prose// lake street

I promised myself that here, I wouldn’t fold. The sun is a giant, blistering nectarine in the sky, hung just above the horizon, a marionette on a divine string. I am a tense driver, furrowed brow and eyes unafraid of so large a star. This little town is like a storybook. It is artificial and enchanting at the same time. The roads are narrow, the buildings are small, and I feel even smaller.  

Here, the ground is caked in pollen in September. I watch the wildflowers grow and they are so wonderfully curated on the corner of each block rounded and concrete. I miss the way that I used to marvel at any bend in a path, today I hold my breath at the mere rustle of the leaves in the broad tree outside my window. The floorboards creak, each a low moan of grief at the sight of my withering youthfulness. The world burns like glass before it is smooth– sharp blazing sand that dimples my skin. I tip-toe home in broad daylight, murmur to myself as I wait at the crosswalk. There is nothing more frightening than an empty street, than an empty road, than the air against my skin and no coat to muffle the chill. I feel naked when I wander the library, covered from head to toe, a black mask pulled over my face, only my eyes open, gulping in light. Everyone can see me; there aren’t enough shadows here. The sky is so close and so huge, I can almost taste it. Almost-sky tastes like sorrow, tastes like hope, tastes like thick and gooey homesickness. I lick my lips as the night folds over everything.

Here, I have folded too many times. I bend my body in Ruku’, I curl into a fetal position in the bed that is too big for me. When I eat, I fold a large paper towel into a napkin, but I have a hundred napkins in the closet. In the closet are clothes, hung one after another. I stare at them, the versions of my body that fit inside them, the versions of me that shimmy in my own frame: a focused teacher, a quiet wanderer, a nervous student. One, two, one, two… I count my steps as I thud home, the sidewalk chafing away at the souls of my shoes, the stillness of the air sands down my own sides until I am paper-thin, so translucent you doubt my own existence. Where are the veins, the heart, the lungs? I study the origami of the human form, how many ways I can tuck my own corners until I become a paper boat, a feminine crane, a pensive frog.

In the pond across the road, the ducks sleep in the warmth of the sunlight, and so do the turtles and so do the people. Only the fish move, frantic, beneath the hazy water. The trees have been growing through it all, remembering the forest before the sound of the train changed it. Each step in the grass is a footstep over a fossil, a lamented arboretum. Everywhere is a graveyard, the earth, a soft and malleable witness. Above ground, we decorate the visages of death with neatly planned asphalt intersections and tall buildings that look like cardboard when you squint your eyes. And paper, my goodness, so much paper!

When I cross the street with vegetables in a cloth bag, a gift from the old world, I feel like another woman, someone who walks with cucumbers tucked beneath her arm. I don’t think about the girl I become when my feet cross the ancient threshold of the studio apartment furnished with antiques and my Ikea dresser, her trepidation/ how flighty she can be / how she jumps in fear at the sound of….everything. The repetition, the predictability, all the things that she doesn’t or won’t eat / all the things she does or won’t wear / all the times she told herself she wouldn’t go out / wouldn’t speak / wouldn’t smile at the wrong person — and came home creased with regret.

No, when I stroll the farmers market, with a worn five-dollar bill in my hand, I feel anew. The calmness, a costume. The heat, inevitable when on stage. At the curb, I wait for the lights to turn and imagine them hung in a theater; someone, somewhere has to be watching. There is never any applause, but the faithful breeze comes, and it is enough for me most days.

When I get home, I place the cucumbers on the little white table in my little white kitchen and sigh. I fold up the fabric bag printed with an imitation of Monet’s water lilies. It is like this neighborhood, an attempted replica of something fantastical.

I fold it all up and put it away.

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