Monday, December 15, 2014

A special moment in a perfectly ordinary day

Nov. 1, 1980

A bright morning brings in November, but not with the chill or threat of frost.
Instead, we get the amber of clinging willow leaves and the brown rustle of leaves fallen from other trees, swept ahead of each footstep with the wind.
This early, the sky is milky and red with clouds streaming across it like unfurled sails bearing us to some future of wealthy and success.
A silver sliver streaks across that sky on a flight path of the airport outside Newark as an old woman with extremely bent back moves along with street with a large, black plastic bag stuffing it full of leaves that litter the walk in front of her house.
There is life in this ritual and the crackle and scent of crushed leaves that boast of the end of fall.
For some reason, these things make me think of the sea as if the leaves were the foam of waves, flowing across the yards and streets, catching on street sign posts and telephone poles where like sand they mount up and remain until the next gust or the gust after that moves them again.
I ache for the un-raked lawns where the piles are deepest, and where I could as a boy bury myself, taking on the scent of earth that seems to have escaped me all these years later living so long in a decaying city.
I bathe now in the slanted sunlight that seeps through the still-lingering leaves and casts a patchwork of shadow and light all around me.
This is Saturday, and the cars move through these streets with an urgency different from the usual morning rush, hectic, but not obsessed, as drivers locked in their metal cages rush to take advantage of their days off that the work week normally denies them. The metallic skins glow for a moment, then dull again, only to glow once more as they move through these alternating pools of shadow and light.
From time to time, a car stops, a door opens, a weary father climbs out to test the chill of the air. Along the sidewalk, a paper boy (in this case a girl) tests her timing with a sideward pitch, mostly hitting the top steps of the few porches that populate this block. The father, satisfied with the mild temperature, whistles and from one house or another, kids pile out the front door and into the still opened door of the car.
The birds alone continued to chirp after the car door slams, their singing filling the air with the sense of change the season brings, and anticipate the fading that bring us to the deep freeze and the frozen river top and the struggle of life above and below that ice.
The highway, only a block or so away, begins to raise its voice, a dull roar that again sounds like the sea, but has more odious connotations, this, too, a little later than the usual time as my clock ticks from seven to eight, and I imagine the bleary faces fresh from last night’s Halloween celebrations. All that remains now are the memories of the costumes and the bags of collected still-un-devoured candy on top of kitchen counters, while the wind blows the wrappings of candy devoured during the night.
The stiff breeze rattles empty booze bottles in the gutter, and has a bite to it that contradicts the warmth of sunlight.
Someone coughs, and a man appears at the front yard of the house next door, a cigarette smoldering between the fingers of one hand, while the fingers of the other clutch a steaming cup of coffee. His face bears shadows of a needed shave. He moves slowly, hacking with each step like a badly tuned car engine, his feet stirring up the leaves that have blown across his driveway, which he turns down, and vanishes, although leaving one more cough behind before the slam of a car door and the whine of its starting engine sound. I wait and watch until the car backs out the drive and onto the street, and then moves off with a huff, leaving behind it an even deeper silence.
With the exception of the moving leaves, the wind has no voice, only its chill kiss on my face, a caress that even the birds feel, and they chirp more as if needing to fill the vacuum the distant highway cannot fill.
A squirrel darts down the trunk of a tree, pauses, looks around, then hits the ground running, seeking supplies long buried for this time of year to bring back to its winter lodgings. Some trash cans are overturned in our car port, hinting of the nocturnal visitations of skunks and raccoons seeking also to supply themselves.
I am caught up in this stillness and how it seems to grow around me, devouring the faces big and small faces this morning brings.
No more doors open. They are muted mouths sealed, wordless to defy this moment, or defile this feeling I get from this special day that is not particularly special in any other way.
A cardinal drops from one bare branch to another, gives its sharp chirp, as stark on the tree limb as the last red leaf of autumn might be, then drops again to the ground to dig in the fallen leaves near the edge of a concrete wall, a bit of royalty in this most ordinary scene, claiming rule over everything it surveys, then lifting off suddenly at the shrill laugh of a child I cannot at first see, a child who pops out from an alleyway across the street.
The moment is gone.

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