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Houses on a Hill

From the church basement I walk out into the night, across the cracked asphalt of the lot. They are spilling out behind me, lighting their cigarettes, standing together. Pulling on their jackets and kissing each other good-night. I slip into my car and close the door behind me. Silence. Drops of rain on the windshield. I pull out of the lot the wrong way, avoiding them, like I did when I was new. A single green light across Market, and then the climb home. I do not know how much solitude I need, and what more is trouble.

Lights from the houses on the hills. Who built them, all these houses? The hills at night lit up like constellations thick with stars. The arched windows, the wooden decks on long thin legs, the pale colors and the pines and the palms and the small strips of long grass where yellow wildflowers are blooming. Wind sweeping them back at night, the grasses rustling.

Each bay window, each high ceiling, each open blind. Each framed print on the wall. The carpeted staircase climbing into the dark. The ficus, an orchid, each potted spice. A blue bottle above the sink, strands of garlic hanging from a hook. The glowing computer screens, patterns of light moving in an empty room. The bookshelves and the saints sculpted from stone, blessing the home, the guest. Each balcony or open deck, chairs facing the bay. I wish myself into each room. Each story contained within. Which story would I choose, why do I covet the window’s curving line? Brief wishes, a minute in each room. Reading the titles of their books. Peeking into the humming fridge. The smell of their bread, their dogs and the damp sponge on the edge of the sink. Just a minute or two, the photographs sitting on the mantle, the store-bought logs hissing in the fireplace. The letters and the bills and the lists and the keys. The shoes on the mat, the coats on the rack. The blue digits of their CD players. Standing at their window, assessing the view. My forehead against the cool glass.

A city of houses and rooms, too many stories. Which one is mine, which am I meant to have?

Beyond the eucalyptus trees on the edge of my street, the half moon hangs over the city, above the bay, the painter’s pearl strokes. I slow the car. The street pointing at the moon as if I need reminding. The enormity of the night and the place that lies waiting for me.

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