The Moon is Down

Rivers of items pour into the thrift store.  Hats and golf clubs and rusty saws; side tables and lamps with no cords and plush prairie dogs and embroidered pillows.  All day long these pieces of lives slide into the thrift store, glimpses past your neighbors window, views into the locked houses.  Sometimes it’s collections; thirty John Wayne movies, complete sets of Alex Haley figurines, fifteen Danielle Steele hardcovers.  It’s when you see the large collections of things that you know–you know someone died.  Dad died and the kids might have looked over his stuff, piled in the deepest corners of the den and stacked like waffles in the garage, and just not known what to do with it all.  Do you want this? they asked each other, nobody wanting to say no, not wanting to seem careless, but he made them watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” ten times as kids and they can’t imagine keeping it, even if they did love Dad.  These collections terrify me when I see them.  I have collections.  I have lots of collections.    The ability of someone else’s–some poor dead someone else–amassed material goods to bring me face to face with the abyss seems unfair.  There are so many other ways to find yourself face to face with the abyss, to have Danielle Steele novels from 1982 do the trick makes me think I’m getting too easy.  I like to be near water.  Any body of water will do. Oceans, rivers, lakes, creeks or rivulets, what-have-you.  There’s something about depths.  Fathoms.  Great distances and quantities unknowable.  My mind can fixate for hours on the questions of depth.  It must be so dark down below so much water, it must be so muddy, so briny, so devoid of light and life.  And yet things do live down there.  Organisms thrive.  Little creatures scurry about amidst all the pressure, never knowing sunlight.  I currently live very close to a river.  Not a huge river but it’s a river.  I like to ride my bicycle across a nearby bridge onto an island that is smack center in the river.  I ride out to the tip of the island where the water is spliced, diverted to either side.  I watch the river roll toward me in vast sheets, then split in two and slide past.  It is best to do in the summer.  The boats are out.  Fishermen in tiny outboards, their high-pitched whine echoing off the banks.  The heat of the summer makes the sound pungent.  Pungent whiny motor sound bouncing off river banks, and the sky above can get so blue, so blue.  Then there are river birds, usually.  Some white egrets off in the distance, a heron or two swooping by occasionally.  They call out to one another and their calls mix with boats, the lapping of the water, my own measured, shallow breaths.  It’s enormous things that get me, see?  The enormity of the river–it doesn’t care about me.  It doesn’t know who I am or even acknowledge my life.  It is benign but it is still a faceless monster.  It doesn’t feel but it will keep sliding past this island long after I am gone.  There is comfort in my littleness.  The river is pure and elemental and outside of time.  The river is not nearly as big as the ocean but it might as well be, next to me.  I take my boy to playgrounds.  We go to playgrounds frequently, almost daily in the summer.  We walk there through the humid city streets.  He likes to point at things and name the ones he knows–like house and truck–and ask questions about the ones he doesn’t know yet.  I tell him how water comes down the spouts when it rains.  He can say rain, but not water, not yet. We get to the playgrounds hoping other kids are there for him to play with, but usually there aren’t.  I play with him as much as I can on the tiny kids playground equipment.  It is fun.  It is not at all a task or a burden.  Just a few months ago the little guy was all burbles and gurgles and now here he is holding conversations with me.  It’s electric.  It’s just as elemental as the river.  Often I end up putting him in the little kid swing–the one that looks like a vinyl diaper.  I push him and make faces and he giggles.  It’s usually early evening and he sees the sun starting to nuzzle the horizon.  Sun down?  he asks.  He doesn’t want the sun to go down because he knows that means we have to go home.  Is it down yet?  I ask him.  No, he says, moon down.  That’s right.  The sun is up, the moon is down, all is well with the world.  Often on my days off–while my love is at work and our boy at the sitter–I like to take walks by myself.  It’s astonishing how few people are out, physically, in the world during the day.  Actually walking on sidewalks.  There seems to be very little need for it any more, even in a city.  I walk mostly alone from block to block, neighborhood to neighborhood.  In the hot summer months it feels even more deliciously lonesome, the hot, heavy air pushing in on everything.  The abandoned tricycle on the street corner seems pressurized by the hot air, more solitary but more graceful.  The squirrels in the dogwoods seem to know me, turning their nuts over in their hands like airborne otters, they seem to say It is hot and pressurized and we know you, we are out here, too.  I look at all the houses–so many of them!–with all the windows dark in the middle of the day, and everything so quiet.  I wonder about all the dark quiet houses.  Where are the people?  At their jobs, working to pay for the houses we rarely get to be in, and the cars to get them there (and keep them from having to walk on sidewalks).  Life doesn’t happen here, in the houses, but elsewhere.  Life happens on the move, in transit, on vinyl swings, we swing, we swing, we swing.  I walk until I get sweaty and thirsty and I turn around and head back home. I turn the air conditioning up and pull the blinds and turn on the television.  Everything out there is so big and elemental and universal and here on the screen everything is so small and incomplete and digestible.  I suppose we need the small to balance out the large.  The massive iron oceanliner swaying in a distant harbor at night, the moonlight on its riveted hull.  Things so huge, if you think about them hard enough, just the thought will crush you.

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