In the middle of the summer the light would last and last, but now it fades fast at end of day. The crows fly west, nightly passing over our house, cawing after the fleeting sun. The sky turns to rose, to melon, to yellow, to indigo, and then to night. Stars, faint here among the pole lamps and the traffic lights, and the thousand lit rectangles of windows that reveal the our private worlds, wink into the sky one by one. There, Cassiopeia, her unmistakable shape, a chair overturned, glistening through the walnut leaves.
We’ve come out to the back yard after dinner, drinking rosé in glasses without stems. We exhale. Twilight finds us.
Sprout climbs the bay tree by the neighbor’s yard and is immediately swallowed in the dark. He and the little girl next door are exchanging good night chatter. Every day they call to each other across the fence, play on the weekends, their laughter and yells and chatter filling both our yards. “Goodnight!” They call. “See you tomorrow!”
After the boys are in bed I take a walk with the dog, the neighborhood becoming gradually familiar. Here, the last of the trumpet flowers blooming yellow and wild over a low rock wall. There a girl standing in the light of her second-story apartment window, hair cropped short on half her head, long on the other, tattoos running the length of her arm. She sips wine and tilts her head back to laugh. Around her, friends, all backlit, are laughing too.
The sidewalk holds the day’s heat still, and I feel it through my soles. The air is sweet and soft with jasmine which blooms on nearly every street. Each flower a fragrant star, small and white among a foliage of midnight green. The dog pauses to greet a cat. Her tail wagging hard, then harder against my leg. The cat pretends to be the sidewalk. Flattens. Flattens farther. Becomes a shadow. Becomes the dark.
In the house beside us a man in a white t-shirt paces in his living room, talking on the phone. Behind him a wall-to-wall bookshelf. The kind you want to linger by. The kind I wonder if people will have any more when Bean and Sprout are big. The kind fat with volumes, each one signifying something more than the story or information it holds: the moment it was gifted or bought or loaned. The college course it was for. The girlfriend who dog-eared the pages. The grandmother who wrote, “Margaret,” inside the dust jacket. The best friend who gave the volumes of poetry as a birthday gift. The novel by John Williams, it’s spine unbroken, given by someone without a signature or remark. The underlined copy of Munro’s newest stories, loved so much.
Walking, alone under yellow streetlight along bushy cedar hedges, past sunflowers taller than my head, past tomato plants that dangle their voluptuous fruit into the street, past the garden beds of swiss chard and fennel, past cats on stoops, I am walking among other people’s stories.
A man stands combing his hair in the reflection his window mirrors back.
An elderly woman in a lazyboy, her face alternately blue and pale with the flicker of TV. In the still air behind her, a dozen rianbow colored mylar balloons.
At his table, a silver-haired man sits smoking, shirtless. Behind him, a lamp glows, it’s base a woman.
Beyond the waxy leaves of a magnolia, a blue bottle of Dawn dish soap in the yellow frame of a window, stands idle by the sink. Behind it, the wall is tiled red.
On my way back the air smells patchouli. On the corner, a man sits in front of an open warehouse door on an old folding lawn chair playing chords on an electric guitar.
This will be what I’ll remember about this first summer here. The softening light, the gradual end to summer, and the way these stories seem to hover in the air. With day drawing to a close people don’t draw their curtains the way they do back East where there is already the cold promise of first frost. Instead they go about their lives, windows wide open. Unadorned,and vulnerable: each one imperfect and beautiful among their particular and curious collection of things.