In the red of night, I float between places. The neon sign across the street fills my dark room with a sharp scarlet light. I live in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. There’s a bar up the street named Perdition, and a demonic mural on the corner, but it’s only in the middle of a restless night, in the bloodshot glow, that this place feels an inferno, and in those moments, when I can’t sleep, I count the bright stripes on my blinds and listen for horses.
I once lived in St. Petersburg, on that hook of Russia reaching out towards Finland. Time was hard to track so far north. In June, the nights were white. At two in the morning there would be a dim dip – dusk and dawn together – but besides that almost a full day of sunlight. But in winter, the darkness was perpetual. Even the daylight hours between ten and two were gray and thick with snow. I took vitamin D pills and looked for other markers of time.
I rented an apartment on Karavannaya Ulitsa. The street runs along the Fontanka Canal and perpendicular to the busy avenue Nevsky Prospekt. Karavannaya spills into the Bolshoi Saint-Petersburg State Circus—full of bicycle-riding bears and trained cats and horses. Late each night, almost morning, at three or four, a trainer walked the horses down from the circus and along Karavannaya, so the equines could stretch their muscles, and when I was up late reading or writing or in a drunken fight with my boyfriend or rolling with insomnia, I heard their hooves on the pavement. I would notice the rhythmic sound. I would hear the beating of minutes like clock hands. I would breath in pace to their steps. I would count each clip and clop. I would realize the time, that I was up too late, and I would think that maybe it was time to sleep, and the horses, four-legged sandmen, would lull me into a dream.
There are horses in New York. They pull carriages up 10th Avenue by my apartment toward Central Park, and many live in the stables two blocks over on 48th Street. I hear them in the mornings, and the afternoons, though then their sounds are less sharp – buried in sirens and horns and groaning buses. They clomp by, lethargic, in the evenings, tired from pulling tourists. And sometimes, I hear them late at night, just like I heard the horses in St. Petersburg, at two in the morning, as I lie in the red glow.
Soon, though, the horses might be gone. I agree with the mayor. Horses don’t belong in a crowded city. Pavement is hard. Space is cramped. Tourists are heavy. But I, selfish, want the horses to stay: my fellow out-of-place creatures, a comfort to an American in Russia, a New England girl in New York.
I lie in the red dark and hope to hear them.
E.B. Bartels is from Massachusetts and writes nonfiction. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Ploughshares, Fiction Advocate, Agave Magazine, Vitamin W, The Wellesley Review, Wellesley Underground, and the anthology The Places We've Been: Field Reports from Travelers Under 35. She is finishing up her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, and she was the 2013-2014 Online Content Editor and a Co-Founder of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art’s literary blog, Catch & Release. You can visit her website at www.ebbartels.com, tweets at @eb_bartels, and read her haikus about strangers’ dogs at ebbartels.wordpress.com.