by Kyle Hemmings
She is walking down the sidewalk that curls like her grandfather's mustache in yellowed photos, smears and cavities under a decaying coat of acetate. It was so long ago. Was it? She is walking in her hospital gown and pink felt slippers that are as light as bird feathers, perhaps Vesa, perhaps African Gray Parrot, perhaps from a woman's hat. She senses that her thoughts are unmarked trains through a strange and vast country. Which country? And how many stops in a kilometer?It is early evening and not yet night. There are clouds and swirls, low clouds morphing into faces, and the faces begin to whisper, but the words are inaudible, the way that clouds, low-forming ones, can drift apart at the seams and sigh and die. They do not recall themselves.
She is walking down the hill that will dip and slope upward, all the while keeping one eye along the white divider in the street, like a ribbon, like a border guard. The white line is time, going to and running back, but now is always is endless, this second is the instant of a memory she is living but never where you are. She is standing still. She remembers the row of white houses like snowmen that never melt in summer, with their cross-hatched tresses and fences, the way her thoughts intersect each other. What is the middle of twilight?
Along the fences and tresses there are victories of gardenias and hyacinths that remind her of the smiles of plump children. Is it an empty promise? She imagines children jostling each other, their laughs like electric jolts piercing the air. She was one of those children. There is the old school behind her, somewhere there, and a church, a tall steeple like a song rising on air waves, she remembers, and a cloud descending, perhaps one of those nuns, a Sister, no, a Sister Gardenia, call her that. But she won't head back, that way which is anyway, because she wants to go home. She wants to understand this. She wants to understand the topology of clouds and the safest route home. It's getting dark.
Now. One by one the neighbors file out of their houses, their voices imitating the voices of clouds, hushed, faint, distant, an ominous tone of omniscience. An old woman in slacks and streaked apron approaches the edge of her front lawn, her hands clasped in front of her as if praying for blue morning. "Lydia," she says in raspy voice, "we're all praying you come out of it." A man in a gray gabardine suit shuffles to the edge of his lawn of neatly trimmed grass, the smell of summer-sweet mango betrayals. "Lydia, do you remember me? I was alive when you were this tall." His palm hovers below his knee as if reaching for a dog's head. He steps back, he is both marble and vaguely human. His face a kind of granite nostalgia and slate longing.
There are others who greet her, offer their shining hopes in sheer undertones. The neighbors turn and step stiffly into their bleached houses that are full of colonial symmetry and shut-in asymmetrical secrets. There are smells wafting, grilled tenderloin, or baked sweet potato, simmering baby asparagus. Is it Sunday? Before or after—what? She remembers those houses on the way from school. She remembers the neighbors and their children as if peering into a diorama, their blurred features, their detached voices, the loop of their echoes. Memories attenuate into crepitations. Evening grows pitch-silent.
She is trudging. She ascends the hill which leads to a main street. Once she reaches it, she might remember how to get home. Homily to the past. Elegy to the present. To catch a thought elusive as a thief's shadow. Night is descending upon her sloped shoulders. Can she borrow the scent of home-cooked suppers?
Almost to the top and that main street. She remembers a generous curve of it. Her father had driven her along so many times, as he chain-smoked in the days when it was Bogey-fashionable to chain smoke. He would drive so slowly, staying well under the speed limits. Cars would honk, and in the rearview, she could spot drivers slapping their foreheads, or throwing an angry hand in the air. Impatient as gamblers. Just where did they all have to go in such a hurry? She would giggle at her father, his face disappearing behind that puff of smoke. Her love contained within the seeping undulating body of that second-hand smoke.
Top of the hill. Now which way. Right. Go right because that is the direction that was always right. She ambles for a good half-mile but that could be less or more, to think along the perimeters of a rhombus. She is thinking cars. A car. The street is empty and shouldn't a main street always have cars? But a car. There was a car, and he was in it. She was wearing what? A wedding dress. There, then, should have been a reception that logically follows. But. Yes, there was a reception on the way home. Her sweetie, Tim? Tom? Toby? No. Toby is the name of a cat. He must have had a secret name because she cannot remember it. But there was a white wedding with white cakes and white dresses that were long and flowing, the train, and walking up the aisle in the church, the church behind her, fading, but that was the church. His face is opaque and wavering within the circumference of a lighted lampshade.
On the way home, she wiped with a Kleenex something from his cheeks. A kiss? A smudge of lipstick. The driver turned. There was a smash, a smattering of glass, a spider web pattern across the window shield, his face, that was hers, lurching, and he clutched her hand. Then, everything went dark and froze. There was no time after that.
She is growing tired. She imagines herself looking wasted, disheveled. She imagines her hair as black, and hanging in wisps and strings. She has no mirror, no compact, only this stupid hospital gown and she has lost her slippers. She does not remember when or how, or perhaps, only the longing to have slippers and not the wearing of them, but now, barefoot, the thought of her sole catching glass. She will scream. She screams. She will bleed out into the street, the stream of her blood, an unholy mixing with pavement, perhaps a slow drip down sewer holes, the rhythm of a dying rat's heartbeat. She doesn't like the thought of that.
She spots a gas station coming up. The gas station was there before she gets there, and this one, she remembers was where her father would stop and say fill it up, and throw the filterless butt out the window. She creeps up to the attendant in cap and uniform. He inserts a nozzle into a driverless car. Mister, she says, how do I get home? He looks at her queerly. "What street do you live on, Miss?" It reeks of a tautological joke.
She fumbles, wracks her brain for the exact address. She can't remember the numbers, because numbers are useless if you don't know the street. But the street she remembers. Harris Drive, she says. He points and tells her to walk straight for a mile, for a mile, for a mile. She thanks him, but does not turn around, because that might make him disappear. And one cloud is settling lower, like a thought, like a memory of peach blossoms and honey-thick innuendoes whispered before a rain.
The cloud's face is turning more detailed, amorphous wind mass forming strong jutting chin, aquiline nose, the cloud's feathered edges turning to fine bristles of dark hair. The cloud is guiding her, floating, drifting in front of her, in latitudes, a stratospheric love for clarity, but now the voice, at first, soft, puling, then deeper, a grumble, a man's voice, she thinks it's him. Not Toby because that is the name of a cat. Lydia, says the cloud, please come out of it. Please open your eyes, honey. The cloud tears then implodes, vanishes, and she is staring down at a dark winding street that will lead to hers, but so dark, and the thought of walking this by herself, if that is the only topology you will never not un-know. She is at an intersection, where there are no cars and no strangers to ask directions, but she decides it's time to go home, if home is where the road ends, she will walk, down the serpentine highway, where all voice is void, street signs negligible, side roads narrower, and the possibility, where at the intersection of twilight and dawn you might discover a face, or this chance of never never waking up.
Kyle Hemmings currently works full time in health care. His other passions are cooking, baking, cartoon art, and sleeping late on Saturday mornings. He also likes old Beach Boys records and waiting for an endless summer.