Monday, April 25, 2005

must be the clouds in my eyes

On Friday, I walked to Modern Times Bookstore, a place I've always loved. They once allowed an artist to come in and arrange all their books by color, rather than by author. A sigh develops thinking about my neighborhood. It's like I'm already missing it, every moment spent walking on those streets seems so pregnant with the idea that I might soon be far removed from it. It had been raining intermittently since the early afternoon. I've always had a thing for days like that, days of sunshowers, days of moist asphalt and fresh earth. The smell of the earth or the asphalt can't be detected so much in the city, of course, but the memory of it is evoked. The air kisses and coaxes, just slightly windy, just slightly humid. Everything is just slightly something, and the collective of that everything translates to nostalgia. It is dangerous weather.

Usually, bookstores are black holes for me; I don't emerge for hours, and my wallet is emptied. I went into Modern Times with purpose, but when I had identified the object I desired, I paused, considered the imbalance of spending only five minutes in a bookstore. But I looked at the book for a moment, pressed my hand against the hardcover, and decided it was too potent to be diluted. The cashier smiled at me sympathetically, and only later did I realize that my eyes were shifty. I had been anxiously glancing around the store, worried about what other gems I had missed, and at the same time absent-mindedly tapping my fingers on the counter in anticipation of cracking open the book before me.

Later, on Sunday, on a trail lined with wildflowers and banana slugs, I was reminded that I am by nature a solitary walker. Making my way through the city or the woods, I prefer the deliberation that comes with silence. Each subconscious decision is suddenly documented when idle chatter is removed. I choose to turn here, I choose to keep going, I choose to acknowledge this beauty. I like hiking with SP for this reason, for SP's ability to sustain silence. It disquiets neither of us. We sat on a log, stopping for a snack, looking out on the wilderness. In the silence, the mind wanders like a stone skipping over the water. The trail was paved with pine needles. It made me think of home, and what home even really meant. And that question made me think of the book I had picked up on Friday, War by Candlelight. The book had seeped into me by then. All weekend, I kept thinking one more story.

That was the thought running through my head when I started reading Third Avenue Suicide on Saturday. I was taking BART, then MUNI to a place where I only planned to stay fifteen minutes. Somewhere around Embarcedero, it dawned on me that the whole trip was a ruse, an excuse to read this short story while in transit. When I read the first page, I closed the book, and looked up in surprise. What was this story doing in here? The others had been about violence, about Peru, about foreign things. And suddenly, New York, an Indian woman, a problem. Not just a situation described so well as to feel familiar, this one really was so close I could touch it. But it was told from the other side of the looking glass.

In just over a month, I'll be in Arequipa. It seemed so far when the plans were mapped out, not just the distance, but the date as well. But the book had covered so much time and space in so few pages- and the world suddenly contracted, squeezed into a tighter ball.

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