it began in early summer after the cafes & restaurants carved dining areas from empty parking spaces, scratched we're open, thank God! on sidewalk blackboards in untouched yellow chalk & left stacks of face masks by their cracked & lonesome tip-jars.
then the heat roared: an invisible demon more familiar than the one that forced New York to scrub the sheen from brass doorknobs & let packages wilt in the bleaching sun until we were sure that, maybe, probably, they wouldn't kill us.
& so, gradually,
our guard has slipped, fallen with the sweaty masks from our sun-starved faces. now we look up from the headlines on our cracked phones & scatter like weighted dice across the asphalt, tumble into makeshift clubs & wield our takeout cocktails like torches against the dark. we draw deep their sugared potency through long, paper straws, thinking: yes, it's just like I remember-- this feeling, the old invincibility. this is how it tasted last summer. these are the old jokes that never stopped being funny. we're even kissing again.
& then someone starts coughing into their parched hands--
long wheezes, body shakes, a barrage of sick intensity.
still, we say nothing. our chairs scrape the hot earth as we inch closer to the tables
& sip from our glasses, parched for more memories of a healthy past.
Michael McSweeney is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lives with his partner and cat. These days, he's finishing up a novel and intermittently publishing new work on his personal blog-newsletter, The Greenwood Heights Review. He tweets on Twitter at @mpmcsweeney.