Amy Shearn is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far is the Ocean from Here. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Poets & Writers, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, the Huffington Post, DAME Magazine, BuzzFeed, L Magazine, The Millions, Five Chapters, Opium, Oprah.com, xojane.com, and elsewhere. Amy lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two young children, and one elderly dog. amyshearnwrites.com
This is an EXCERPT from Amy Shearn's story, House from the Bottom, which can be read in full in Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City's Forgotten Waterfront.
The rent is cheap on Roosevelt Island, née Welfare Island, née Blackwell’s Island, née Varkens Eylandt, née Minnehanonk. Right away the mother commiserates with the spine of land, its smartphone-Googled history. She, too, has gone through several different selves.
When the mother steps off the MTA tram—her son shrieking with delight at the surreal flight over the river—she feels certain she’s exited the city. How is there anything left to discover? And yet they have been transported to a town outside of time, like something from one of those dubbed Twilight Zone episodes she’d watched as a child, studying for clues about America. There is a chime of doom in the air. A foolish part of her takes comfort in this. Dread has always felt like home.
The mother and the son wander down the center of the silent Main Street. Or maybe they have died. Or maybe she has dreamt that whole previous chapter of her life: the chaos of the city and the affair with her boss at the department store—had that only been a Dinko Šimunović novel, read years ago in school and regurgitated in her fugue state?—and her son’s birth and the father’s departure and her landlord raising the rent and finding this address in the Craig’s List ad and looking it up and realizing she’d never even known that people actually lived on this strange island, suspended between boroughs like stray punctuation. She checks her phone for the address as they walk—past a small strip of pizza shop, hardware store, bodega, and then nothing but churches and quiet—but she already knows she will take the apartment. There are some feelings you trust.