Scenery Interlude: Failed Novel 2006


I’m off roaming in non-city place this weekend so here’s a bit of scene-setting from a project seven years back that nosedived somewhere around connecting the late-middle to the end and the early middle to a beginning that didn’t feel like some guy chewing your ear off on a long bus trip.

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At the hospital across the street, there’s a digital readout with a blinking center colon that hums faintly when it switches the minute.  There’s a parking lot, mostly empty, with yellow streetlights jutting up from concrete pylons amid the scattered compacts, sedans and minivans.  They all look either black or white in this light, with buttery tones from the overhead lights and faint pulses of red from the clock and the jittery neon cross on the building’s side.  Its eleven o’clock and I just got home from work.  I’m on the second-story porch, leaning on the wooden rail and looking into the hospital’s last lit windows.  The light inside is the yellow of old newspapers.  There’s no pattern to rooms lit and no movement inside.  I’m trying to remember what the halls looked like with double-swinging safety doors and parked wheel chairs outside every third room.  I unlock my front door, get a beer and come back outside.

The smell of vaporized asphalt from the day’s traffic drifts around the night breeze.  It dims the paint on my building, it settles in the grass and in my lungs and it mixes with vapor in the haze that hangs a corona around every streetlight like a paper lantern.  It gives a thickness to the air that makes the invisible seem more real, makes the past and the future more plausible in the still of the present for the marks they leave in the dusty air.  Everything that happens, its at least for moving these little specks around that we can barely see.

I squint to blur the scene, to refract the streetlights into long-armed stars and make a grid to see the path I’m looking for, one that snakes out from the avenue ambulance-sized and then shrinks to the diameter of a gurney from the overhang by the emergency room.  I want to see the wake of cleared dust disrupted by where they wheeled her in 3 months ago.  I remember getting the news after work and looking out the window at the hospital and thinking “Oh Jesus.  Life, I’m going to throttle you for making me move into a place across the street from the hospital where my grandmother is dying.”  That night I drank a half tumbler of whiskey with ice and jumped the fence to wander the hospital’s perimeter, looking for her window and vainly guessing.  After I had visited inside and taken notes on the subject, I would go over the fence nightly and sit under her fourth floor window and draw pictures of cardinals in my pocket notepad.  She loved cardinals.

I see none of this.  Right now she’s just more mulch wrapped in quilted oak, slotted in a wall someplace nondenominational where her life’s leavings will never fertilize new life.  I want to be buried under a green young tree.  I want to die under a dark young woman, in bed like all cowards.