June 23, 2005

Evening Ritual

In the still summer twilight he steps out in the scent of magnolia and honeysuckle and chooses which streets, which turnings. He loves when the light falls in the evenings and he is alone in the shadows. There is a held moment when the light inside the houses balances the light outside. And then the darkness comes on and the lights brighten to surpass it.

Hardly aware of what is in front of him, he is looking from side to side at the lit windows. Here is a lonely yellow lamp on an end table, warding off burglars. Here is a computer screen: someone who was sitting at it has just gotten up. In another house a television is on, the television characters acting as if they own the living room. In another living room people stand holding drinks, their talk and laughter spilling into the street. And here are two people at a table under a chandelier, eating together.

He has always felt this way about them, the people he will never know. They have lives, they have one another, and he is outside in the dark wondering. His childhood memories are of this: walking past a classmate’s lit windows and wondering what the mother was cooking for dinner; walking past a girl’s porch light and wanting to ring the bell. Why is he always out here? Why is he not in there with them?

He turns onto another street, then the next, and closing the loop he reaches a street where there is only one light on, toward the end of the block. An uncovered bulb floods the porch, and behind it there are bright ceiling lights in unshuttered windows. He quickens toward that house. He climbs the porch steps. Should he ring the bell? No, he has the key.

He walks in, and children rush toward him, grabbing him, shouting, “Daddy!” And his legs drag them forward with him, toward a woman who says his name.

“Did you have a nice walk? Where did you go? What did you see?”

“Nothing special,” he says, and looks into a cooking pot, smelling the food, and sits at a table under a chandelier. Now he can face it.