Warm Winters

Loneliness is such a vague term.  It’s a bit of magic.  A vase that appears empty, but possesses the weight of water. Even the sound of it sloshing about. Until it resumes it’s place on the table.  Then it is somehow empty once again.  In the city it’s infinite, providing company to the high rises and streetlights.  Though there is the absence of stars, the city rarely closes its curtains, there is always the presence of loneliness. You feel it when the neighbor’s dog barks as she rakes the yard. It rustles with the leaves as they are forced from their scatter into uniform piles, neatly in a row.  She gently reassures him as he races about, alarmed by the fall of every leaf or the crunch of any footstep.  He is allowed to enjoy the open space freely, subsequently banishing the neighbors from seeking peace in their own back yards. He simply can’t allow that.  It looms as cars zoom down the street,  speeding blurs of soft mahogany melting into the setting sun; their headlights gleam like shooting stars.  Not vacant, but faceless.  You find yourself wondering who they are or where they might be going.  Work? Home? To meet with another yearning soul who will graze their lips with dry kisses, cradle their faces in warm, damp palms?  Armory piles up on the floor beside the bed as they search within each other for companionship. Attempt to reassure one another’s vulnerability. But too late do they remember that it has been removed. Locked in fireproof safes, sealed away from danger alongside social security cards and birth certificates.  They leave these shadows further more from completion, housing deserts beneath their skins.  Water is nowhere to be found though it gushes from the hydrants while children run through the flood, barefoot with their guards down, doubling over in laughter.  It pools in craters in the yards after a spring rain. The grass drinks readily and flourishes even under the glare of the sun.  It follows the trail paved by the lines of stress or laughter in their faces as it escapes from expecting eyes. Dreamy eyes.  Wandering eyes.  And yet, it is somehow nowhere to be found.

In the country it is not much better. Quieter, dustier. But never better  Friendships dry up with the turnip greens during the summer’s drought.  Burst open with the crack of melons under the shade of the shed.  Never quite sticking around.  Who can thrive at all?  Who can live? What is there to expect? Hope for? Dream for?  This world is immense. Crawling with billions of people all looking. All waiting. Never quite knowing what for.  We occupy seats at the footballs game.  The smoke from grills and the stench of charred meat stick to our clothes so that we carry the game with us in our cars and to our homes.  Always carrying, seldom leaving.  Plastic nacho trays and balled up paper towels litter the bleachers.  Pompoms lay about like tumbleweeds waiting for a wind to send them spiraling.  We leave nothing of value.  We take the victory with us for a weak. A means to boast to our coworkers and relatives who cheer for opposing teams. As though we ran that play, caught that ball, intercepted that pass. Proudly modeling invisible jerseys that prove our participation.  We carry the losses with us for the season.  Even if there is another win, there will always be THAT loss. How could WE lose that game? Drop that catch? Overthrow that pass?  Too much time on our hands. We stroll to the corner stores, gather in parking lots. Huddle like vagabonds at the dam, stooped uncomfortably in the beds of pickup trucks. We invite classmates to palm our breasts. Rub our thighs in secret. Daring them to inch higher, higher until they reach the hem of our shorts. The boredom fuels lust. Always lust, never love.  Smoldering heat is everywhere. Invading. Breathtaking.  Rising as sympathy simultaneously dies the slow death of whitening coal.  We thirst for beers and sweet tea.  Wine coolers and kool-aid cups.  Walk down dead end streets on the heated black pavement behind strollers. Everyone is out. The air conditioner rattles and the fans circle in their rickety dance and yet the cool air comforts no one.  No one is inside.

The country folks itch for the city while the city folk itch for larger cities. Where shopping centers and restaurants clog every corner, every sidewalk leaving.  Each inhale is flushed with the aroma of clothes with the tags on and steak well-done.  Salt water and cologne. The traffic backs up for miles, filling the roads with clashing melodies, interwoven stories.  From the man behind the wheel of the oil truck. Growing sore as he switches gears as the truck gradually propels and stops shortly. He starts to sip from his coke, surely flat and lukewarm by now, stopping short as he feels a pang in his groin signaling the need for bladder relief.  He patiently relents, concentrating instead on not noticing the can.  The coke reminds him of the need for respite while the need pesters him about his perpetual thirst.  The car in front of his truck creeps forward, but a second later the brake lights illuminate the aluminum grill of the truck.  In the car a college student props up on the armrest, tapping her fingers anxiously. Her race from work to her night class has come to an exhausting crawl.  It’ll be the third time that she has been late.  Each time the manager posts the schedule she groans with exasperation.  Once again, she has been scheduled to get off at 5:00 though she made it clear that her evening class begins at 5:30. She buries her frustration in her apron pockets, grudgingly accepting the negligence. She needs the money. But she needs to pass this class, too. She glances at her nursing books in the passenger seat.  Her dream riding with her on the pages.  She fights the urge to buckle them in, so precious is it to her.  The need, the desire.  It must be protected.  She sighs and turns up the volume of her radio. The bass vibrates through her hands on the steering wheel.  The prayer for time to stop gets lost in the sound, but doesn’t die.  All around everyone sends up the same prayer to their gods, their universes. Each in a different voice. Perhaps there is togetherness after all.

You notice that you can reach out your hand to touch theirs from the car window.  Climb from your car and strike up conversation. It’s going to be a long wait.  The interstates and highways glow white, red, and orange.  A slow moving flame that can be seen even from the satellites.  The Earth is on fire.  The moon loses its shine. The stars dim in comparison. The wildfire inches forward, never back but then it breaks apart, shooting out like the embers of fireworks.  Each car breaks free, sailing towards unknown destinations. Pulling into dark driveways. Fluorescent grocery stores. The janitor makes his last round, mopping away the filth of the day.  Humming to the tunes of Ray Lewis playing in his ear phones. He doesn’t hear it. The vast noise all around him.  It is overwhelming loneliness, settling upon the city once again.

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