September 15, 2012: Town

Town as character

Train tracks ran through the town, passing by the lumber dock that hadn’t been used since the recession took out the construction business, taking under builders and their families, too. The tracks did not separate the well off from the poor or the blacks from the whites or the immigrants from the republicans. On both sides of the tracks, women woke to brush their teeth over dirty sinks, foam filling their mouths. Men set teakettles on glowing burners. Dogs were let outside to make water after long nights at the foots of bed or in the corners of kitchens. Which is to say that the people, and the dogs, lest we forget the dogs, woke up on both sides of the tracks, no better off or worse off than anyone on the opposite side of the tracks. Women pulled coarse hairs from their chins. Children slid toasted waffles into their mouths, leaving behind sticky drips of syrup that would dry into small tacky oil slicks on the kitchen table, spots that wouldn’t be wiped up until that night after dinner. The spots would pull a bit at the wet dishcloth, and mothers would rub the cloth over the spots with their thumbs, lifting away the grease. Clouds would gather in purple blooms across the gray sky all day. The clouds would disappear at dusk. They would return the next morning. Crows would call from trees, cutting the air into sharp, thin white strips. The black shiny birds would swallow large mouthfuls of air, their throats pulsing, working not to choke.

If it is summer, grass will grow. We have to assume grass will grow. It’s what grass does, even though we’ll spend lifetimes looking at grass and never catching it grow, our eyes not once catching it. And if it is winter, snow will accumulate or snow will melt. Our eyes catch snow accumulating. Most of us marvel at it, at least for a moment. Looking at the deck through the window over the kitchen sink, past the curtains littered with small pink flowers, our eyes will actually lift, physically move up, taking our heads along, our chins a bit jaunty and proud that this is the world we live in. This is our world. We will lay claim, although it’s a world not of our making. We’ve nothing to do with it, but we’ll marvel, still, at the snow building up on the deck railing, piling atop the the dome of the black barbecue. And if the snow is melting, our eyes will scan lawns and streets and sidewalks, our chins carrying our eyes from side to side. We will wonder at the queer patches of dead grass, the grass not growing at all now because it is winter. Our eyes will worry at the patches where the grass spreads, the snow recedes. It is not how you think it is. It never is. It’s not so much the snow that is melting. It’s more that the dead grass that is spreading. So dead grass does grow, just side to side instead of up. It is hard to keep track of life. It is important. Or to put too much effort in or you will feel tricked and then, as time passes, you will be resentful. Resent is ugly. Instead, look past the curtains printed with watermarked roses. Look at the snow. Marvel. Wonder. And if it is winter and the snow is not piling nor is the grass spreading as the snow melts, well then you will be disappointed and you will wish for spring and tender waxy stems bending under the weight of heady and garish clusters of petals. You will feel like a flower at the window, looking out at snow that isn’t piling. Snow that isn’t melting. Your head will feel heavy. Your neck will feel weak. You won’t know this in your head. You won’t think it in words. But your neck will sag a little. It’s how things are.

All of this is to say that the town, the one where the train tracks run and it’s snowing or melting or neither, is just like any other town. Or any other bustling city or sleepy suburb or sunlit valley or steep sided mountain. The town is nothing special. Its streetlights change from red to green and yellow to red, slower than you might expect and with a softer switch. It’s surprising. The streetlights in your town are the same. The switch on your streetlights is softer, too, than you probably imagine. Pay attention. You’ll see. Nothing is ever as it seems. What if the air is singing to the crows, and the crows are holding up the sky, their talons pinching the sky into a gray tent overhead. What if the sun makes piles of snow grow and maybe grass is cold. Green is the color of cold and we can blow whistles through our thumbs when we hold fistfuls of snow. Nothing is as it seems.

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