APRIL 2009 – NO. 32
The open door across the street
Sipping tea at the desk of my third floor San Francisco apartment, I checked my email and hummed along to The Smiths' Louder than Bombs. My cat walked by and I stood to pick him up, intending to place him on my lap. When I stood, I caught a glimpse of the street below. Flickering lights, their origin not immediately detected, invaded the otherwise still street. I reached to part the Venetian blinds for a fuller look and found that a white van, a van that reminded me of an ambulance but was very much a van, was the source of the lights. The van's lights were yellow, not red the way an ambulance's would have been. The vehicle was unadorned, appeared unimportant. Despite the flashing lights, no urgency surrounded whatever was happening outside. I noticed that the door to the house directly across the street was wide open. Inside, a man whose face I could not see sat on red carpet. A framed picture hung a tad crooked on a wall.
Continuing my survey, I looked to the house next door to the house with the open door. That house was a big vacant Victorian my boyfriend Scott and I watched evolve over the previous few months. We watched as its blue paint was covered in yellow, watched the "for sale" sign go up, stay up, eventually come down. A perpetual observer, I waited for new neighbors to watch through our windows. I looked one more house to the left. Like every other evening, I saw the flickering of a TV, emanating another, milder, set of lights onto Seventh Avenue. The world on the other side of the window played out in seeming silence. Or, rather, the melancholy lull of my own music served as my soundtrack for monitoring our block.
My attention eventually returned to whatever was going on inside our apartment, so I released the blinds and went back to it. I heard what sounded like car doors closing, tires moving on pavement, a running motor fading in the distance. Later, I got up, stretched, considered washing laundry, and opened the blinds again to check the thickness of the fog. The door across the street was still open. It seemed like the place was being aired out.
Three days passed.
I kicked off my shoes then pulled the nylon cord to open the blinds. Cell phone pressed to my ear, I chatted with my aunt Lynn about PMS and other unpleasantries of womanhood. I was struck by the purple hues of that day's sunset. A blue van pulled up and double-parked. The driver didn't bother to put on the hazard lights. A man wearing a black suit and black tie emerged from the driver's seat and opened the van's rear door. He reached inside and removed a pink flower display on a three-legged stand. Then another. Four or five more. The door of the house across the street again stood open. Carefully, the man in the suit carried each bouquet through the door.
My aunt chatted about cousins' birthdays. I half-listened. The sky grew darker. More cars pulled up. Women in black dresses, accompanied by more men in black suits, stepped out of the cars. I smiled to myself at the sight of a shaggy-haired boy of about seven, apparently with no suit of his own, in a grown man's jacket. I, a woman behind a window, watched the flowers. I watched the people enter the house across the street. I watched them close the door.
Later that evening, Scott and I walked outside to photograph the moon, full and orange, hanging low in the sky. Bending to tie my shoe, I noticed a handful of loose flower petals. Rose and carnation scraps, remnants of meticulous arrangements, dotted the pavement where the displays had been unloaded. I picked up a pink petal and rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger. Looking at it, feeling its soft weightlessness, I contemplated this city existence and how I never spoke to, perhaps never even saw, the person being honored in the house I look at every day, the house with which I share the same small slab of the world. I thought about how many neighbors I don't know and, despite my watching, how much goes on that I'll never see. And I wondered: who am I to those across the street?The woman who sometimes holds her cats up to street-side windows, letting them peer out at the tip of the Golden Gate Bridge?The one who always seems to run to catch the bus?The curly-haired girl who, holding hands with her boyfriend, carries grocery bags from organic markets?The woman who often looks out, oblivious to those who might see in?
I placed the petal down, exactly where I found it. Before walking away, I looked once more at the door I'd been watching, the closed door of neighbors I'll probably never know.
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