Eliza was a girl and Jacob was very fond of her. He loved her clumsily. She made him feel very brash and very bold—often when he thought of her he would coil up, his arms drawn into his sides, bent at funny angles, and then they would shoot out and his spine would straighten in a sudden, explosive motion. He would laugh when he thought of her light eyes and dark hair. It was a laugh of marvel more than anything, for she was the sort of thing that he imagined, late at night, when, tired of the girls who fucked on video, he would close his computer and turn out the lights and conjure up a creature all his own. The girls he invented in the dark were vague, made of words and not images: slender and pale and bad, always bad, with long hair and eyes that were either very dark or very light. He stacked these words together and found himself aroused on a deep, near spiritual level just from the idea of them all together in a person. He would feel warm and alive, as though filled with light. Even in her bodiless, shapeless, word-only state he believed her to be real, and then his eyes would well with joy when he pressed them shut and forced himself to sleep. And then he would wake up next to Eliza and not know which girl he preferred.
Julian had not started the daunting task of cataloguing his brother’s life until relatively recently. He was leaning out of his bathroom window one evening breathing cigarette smoke out into the alleyway shared by four old brickfaces, looking into whatever windows he could. This particular brand of voyeurism helped to settle his nerves even more than the cigarette did, and often he would just have the thing smolder in between his fingers as he bored his eyes through tempered window panes and into the kitchens and bathrooms and pantries of others, people he did not know but who he knew, simply because he had been doing this for months now. Across the way exactly was a middle aged woman who watered plants she kept tenuously on her sill, and who, without fail, would lose track of her flowers and stare into the black of the alleyway every night, pouring the contents of her small watering can onto the asphalt below. A few floors below her was a man who smoked a cigar and drank a scotch while sitting on the toilet, a fan at his back, blowing the fumes toward the window, but inefficiently. Julian could see the ashy clouds bounce about the small room as the man puffed away, only some of it spilling out into the evening. On his side, there was a girl with strawberry blonde hair who liked to call her boyfriend and listen to him talk for close to an hour every night. She only interrupted him to tell her little brother to be quiet or to demand her mother stop pestering her. Twice Julian tried to photograph these people from his window, through the smoke of his cigarette and getting as many windows in the frame as his equipment would allow, but for whatever reason the photographs he produced never meshed with the image his mind wanted.
The policemen are yelling at Nicole’s brother Sam. Above them the sky is an incomplete blue, the sun still hanging up in the hot air. Sam has climbed over a barrier between the bustle of West End Avenue and the relative calm of the Henry Hudson before the bombs drop. He is not allowed there—that’s what the barriers mean. But Sam is feeling rebellious. He wants to leap over things—Superman of the West Side—and run away. Nicole doesn’t know it yet but she knows it. The policemen are leaning out the window of their cruiser and shouting at the back of Sam’s head. He’s looking toward the Hudson where barges are parked like fat, slow-moving whales. Sam leans against the barriers, pushing two of its four feet in the air, a horse bucking its rider. Settle down, kid, the policemen say together, just out of sync. Keep walking.
Scanning through the contact list in his cell phone Harris paused upon reaching his wife’s name, which he had changed to reflect her new position as spouse to a man with the last name Moore. He thought about how strange the name looked attached to her own surname by a hyphen. His wife had not done that bit of surgery when she had married Harris. She had kept her name, the sturdy Hudson, and he had not thought twice about it. He liked the way the name looked beside her first, liked how it looked when she scrawled it on checks and holiday cards, liked how she had written it, thousands of times, in her college notebooks, had designed, when she was ten, a crest for the name, complete with fire-breathing dragon. He liked how it felt complete. Mary Hudson. How it fell in nicely with Harris Reed, or so he thought. Once, when he was drunk and they were still young, he told her that he was thinking of changing his own name to match hers. Why is it always the woman who has to change? he slobbered. Sometimes a man needs to change. With Moore attached to Hudson, Harris felt like his wife had added on some new, glistening part that made her better. A turbocharger. Hudson-Moore was an improved version of his wife, he was sure, capable of putting out more horsepower and using less fuel.