I’m sitting here imagining a dixie cup filled with cigarette ash sitting on a beige card table in that apartment on Cayuga Street we used to live in. We both smoked back then, in that house of ash. A real but childish attempt at adulthood. Outside it’s winter blowing around, creating a stir, cars skidding sideways down Seneca Street landing softly in drifts as tall as Lew Alcindor. Inside, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 is playing on your boom box, but we kept the cassette too close to the radiator so the piece is no longer in D major. It slips around, hovering somewhere between a C and a B. Funny but still profound, parts of it. The bearded German afraid of Beethoven. We too are moving in slow circles like a couple of stoners making bread. There’s pea soup simmering on the minuscule stove. If I close my eyes I can smell it, the heavy saltiness of the ham hock, a little bit like sex. And wine, bottles of wine, in the house of ash.
I think to myself, imagining the joy of being together on a cold day, Jesus Christ I don’t want to die yet. Not yet. All the odors, the tastes, the way your skin feels -- hot and cold, soft and hard -- and the way those sensations have lodged in my heart, how they possess me still. My effin heart pounds at the knowledge that nothing has changed since those salad days upstate when it comes to the hunger I feel, the desire to eat, to fuck, to touch. L’homme moyen sensual, they say, but I have no idea what it means to be normal. I still don’t, even though I remember being told at a pool party years ago, "You're too normal for your own good." Who was it who said that?
There are things that should never be written down.
How many packs of cigarettes did we go through daily? I remember you sitting at the rehearsal piano playing Heart and Soul -- hell, it wasn't just you, we all played that damn thing all night long -- with a butt dangling between your lips while we stood around smoking, singing, and laughing, dancing in our awkward adolescent bodies to the primitive sexual rhythm of the left hand. I remember burn-marks on the keys and piano-frame. I put them there. Careless youth.
It's snowing again, thick wet flakes hit the warm sidewalk and melt. And it's a Saturday, so most of the city is still asleep. Across the wet, gray courtyard a light comes on in the second floor apartment opposite ours. A young couple moved into it a few months before the hurricane but I've barely seen them since. They go to work early and come home late. This morning I see the woman in a bathrobe move about the kitchen, apparently making coffee. I feel a bit like a voyeur, with a creeping excitement coming on -- she's moving slowly, her body still filled with sleep, and her hair is undone, falling in long strands before her when she bends down, and I'm as alert as a hungry mammal as I stand by the window, off to the side, and watch. I suppose I should say that she reminds me of you, those many years ago, when you padded around the kitchen in those absurd bunny slippers, running the water, measuring out the coffee, heating the water. I never wanted it to end but it already had, didn't it? Even if its beauty was meant to last forever, according to the poets we read aloud to each other.
Whatever she was doing in the kitchen is done and she's gone back to bed having turned off the light. I probably won't see her again for weeks, maybe months. The snow won't stick unless the temperature drops. I gave up smoking a while ago -- when you get older you don't feel like playing around with death, for you know it's going to come of its own accord, whether like the flash of a meteor or like a slow summer afternoon. It will come and erase even the memories of those wintry days upstate when our slow dancing went on for hours and seemed to go on forever. We closed our eyes and reached for the pack of cigarettes, making little animal noises with our breaths. Then we lit up, got back under the covers, and pictured the wonderful life to come. There, in our house of ash, on a morning just like this one.