The Balcony: a story about place

It took them two years to find a home.  Exactly as they had wanted.  “Location, location, location,” she remembered her friend in real estate saying.  The house was two blocks away from a park, two blocks away from the bus, less than a ten minute walk to the train station, the waterfront along the Hudson with an expansive view of the city, was just a short walk away.  They had two young children.  The home came with parking, a full garage.  There was not a single home on Garden Street that had parking. 

While touring the property, she noted that the two floors, nearly identical in layout, had been built atop a warehouse.  Central air, simple red oak floors, and well-wired electrical connections.  The previous owner had been an electrician.  She made note of the small, unassuming deck leading out from the second bedroom on the lower floor with some amusement.  

She had grown up in a large city, crammed into an apartment building as a child.  There was a large open terrace above their fifth floor apartment that she used to play in, but one year the landlord added metal grills and a lock.  She regarded the closing-off as a child would, with curiosity, not comprehending any loss.  Then, there was the landlord’s lawn that she peered down at each morning from the narrow balcony in their home on Bright Street, the green especially lush after the monsoons.  No one was permitted to use the space, and she remembered thinking that one didn’t need these spaces, they couldn’t be meaningful if no one was allowed to use them.   There was no park nearby, her mom sent her with the other children packed in a car to Safari Park, each day.  She thought of the swings, the sandpit and trees in that space by the man made lakes.  Later, they had moved to a newly constructed, bigger apartment to a different part of town, and despite the upscale location, the Italian marble on the floors and the furniture designed by Calcutta’s newest decorator; the only thing she remembered was that her mother didn’t have a small garden or a terrace of her own without iron bars, and in her words with “a sky over her head.”  But I am not my mother, she thought, shaking off the memory.  

The deck lay unused that first summer that they moved in.  In the winter, thick snow carpeted the deck.  When spring came, she poked her head out.  The deck occupied a square space nestled in the back between all the houses on the block.  Each house had a small backyard.  The small gardens extended one after the next into the horizon, until they encountered some trees and a small apartment building.  Nestled in between the buildings, there was an old carriage house, sitting squat in the middle with tentacles of ivy winding up the side.  Behind the carriage house, another row of houses, with their windows and balconies looking onto hers.  There was a large tree to the left, branches covered with pale green buds.  The air was replete with birdsong or was it just the chirping of sparrows.  she saw a flash of red – could it be a cardinal – sitting on the antenna of the neighboring house, two lovebirds suddenly took flight.  The tip of a tree with pink blossoms starting to poke its head from the edge of the deck. One day, she noticed that the air was golden and mysterious at sunset, the sun sending a single slanting ray through the buildings.

She began bringing her tea out each morning to sit at the table that the previous tenants had left behind.  She found wicker chairs, nothing fancy, at Pier 1.  Hibiscus began to bloom in the nearest garden as the summer went on, she could spot purple flowers winding their way up a trellis.  In the fall, the ivy on the carriage house turned to different colors, and a tree turned resplendent and red in the distance.  The following year, she added a sun umbrella.  Then plants.  She began to learn what worked in six hours of full sun and what didn’t.  Marigolds, begonias, petunias, herbs, container gardens stuffed with a varied assortment of whatever saplings Home Depot had on offer that caught her fancy.  An oversize evergreen in the biggest stone container that she could find at the 14th Street Garden Store.  She would bring her book out some afternoons and sit under the umbrella, looking up to encounter the assortment of bees amongst her flowers.  One year, she saw a bluejay pecking at the plants that had gone to seed – brief and stunning.  When they renovated the apartment, she replaced the old wood door with a full length glass door leading out to the deck.  

She spotted him one day, the squirrel.  He had been digging through her pots, spreading dirt everywhere.  Nibbling saucily on a green roma tomato.  That day, gazing further out, she suddenly noticed a warm light shining through the window of one of the houses behind the deck. Then the door opened, and a man came out.  Middle-aged, tall and stocky, with glasses.  European, perhaps German, she thought.  Should I wave hello, she wondered, then shrugged off the thought. She had rarely seen anyone, though they were surrounded by so many homes.  After that, she continued to see him on the balcony.  On the phone, strumming a lute, pacing on the balcony.  When she walked around her home, Ms. B would often think that it was strange that they had never met. I wonder if we would recognize each other, she thought.   

She saw him on the street one day outside on the corner of what had to be his apartment building.  That’s him, she thought, the same silver hair, the light skin, the square jaw.  She tried to catch his eye and smile.  He looked the other way.  She was puzzled, but continued on her way.  She saw him again a few days later, coming back from the grocery store.  He showed no signs of recognizing her.

Then, a few days later, she noticed a plant on his balcony.  Bright red dipladenia flowers that would continue to bloom through the summer into late fall.  Similar to the ones that she loved to grow, not unlike the red hibiscus flowers that she had grown up with, and that her mother admired. 

Something familiar tugged inside. She smiled.

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