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  • Writer's picture Niamh McAuliffe

Sounds of the Upper East Side

On a cloudy summer evening when the heat wave is beginning to break, children practice tennis on a secluded court on the Upper East Side. The faded blue and white courts are separated from the sidewalk by a chain link fence that looms over the street. A navy blue mesh wrapped around the lower half of the fence gives an illusion of privacy to the youthful tennis players. The sound of tennis balls hitting rackets echoes down the block in a comforting rhythm as the players volley back and forth until the sudden whoosh of it hitting the net.

The neighborhood pays no attention. People rush past too busy in their thoughts and tasks. A man in a suit walks his dog. A mother holds her children's hands as they walk past. The Thai restaurant across the street begins its dinner service, welcoming elderly couples who eat in the early evening. The hostess guides them into wooden outdoor booths with air conditioners that drip down onto the pavement, dampening the trash bags awaiting sanitation workers. Thwock. “Ugh,” a child grunts as he hits a ball out of bounds.

The doggy daycare opposite the courts is the only thing that brings color to 75th street. Small dogs circle one another, relearning the scent of dogs they met yesterday, and will see again tomorrow. A German Shepherd strides down the street, pulling on its leash — desperate to smell and connect with the tiny dogs ahead — and is yanked back by its unamused owner. Thunk, the instructor's racket hits the ground.

Tennis practice comes to a close as grey clouds start gathering above, threatening rain. The wind picks up, kicking up the garbage and the few fallen leaves — the earliest hints of fall — on the sidewalk. Up above, faded tennis balls caught in the fence. Abandoned. Hit too hard, too high, never to be played with again. Honk. A fire truck from the 44th Engine Company next door exits the station. The fireman sounds the siren and lays on the horn, announcing urgency and drowning out the children on the court.

The rain begins to come down as parents anxiously wait behind the fence to pick up their child. Seventy-fifth street is left barren of life as people make their ways indoors, away from heavy droplets and rumbling thunder. The children have gone and summer with them, leaving the pitter-patter of rain in their wake.

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