowning eyes, hair grown to any length coming through her scarf onto her collar.
The bank here was reinforced by cemetery detritus, gravestones slabbed together; monuments, like relics of civilizations, thrusting out of sludge a brass topper or the planes of an obelisk. The earth sank and pooled regardless. A discharge pipe emptied feet below and traced its flow here on the surface.
And if you came so far, you descended stairs to the old canal, bedded now in its tunnel, walled with perspiring glazed blocks, cold and almost blind at its unlit center. The debouchment was a creation, a dredging of old marshland…an entire city district lay drowned under their feet. Said fascinating for snorkelers, who made an informal museum of two drainage channels flanked by iron rails. Clay pipes and oyster-shell buttons. Metal fittings for wooden shafts. Chamber pots and drinking cups. Modern things, phones and aerosol cans. Sandy shards, groupings that curated themselves as the floods rose and fell.
McAlley stooped. Faia, murmuring, “Horrible down here. A morgue….” moved past, not noticing her boots splash his trouser legs. He had spotted a laminated card, wondered at this, that the diver hadn’t tried returning it. A workplace identification: small photo, medallion logo, name, employee number no doubt, illegible in weak light.
“McAlley!’ She caught his lapel and drew him close. “Isn’t that one?”
(2021, Stephanie Foster)