BY ALLEGRA HYDE
The neighborhood was filled with big girthy houses, toad-like, squatting on plots of land—on a low hill overlooking the city—houses three-stories tall and girdled by screened-in porches, open-air decks, houses set down on the earth like fists.
It was spring. The air whizzed with rain-hail, stinging our faces, and later smudged white with snow—winter’s last gasp—but the snow was cottony and infirm, and had melted by noon our second day when the weather lifted and the sun became brave, buttery, and it was as if there had never been a winter at all.
This we watched with cautious hope, like the survivors of a wreck. The neighborhood was not our neighborhood—nor even in our city—and likely never would be, but we felt this spring was our spring also. We felt ourselves stripped and squeezed by the shifting seasons, our bodies caught in cosmic gears, like rodents in a clock.
“We should live here,” one of my friends said, trying to sound ambiguous. We were always trying to sound ambiguous. We were artists—or we wanted to be—which seemed reason enough to cultivate a coyness about our intentions. We cultivated other things, too. Transiency. Radicalism. Poor posture. Debt.
But it was difficult to stem the desire in our words: this place, this little neighborhood, had gripped our sheltered hearts.
It was spring and the trees were sticklings, dead-looking, flagged by the dry-brown husks of last year’s leaves, except for the places where new buds pressed forth, tight and green-tipped, live as grenades. The trees quivered even when there wasn’t any wind, as did the hedgerows—
bare-boned and see-through—the scheming forsythia, all things anticipating their own chaos.
We anticipated our own chaos.
We walked in circles around and around the neighborhood, hallucinating surrender.
We too held our breath.
Travel is a dream state, a chimera, even when done for mundane reasons, even when reasoned with mundane rational. We were young and wanted new places to love us. And, truly, we saw ourselves mirrored in puddles: our dark hats and our upturned collars and our smoke-singed eyes. We saw ourselves in the windows of those big houses on that low hill overlooking in the city: our dark hats and our upturned collars and our smoke-singed eyes watching someone else’s spring.
“We should live here,” my friend said again, this time without the inflection.
We became sour-mouthed with longing. Our knuckles ached. To travel is to believe you’ve left everything behind, including your delusions. To travel is to believe that by moving through time and space you are making some kind of progress.
Those fat houses, built with brick and trimmed by black shutters, or else wooden and painted white, columns Corinthian, moldings ornate as cake piping; houses windowed with stained glass, TV’s winking kaleidoscopic; houses announced by windchimes, the moan of microwaves and, later, by chicken-brothy smells; houses sentineled by three-foot basketball hoops, by three-foot hounds; houses with porches bloating onto lawns scrubbed raw and restless. And flowerbeds—dirt dark, wet—casting passing soles in ripe brown plaster. They too trembled as the green claws of daffodils and tulips knifed upwards, so new their color tingled, neon and frantic. If you watch long enough you can see them move. If you watch long enough you believe they are watching you. If you watch long enough you believe they won’t break your heart.