by DURGA CHEW-BOSE
Three years ago today, Anthology Film Archives screened Andy Warhol’s Empire – an eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building filmed from the 41st floor of the Time-Life building in 1964. I didn’t go to the screening, nor could I imagine anyone who might, but that Saturday afternoon I remember wondering if the experience, much like a runner’s high (though entirely in opposition to the threshold of endorphin release), produced some kind of floating, near-delirious state in its audience. I considered loitering outside the theater around the time the film let out if only to see the faces of those who had lived through it. While oxymoronic, there is something distinctly “summer” about spending a third of a day in the dark, zoning out, watching time pass. Like something very teenaged. In no other season can a person devote the majority of daylight inside and still emerge expecting to see the evening sun.
Before I met the kittens, a sister and brother named Annie and Dean, Sarah described their toy-sized bodies to me by cupping her hands together. Half an avocado, a squash ball, maybe two, could fit in that space. I was reminded of my friend Kate who years ago before I knew her, smuggled a hedgehog from Korea back to New York. She named it Louise. When Kate tells the story of how she snuck Louise through customs, Kate cups her hands and smiles just like Sarah. It’s funny how holding something small makes us grin as though we are up to no good. As though anything miniature is not yet meant for the world, and yet, there they are, yawning, sleeping, narrowing their eyes.
I never met Louise because she died of depression, but I’ve imagined her in the space between Kate’s cupped hands, and I imagined her again, in the space between Sarah’s hands.
Sarah brought Annie and Dean home on a particularly hot day; the kind of day that if they were babies and not kittens, years from now she might recall the day they were born in a storied, exaggerated manner. Heat waves in retrospect become folklore.
After showering, the lotion on my inside elbows always dries last and stays cool longest, especially when air from my fan hits it.
At night, my fan brushes my hair over my face. It feels like spiders are crawling all over me.
In June I went home to Montreal for my father and stepmother’s wedding. I began to tear up during my speech as I described a moment from childhood where one afternoon at a café, my father drew on a napkin the algebraic formula for when two people’s eyes meet in a room. While we often spent weekend afternoons together, especially in the summer –at cafes or at bookstores talking about who knows what – this afternoon and that piece of napkin algebra has outlasted them all. It was my father’s way of playing pretend with his daughter. I must have been old enough or tall enough for my feet to touch the ground, but I listened intently, like only children whose feet don’t yet touch the ground listen.
A few days after the wedding my father and I went to a bookstore. He couldn’t come inside with me because now he has Willis, a puppy Welsh terrier. I went in and sat by the window reading from The Selected Letters of Willa Cather while my dad found a bench and a coffee.
Willa in my lap, Willis at his feet.
Until you see your friend riding her bicycle, it’s so hard to picture your friend riding her bicycle.
Until you see your friend wearing that shade of pink that half the table argues is coral and the other half argues is salmon, it’s so hard to picture your friend wearing that shade of pink.
A couple weeks ago I saw a pregnant woman take a picture of her shadow. She was amused by its roundness. A few blocks later I was still thinking about the woman and soon my thoughts wandered to her future child a few years from now. Instead of a boy or a girl, I pictured a shadow. Mother and child shadows at the beach, feet walking and waddling towards the water – the baby’s shadow arms shaped like mini Popeye muscles, puffed out with floaties.
Whenever I see a swimming pool I think about a friend of a friend named Greg who, a few summers ago got a job painting pools. Despite having brown hair, Greg had a red beard, and no matter what time of day or no matter how many showers Greg took, all summer, Greg had specks of blue paint in his red beard.
Immobile and in pajamas, Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window is a New York City heat wave personified. He’s stuck and sticky and upset and paranoid. But Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont is dynamic, lissome, as though her feet are attached to spinning records. She enters the small Greenwich Village apartment in airy Edith Head gowns, tossing on a chiffon shoulder-wrap, lounging in chartreuse. Even her nightgown appears unreal: a filmy glow that trails her.
But Lisa Fremont’s mobility, in all of her gossamer goodness, has a clear purpose. Near the end, she climbs a fire escape and slides through an open window as her boyfriend watches panicked from across the courtyard. She is spry, agile, nimble. And it comes as no surprise.
Neighbors keep their windows open. I hear the clatter of utensils being sorted. I hear someone practicing the trumpet, repeating The Godfather theme. I hear a dinner guest arrive with wine and inquire about an opener. I hear a phone ring; it sounds like a landline. I only hear landlines ring in homes with parents. Has a parent moved next door? But I mostly hear utensils being sorted, twice, sometimes three times a day.
One night I hear a couple argue outside my bedroom window. Upset, she doesn't follow as he walks away.
A few minutes later he comes back and says, "Baby."
I can hear resistance because I can hear nothing at all, but then I hear two pairs of footsteps stumble and find that sweet spot home.
Sarah and Jesse invited me over for dinner. There was more food than room on the table so Sarah moved the lamp to the floor. It sat at our feet like a pet might, an old family pet that no longer begs for scraps of food, that no longer cares to. I looked down at one point and saw Sarah’s sandals flopped beside the lamp, her legs folded under her bum. In fact, nobody’s legs were under the table. Everyone’s bodies were slightly turned and the floor beneath the table was just the lamp, the sandals, and an oval-shaped yellow yolk of light.
Later that night I went home and wrote Sarah an e-mail. I told her I thought that dreams, it’s likely, are lit with lamps that sit on floors.
Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Sidney Lumet.
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