Schlepping my suitcase behind me, I head down what seems to be one of the town's main arteries. Waxy leaves fall all around. Their descent is straight and without ado, their landing the matter-of-fact click of a credit card that has finished falling from your hand. Each leaf looks that, if perhaps folded into penitent hands awaiting alms, it would be large and thick enough to convey a cup's worth of tea while allowing only a comforting warmth to reach the skin. As I continue down the road, every twenty, twenty-five feet or so both of my suitcase's castors manage to strap on another bit of this discarded foliage, transforming the suitcase into a sled and me into the Siberian Husky wincing as the leaves scrape against the concrete. After again kicking the castors free, I continue down the road, toward the mountain.
An enormous mustard-colored head sits in a small pool with its chin seemingly submerged (while in fact nonexistent). Nearly everything about the head, from its bald pate and rounded ears to small puckered mouth and closed eyes that rest so serenely as to never have yet viewed the world, seems that of an infant. Only the nose with its fully formed cartilage, its bland straightness rivaling only my nose’s own, attests that this is an adult’s head—presumably a man’s, as nothing about the sides of the eyes or the cheekbones suggests that spark of femininity. From its top spouts a gush of water. It uniformly coats the scalp and face before reaching the pool below. The effect of this glistening patina brings the onlooker back to his or her original supposition: That the head is that of a newborn, still covered in amniotic fluid. That for whatever reason, the child’s nose formed prematurely while in the womb before surely wreaking havoc on his poor mother’s innards as she struggled to birth him. A surprising spasm of empathy quivers my lower abdomen, after which I chuckle and feel my cheeks burn as I move on.
The next cross street’s red light lingers. At present there are no cars coming in either direction. Still I wait for the signal, feel no hurry. It’s in this intersection that not a week later I’ll be lying for about a half-hour as people scream for an ambulance and a man palpates my neck and chest. He’ll coolly say things such as, “You must have been looking the other way. Got distracted, didn’t ya, buddy?” And intermittently to the crowd, the potential witnesses, he’ll disabuse them of what their lying eyes have reported with, “He just rode smack into the car.” While I, the wind knocked out of me, my arm and wrist starting to acknowledge that a price must be paid for soaring over a car door after biking at a healthy klick, will still manage to squeak out, “She opened it right as I was passing.” Someone in the crowd will then second this recollection, apparently try to compensate for my thin voice with a sonorous, “Yeah, she did! He didn’t have a chance to slow down, let alone stop.” Touchy man still loaming over me, who, with my senses slowly returning—the pavement’s damp, my sweater’s cotton hood soft against the side of my face, the breeze stiff and pushing the stratocumulus, or nimbostratus, no, stratocumulus, clouds across the sky—is redolent of a recent workout and treacle deodorant, replies, “No, sir, no. I was here, right here. You weren’t. And the door had been open for some time.” “Bullshit.” “Excuse me? I suggest you watch your language in front of my wife.” Meanwhile, I feel rather than see someone new crouch beside me, “I’m sorry. I’m usually so careful.” This voice is then admonished with an angry yet whispered, “Honey!” Then yet another voice, steady and unimpressed, though not devoid of feeling, joins the menagerie, “All right, folks. Give us some room,” before a man in a dark shirt with an embroidered shield on his left breast enters the frame upside down. “Sir, can you understand me? Okay, how many fingers am I holding up?” he asks. While off to the side, “Officer, glad you’re here. We were parked and getting ourselves organized when….” “Three, three fingers.” “And can you tell me what time it is?” “I understand that, sir, but, regardless, it is a bike lane.” “About two, I think.” “So we have no rights?” “And where are you?” “You have rights, sir, but so do cyclists.” “Martin, relax. It really was my….” “Honey!” “Hey, is he okay?” “Seems to be. I was at that restaurant just over there and saw the whole thing. It was a hell of a spill.” “I’m lying in the middle of Civic and… what is this, Locust?” A light is flashed in both my eyes. After a moment the flare softens back to the film of grey racing sky behind the medic who has age-burnished pockmarks on his cheeks and salt and pepper along his temples. “So will she be given a citation then?” “Sir, let’s first see how the man is doing before we start worrying about that.” Something is strapped to the arm that’s becoming troublesome. It begins to squeeze. Swabs achingly white in the dim afternoon are freed from a wrapper a little larger than a condom’s and lowered out of frame. “He sorta did a flip, was shot high enough to even manage a little tuck and roll.” “Really?” “Yeah, it was scary.” The swabs resurface smudged with blood and charred-looking bits of road. “What’s your name, son?” Next gauze and surgical tape are displayed, or at least by circumstance made visible, before following the swabs’ previous descent. “Christ, did he hit his head?” “I don’t know. It was hard to tell from my angle.” “It is, Inigo Montonya.”
With the town’s center and the bulk of its commerce left behind, I cross a small bridge that sits over a deep cement flood trench. On it’s highest wall it warns, “Stay Out, Stay Alive.” I quickly admit to myself that were I a teenager in these parts, I’d surely ignore the warning, scale the fence, and explore the trenches that would appeal to me as caves did to Tom Sawyer and misusing any sporting cudgel did to ol' Calvin and Hobbes. Even now I’m tempted to go have a peek, bad ankle be damned. Instead I continue on, walking by a café with a French name painted not uncharmingly in robin egg blue with champagne lettering. Which I’ll later learn is a chain that nonetheless sells tasty little sandwiches on olive loaf. Every woman I come across promenades about the town in large sunglasses and the confident and snug attire of a perky yet modest twenty-six-year-old. And, admittedly, most of the women in town have the figures to continue wearing such outfits. It’s only by studying the flesh around their knees am I later able to deduce their ages from any sort of distance. Whereas the men’s dress varies from suit and tie to euro epaulettes with the shirts’ top four buttons perpetually undone, perhaps in fact nonfunctional, and loafers, to baseball tees and shapeless jeans, to decomposing knapsacks resting alongside rotting shirts, tattered khakis, soot-covered brows and fingertips, yet, often, conspicuously new sneakers.
Nearer the mountain, the trees become denser. Apartment buildings and condominiums nestle beside their trunks, beneath their branches. The atmosphere is further tugged away from the bucolic by the Doppler rise and fall of cars passing on a nearby expressway. At the base of one of the larger and more protruding buildings is a hair salon consisting of one room ten feet long and six wide. It's surprising to find it here, considering the numerous more elegant ones sprinkled about the downtown area. Four women inhabit the tiny room, all approximately in their early-forties: The hairdresser and most likely sole proprietor of the salon, her current customer, and two women who seem quite at ease being pressed together in a sofa chair against the room’s opposite wall, even amused by it. Each of the women is dressed in a manner that, though I’d only exited the local train depot half an hour earlier, I’ve come to understand as the de rigueur uniform of the established townie. Their make-up is expertly applied and confident, if not a bit late-Eighties and possibly also of the evangelical circuit, that is to say, a touch heavy on the eye shadow and rouge. Upon a second appraisal, I notice the hairdresser’s make-up, overall, is applied heavier than the others’, her hair coiffed a little higher. Perhaps the result of spending a great deal of time honing a particular aesthetic, a sense, while then inadvertently deadening it some, as chefs often do with their palates, musicians their ears, and councilors their filters for glibness. Thus the need for more salt, volume, and volubility, or in the case of a hairdresser, brasher colors and taller hair. Or maybe in this instance it’s something else. Also, though of the same genus as the others’, as the hairdresser pivots around her client, moving nearer the glass wall, it’s clear her skirt is shorter. Its hem rests above the thighs’ midpoint on dark, crocheted stockings, as opposed to the town’s prescribed four inches above the knee, atop skin-toned hosiery or bare skin.
Up and down a hill, and half way up another, I eventually turn into an apartment complex. I pass a couple outdoor pools before climbing a flight of stairs and crossing a bridge that leads to a single door. Brushing against the bridge is the top of a lemon tree. Its fruit is only starting to yellow, near the remains of the style, its protruding nub. Behind the door sits my furniture, records, books, pots and pans, as well as the rest of my clothes not currently trailing behind me in the suitcase. All arranged in an unknown configuration. My stuff. Also a cat or two. And one wife, whom I haven’t seen in two months due to the necessities of relocating halfway across the country with short notice. I raise my fist a few inches from the door and suddenly feel like a prom date without a corsage, a guy who’s meandered across a lengthy bar with a shit line, or no line at all. Just, “Hey baby.”