Whenever she looked out her window, she saw a big “S” on the red brick building across from her. Just one letter, a simple one, with a serif on either end. It wasn’t the most innocent or joyful of letters; “snakes” and “sadness” and “sordid” all began with it, and she couldn’t help thinking of those and other harsh words whenever she looked at her “S.”
But not everyone had a big, two-story-tall letter painted on the building across the street. She could tell it was that large because she could see the windows next to it. Okay, so maybe it was only one-and-a-half stories tall, but it was up around the tenth or eleventh floor, and everything looks bigger higher up. Or so she thought at least.
It was kind of like Stephen (another “S”, she always reminded herself) who was so beautiful and seemed so majestic. He was tall, and his head was disproportionately large for his body. But she couldn’t help being attracted to him, daydreaming about him, adding the letters to his name to her view of “S.” Stephen, for his part, didn’t know she existed because they’d never been introduced. In fact, his name wasn’t actually Stephen, it was Pedro, but she’d given him a name of her own after she’d seen him at the bagel shop on the corner for the fourth morning in a row.
She wasn’t an obsessive person, no, you couldn’t say that exactly, she thought, but she was definitely aware, and self-aware as well, and she knew there was a certain obsessive quality to her fascination with her “S.” Especially when she knew there must be more letters painted up there, hidden from her by the jut of another building that was angled just right to show her the one “S” and nothing else. She wondered whether she’d ever see the thing, the letter or the entire word, from street level and see what it was referring to. The thought was terrifying.
I always take a book with me, no matter where I’m going or for how short a time. I simply hate leaving the house without a book. I think the reason for this is mostly a fear that I’ve developed over the years – a fear of boredom. I bring a book with me wherever I go so that if, by some chance, I need to wait at a bus station or for a friend or for something unexpected – well, I’ll have something to immerse myself in. Some people can find a hundred ways to occupy themselves with their cellphones. Some people can file their nails for an hour or count how many red cars go by. I can do those things too, but I simply would prefer to have a book.
Still, there have been times when my fear of boredom has been alleviated by the fact that I can, surprisingly, entertain myself with my own thoughts fairly well. Last week, for instance, I was taking a long bus ride and I began to grow nauseous while reading. I put my book on my lap and stared out the window, trying to calm my roiling stomach and concentrate on my breathing. Soon I found myself engaged in memories and imagined conversations and in musings about this or that, while also enjoying the view and trying to invent details or stories to add to what I saw.
Boredom, I’ve discovered, can be quite pleasant at times.
Standing at the edge of the yard, beyond the pool, beyond the odd bust of the Indian chief, right in the flower garden, trying hard not to step on the precious buds, is a girl. She’s wearing a short t-shirt and hugging herself against the cool morning breeze that ruffled her sleeves and her long hair. She closes her eyes and smiles into the morning sunlight, feeling glad despite having slept only a handful of hours.
When she opens her eyes again, she really looks, really stares hard at the view in front of her. So strange to have a yard end and have the wilderness begin right after the fence. The valley stretches out below her, and she gazes at it intently, trying to see wildlife – a few deer perhaps, a coyote. As usual, she sees nothing but the shrubs and trees and the vast greenness of the hills.
At last, she raises her eyes beyond the valley, beyond the hills, to stare at the tiny patch of blue, slightly darker than the sky, that is right there in that little break between the hills. The ocean. Sometimes she can even smell the salt-air from here, despite being miles away.
Eventually, she’ll walk in her bare feet back into the house and have breakfast with her family, who will all be waking up early due to jet-lag, just like her. That first morning of every visit to Los Angeles’s beautiful hills is always like this – magical.