The City Wears a Coat to Bed

The City Wears a Coat to Bed

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The white army of winter spreads across the city. Boilers and radiators
die in their sleep, their skin cold to the touch in the morning. The city
wears a coat to bed. The city watches the wraith of breath rise in the kitchen.

On Friday afternoons, the judges slip off their black robes and drive home.
There is no light in the windows of the courthouse. There is no one to read
the affidavit or sign the injunction to shove into the landlord’s hand so that
heat courses through the heart of the boiler and the looping hard veins
of the radiator again, no one to hear the tenant’s story translated, her sons
and daughters shivering in their coats on the mattress, snot on their sleeves.

The judges and the landlord home or stopping in a bar on the way home,
she tells me instead, the lawyer who speaks Spanish and explains in Spanish
why there will be no heat this weekend, why there is no one at the courthouse
to listen, and still she pours her story into my ears till they swell to bursting.

I walk her to the doorway of the office. The secretary is in the bathroom,
the office space heater in the corner. Suddenly, I am steering the tenant
out the door with the space heater in her arms, as she says Gracias over
and over and I say OK, OK, knowing the secretary would yell my name
louder than the time a drunk with a lightning scar on his belly charged
through the door, naked but for his socks and a Salvation Army blanket.

The secretary would not miss the office space heater till Monday. I am the hero
of this story, riding the bus home across the bridge, till I remember the words
I should have said about the glowing coils too close to the mattress, how every
week another fire rolls the smoldering wraith of winter through the bedroom
as sons and daughters sleep, how every week EMTs tuck white sheets over
bodies dead as a landlord’s boiler. I will dream, with eyes open, of windows,
the coils of space heaters and the coils of mattresses glowing in every window.

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