For their 60th “diamond” anniversary, Martine booked an old-fashioned gondola ride down Broadway, starting Uptown.
Doctor Alcuna had warned her not to get her hopes too high for the occasion, that the Memantine™ and Donepezil™ still showed no sign of uncluttering Roland’s attic — and perhaps never would. But Martine, still a romantic at heart, couldn’t help imagining deeper possibilities. After all, the voyage would end floating over Old West Village, where Roland once proposed to her with their first diamond — small yet real.
Now, on the big day, the nonagenarian couple sat in prolonged silence, as their oarsman, a Latin-American college kid named Eric Lopez, strained against the azure seas of Midtown.
Here at Water-Level, the metropolis felt serene, a few sky-cars swimming lazily overhead, slow streams of pedestrians darkening umbilical tubes between sky-scrapers. This tranquility was illusory, the slowness of foot-traffic a product of congestion — not calm. But Martine marveled at the view skyward anyway, dizzying inverse of the one most New Yorkers jadedly faced down each day: stories and stories underfoot, at bottom the watery abyss. Twelve million souls were bustling around up there, raising kids, paying bills. Only tourists ventured so low anymore.
“Isn’t this wondrous, Roland? A forgotten world…”
Martine winced. Instead of gazing up at the concrete canyons like her, Roland sat with his head sagging into his neck like a Jack-O-Lantern in November, eyes cast across the glaring water’s surface. At her voice, they twitched in Martine’s direction — before returning blankly to the brightness. Martine worried for his retinas.
“Folks,” said their guide Eric, “I know it’s hard to tell in this sunlight, but that fuzzy white area passing under us is the collapsed dome of Old Madison Square Garden!”
Martine peered down, yearning for some hint of the sunken world in which Roland and she had built their lives together. The depths, however, revealed nothing.
She shuddered, recalling how polluted these same waters were after the Third Levee System gave out, an ocean of viscera pooled at the feet of their wounded city. The scope of it still boggled the mind… how far off even the most pessimistic projections had been… how not one scientist could foresee what the cascading collapse of all those great ice shelves would bring. She nudged Roland. “Do you remember the Knicks, dear? And that poster in your old office, with… what was his name again?”
She liked to test him. Hoping to jog—
Roland shrugged feebly.
“We used to love coming here, Eric… for our second anniversary? Roland got us courtside seats… and this tall fellow Carmelo — the one on the poster! — he made the winning shot. Roland was so happy!”
Martine knit her brow, studying her husband — still staring at the opaqueness beside the hull, a dull mask of flesh occluding the contours of the lively face she knew. The one face still woven throughout her neurons indelibly.
“Weren’t you… happy?”
Eric cleared his throat and offered a warm smile “Well, I knew it! You two are romantics.” He spoke proudly. “Only souls with poetry in their hearts come down here anymore… besides the Disney crowd! Sorry you can’t see much through all this murkiness. Hopefully should clear up as we approach the East River Current. Deeper waters can be more translucent.”
As Eric kept rowing them southward, however, it was no longer just silt and sun that made for poor visibility. Dark crisscrossing shadows — reminders of the frantic waking world above – slashed across the water’s surface, crosshatching it with a chiaroscuro of shadow and light. Titanium-reinforced girders poked out of the water at odd ugly angles, bolstering the oldest sky-scrapers. On most days, these were submerged unseen, yet Eric said the water-level this summer was the lowest on record, “since you-know-what.”
Martine sighed. What could the future hold for her and Roland now? Each day, their shared history seemed to drift further out of reach — like that busted-up volleyball in that old Tom Hanks film they’d watched together on Netflix… on their second date… the night they first…
She looked at Roland again.
Still he was sagging, eyes glued to the now shadow-streaked waters. She wondered if he even knew where they were, how close to the parks, restaurants, theaters and shitty little apartments where they first fell in love. She couldn’t help thinking back to the tumult of those antediluvian years — real estate prices skyrocketing, the first levee system going up after Sandy II (actual name: Cassandra) and the terrifying thrill of listening to battery-powered radio storm updates by candlelight. Making love on a blanket in the kitchen as the winds howled. Rain whipping against their window in staccato rat-tat-tats… reminding Martine of jazz.
Yes, the stormy years before The Flood had been strangely magical…
It was the cold refugee days to follow that would test their bond to its limits.
Now, as Eric finally rowed them into (and over) the area known as Old West Village, she stared at her husband of sixty years, who had borne so many of life’s storms with her, his eyes still frozen on the waters, his mouth moving in soft puckering motions, like a fish gasping for—
“TH-TH-THERE!” he cried out.
Roland’s arm rose up trembling from his lap and Martine’s eyes widened as she followed his pointing finger to the waters beside the gondola, which were clearing like morning mist with the subsurface force of East and Hudson River currents combined.
Her heart thudded like jazz.
And for a moment there was utter stillness, the sun shining in a crossbeam through the forest of skyscrapers above and the spider web of pedestrian tubes still stitching civilization together between, slicing through the waters, not glaring — revealing.
And there, twenty-five feet below them, she saw it: the café where Roland proposed to her with their first diamond — small yet real. And she had said, unequivocally, joyfully: “Yes.”
She looked at Roland.
He looked at her.
And he whispered—
“Happy anniversary, my love.”
Benjamin A. Friedman is from Northern New Jersey, the child of a Tai Chi-loving biophysicist and a Conservative Rabbi’s daughter, his personal religion as a child was dinosaurs and space aliens. He received his BA in English and Cinema Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, and his major interests include philosophy, social justice, the history of civilization… and of course, paleontology and astrobiology.