New York City 2:32 a.m.
Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.
Maybe your next-door neighbor found one of his movies in an old box in her attic and never entered a dark room alone again. Or your boyfriend bragged he’d discovered a contraband copy of At Night All Birds Are Black on the Internet and after watching refused to speak of it, as if it were a horrific ordeal he’d barely survived.
Whatever your opinion of Cordova, however obsessed with his work or indifferent–he’s there to react against. He’s a crevice, a black hole, an unspecified danger, a relentless outbreak of the unknown in our overexposed world. He’s underground, looming unseen in the corners of the dark. He’s down under the railway bridge in the river with all the missing evidence, and the answers that will never see the light of day.
He’s a myth, a monster, a mortal man.
And yet I can’t help but believe when you need him the most, Cordova has a way of heading straight toward you, like a mysterious guest you notice across the room at a crowded party. In the blink of an eye, he’s right beside you by the fruit punch, staring back at you when you turn and casually ask the time.
My Cordova tale began for the second time on a rainy October night, when I was just another man running in circles, going nowhere as fast as I could. I was jogging around Central Park’s Reservoir after two a.m. — a risky habit I’d adopted during the past year when I was too strung out to sleep, hounded by an inertia I couldn’t explain, except for the vague understanding that the best part of my life was behind me, and the sense of possibility I’d once had so innately as a young man was now gone.
It was cold and I was soaked. The gravel track was rutted with puddles, the black waters of the Reservoir cloaked in mist. It clogged the reeds along the bank and erased the outskirts of the park as if it were nothing but paper, the edges torn away. All I could see of the grand buildings along Fifth Avenue were a few gold lights burning through the gloom, reflecting on the water’s edge like dull coins tossed in. Every time I sprinted past one of the iron lampposts, my shadow surged past me, quickly grew faint, and then peeled off — as if it didn’t have the nerve to stay.
I was bypassing the South Gatehouse, starting my sixth lap, when I glanced over my shoulder and saw someone was behind me.
A woman was standing in front of a lamppost, her face in shadow, her red coat catching the light behind her, making a vivid red slice in the night.
A young woman out here alone? Was she crazy?
I turned back, faintly irritated by the girl’s naïvete — or recklessness, whatever it was that brought her out here. Women of Manhattan, magnificent as they were, they forgot sometimes they weren’t immortal. They could throw themselves like confetti into a fun-filled Friday night, with no thought as to what crack they fell into by Saturday.
The track straightened north, rain needling my face, the branches hanging low, forming a crude tunnel overhead. I veered past rows of benches and the curved bridge, mud splattering my shins.
The woman — whoever she was — appeared to have disappeared.
But then — far ahead, a flicker of red. It vanished as soon as I saw it, then seconds later, I could make out a thin, dark silhouette walking slowly in front of me along the iron railing. She was wearing black boots, her dark hair hanging halfway down her back. I picked up my pace, deciding to pass her exactly when she was beside a lamppost so I could take a closer look and make sure she was all right.