We left the restaurant and began walking up Clinton Street. At nine o’clock, the Village is just waking up, shaking off its dusky haze and getting down to business. But we four already had most of the day we planned to have. Scott and Amy had a sitter to relieve at home, and Debbie and I had a long day of travel behind us. Just a short walk to savor the evening and dinner and friendship, and then we would call it a day. This may be the city that never sleeps, but mere mortals must.
There’s no grime like New York City grime, the thin invisible film that adheres to your hands, picked up from no place in particular but everywhere you’ve been and everything you’ve touched. Mostly you aren’t aware of it, though something deep inside reminds you not to touch your face. This was years and years ago, a decade or more before the COVID-19 pandemic. You wouldn’t be thinking of any specific disease really. You just knew that your hands weren’t clean. But, if you happened to see an old friend on the street, you wouldn’t have hesitated to shake hands.
The lights were on in a shop. There was a glow coming from inside. By the door, a polite young woman stood. She said, “Would you like to come in and wash your hands with our new bath scrub?”
We looked at each other, and smiled, and said. “Sure.”
In the middle of the small but elegant showroom stood an ornate fountain of a sort of classical, vaguely Italian design. There was room for all four of us to wash our hands together in its bowl. The young woman placed a generous amount of the sea salt scrub, scented with vanilla and patchouli, in each of our hands, and we washed them, enjoying the way the salt first scratched then melted leaving a soft silky slick feeling behind.
It was strange. And very pleasant. And strangely public. I don’t think any of us was as conscious before of how dirty our hands felt until we washed them. Afterwards, the young woman handed each of us a small towel to dry our hands, then she placed a small amount of a cream, with the same scent as the salt scrub, in the palm of each of our hands. We rubbed in the cream.
Amy, Scott, Debbie and I grabbed a cab.
Riding along, we kept rubbing our hands together, and then planting our noses deep between our palms and breathing in.
They were dropping us off at the University Club in Midtown before heading to their apartment on the upper East Side. Just before dropping us off, Scott asked, “Is anyone else thinking of baptism right now?”
“I love the elm trees,” I said to Debbie, “Because of the colors this time of year, the greens, deep, but glowing and russet, when the light catches them late in the day like this. And, of course, I love the irony of all those tiny leaves providing nourishment for such enormous trees.”
We were sitting side by side in the fading light of an early evening in our back yard in Austin, Texas. It was late summer. A Mexican free tail bat swooped low over the pool drinking. The air had begun to cool just enough in the deep shade that you could imagine finally that fall might successfully return again.
Debbie turned to me and said, “Russet? They aren’t russet. There’s no russet in the elm leaves. It’s your color-blindness, tripped up by the angle of the sunset. There’s absolutely no russet in the leaves.”
I breathed deeply. Nodded. Took a long drink from my whisky.
We sat in silence for awhile, the light fading away, the cicadas beginning to sing.
The bat flew through again.
“I still love the elms best,” I said, “Especially now, the leaves turning russet when the light catches them like this late in the day.”
The morning after the wedding I was in the kitchen cooking up huevos rancheros and skillet potatoes, onions and green chilies. A stack of fresh corn and flour tortillas sat on the counter ready to be placed on the dining table. Jeremy and his fiancé Caroline were setting the table. Debbie and George the golden retriever were having a discussion about the immorality of a dog eating cheeses set out for human consumption. You could tell that George felt really bad about what he’d done. Coffee was brewing, a bottle of decent champagne was open, and the whole house smelled like home.
The phone rang.
It was our daughter, Jessica, newly married.
“Good morning,” She said.
“Good morning, darling…… Are you alright?” I asked.
“Sure,” She said. ‘What are y’all doing?”
‘We’re having breakfast. Or are about to.”
‘What are you having?’
‘I told her.”
‘Oh, wow. That sounds good.”
‘Why are you calling? You’re on your honeymoon.”
They had stayed in Austin the night after the wedding, but were leaving later that morning.
‘I know. How about we come over for breakfast too?”
There are moments too good to believe.