★★★★★ "Clouds," the two-year-old said, riding nowhere in particular on adult shoulders. "Sky, sky, sky. Blue sky, blue sky, blue sky." The water in the fountain had gone from chemical blue-green to algal olive-green, with an accompanying algal odor. Loose-edged clouds covered and uncovered the sun. A lean black pigeon walked by on the bricks, its feet pink and claws black. The two-year-old wanted to go to the playground; the seven-year-old wanted to stay put. The compromise was Lincoln Center. Flatware clinked on dishes in the shade of the restaurant on the north edge, under the grass roof. The surface of the black reflecting pool was only a tiny bit ruffled, the wished-on coins at the bottom still distinct dots. The two-year-old peeled off his shoes and socks and went up the grassy steps, charging back and forth along the tipped and elevated lawn. It was a little bit hot out in the openness of it, and all but empty at midday. The grass had a white shine on it, and a chartreuse glow of new growth. Really the children should have been eating lunch already, but the day could not be ignored. The two-year-old scampered down the steps and went running on the plaza, feet slapping the hard surface. Coaxed back into shoes, he made for the artificial grove across the way, the evenly spaced sycamores and sandy gravel, and went scuffling through the heart of it. The shade was narcotic, stunning. People sat in chairs all around the perimeter, to see the sun without being out in it. Lunch would be late, naptime even later, the whole schedule coming off the spool. When the younger child was finally awake again, it was almost time to start cooking dinner, or to abandon the notion of cooking dinner and to get back out into the late day. Off to the playground, then, both children speeding ahead on scooters, the younger curling his back foot up flamingo-wise in ostentatious self-confidence. Later, he would experimentally let go of a swing at the top of its arc, to wrap up the day with a fat lip. Excessive possibilities. A small tree under the big trees caught its own portion of sunlight. The clouds had abandoned the sky. Even waiting indoors for takeout was too much. Better to take a slow walk around the next two blocks. A cool wind eased its way up the avenue. Everyone's hair looked fantastic, alive with subtle textures and shadings. The bricks looked good; the stains and grime on the bricks looked good. The bronze-toned facade of the old OTB parlor, now given over to yoga and herbs, gleamed richly. Even the dull red paint, slathered several stories up to further blank out a blank brick wall, was vibrant, each little broken peeling patch a point of interest. Nothing was gilded or honeyed yet, in the long end of daytime, just each thing saturated with the colors all its own.
★★ Pillows of light gray were piled high against a duvet of darker gray. Off to the northwest was a still darker purple-gray bedskirt. The late push of heat had been a feint. A light rain spotted the metal edge of the curb. An open umbrella–unnecessarily open, and doubly unnecessarily staying that way–blocked the subway stairs with its slow descent. The gray lasted till late afternoon, and abruptly came sunbeams, blue sky, shadows. Early diners sat at white-clothed tables below sidewalk grade. The rain had evidently led people to excuse themselves from picking up dog turds, which had softened in the rain without washing away and were now re-solidifying in flattish discs on the sidewalk. "All ladies' linen jackets, five dollars five dollars," a sidewalk sample-sale barker announced on Broadway. The dinner table was sunny, but afterward, a new heavy gray mass appeared in the west, with an extra smoky darkness hanging down from its far-off northern end. The nearer part, though, was infiltrated by blue and laced with pink. The menace came no closer. At night, the air conditioner was off.
★★★★ Hot wind hissed through the leaves on the plaza. The rails of on an open-topped sightseeing bus gave off a blinding flash, and so did the subway steps on the way back up. Up in the darkness of the tree crown in the churchyard by Prince Street, someone in a cherry picker was at work with pole saws. Severed branches were being passed up and over the high brick wall and into a chipper. The restaurant windows were closed, the blinds lowered. Short, clear shadows raised decorative conical brickwork to a mammary roundness. Up on the office roof, the black woven plastic of the desk chairs was hot; slumping into one gradually baked the air-conditioning chill out of the depths of the lower back. A mourning dove walked around the corner of a planter, cocked a liquid eye, and walked right back. A few minutes later, it or another returned, chin fluttering and legs vivid red in the sun. The mobile phone was hot to the touch. Still, the roof was better than being in the freezing indoors. By rush hour, the heat had subsided in the shade, though the glare still overpowered the eyes. The two-year-old, riding on shoulders to the store, was on the lookout for motorcycles–motorbikes, scooters, anything–and finding plenty.
★★★★★ The bedroom was already hot at the moment of waking, and the kitchen trash had ripened overight. Melon guts, probably. Edges of buildings were flat against the white glare. The breeze could still be construed as cool, though the moving air was damp and heavy. Enough Citi Bikes were out in use that it was easy to jaywalk through the rack. A lawnmower raised the smell of cut grass from the not-exactly-public garden. There was nothing discouraging about walking out for lunch. No, more than that. The generous loveliness of the previous days was of course gone, but in its place was the compelling feeling of hanging on the brink. A limited-time offer. Sweat glands were not yet sweating; the heat still quickened the nerves, rather than stunning them. Elderly ladies carried umbrellas as parasols. The Freedom Tower stuck up over the Bowery, blue-hazed. Late in the day, tiny air-conditioning droplets blew overhead into the lowering sunlight, a private meteor shower.
★★★★★ The two-year-old stood on top of the heater to look through the window and enumerate the construction workers across the avenue, as the morning light shone into the seven unglassed top floors of the tower. Yellow hat, blue shirt. White hat, white shirt, blue pants, bright green gloves. Red shirt, white hat. Dust floated off the edge where one of them—wardrobe colors indistinct in the shadows—ran a polishing machine over the slab. Out the front doors, water sparkled where it flowed over the fountain's edges. People had stripped down without strain or overheating; chests and tattoos were showing. The sky was pincord blue. Bamboo and other plantings peered over the cornices, six stories up. Flags of World Cup countries stuck their free ends out of a restaurant window. The round-toned roar of television carried out into the rush-hour street, on the open air.
★★★★★ Some group of chaperoned teens, many in pink shirts, had swarmed into the Gray's Papaya from the 72nd Street side, forcing the line to bend back on itself out the wrong door. The tissue-paper pineapples and cherries hanging below the ceiling tiles swung and twisted in the breeze. The crosswalk stripes were like a fluorescent-tube installation underfoot. The party balloons, herded down Amsterdam, tugged at their ribbons without getting rambunctious. In the midst of the two-year-old's nap, the doorbell announced the upstairs neighbor, armed with a brand-new plastic lightsaber. John Williams music thumped out of the piano to welcome him. It took a long time in the imperfectly dimmed bedroom to dispel the excitement. After the rest of the nap, after pizza and ice cream cake upstairs and down, the two-year-old found himself out on the plaza in possession of a stout water gun, his t-shirt soaked through. The older children blasted each other's face paint into smears and drips. The two-year-old assaulted the plantings for a while, then assumed a tactical stance behind a railing. Certain children directed fire toward a pigeon, before the last of the water ran out and the militia disbanded. Out on Amsterdam again, a ladybug flashed by, a fleck of opaque amber, and landed audibly on the tinted window of the cleaner's. The clear light found the soot on the architectural detailing and gave a mineral shine to unwashed upper windows. A service superstructure–water or elevator?–was more finely ornamented than the brown brick box of the apartment house below it. Sunset was colored-pencil work.
★★ Another dark and warmthless waste of the year's longest days. Intermittent rain again, mist again, damp sluggish air in the subway. Sidewalk tables were empty. Water beaded on the seats of the outmost aluminum chairs. A backhoe bucked and dropped clods of dirt into a dump truck. An insistent breeze carried news of industrial cooking, news of feces. In the afternoon, in the sculpture garden that poses as a public amenity, the wind made the silvery grass sway, till a rubber-booted volunteer asked the public to leave.
★ A food cart's row of light bulbs glowed conspicuously at midday, under the persistent gloom. Little raindrops had streaked the windows; the children had needed outerwear. Downtown, the sidewalk psychic stared blankly from her chair. It was not quite raining but not at all nice: neat raincoats and careless sunny-day clothes went by, equally uncalled-for. The late afternoon sky got around to brightening, indistinctly at first. East and north were blue and white, and Citi Bikes ticked past. Up at 79th Street, a shadow-casting beam of sunlight crossed the top of the crowded subway stairs. Now blue was to the south too, and overhead. The clouds over 66th Street looked inconsequential, but a solid, low-flying plane crossing over them dematerialized. Sun shone along the dinner table till the two-year-old complained and changed places. And then it was gray again, abruptly and thoroughly, the generous long bright evening canceled.
★★ Fog drained the colors from the distance without really obscuring the lines. Gradually it ripened or decayed into routine haze, and for a moment blue showed overhead. Then came gray-green light and soggy, shifting breezelets. The old sneakers had dried crispy from the previous day's soaking. The subway platform smelled of brakes from prior trains, the air uncirculating. Up on the street, phantom raindrops landed, a few to a block, never amounting to more.
★ Rain fell like the sprinklings from a produce-aisle vegetable soaker, as the now-seven-year-old went off to school. By the time the still-two-year-old left for preschool, it was a splatting downpour. The ambient spray floating and splashing under the umbrellas was as wet as an ordinary misty drizzle. The two-year-old's feet in their rain boots splashed through flooded crosswalk gutters, the rest of him out of sight beneath his Central Park Zoo umbrella. Whitewater foamed over debris in the storm drains; West End Avenue was a confluence of temporary rivers. The two-year-old's arms got tired and he needed an adult hand to reach out and support the top knob on the umbrella as he went. Once he let go of the handle and it went on without him for a step, till he yelled in dismay. By the time he arrived at school–after hugging the curve of the building across the street, to stay under the scaffold–his shorts were wet halfway up and his hair was flattened with the damp, but his shirt was mostly dry. By pickup time, the rain was down almost to a drizzle. The two-year-old had worn his boots all through school, but wanted his sneakers on. The wind gusted and more water fell, but it was hard to tell whether it was resurgent rain or just accumulation shaking out of the trees. The rest was gray, damp, uneventful coda.