An interlude of solitude

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Swam into Wednesday morning in the darkened fog, the grey-black thick right down to your ankles and the night still hanging on, unwilling.

Almost the longest night of the year now, and out at Fort Amherst, the fog horn is bleating lost in the dun-muffle, only one other person on the street while you fumble with your keys, and she’s got her head down anyway, walking like she’s unsure that her feet are even still there at the ends of her ankles, tap-tap, one foot directly in front of the other, toes pointed, so that she looks strangely unbalanced, as if at any moment she might topple.

The trees are slick-wet black, mist-licked, and the row of parked cars against the curb hunch like sleeping animals, like bison or buffalo or muskox. Like a chain of small, smooth circus elephants, only their sides don’t heave with the motion of breathing.

Above you, the streetlights are orange-netted, and across the way, the left and scarce-lighted windows are double-curtained inside and out, and down at the prison, a door slides like metal on stone.

Sounds are like rocks on the beach: they’re all there, but singling them out draws them into sharp focus, especially with the fog cutting them away from their source, dissecting them to their particular and singular pattern of vibration. A sharp thwack, over by the hospital — a pavement crackle that coalesces into a white taxicab crunching its way over loose gravel — a fan on some piece of machinery, starting up and then riding away into a steady drone, the way a horse might start and then settle into a steady lope.

Others away

You can pretend that you are the only person awake — the only person alert. The only person alive.

The walker has vanished and leaves not even an afterimage behind, the fog closed and tight again. Seamless.

You left the cat sleeping, heave-sided, amazed at your own stealth, your ability to move away without making even one cautious cat’s-eye open, the whole house pressed in tight like a curio surrounded in cotton-wool. Clicked the lock, felt it lightly home. Down the hill, you can picture the lake with the fog along the edges like duned beaches, the way the dark makes the still water a double-mirror of streetlights and car lights and Christmas lights. Maybe ducks, sleeping with a head under one wing. Maybe ducks, turned to stone by some cloud-crawling Medusa.

Not a ripple on the surface, one sheer glass plane, waiting the way water always waits when left alone.

There are droplets on all the car’s windows like breath, and if there was anyone to talk to, you can imagine that you would talk quietly, that you would be church-hushed or hospital-whispered, halfway-voiced and undertaking-undertone. But there couldn’t be anyone to talk to. There’s no longer anyone to be the else.

You get to be the capable one. The only capable one. No — not capable. Purposeful. The perfect morning star, but only and precisely because the firmament is so very small.

Small details

Everything in the distance is muffled, and all that does is to make the nearby that much more distinct. The way the keys fall in your hand — the slight resistance of each tooth of key and lock, the perfect mesh that needs no locksmith-

dentist. Water on your jacket now, like glassy beads. And you realize — you make all things move, by simply moving your eyes. Moving your hands. You make things happen, as if caught in an existentialist’s proving ground. “See? See? I told you” — but, sadly, there’s no one to witness your complete control of the universe.

There are places to drive, offices to unlock, lights and computers to turn on. Coffee and good mornings and newspapers. There is the day to find even though you’re not in a rush to find it because this grey-black moment is yours.

For this one moment, you are perfectly alone — and just when you think that, it’s like the world you hold suddenly knows it’s time to topple. Inside your chest, the full-current sweep of the undertow. The undercurrent, because that secret current jangles in you like fugitive electricity, your feet not quite touching a ground.

Each hair on your neck rising. The car was locked, wasn’t it?

Did you hear, could you hear, might you have heard, a voice there in the empty car with you?

Just breathing the single word: “hello.” Of course you didn’t — it’s just imagination, drawing something new against the clear canvas of the grey.

Outside, the fog has closed every door and window, and leftover night has closed the curtains, too.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

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