Here’s a story I just wrote for my friend Nell, who is visiting her grandmother in the hospital for, most likely, the last time. Like most fiction, it’s half true.
I was walking home from the grocery store the other night. Shuffling through the fall leaves looking even more orange under the unnecessary but incessant sodium lights. The moon was out and the city was ablaze with electricity, but they couldn’t wash out the brightest of the stars no matter how hard they tried. When I looked up at them around my steamy breath, I smiled a little bit. A jetliner cut the sky into two pieces, crawling like a snail across the sky, leaving a water vapor trail behind.
It was a startling thought. A stop-in-my-tracks kind of moment.
On that side of the line is half of everything. On this side, me and the other half. Did I have all the goodness or none of it? Is goodness even equally distributed? And what of the line? Is it randomly placed or part of some grand design?
Undoubtedly my neighbors, had they been awake, would have been startled at the image of a grown man staring open-mouthed at a jet crossing the sky. Luckily, I do all my shopping after they have been sleeping for hours. I like interrupting the shelf-stockers to make them be cashiers. I like how they turn off all the fluorescent lights in the freezers. I like seeing everything more real.
At any rate, this line and it’s potential mesmerized me. I became obsessed with the desire to know what it was like on the other side of it. I had to cross it just like a line drawn in the sand by your enemies. You cross it just to anger them. To see if you can. I set my groceries on my porch and turned perpendicular to the line. I started walking.
Generally south and west I walked, skirting buildings and squinting through streetlights up at the gently curved light grey border. As I walked, it seemed to move with me. Like one of those paintings in old Scooby Doo cartoons where the criminal would peer out and watch the intrepid detectives do their cheaply animated walking. I soon passed beyond familiar territory. On streets I’d seen on maps but never met in person. The line, taunting me, had gotten no closer.
Determined, I kept walking until I reached the ocean. In my city, it’s not as far as it is elsewhere. Every so often, I can smell the tangy salt air from my house, even. There by the ocean, I understood that I could pass no farther. The line of water vapor was starting to do what water vapor does, anyway. I laid down on a park bench and let the cold air completely surround me as I watched the last of the tiny droplets turn from artificial clouds into nothingness.