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.