I have a table by my window. It is dark and sturdy. The leaves rise and fall and at night I fold it away, so it can sit, a thin strip used to rest tchotchkes and perhaps a book I have carelessly left out, sometimes as entertainment, often as a reminder of a train of thought I decided to disembark from temporarily, yet was not ready to leave the entire Grand Tour. It is mostly used for mealtimes. Two chairs, high backed, vinyl seated sit either side, trays of food and glasses of water.
I am sitting here getting my keyboard greasy, eating baked parsnips and green tomato sauce, cassava noodles and delicata squash. The parsnips are baked a deep brown, crispy and sweet. A fleeting joy. A momentary pleasure, cut by the acidity of the bitter tomato sauce. From the window I can see herds of people, flocks of vehicles cross north to south, east to west. Motorcycles in formation, their riders sporting exotic cuts, frayed denim, and heavy leather, and even heavier notations upon them, fly like lost stray birds on a skyway that betrays them with noise and fury. One little bird flies the forward colors. I wonder if any of them will last. I wonder if any of them will be free. Truly free. Knives and women. Crank shafts and gears. Leather and road rash. Are any of us free of what drives us forwards, anyway? It is all an illusion, at least their illusion has some color and life in it, even if sometimes it spills out or spills others.
The cars are boring in comparison. Badly parked. Poorly driven. Endlessly moving. Three lanes of highway. One way in. No way out. The road doesn’t cease. It doesn’t stop.
My green tomato experience is tainted by the scent of tobacco. A woman is sitting on the stoop to my building smoking a cigarette, in contradiction to Californian ordinance, which says it is illegal to smoke near a window or a door opening. I close the window despite being hot. What makes her think her desire to smoke overrules mine to enjoy my supper? There is no need to be an asshole about it. I hate the smell of cigarettes.
Pedestrians cough and splutter, hauling bags and their bodies flowing downhill mostly. Two women fight in Chinese outside. One says fu yoh loudly. I think this means happiness, but who knows. The tone is lost to me. They are just two women shouting outside the window, one holding a large toaster oven, and the other gesticulating animatedly. It could be joy at the new oven, or a demand for help with the heaviness of it, or a declaration that is is not the toaster oven she has been looking for. I just wish they would not shout.
The sky is blue, the sun is out, shining golden and intense on the San Franciscan afternoon. The breeze blows coolly. The sirens wail. The lights flash red on the white walls of my room, reflecting off the windows opposite and above and below me in a mirror of warning. The house smells like homely cooking. In the background the Boy is telling me about a pinch of sugar in the sauce, a dash of sweetness to cut the acid, to bring out the loveliness of the green tomatoes. He wanders over with a new rub he has made and holds it under my nose. I have not been able to taste or smell much for a while. It is slowly returning. I smell star anise and cumin, those deathly ghost pepper flakes that my palate can take now my senses have been disconnected. He puts a dash on my hand. It is too hot for me today. We agree that is good news. The light starts to fail.
There is always a dash of sweetness to cut the acid, to bring out the flavor of life here in this little apartment downtown where the people flow past the window and drift like wood to the ocean and the prosperous bayside environs. One lone woman walks uphill purposely against the flow. She strides with long ranging steps, swinging her arms wildly. She looks as she crosses the road, and then forces herself away, pushing against the tide.
It is the only way to go. And somewhere back in time a series of moments and decisions, traumas and sadnesses pile up to be climbed upon, and I am left desolate and lost. There has been enough sacrifice to last many lifetimes.
…and the smoke drifts down the street as the smoker decides to stumble away from my door.