03 March 2014
I sleep to the lullaby of sirens — hardly the honey-tongued, motherly, sweet melodies sung to us as babes, but more of a mother whose rope has unraveled to a quickly disappearing wisp of patience, pleading on her knees for you to behave — am lulled by the train’s whistle, gently swayed by polluting trucks rumbling past, and am distantly welcomed to the MTA at 1AM, as a bus puffs to curb, for a beat, and that strange pre-recored voice, that is both human and not, wafts up three floors to reach me through sleep-lidded eyes.
My sins are convicted by a voice without a body that booms from some street corner unseen, in an impassioned sermon that impresses most upon me, the innate ability some people possess to shout for thirty minutes straight, barely bringing any breath back into their lungs. The neighbors — and due to my very poor ability to decipher the direction of sounds, I don’t really know which ones — indoctrinate me with a muffled history of 1960s soul music, from 10pm to 3am, a course I did not know I’d signed up for.
Hustlers dot the street corners, as I coast off the interstate and slither three lanes over to wait. There’s the rose-seller, supposedly in a cult, the one with suspicious foil covered tins like little space ships, the one with dreadlocks that stroke the soft bend at the back of the knees, the one with stacks of CDs slipped from hand to hand who moves to fill the frame of my window, and when I nod a “no, thanks” regresses again, jostling the plastic cases with no jacket art. I sit at the light and let myself be hypnotized by the revolving auto shop sign winking every few seconds in the 5 o’clock sun, until the punch of green that breaks the spell, and I’m gliding in an arc through the intersection.
The salt-combed streets disappear beneath my tires, also chalky, and every car in its thick winter coat of filth. Peeling down [omitted] St, I can almost see aristocratic ghosts, with a drink dangling between their fingers, lingering on those wrought iron balconies that masquerade as delicate paper lace. Cut from the cloth of a very eclectic quilt, bohemia is juxtaposed against the ghetto, a strange tango, the two of the them, and prostitutes and starving artists and judges and hustlers and good family men and deadbeat dads and drug addicts and ministers all live within this same strip of Baltimore. That’s its charm, more gambling than a casino, a roll of the dice, and you never know if you’re going to get, a friendly smile or .32 caliber bullet through your brow.
“Hey, lady in black, how you doin’?” a night-blind cat-caller sings, and I say nothing, but sling the bulging bags of groceries over my shoulders and clumsily climb up the three flights, the bags now dangling like ornaments from my elbows. When I go, darkness still clings to the corners like cobwebs, and when I come home, a teardrop of burt sun splits the wall, as I half-shuffle out of my shoes, pushing the heels off with my toes and sliding them into my closet.
The wood beams slope gently from one room into another, creak and moan and bear the scars of a hundred something years, the ceiling bows a little, and the single-pane glass of the windows let the wind in — an unwelcome guest. In the evenings, I sometimes sit in one of the front windows and am lulled by the shifting of the traffic lights, the rhythm of cars coming and going. I can never see faces, from this angle, just hands gripping the wheel, reaching to tune the radio, or curling around a cup of coffee.
I know my neighbor in apt. 4, as Mr. B’s owner, because I’m embarrassingly bad at remembering names, except for those belonging to canines, it would seem. Mr. B., is a pleasantly well-mannered tea cup dog that rarely barks, and his owner, whose cigarette smoke mysteriously drifts into only one of my closets, calls me “baby girl,” or “sister,” depending on the day…
Excerpt from a letter I wrote to my friend Misma Andrews. Photo by Alison Scarpulla.