★ Another step backwards into the freezer. In defiance of the early forecasts, the cold was intractable. Bars of reflected light lay partway over the crosswalk like misplaced pavement markings. Hands were gloved, gloved and balled, jammed into pockets. The noontime streets were sparsely peopled. Blood spread over one side of the tongue from a split lip.
★★★ Starlings scuttled in the curbside trash, picking at the ruins of discarded pink-frosted cupcakes. The northern sky was patterned, mostly white on a broken field of blue. The east was still mother-of-pearl. The schoolyard was a salt flat. One of the more rambunctious boys was seeing how long he could hop on one foot, with a partner held the other, before falling. He kept trying till both knees of his trousers were streaked with salt. The sun came on stronger. Goodbye, for now, to the hulking parka. There was an intimation of spring in the angle and the quantity of light, but the wind was still cold. A nice February day.
★ The polar air was dismaying, not monstrous as it had been in the previous incursions. A street-sweeping truck raised a solid-looking cloud of dry dust on West End and left it hanging in the crosswalk for a dauntingly long time after the light changed. The sky was the color of salt-dust, too. The sun faded out and in. Pigeons fluffed and waddled in a patch of turf where the deep cold had preserved the last thin snowfall down between the grass blades, as if it were a specimen of long-term significance. Some new kind of blue melting salt was at work on the sidewalks. A pile of dog turds had been so freeze-dried as to resemble wood shavings. The late sky was subtly mottled.
[No stars] The snow, the threatened and promised snow, was not thick enough to have even completely whitened the windshields of the parked cars. There had been a time when it seemed as if this winter would never falter, as if the forecasts would always be as accurate as they were dramatic, as if there were no limit to what could be achieved. Now there it was, a sickly dusting. Wasn't that the long-ago lesson of childhood, that the snow days hardly ever really come? Especially not from the west, was the secret rule, when the extrapolated progress always failed to account for the Appalachians raking the underside out of the storm, leaving the formerly sure thing broken and ineffectual. The bright white winter had worn out; the real events were going on somewhere else. Downtown there was marginally more, enough for a thin layer of the dirtiest of slush and for miniature snowdrifts at the foot of the curb. A biting chill settled in, and streaks of blue formed in the afternoon west, changing over into streaks of cloud against the blue.
★ Overlaid on the all-day gray of the sky was a diffuse and nonspecific discoloration, like an old bruise. The toddler spotted the snow first, toward day's end. Fine flakes began blowing down at an angle, and something even less visible was falling among them at an angle closer to plumb. And then even as the threat seemed to be coming true, it subsided. Out in the fading light, the continuing snow was too fine to see, a prickling on the forehead. The bread supply at the Fairway was intact; the aisles were relatively calm. On the way back, the snow was weaker still. The dread of winter was near exhausted. As the kale splattered in the pan, it was impossible to summon the will to take off and protect the sweater.
★★ Biting cold, and a sky slightly lighter than medium gray. The gray of a sparsely populated subway platform when every train but the C has already just been through. But a D train came after all, before too long, and the sun began to shine through. Then the sun vanished again and a few snowflakes came twisting down. Half the sky had gone bluer and half darker. Actual brightness came for a while and then faded. People were keeping their hoods up inside the subway station. At Columbus Circle, a wash of even colder air trickled along the 1 platform. At Lincoln Center, snow came blowing down the exit steps, a squall heavy enough for streaks of snow to blow along the surface of Broadway in the headlights.
★★★ Fine snow was blowing up through the clogged traffic on Amsterdam. From the 27th floor, only the outline of a cruise ship really backed up the broker's assurance that the river really would be in view out there, somewhere. The flakes turned bigger and quickly put a white layer on everything that wasn't moving and some things, like hoods and coat sleeves, that were. Snow gathered on the railing outside the walkup apartment where that apartment's broker was not. Inside at last, the fifth-floor radiator heat was stupefying. The dead roaches looked well dried. For a moment, the snow seemed to have cleared, but it had just gotten fine again and a little bit stinging. In the span of a train ride downtown, though, the clouds did break apart. A last few flakes drifted from the blue sky. The afternoon, sharply bright and sharply cold, belonged to a completely different day. There were not enough clouds for the peach light at sunset to catch on, so it settled for catching on a banking airplane and the window facets of the apartment tower.
★★★ An overbred German Shepherd or something related slunk out the side door of a high-rise, wearing protective booties that made its squashed hindquarters appear even more crippled. A powerful gray sameness lay over everything, so that even the sun was nothing but a pale round spot. A speck of something white drifted by, a snowflake or a bit of garbage? Then a tiny wet flick just below one eye, and another solitary white spec against a dark background: the most tentative of flurries, like the first post-Thanksgiving attempts at winter. A customer traced a star with a finger in the fogged-over window of the corner bodega. The Citibike rack down on Lafayette was full, as it had been for how long? When was the last time anyone had ridden by on one? A man pulled out his penis in the cold and pissed on a lamppost. Shadows appeared, as tentatively as the snowflakes had. For a while, later on, the sun appeared for real, almost invitingly, then faded out again. At sundown, under a sky now scattered with prettily tinted clouds, there was a Citibike in motion after all, coming up Lafayette, and another coming down it, the wrong way.
★★★ It took some looking, on the first few steps outside, to spot any remnants of snow. The Volkswagen camper that had sat on the block through the storms was melted clean, though still boxed in at the back corner and the street side by dirty plow-ridges. The preschooler, already late to preschool, walked slowly, admiring each passing vehicle. At West End, a plow truck was waiting at the light, its blade jutting up and out and its bed full of salt. Cold wind blew from the west and strong sun shone from the east, so strong that the parka pockets were full of warm air. Crusted garbage lined the sidewalk downtown where the snow had been. At sundown, smudges of pastel pink showed in every direction—west of course, and down the avenue, but also uptown and even off to the east, over the shoulder, in the opening of the cross street.
★★★★ A crushed rat, a large one, lay in the street, its guts a chopped-looking red pile beside it. The morning was bright and mild; the scaffolds were still dripping. Half-trapped plastic bags stuck out of the dwindling snowbanks, along with every other sort of garbage. Birds sang on the Broadway median. The gutters were mucky. Every transition from the warm sun to the still-chilly shade was a binary switch from pleasant to unpleasant. Someone outside a bistro on the sunny side of the street had gone ahead and hazarded bare legs and a miniskirt. Whole expanses of the schoolyard playground were still surfaced with snow, or with the thick layer of fat ice-crumbs that the snow had become. Orange cones had been put out on one of the snowy spots, to emphasize the obvious. The toddler, in sneakers, was determined to get off the cleared pavement and into the crunchy parts. The map of the United States on the ground was glaciated from end to end, save for one swath of Wisconsin and Iowa beside the drain cover, and what might have been part of the Kentucky-Tennessee border. On the far side of the frozen territory, a woman sat on a bench painting in a notebook. The sheeting on the rising apartment building glowed in the afternoon light, casting its reflection across a string of puddles. The toddler kicked an ice lump back and forth for minutes upon minutes, then stomped it into particles.