You are walking towards the river bank – and for once, this night, you are the only one walking towards the river bank. There are neither crickets for little points of sound, nor lightning bugs for little points of light. There are scraps of ex-belongings in the street gutters. Small things – an inhaler, a paperback book, a cardboard box (which is always in a state of belonging to someone else). Large things – a mattress. A tire-less bike. A memory.
You have never been here this deep into May, after everyone else has gone home. A bit like a dream you had once: your house, exactly as it was in waking life, with every wall and floorboard and picture frame placed perfectly, except when you look out the window, you find it has been dropped in the middle of a desert.
You whistle. You find you can’t really whistle. But you wish you could, because there’s no one else whistling, and it makes the dark that much heavier.
You reach the river. It smells like absolutely nothing, which is odd. You look at the benches, at the grass, and think of the people you met in each spot. They are all scattered now, and probably forever will be. At least, to you. They will gravitate to each other like small pins to a magnet, somewhere on the world again – except for you. You are not made of metal.
You walk back up towards the street, seeking the light of a familiar pizza shop that is open much longer than anything should be. You walk in. It’s exactly as you know it, and still full of people, only you don’t know any of them. You wonder where they’ve all come from. Have you been transplanted into a new city? Have you outstayed your welcome? Does it become a new place when you leave every mid-May, and you have just never stayed to see it before? Like different birds populate different country sides at various times of year, so that tourists will think a native fauna is something else entirely? Have you woken up in your house in the middle of the desert again?
You keep walking up the street to the bus stop to take the bus home. You check online to see when it will come. Its route is absent from the screen. It too stopped running last week. The same bus that ran through snow emergencies in the midst of the shut-down city; it could stand everything but this time of year. This lapse. Mid-may. Mid-may. A bird learning to sing that leaves before its partner can respond: late-May. Late-May. Late May you be: in growing old, in returning home, in feeling loss grow like a cavity in your bones.
You walk home the long way, unafraid of the cover of dark. It hides you as well as anything you could fear.
This story is part of the 9pm coffee series.