In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of questions asked, and to the answers proposed to these questions. The sweep goes on and on and on so obviously much further than the mind can grasp one hesitates even to go near for fear of getting lost in them and never finding one’s way out.
—Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
We’re biking to the beach in the late afternoon, the sun announcing its arrival to a city it only visits 67 days a year. We pass by the pizza shops and discount groceries and flower stands—couples kissing, mothers in burqas tugging their children behind them, gray-blonde women zipping through the bike lane in sensible shoes.
The soft people hum dies out and we bike through rows of apartment buildings. Here, everything is flat, straight, angular. This is a city, I think, but it is so quiet that I do not believe it.
We are further out; the apartments turn to homes. Rust-red roofs sag on thick mustard walls. But then there are houses with edges and all edges; glass cut into aggressive corners and flat black roofs and crisply jointed paths. The houses challenge each other, a duel that continues down the endless flat streets.
We pass a yellowing house where an old couple is watering their azaleas that look faded in the sun. They are at the age when they are shrinking — once we pass we will not see them over the gate. The man is hugging his wife, swaying her side to side. They are laughing. They are happy and I think what a miracle it is that they are still happy, still laughing, still holding each other.
We are on the beach now. To the left, windmills spin in a perfect line. To the right, rocks run parallel to the bridge to Sweden. Even the beach is orderly. We leave as the wind picks up and women begin to put their swim tops back on.
On our journey back, we do not speak. All the words we hear we do not understand. What a blessing, I think. We pass by factories and office buildings that have already emptied. There is so much land, so much emptiness. We bike through marshland on the side of freeway. There is nothingness. There is blue sky and green grass and a ribbon of gray and us.
Then nothing turns to something, we climb a hill on our bikes and our breath gets heavy. A shopping mall now. A church tower. People spinning on a jeweled ride, legs splayed out into the sky. They must be shouting, laughing, but we do not hear them.
We pass by the train tracks. There are no trains and below the tracks are vast and even though there are trees all around us all I can think about is the metal, gleaming for miles, and I turn away because my head feels heavy.
It is sunset now, and cigar smoke streams out of a bar into the purple sky. It is silent.
Marta was lying on the flat rooftop, bony shoulders digging into slate, and knobby legs sticky in the Midwestern summer heat. She came out here sometimes to avoid hearing her sister on the phone with her boyfriend—how her voice got higher and sweeter, how she said I love you and made kissing noises, and sometimes she cried.
One time Marta heard her sister come in late, sobbing and stumbling as she tried to take off her ice-caked snow boots. Marta sat on the top of the steps and watched her for a while until she looked up with bloodshot eyes.
“What happened?” This was the question Marta asked when she knew the answer. She knew the boyfriend, his name was Tim, had said something mean, or maybe just insensitive, or maybe something that wasn’t anything at all. She knew Kerry took things hard, too hard.
Marta knew this even when she was very young and her mother pulled her aside and said, “I know you’re younger, Marta, but you have to understand now that you must be careful with Kerry. She feels deeper.”
“He told me I was,” hiccup. “Sloppy.”
Marta hummed sympathetically as Kerry struggled to remove her coat.
She went up to bed that night and wondered what was different for Kerry, why her mind never seemed to leave her alone. There was always something, always something that provoked tears or anger or afternoons where Kerry isn’t just feeling well today.
You should know that when a husband and wife fight, it may seem to be about money or sex or power.
But what they’re really yelling at each other about is loneliness. What they’re saying really saying is, “You’re not enough people.”