She closes her eyes toward the setting sun like a prayer, her skin tanned, her shirt white, her hair the color of honey, an ember between two fingers at her side. She likes the way the air is cool and the sun is warm here in November, likes that from half a block down you can smell the pine trees over the Quiznos and the shawarma place, likes that from here the 10 sounds enough like the ocean. She traces a finger along brick rough like a man’s stubble, and lets herself really feel it. A shirtless youth glides by on his board, his face tuned to her body, and she notices. A raven caws somewhere, a newspaper with the angry faces of candidates flaps half-heartedly against a stopsign pole, a helicopter is searching for someone toward Brentwood. She focuses her thoughts on the fire inside of her. For a moment, at least, she has found peace.
She doesn’t seem to know what I know.
Soon she will frown at her watch, drop her cigarette on the ground, grind it out and go back to work. The butt will lie there as a reminder, fading over the next few days, its paper shell breaking down and the brown tobacco inside puffing out like the guts of an overloved rag doll, and on Thursday the street cleaner will angrily snatch it up and no human being will ever contemplate it again. The newspaper, too, will deteriorate, but new ones will be printed every day until the old people die off and only the web version remains. One of those candidates will win and people will have feelings about it, and in four years there will be new angry faces on the papers. The helicopter won’t find its man this time, but it will find other men sometimes and one day the force will get an upgrade and this one will sit in storage until they sell it to CBS for a period cop show that will be set now.
The needles will one by one fall off these pine trees and turn to dirt and be replaced by new needles, entire branches will turn brown and a man from the city will remove them in a cherry picker with a power saw. The sidewalk will crack, and men from the city will fix that, too. The Quiznos will close for a while and reopen as a boba place and then a vegan sandwich store. The shawarma place will get passed down to the owner’s daughter, who didn’t want it. Eventually the whole building will be torn down and replaced by a mixed-use development with apartments above a Coffee Bean, an art supply store, and a small gym.
The youth whizzing by has a few more years of still being one. As winter comes, and again with middle age, he’ll take his shirt off less and less. One day after his mom’s funeral he’ll find his board behind the freezer in her garage, and he’ll turn with a disbelieving smile to show it to someone, but there won’t be anyone there.
The girl will finish her shift, pay her rent, come back here tomorrow and the next days and take more breaks. She will put these shoes in a bag that she means to take to the Goodwill on Santa Monica, and then throw it away when she moves because her daughter is getting too big to not have her own room. The shirt will go out of style and she’ll think of it as her “grungies” that she wears for housework, and then it’ll be a rag for dusting. She will experience joy and pain, her body will be mistreated by men with faces like brick and by time itself. Younger girls will start making the kind of money she now makes. She will buy new parts. She will try new hair colors as an affordable way of reinventing herself. She’ll get a new job in a bar where the men drink to forget things and she will make many of them feel noticed again for a moment. Her idea of success will gradually shift to being about making her daughter successful instead. Something dark will grow in her, caused by the tanning or the cigarettes or the sun. She will be buried in a wig the color of honey. Her daughter will cry and wonder what moments she may have missed, never knowing like I do about this golden moment in the sun.
I myself will turn grey one day. I will lose my words as aluminum takes over my neural pathways, and I will die. I will write this all down in my computer so people might remember me once I’m gone, and they will for a while, and then they won’t.
This whole city will grow and grow upward and outward. The sea will encroach and the Novembers will get warmer. They will ration the water. Legislation will be passed to try to limit the population. Bricks will turn to red dust and blow away. The American empire will fall. Overpasses will house the people and then crumble. Future excavators will find remnants of computers in the earth and never unlock the writings inside. In seven billion years, the sun’s core will run out of hydrogen and then helium, and its outer layers will expand rapidly and envelop the earth, melting its nickel core and vaporizing all known life. Entropy will leave the universe cold and black like marbles coming to rest after a spill.
She doesn’t seem to know any of this.
She frowns at her watch, drops her cigarette to the ground, grinds it out and goes back to work. For a moment, she, at least, has found peace. Another moment passes. A raven caws somewhere. I close my eyes toward the setting sun like a prayer.