“Did you know L has moved back to the city?”
“Yeah, just a couple streets over.”
She gestures vaguely in the direction of the ketchup and I scan the restaurant, sure that with the mention of his name he will appear at my shoulder or manifest in the booth by the window.
“Unacceptable. This is my city. Tell him to go back to Hubbards where he belongs.”
She laughs and takes a couple of sweet potato fries from my plate.
Later, we are walking arm-in-arm down the slick streets as big fat snowflakes settle in our hair, heading homeward. My eyes dart from green car to green car. My stomach turns over when I see what could be a familiar back in the window of a bank. When we pass the commons we both stop suddenly, sure that the solitary figure walking a small dog is the last one I would want to see. The dark plays tricks on my mind, the lighting swallows up reality and presents me with ghastly form after form, daring me to look too close or glance away. I am sidestepping feelings and joking about stealing back my dog when it dawns on me.
This is a bad habit. Looking for him in the faces of strangers. Worrying. Letting him steal into my mind, a cold gust of wind when I was sure I had been insulated. No. No longer.
This is my city. My happy heart. I will not fear the turn of the corner and every beard and black frames. I will correct myself like I do my posture. I will stand straight as an arrow pointing to the sky and up and up. I will not bend and contort myself. I will not make room. These are my streets. That is my park. I am painting my name on roadside curbs, on the newspaper bins, all the windows he walks by each day. That’s my reflection staring back at him, frozen. I will not be trapped in the glass.
I will not be a character in his story. I will be his phantom and he can be my pavement.
My heels will kiss him with each step, violent as fists, and when I see him, if I see him, his face will be sidewalk grime and his body the car exhaust that we try not to breathe in. I will wipe my hands clean of him on my jeans or the sides of passing buildings. The litter of a past life, unsorted.
This is my city. My heritage buildings and indie coffee shops. My clock tower and waterfront. My homeless pirate in front of the liquor store. My squeegee kids and trendy upstarts and pseudo-hipsters hating on themselves. I built the soundtrack. I cut the scenes. I’m editing the script in between takes and he isn’t welcome here.
I’ll set up the hose, if need be. I will wash the streets clean and yell “action” in the crowd and fake rain.
I will. No direction necessary.
Frightened Rabbit – Backwards Walk