Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bleak City

This is in reaction to a friend’s letter. S/he was having a day in Bleak City and I got to thinking about those days and that place. I’m sitting here, cozy in my blue robe and slippers. Today is not my day to travel there, but I know the place - how it sneaks up when you least expect it. It’s a bit like this:

Wake up cobwebbed in disturbing dreams you don’t quite recall except for the feeling of dark and darker. You were running somewhere, getting nowhere.
The alarm clock explodes in your ear, shrieking voices and loud music.

It’s up and stuff the body into clothes and a stale cookie into your mouth.
No time for breakfast. Got to get to Bleak City.

Feet slap the pavement, eyes focused in midair. The sun is listing in a dishwater sky. Miss your bus and walk. Don’t look at that figure huddled in a blanket by the market door. His eyes are blue as bruises and he’s shivering with cold. Don’t. Look.

Shake it off, drown it with coffee. In a café, the waitress sees you try to catch her eye and keeps on going when you signal. Who do you think you are? The coffee arrives late and when you add cream, it congeals into lumpy islands that float on top. The toast is cold and filmed with too much butter. Never mind. These are not omens. These are not omens.

At work, the boss lectures your favorite coworker unfairly and in public. You are trapped within earshot, helpless not to overhear, thereby adding to her humiliation. Afterwards, you want to help but words fail you and she’s staring at the papers on her desk, blind with frustration and embarrassment.

Finally the work day snail-crawls to a close and you join the dispirited rush hour crowds heading home. There’s a bigger than expected bill when you check the mail and your key has suddenly started to get cranky in the lock. On the street outside, city crews are using a pneumatic drill to break up concrete.

And the sun goes down in the joyless sky.

Next day or the day after, you wake up in another place. Drink your orange juice and eat your cereal. You are early for the bus. Time to watch the birds spell hieroglyphic messages in the sky. The sun makes a friendly warmth on your face. And someone huddled in a blanket, with eyes as blue as the sky, says, as you pass, “Isn’t it beautiful out?”