South Brooklyn is quiet. Where there was once an endless chaos of cars and trucks rolling up Sixth Avenue onto the highway, now there is only the expected. The morning begins with a lost Leviathan calling in the fog, a ship coming up an empty river under a silent bridge. Birds come next, in this city of perches, chirping and skittering in the ivy outside our home. The next few hours are tedious with the sound of truck tires hitting a single metal plate in the street outside.
And then we hear the distant sirens, high and lonesome in the empty streets.
The other night, during a Zoom session, I heard a siren outside my window and then outside the window of a friend a few blocks away. We were connected in space, briefly, by the thin strand of a rising note. This is the sound of the city, now: emergency.
A plane comes down, roaring its landing call, once or twice a day. A month ago, perhaps, there were dozens an hour.
Then, late at night, you hear the racers on the highways girding Bay Ridge. The police are busy elsewhere and besides, why patrol a deserted stretch of road? The racers rev up, the engines burring and the dopplering off into a whine. Sometimes they come down our street, these squat cars with big mufflers, music blaring. Reminders, perhaps, of summer parties that may never be, a freedom found on roads unbound.
We are in a time of quiet unmatched in any recent memory. In New York we spent a week or even two harassed by memories of 9/11 but October came as we knew it would and then November followed and a Christmas of rain and bad memories. As a boy I remember spending days inside thanks to ice and snow, but never months. We’ve returned to a primeval time, a time in which our world entire was made up of whatever was at hand. Nothing new can enter, nothing old can leave.