They were blocks of homes and hardware stores, each a different shade of the same rust and brick. Sidewalks glistened with the morning’s rain and shallow gutters were aspiring to mirrors. The road ended at 36th Street three miles down, far past the attention and eyes of anybody worth a walking damn. Behind the parallel rows of bricks rose higher buildings, the concrete middle-men between street-side America and the steel tower horizon.
A young seventeen could walk down the middle of that street and see the city rise slowly on either side of him, increasing in metallic splendor from shining gutters to the scrapers’ gleaming panes. He could walk down that street, in the dead set middle, and see himself six months after a fork of forest fire trails, finally clear of months of doubt and the spectre of other possibilities. He could look up and see Indian summer painted above his head, the woods typically brimming with life while hiding all of any beast. Before eighteen, seventeen would learn that it was the dead wind that made the trees seem alive, that tossed the autumn into his hair, that even made half the sounds he took for the unseen birds.
But before that second fork, that still seventeen could walk down the soft floor and see instead the city, the city that doesn’t hide its beasts, or, thankfully, its birds. He could stray away from the center of such a street and kick the sunlight up from the gutters to join the gleams. Miles away from the street’s end, his lips were hardened into a softness that begged to be touched, that pleaded not to be peeled. He could walk and notice that all the sitting cars rose like small hills from the asphalt, the spring peonies born from that morning’s rain. He could imagine the thing girls with their large hats and swaying bags to be the lovely tendrils of a rustled grapevine.
There he might have prayed, prayed that his imagination would stay safe, would always strafe away from all too natural judgments. He wanted to sit now with this pleasant season, this afternoon of waltzing extremes, each height with each trough, so delicious. Despite alone, any sentence, any at all, was still dangerous, chances to be proved base and unequal to what he lived off of. An afternoon of simple color, with every sensation enjoying its own moment; nothing he knew had to be said. The pants over his legs riding caressingly up against his thigh as he walked. Breezes that seemed to flow for the curves of his face. Breaths that brought into his legs the scent and tempo of a beating world. Each new second a surprise equal to the uniqueness of a new life, each new constellation of salt and rock on the sidewalk, each new taste of world. Rather than grow faint, unsustainable, the stream of beauty, of terror, of crust and marbled pearl seemed to guarantee the next one, implying in themselves that nothing less could follow. With this to us unimaginable confidence, he jaunted smiling at the passing alleys from the corner of his eyes: he knew himself untemptable.
And then a company of grey sparrow flew over from the right-hand trees, and again each new dozen that followed swelled his incredulity, until it didn’t anymore, and a seventeen walking under them, a boy, could have after moments looked back down to walk further along the street, knowing that if he ever wanted grey sparrows to see, there they would be in the sky’s stream.
This promise was, like every other one, unspoken. But as a seventeen walks further along his way to the unthought of end to a three-mile street, or before the next months-away fork, he might think that the promise the silence stood on was itself standing on a hidden promise, a promise glossed over, a promise intentionally hidden and intentionally forgotten. The word “bird” would hide the thighs swaying up the street, just as “why” would move the cars too quickly to be hills. The sun itself could survive a moan, the autumn live past sighs, but thoughts more than a whisper swell too loud. He had promised not to speak.
It was six months ago, two weeks after escaping Side View, that the boy had come to a forest fork, the right road heading home, to words and people, economies and to his name. But there was also another road, that was not he could admit much of a road, just like the fork was not he could admit much of a fork, which lead into a forest scored like music for the wind, an instrument for any a whistler with breath to spare from panting. Today leaves are there, leaves to be rustled and breathed into. In the autumn there would be plenty cool breezes to do the job. Gaps within and between moth-eaten maples left room enough for cities, and grapevine tendrils swayed as hips might have done. He saw a beauty natural talent could improve, a fantasy with only thought for an enemy. He saw cities softened by rain and light, girls dancing with every step, and cars grown safe as burial mounds. In the autumn he knew a seventeen could walk through that wood, all the way to 36th Street even, in the dead set middle of the road even. Six months ago, sixteen saw that silence, and with the last spoken words spoke a promise that silence was divine, that trembling beauty could quiet, and promised his desperation that it would be enough.