In the city, it never gets dark. Not truly. On nights like this, in the fog, the lights bleed across the sky, watercolor grey, spilling out over the silence. Dapple dances across my apartment wall. A car drifts into the good night on the street below. I am restless. The light fills me with an intense energy, something ethereal and concrete, my very molecules vibrating, never-ending.
The construction sites were the worst. From my window, I could see three. They stayed lit all night, their wireframe cranes guarding over the sleeping nests. Their xenon arcs carried the farthest through the dim. A sickly white light, false moonbeams shot out in rays like pinpricks in a curtain.
I never was much of a sleeper anyways. Nights like these, I did my best, but sometimes you know it’s not worth trying. I grabbed my running shoes and my rain jacket and hit the street.
I dropped out onto the alley, as dark a place as I was likely to find. I readjusted the notebook in my back pocket, making sure to protect the exposed pages with my jacket. I cinched the elastic around my waist, and zipped the jacket up above my chest. I started walking south.
New York may be the city that never sleeps — I don’t know, I’ve never been — but no city ever sleeps. They wait. Like a panther stalking a gazelle, treading through the long grass, wholly focused on the prize, waiting for the impending violence. There’s no rush; the city isn’t going to starve.
I didn’t have a destination in mind, just figured I’d walk until I didn’t want to any more, and turn around. My hood was up, but it wasn’t raining. The moisture permeated the air, drifting like a current through the streets. I was going against the grain.
I saw a man’s face in an alley, lit by the glow of a cigarette. I stopped to watch, for a passing moment. His nostrils flared as he inhaled, and he pulled the flame from his lips before breathing smoke to the sky. I was gone before he could look for me.
There was a sort of buzzing the city had, from the tops of the skyscrapers, to the bottom of the asphalt. Some deep thrum of the Earth, like a vast machine, gears churning and gnawing for every scrap. This came wordlessly, silently, only a matter of feeling. I couldn’t get away from it, but I didn’t want to. I felt some sort of connection to this soundless hum, as if were I to leave I’d cease to be as I was.
As I walked, I looked up into the skyscrapers I passed. Little compartment, all glowing different shades of gold. I wondered about those that lived there, who they were, what they did, what they were doing up at a time like this. I stopped and watched one such building, leaned against a brick wall. Lights came on, lights went out. I kept walking.
About halfway there, I decided where I’d go. I’d make my way down to the river. There were wooden benches there, right on the water, where during the day people sat and watched the boats. But I wanted to watch the waves. I craved the smell of the water, the glimmer of reflections along the crests.
The hum of a diesel engine crept up on me. A bus passed. The cool fluorescent washed over me. The bus was empty, shy for a lone man sitting in the second to last row, head leaned against the window, eyes staring out empty. I couldn’t tell if he’d seen me, as he didn’t react. I liked the way it felt, like I was some ghost, a drifter, following the currents but affecting nothing, lone in my journey south.
I never made it to the river. About a block away, I saw a fire escape spiraling up into the fog. The last flight rested against the alley, and I felt a pull up towards the top. The building was an old hotel, that now housed as many permanent permanent residents as it did temporary ones. I felt the wrought iron, cool to the touch and slick from the rain. I gazed upwards.
I climbed, one rung at a time, careful of the danger and to stay hidden. I stopped on the fourth floor, as the fifth and up had windows I would have to have crossed.
I looked across my new perch. There wasn’t a lot to see, on account of the weather, but I tried to take advantage of the perspective.
Through the mist, a warm glow poured into the air. I had trouble parsing what I was looking at exactly, until a figure passed and stopped between the light and I. His sleek and strong silhouette was all I could make out in the night. He leaned against the rail of a fire escape across the way. His head turned, facing past where I hid, and I worried I had been found out. But then again, if I had been discovered, so would he.
He stood up more, not turning around. From where I watched he seemed larger than life. Another figure came out of the dark, a woman, and she placed her hands on the rail. He wrapped his arms around her, standing behind her back. He kissed her neck, and they looked out together. The woman looked up, pointing into the air. I tried to see what they saw, but I never could. The building was in the way. When I looked back, they were already gone, the light that had been theirs gone out.
I sat for a moment, on the cold rails beneath me. Remembering my notebook, I hurried to scratch down what I had seen, a graveyard of moments only I could describe. I went home and felt heavy, as if I had taken in all the water I had felt. I laid down in bed, and went to sleep immediately.
I woke the next day, eager to transcribe my notes, my feelings, from the night prior into my computer. When I sat down, I turned to the page marked, and found that it wet; all my ink had ran. I fear I may not have been able to capture these small stories, given the sad state of my entries on them. And yet, that single wet page perhaps captures it better than I could have.