Three hours and four minutes until sunset and in this minute the sunlight is flooding the back room of our apartment, at least as much as the Christmas tree in the window will allow it to.
It’s the shortest day of the year. I am stretched on a couch that’s not a bench, which is luxurious and also leaves a pit in my stomach. This couch retails for more than we paid for our old station wagon, but there were Black Friday discounts and a credit card to help cover the costs. Choosing comfort is not always comfortable.
On the table, papery bronze paperwhite bulbs appear to levitate above the bowl I’ve placed them in. They’re balanced on a handful of rocks I scooped from the landlord’s garden, and their white roots have dug themselves deep into the water, insurance against gravity and the steady growth of their bright green shoots. Silas notices that the tallest ones have opened their blossoms first. Probably because they get the most sun, he says, and I nod and say yes. Probably.
In the evenings after dark, my kids barrel into the apartment, elephants on the stairs that are covered in brown linoleum and trimmed with aluminum strips. The walls are painted to the halfway point, a kind of trompe l’oeil marble that gets rubbed with puffer jackets and static-y hair as one child tries to squeeze past the other. My stomach lurches thinking of someone falling backward in the melee. I meet the ruddy-cheeked elephants with a reassuring smile and let my stomach settle as I kiss the cold tops of heads.
The movers who delivered our couch probably tried to be careful, but there was rain and a double-parked truck and that old staircase with a turn in it. The box was ripped open, the couch was squeezed over the threshold and the slip cover snagged. We’ll send a new one, the couch company said. As if it were nothing. As if we hadn’t saved up and debated and wondered if a couch were a thing we deserved. We’ll keep the snagged couch and a deeper discount which has helped the pit in my stomach and the credit card bill, both.
On nightly walks to pick up Calder from daycare, I pass a building where my four times great grandmother lived for a time at the turn of the last century. I know lots about the ancestral ghosts and angels that walk these city sidewalks with me, but I hadn’t realized there was one lingering so close. On the evening when I learned the news, I passed her building, and saw a man propping open the front door. Four times great-grandmother, I said. I live down the street. I just found out.
He invited me in, which is the kind of thing New Yorkers whose shell you crack even a little will do, and together we climbed the curving wooden staircase to the second floor. In a niche at the turn in the stair—a spot claimed to be carved out for accommodating heavy furniture, or coffins, or both—stood Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her hands were clasped in prayer, her golden aureole blossoming behind her head, a solid layer of dust at her feet. The building had just been sold, the man told me. The old woman who lived in this apartment had just died. Who knows what will happen next, we agreed.
Fourteen minutes and thirty-four seconds until sunset. The sky above the buildings is orange and golden, the last brilliant rays of today’s last light.
Comfort sought and found, not always in the places where we expect it.