Prisonville

Whoosh

A car drives by, so close to me that I feel the wind it makes buffet me as it blows past. I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking. The road’s deserted now that the headlights of the car are gone and its noise is fading away. I miss it a little. I’d tracked that solitary car’s progress from three streets away when it started up in its driveway. There isn’t a whole lot of town here, and you learn pretty quickly to tell where the cars are coming from. I don’t know why, but sound has always traveled particularly far in this place; maybe it’s all the clean mountain air.

Nobody moves here for any reason except the stupid air. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my parents, or my friends’ parents, gush about how clean the dratted air up here is. I’ve heard my husband’s family go on about it, and my friends and my coworkers as well. Everyone loves the air, the air, the air. The clean, mountain air.

Me? I hate this air. I find it oppressive. I feel like it’s closing in on me. Once every couple of months I get a panic attack, and Dr. Greene has to come and inject something in my arm until I calm down. My husband doesn’t get it, but maybe that’s because I’ve never explained it to him. Why should I? He’d laugh, tell me I’m crazy, ruffle my hair in that way I hate and then forget all about me again.

I pass my house again. I’ve been around the block five times already and I don’t feel any warmer than I did when I started. It’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep. As usual. My husband’s still out at the bowling alley with his buddies – well, that’s what he tells me, anyway. I think he’s elsewhere, but I haven’t ever bothered to check. I honestly don’t care about him enough. It’s not like I’ve ever had a relationship with him. We were married two years ago. I’ve known him all my life, of course, just like I know everyone else in this town. If you think your town is small, try to go house by house throughout all of it and see if you know everyone’s names. Can you do that? I can.

I read a book once – or maybe it was a movie, I’m not sure – whatever it was, I remember this place called Stepford, where all the women were exactly the same, programmed to be perfect. That’s what my town is like – everyone’s exactly the same: perfectly nice, perfectly decent, perfectly fair, perfectly dull. Both the women and the men. The only ones who are different are the kids, and they all grow out of it. I don’t know why I’m different, but I just know that I am.

I think I’m the only one in living memory who ever tried to leave this place. But I couldn’t.

Before a City Wakes

There are thousands upon thousands of cities in the world, and all differ. Their sizes vary – some are small, some are large. Some differ in their demographic – more men than women or more citizens above a certain age and so on. They differ in their architecture – some are entirely new and modern and some have areas dating back hundreds of years. But all cities look, sound and feel exactly the same in that quiet moment right before dawn.

No matter what city it is, in that unclear light, before the sun peeps over the horizon, they will be quiet. Quieter than any other moment of the night. Those who work and live by day aren’t yet awake or are still in their homes, and those who live by night have already finished their outings or their work and have gone home. The streets are almost completely bare of people, and the lone car that whooshes past seems to be an intruder, much too loud and intrusive for this quiet moment.

All cities look the same during that small space of time – it is the only time any city is truly sleeping, resting, gathering its strength for another day and night of bustle and work and noise. It is breathtaking- the clear air, free of smog or smoke; the absolute peace that permeates every road and sidewalk and building; the utter and undeniable feeling of being between. Between the night and the day, between breaths, between the very phases of being that make up any city.

It is wonderful, being awake when the city sleeps.

When the Chamsin Breaks

Israel is a strange country when it comes to weather. A tropical country, some might say – all I know is that it’s mad-as-a-hatter weather over here. Near the ocean, where I live, it could be hotter than hell, but up in the hills of Jerusalem it’ll be cool at night, the desert not far from those hills will be even cooler, the mountain in the North will be covered in snow and the border in the South will be even warmer than the ocean but dry.

Yesterday and today we had what is called a “chamsin” here on the coast. A chamsin is a few days when the weather is perceptibly hotter than normal, usually quite dry, with sandy winds that blow dust into the houses. Everyone leaves their windows open in the hope of coaxing a non-existent breeze in, and the wardrobe changes appropriately to tank tops, shorts and sandals. In Los Angeles, this weather would be called “earthquake weather” because there is an unsettling quality to it – all day, it feels as if something is about to snap, as if the air cannot stand any more of the still and silent electricity that seems to crackle in it.

Then evening comes along. The first evening of a chamsin might be just as hot and horrid as the day was. The second night might be the same, making people toss and turn in their sweat-soaked sheets as they try to rest. But eventually, the chamsin breaks, as it did tonight. When it does, it’s as if the world breathes a sigh of relief – there, feel that breeze? It’s over, at least for a few more hours. There’s air that doesn’t sting anymore, the windows are open for a reason now, and you can finally get some sleep.