Stories

Neighborhoods – Theresa Smith

It is lonely work. No one moves down these streets but you, the observer and chronicler of discarded futures. You are here because you know there is something of value in these darkening and desolate avenues. You watch as nothingness spreads its arms and engulfs the rye grasses and scrap heaps in a sterile cloak of equanimity, transforming them slowly, moment by antlike moment, into a heap of identical geometric objects whose constituent particles hold only a dim house-memory.

What brought you here, and why? You, traveling worlds in your time: what sorrow, what solitary panic, drove you onward without guidance or direction, made you follow signs and scents themselves unmoored, staggering into obscure huts and crawling on your belly with lizards, pitching and reeling through copses and valleys and narrow threaded passes and breaking through at last to the clearing and the river that crashes through the dark forest of your own heart? The river grows and shrinks, lushens and diminishes, disgorging itself over the steep banks in a flush of generosity only to draw back and become a trickle in the wide canyon that splits your heart in half, with no bridge between the two domiciles and no economy of language to marry them.

What brought you from the rich and fickle soil of your home, the lush cane and rotting oranges, to this lonely stretch of road, leagues from yourself? To this dimension of sadness and loss? What made you seek the comfort of these ravaged houses that stand nakedly at half-keel, lopsided, rafters exposed to the sky like ribs, overtaken by molds and weeds and broken lines, squatting miserably at the rim of unbeing, blithely hoping?

You once believed that there existed no book by which you could be read; no language fit to express the small universe of vastly complex reactions that cabled and sparked inside you. These reactions are the slippery, dangerous riddles of the body which are meant to stay solid and impassive — frighteningly smooth and analytic truths that turn ever inward, evil and cunning dogs who sneak by one other, moving noiselessly down the sterile corridor of your mind, grinning obscurely.

To walk down these avenues is to thrust aside the dark curtain that divides past from present. Green and gray nervous shadows dart behind walls like lizards, slithering in the hush of dead leaves to shelter in weed-choked culverts and sagging porches, chased from tall grasses by the cold light of the sun.

There are plots of land on which the only construction is a deep rectangular basement pit.