Summer in the City

Contributor: Brandi Gaspard

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We were both dealing with a lot of things that summer.

There were the physical things, like:

1) how your missing left hand made you hide in long sleeves, even though they stuck to your skin so heavily in this southern heat.
This wasn’t too much of an issue, though, because we spent most of our time sleeping, or watching your collection of tapes.
The blinds were always closed.

2) how my own hand lacked any sense of tact, even with the best intentions in mind.
The first time we shared sleep, I could tell that you were uncomfortable by the way you forced your breathing to be still, and quiet, and so I traced my fingers down your arm to make you feel better. But it was late, and dark, and I moved too close to what we didn’t want to acknowledge as gone, and I felt your chest sink. So I asked if we should switch sides.
 I would sleep closest to the wall that summer.

3) how after that night, you always walked right by my left side.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask what happened to make you feel that way. Or what happened that left you without a hand in the first place.
All I knew was what I could see—your left side always strived for the shadows.

4) how we both got to the point where, if we could drag ourselves out of bed, neither of us would leave without sunglasses.
Yours were a veil to avoid accidental eye contact with others. They saved you from becoming a public display of biological abnormality, and they saved others from the sympathy they might feel obliged to give if the long sleeves and slouched posture weren’t enough to distract from the absent.
Mine were there to uphold the idea that there was something worth obscuring behind those dark lenses, when really, all I could say about myself is that I couldn’t bear the sun.

5) how we had to find ways to keep this overbearing sun and the city’s decaying buildings out of view from our apartment windows.
The unavoidable daylight illuminated the city’s failures and their reflections still creeped through the cracks, no matter how hard we pulled on the cords of the blinds.
Downtown kept decayed buildings as keepsakes of what could have been, but never was.
These rotting mementos and trash-lined streets were flaunted by the city to give the illusion of big city living at a discounted price.
Sometimes, the city would sense that people were catching on to this construction, so they’d make improvements to keep the disillusion at bay.
Last year, they paved the streets with new, antiquated cobblestone, but they tried too hard, and so the roads became too rough to pass.
They installed giant signs with flashing letters that signal: it will not be easy.
We did what we could to hide from this glare of orange, along with the glare of the sun and the surrounding buildings, with layered sheets nailed above the window frames and a cool climate we could keep through adjustments of the thermostat.
And then there were things that couldn’t be cured with dark shades or cloths or the cold, such as:

1) how the city’s weight smothered us in a way much like gravity, always there, but only noticed in rare moments of consciousness, like when we would walk to the corner store to pick up cigarettes and sweet tea and the only other people we saw were the nine-to-five suits rushing to return from their lunch break and the vagabonds resting in the central plaza.

2) how we didn’t want to be conscious, to be reminded that we had nowhere else to go.
So we mostly spent our days inside of those blanket-pinned windows, filling ourselves with smoke and sleep to blur the movement of time and to blot out the city’s black hole ambiance.
There wasn’t much said in between exhales and yawns.

3) how we grew tired of nothing, and on those days we desired something, we’d wait until the sun lowered to leave our shrouded living behind.
It was at night when downtown seemed most alive.
Even less bodies wandered the streets in the absence of sunlight, but with the city’s upheld promise of hollow metropolis reveries, every building that remained lifeless by day was revived by the grace of glowing neon at the onset of darkness.
Their skeletal infrastructures were outlined in cool-tinted glows of blues and greens.
The warmer colors were reserved for the bridge, the only entrance and exit to the urban corrosion.
The florescence read: THE DARING NEW CITY.
We would walk to the center of the bridge and lie beneath the sign and stare until we could see the neon saying with eyes shut.
These nighttime walks to the bridge were the only time you’d let me stay at your left side. In the afterglow of this expired city, we didn’t need sheets keep the light out. Or dark shades to shield from the sun. Or long sleeves to cover what was missing. Or smoke to distort our dwindling time.

4) How some things are better left unsaid.

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