Waves of heat rise off the asphalt into the plain, primary-color horizon. Kids named Brian or Sarah or Kaylee — a name like that, no more than two syllables – dressed in pink and khaki and powder blue sit Indian-style in driveways and play with plastic things. The faint ch-ch-ch-ch of sprinklers over each manicured lawn. Sturdy green plastic mailboxes stand guard, some with one slot for newspapers and some with two. I wonder about the two-slot mailbox people with nothing else to do with their money because everyone knows only one newspaper comes at a time.
The guy next door has one driveway and four different vehicles — two reasonable cars, one motorcycle and one Corvette. He takes the Corvette out for a spin around the neighborhood every Sunday. Sometimes he polishes the motorcycle. Some days he mows the lawn twice. Today is one of those days. His mailbox is one of those with two slots.
I think about doing something. I think about going somewhere, for 15 straight minutes, stumped as if I were looking at a hard calculus problem. I think about going to the park. If I went to the park I could stand on the bridge overlooking the slow dirty river rimmed in trash and graffiti, but then I would have to go home, and I knew if I stood there overlooking the river I wouldn’t want to go home. That’s the thing about living here: you always have to go home.
I go to the mall instead.
Bright stretchy leopard-print shirts for $2.99 puncture the greyspace. Scattered kiosks with bored dark-skinned men offering cheap ear piercings and tongue rings topped with spiky neon koosh balls. Stick-legged girls with too-bronze foundation and meticulously straightened highlighted hair. Acne-scarred boys who smell like pot. Stained sweatpants. Creaking strollers. The Starbucks has a rollercoaster-sized line. I get in it, feeling nostalgic for the pretentious overcrowded Starbucks of DC or Columbus or New York.
There was something I read once that said coffee raises the level of acidity in your stomach, so if you drink too much you can throw your natural pH balance out of whack. For a moment I consider whether the sour ache in my stomach is the beginning of a caffeine ulcer. Then I shrug to no one in particular and place my order.
After midnight it’s dead quiet. My friend and I walk up the invisible street, not bothering with the sidewalk, passing a cigarette back and forth. The glowing red tip faintly illuminates the asphalt. There are no streetlights. Pinpricks of stars dot the even expanse of silent black sky.
In high school I looked at a sky like that with the first boy I ever loved; we lay on our backs out on the bike trail looking up and when he put his hand under my sweatshirt to rest on my stomach my heart ricocheted violently, like it wanted to explode from my throat, and I just kept looking at those pinpricks of stars thinking they were nothing but air holes in the dark box of the world that someone was holding and curiously looking into from time to time to check if we were alive.
I remember this vividly and the first thing I do upon returning home is dial his number, but the wrong number message plays instead of a ringback so I guess he must have changed it since then.