Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New York Intimacy

Our Brooklyn neighbours have seen me naked more times than I care to remember. In our front room, more than thirty sets of windows face our window across the street, usually shuttered or sullenly dark in the daytime, but occasionally animated with ghostly life. In the middle room the window looks out onto an airshaft, and a peeping tom would need a wide-angled telescope to cop anything half-decent. Not so our kitchen. Washing up is like looking in a mirror. I turn on the water. My neighbour, standing less than two feet away, facing me, does the same. In unison we clatter our pots and pans, reach for scrubbing brushes and babytalk our mewling cats. The only acknowledgement I make of her is to angle my body to the side, as if sidestepping a mirror after dark - an echo of an older superstition.

The windowframe cuts her off at the chin and the navel. Even in winter she wears tank tops. Last year she turned on the airconditioning in April, and kept it nasally whining until well into the Fall. We have come to the conclusion that either her personal themostat is set on high, or she is just an enemy of the planet. She has probably heard these discussions, since we do not use our airconditioner and keep our windows flung open year round. Or perhaps her airconditioner drowns them out.

Our buildings are cheek to cheek, bending round the airvent to hug close again bathroom to bathroom. I smell the food she's cooking, the smoke when friends visit, which isn't often. I hear her door bell as well as my own, startling up from my desk and sinking back down when I hear the answering buzz of the door release. We don't often hear voices. Because she lives alone, it's easier to maintain the illusion of privacy. Like a child covering its face with its hands we insist: you can't hear us if we can't hear you.

The windowframe cuts me off from chin to navel. When I go to the bathroom in the night I run, my hands crossed over my chest. This is all my New York privacy. And as long as I never have to meet her, it's enough.

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