Franklin Street (Chapel Hill)
The brick wall was painted white years ago. The vines started growing shortly after. I don’t know what they are, but they grow wild up the wall - woody stalks, shaggy towards the bottom, sprouting bright green leaves. Mid summer, a handful of the leaves turn bright red. This is a harbinger of autumn, the sign that summer is half gone, past its prime, the solstice already spent. The hotter the summer, the more red the leaves, or so I’ve noticed, in my hours at this window across from that wall.
I’m not old, but I will be. I have people who bring me things. Strawberries are a favorite. Fresh milk. A strong glass of whiskey in the evening, with ice if there is someone to put a few cubes in my glass. I walk from one side of the room to the other. I can make it to the bathroom on my own. In the evening, I stretch out on my single bed and raise my legs up and down, preventing the atrophy that I’m warned will set in if I refuse to move at all. My back is not the back I was born with, and I run my fingers down it sometimes, as far as I can get them to go, feeling for the place where it breaks, where I start to bend away from the light, instead of towards it.
In the morning, the wall is in shadow. A spider performs a dance from one corner of my window to the other and then, in one breathtaking swoop, he swings from top of the window to the wall, a good three or four feet, gossamer thread trailing behind him until he gains purchase against one of the vines. His body is a perfect machine. In just an hour, less, his web is complete – stretched from three unlikely anchors: the top corner of the window, the bottom corner of the window, the vine on the wall. It seems improbable, likely to collapse. But you can see when unsuspecting victims find their way into it – first, a fly, then a beetle, iridescent wings spasming – that it is going nowhere. The spider is a brilliant architect of doom. He is a graceful survivalist, not at all reduced by his ruthlessness, which looks to most, like beauty.
Beauty is as essential a thing in this world as strength. A body must have a purpose and the ability to complete that purpose, no matter what the cost. But bodies fail. Not all purposes are fulfilled. Beauty without strength is empty.
In the evening, the wall fills up with sunshine. The leaves become vivid against the whitewashed wall, throwing stark shadows this way and that. The spider’s web is iridescent in the light, almost translucent, and the spider is nowhere to be found. There is just the slightest breeze and the wind exhales its hot breath against the window where I sit. The leaves stir and then are still again. Dusk becomes a thing almost tangible, settling like a gray net over the evening.
Night. The vines are dark fingers reaching up a dark wall. There is no moon, but there is an electric glow coming from some distant place, a streetlamp, maybe. I feel but barely see the frenetic beating of bats wings, see moths spinning in the corners of my vision. Everywhere there is movement, even in the subtlest things. I touch the pulse in my neck to assure myself I have not turned to stone.
On the path between my building and the white wall, there are footsteps. The path leads from a quiet neighborhood to a sidewalk bordering a busy street. The street leads to the university, to jobs and students, to more people, more streets. The footsteps belong to a woman, maybe twenty years old. She is hurrying, a bag slung across one shoulder, a bottle of wine in one hand – condensation sparkles on the bottle. She stops suddenly – her body so startlingly in command of her every whim - and turns to my window. She tucks her hair behind one ear and smoothes it across the top. She touches her own lips with the tip of one finger. She is checking her reflection.
I see her – this younger version of myself, all of her bones intact, her body taut as a rubber band stretched between two fingers, all of her energy directed towards one thing, a living thing, maybe, another body waiting for her, somewhere. Then, she turns from the window and instead of walking, she runs.
I wonder, later, if she saw my face and if it frightened her. But I think it is more likely that she didn’t see me at all, that whatever made her turn and run was a thought she’d been teetering on the edge of, a thought that propelled her forward into her own future, into the dark, hot skin of night.