An insistent chill whips in off Lake Michigan, assaults me from all directions and angles, not clumsily, like a teenage lover, but depravedly, alarmingly scornful of foreplay. I veer off Halsted’s wide alley and head home down close residential streets where huddled flats brave the wind and sidewalks lie tranquil. In the newly cold air my steps clap louder. Colorfully-lighted, early Christmas plastic defines a tuft of front yard. For the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, service had been unusually slow. My section emptied quickly, and I left early enough that in the buildings around me I now smell dinner happening. The restaurant is closed tomorrow, but over the phone I told my mother that I couldn’t possibly get the damn day off. She mentioned the late train, that I could maybe make it for dessert, and I told her I already promised Rachael, a girlfriend I had invented months ago, that after work I’d share pie with her and her parents, and I heard my mother’s cheeks color with hope and marriage. I have become a fiend for lying to her, for giving her this happiness.
I turn a corner onto a new block. Up porch steps, a door stands open; I hear the voices of children. A private, orange mood glows inside, secluded and womblike, as if a radiating artifact hides within, perhaps the Grail. Immediately comes the heightened sensation of witnessing something not meant to be witnessed, but just as soon as I yearn for it I see a flash of bare forearm—a hand clutches the knob.
The door claps shut.
A symmetry settles, reunites the flats. It all happens so quickly that I wonder if perhaps the open door was a mirage. I feel like the black-and-white soldier from that Twilight Zone episode, waking up to a world abandoned. I would feel less lonesome if I had a sense of coordinated conspiracy, of families sunk against their doors, dinner on the table and cooling, pinching their lips, barely containing themselves as I pass by.
John Kersey lives in Chicago with his wife and their daughter. He teaches creative writing at Elgin Community College. More work of his can be found in the Fall 2012 issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal.