June hears them first and pulls us into the square.
“Welcome to New York, Welcome to New York!” Two dozen big gay voices.
This is exactly why I moved to the Castro at twenty, and bought in the West Village at fifty. Freedom, like singing, comes from the drawing of breath.
Michael arrives for Empire State of Mind. We played it at our wedding.
He whoops for the top-knotted soloist, but I catch him eyeballing a hard-looking white-boy taking pictures outside the fence. He’s worried about an alt-right assault, I know it.
Dance with your daughter, McCormick. Fill your lungs.
He arrives early enough. Walkways are clear, although many benches are occupied. The homeless seem to sleep in.
There were sweeping city views the first time he was here, during the summer of online dating that lead miraculously to Julie.
That day’s Digi-Match was Greek. So is McCormick, on his mother’s side. She had shiny black hair and believed in angels. Told him about a friend’s child whose aura was indigo. Who had been born to save.
He called her again—Nikki—but she didn’t return. Ego dent. And new construction has made a narrow valley of this fancy park.
Reading Harry Potter aloud. June tracks it, but only stops practicing headstands when there is a picture. Her favorite is a bleeding ghost.
The Hobbit had no illustrations, but Bill’s reading voice was smooth like his singing. Delaware nights. Couch up on cinder blocks, bouzouki leaning spot lit in the corner beneath a lamp.
McGonagall tells Harry he’s made the Quidditch team, like his father before him.
“Wow, now Harry knows what he’s really good at,” says McCormick, compulsive provider of object lessons.
“Now he knows he had a real family,” June answers, because she is where it all resides.
The Mighty Thor, who could fly if he had his hammer.
A cowboy. His banana seat was a saddle, alleyways dry riverbeds, the rack at school a hitching post.
A lawyer, because it was good to prove people wrong, and he watched Perry Mason summer mornings on channel 11, and talk came easy.
Then a writer. The pleasure of converting deeds into words—things you could call poems—struck him in college and he started thinking how well they used their loneliness (Hemingway in the bunker, Salinger at the farmhouse, Woolf in her hard-won room).
Only last (resigning?) a teacher.
Julie and the contractor consider stains for June’s new bed and closet.
Recalls a prompt he gives students. What’s the first room in which you remember falling asleep?
June’s window reveals green-leaved limbs, a sweet swath of sky, a balcony directly across where four Dachshunds pee at barking intervals. At sunset, tattooed owners dine on the same concrete plat.
McCormick’s place is Montana. Cinder block bare in Married Student Housing. To doze off, he listens to Bulldog football and songs that weren’t popular in Delaware. “The Streak.” “Country Bumpkin.”
Should be a lonely memory, but no. He was good then.
Grandparents are different from parents. Grandparents never get mad, but they are very worried if you go a few feet into the ocean with, like, even a tiny wave coming.
I have a Yiayia and Papou and a Halmoni and Haroboji, because I am half Korean and half New York.
Daddy says some of me came from him and is Greek. Crazy right? There wasn’t Greek in mommy’s belly.
Parents make you say sorry when they get frustrated. And sometimes they are sad.
Mommy cried a lot when Imo (Aunt Sue) died. Halmi and Harbi never even say her name.
According to his grandmother, people named Grivas died with their own hair and teeth.
And McCormick always believed going gray at thirty meant he wouldn’t suffer baldness. If he didn’t wear hats he probably wouldn’t recede at all.
As for teeth, he’s replaced what God gave him with titanium more than once.
He texts a photo from the chair to Julie (Jung-hye), who’s at lunch with her brother-in-law, niece, and June. They lost their sister, wife, mom, aunt (Sun-hi) in April.
He hates kimchi, but still feels left out. He taps another text:
Dr. Lotus says I have complicated roots.
First, that scooter he bought to ride around with June. Then showing off at beach yoga. Anyone could have predicted what would come next.
Facebook posts. Many. Of his kid and his wife, at the volcano and the waterfall…OMG, JUNE IS SNORKELING!
Worst of all, selfies from the golf course.
The only pics left in the camera were of food. Sure, you could have tasted that brick of flaming marshmallow flanked by banana ice cream and an elegant pile of graham cracker crumbs right through the video. But he had to maintain a shadow of his fiction. That cool reserve.
At beach yoga McCormick checked the other towels. Sunburned ankles, vanilla thighs, sandy glutes. But no buzzing and slapping. The carrion call was for him.
Probably because of the knee he skinned falling of his scooter last week. (Oh, Mikey, remember how you reviled grownups on scooters?)
New flesh came off like pudding skin in the hot-tub. Left a puffy yellow glob. The flies thought he was dead already.
Ten hours later, while June naps, he runs Makena Road. Left his glasses in the room. Can’t read the heart monitor. But he feels fast and hot, even this close to sunset.
After the morning race for chairs, from which Julie emerges with four under an umbrella, away from the smell of the grill, McCormick remembers rising early in Laguna Beach to claim the curtained couch by that pool. Because his sister-in-law needed privacy and the softest seat.
He’s glad Julie, helping June into a shimmering mermaid suit she bought her on the way to breakfast, doesn’t hear the women in the row ahead describing elaborate exploratory, the chance of biopsy.
Why do they sit together, leisure and mutation? And, as June asks often, what do you look like when you’re dead?