In the afternoon, we sit on our pink corduroy couch. Our dog sits across the back pillows, puts his head on the windowsill and watches the foot traffic on 3rd Avenue. Sometimes a hand reaches up to our screen to pat his nose. Our friends. We listen to strangers say hello to him as they pass. We listen as Christine stops to ask him how his day has been through the window. We lie down and listen.
In two weeks we will have given our mattress away to one of your students who has been sleeping on the floor of her apartment building for a month. In two weeks we will begin to sleep on the couch's pull-out mattress, the Drexel TV O'Matic. You don't think anyone has ever slept on this mattress before. The couch was covered in plastic when you bought it. The bars beneath the mattress hurt our backs.
The couch is too heavy to take with us and we leave it for a friend who is moving into our apartment after we've gone. You think we'll be able to find something better in a thrift store in Alabama. I think the thrift furniture in the south is haunted and damp.
We are moving to Alabama because there are jobs for us there, because I am going to school there. There is a house and a yard. We are losing Salt Lake City to Alabama as we move through it. We are beginning to collect Salt Lake into a city we can carry with us.
Christine's thumb ring glints through the screen of our front window and then it's gone. She walks next door.
We miss our friends.
In the morning we go to the coffee shop around the corner from our house and the barista gives us free Americanos because she likes us and she knows that we don't have very much money. She is our neighbor. She once moved to Brooklyn for a year and then came back. She works sometimes in the bookstore that is going out of business and most of the time in our neighborhood coffee shop. She makes books sometimes. She has a moustache and no one cares.
We know that the Mormon massage therapist who lived above her last year moved to an apartment across the building because the barista listened to NPR too loudly. Now the Mormon massage therapist lives above Esther and Jordan. She stomps on the floor of her apartment when we are there eating dinner. She doesn't open the door when Jordan knocks to apologize. Her clients walk up and down the stairwell all afternoon. Sometimes she has "Generational Therapy" sessions on Saturdays and no one stomps on the floor above her to keep them quiet.
We make dinner for each other almost every week.
Halina is rosemary.
Christine is spinach.
Ely is whiskey.
We are corn.
We are blueberries.
Jordon is grilled meat.
Esther is egg.
Nobody has enough money.
We leave our leftovers with Esther and Jordan because Jordan can't find a job.
Esther always brings food back to us the next day because our summer pay was cut by a third. Because in three weeks we will have left for Alabama.
So often people dream of an ideal life 'in community,' forgetting that a 'community' is not an end in itself, but a frame for higher qualities—the qualities of the mind and the heart. Making a good community is not a magic formula for happiness and good; making a good community is the result of the happiness and good which people already possess in principle, and the community, whether of one family or several, is the infinite variable expression of the excellences of human beings, not their causes.i
It's afternoon and you are on our back porch in the shade. You can't believe we will live somewhere else. We are listening to a Chopin record we bought at the DI Thrift Store for a dollar. Esther's cats are watching you through their screen door.
At night we listen to Christine and Ely's cat, Hermann, meow through their screen door, calling like a bullfrog. Sometimes we smell cigarette smoke and we know that Christine is smoking on the back porch. We know Ely must be somewhere else. Esther comes to the screen door and asks if we want to go up to the park later to watch the fireworks.
It's the 4th of July and we have a box of sparklers. Light comes down through our neighbor's oak tree, spilling on the porch. Light comes down through the back fence. Light comes down on our building's back stairs. Gnats moving in the light.
You remember a birthday party here. Everyone brought you whiskey. Erin brought a box of sparklers. Everyone wrote their names in smoke. Everyone's names were green light and then dark.
Everyone likes sparklers. It's the 4th of July.
We are walking up M Street, past the mortuary, the lower cemetery gate, the bright yellow house I thought I would live in when I was in high school. The garden I thought I would have. We pick apricots off branches that cross the sidewalk. Our neighbors' lawn is made of thyme. Tomatoes are turning red in their gardens.
We are walking up M Street and remembering walks with our dog to this place. Here. We unhooked his leash and he chewed sticks beside us in the shade of the willow trees.
The Russian Olives smell sugary in the heat as we spread quilts beside the baseball diamond in the park. The hill where we sit erases as the sun drops below the Oqquirh Mountains.
Sunset you cannot imagine. The hills blur out, our blanket and the tops of willow trees when Esther takes out her banjo.
We listen to her practice through the walls of our apartment. You and I falling asleep in our bedroom and Esther playing in her living room. A thin wall between us. Sometimes at night, after dinner parties when we have gone home, I put my hand against the wall. I can feel her washing dishes on the other side.
In three weeks we will have listened to her play her banjo for the last time. Ely plays the guitar and you play Jordan's harmonica. In three weeks we will have driven away from our friends.
We are dreaming that our Friends are our Friends, and that we are our Friends' Friends.ii
There is a graveyard on the other side of the chain link fence. Quiet neighbors. Deer eat between the gravestones. We watch their tails flicker in the streetlights.
The city is light before the stars are light. Make the sky an echo. You and Christine and Jordan are smoking cloves. Ely leans against the fence. In the center of the baseball diamond behind us teenagers set off fireworks. Bright fountains of color.
Even in the space between explosions, everything becomes a matter of light.
I remember a vase of chrysanthemums and lilies opening on the coffee table. I remember disks of light in the afternoon. Our neighbor has mirrors in her garden that send light across the street to us.
In the Avenues, teenagers shoot bottle rockets over the heads of families in the park. Our family lit up for a moment, then dark.
In two weeks it will be your birthday. I will make you a pistachio cake with dark chocolate frosting. At the end of the evening Derek will break your whiskey tumbler. At the end of the evening everyone will go home.
We are sitting on a quilt together in the dark.
It's been two weeks and Kathryn and Geoff are already gone. In three weeks we are driving across Nebraska. In four weeks Christine and Ely have packed their moving truck. In four weeks Esther tells us the new neighbors are quiet.
iHenry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch.
iiHenry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.