“To Know”

Double-hung window, plantation shutters the color of ripe mangoes drawn open. On the street below: the new fire hydrant (red, not yellow like its predecessor), the two-year-old pothole to the left of the Kaufman’s driveway, and cypress trees in desperate need of trimming, their branches stretching across the street like a child reaching for the monkey bars. Also, a man and a woman, both strangers to me, and, by their body language, to each other.

The Malinois with the green leash held firmly by the man accepts the sniffing advances of the woman’s Labrador, who is dressed in a black studded collar. The woman keeps her eyes on her dog as the man speaks, no doubt sharing his name or asking her dog’s name or perhaps commenting on the sunny weather, how nice it is to have a break from the rain. I still remember small talk.

The woman lifts her head and meets the man’s gaze, one hand shielding her eyes from the sun, shifting from one foot to the other, her torso perfectly parallel to his. They talk and they laugh and they lean closer. She tucks a strand of hair behind one ear. He puffs out his chest, like a football player trotting onto the field.

I feel like I’m watching them fall into something, not love or even lust, but maybe enchantment or understanding, that feeling you get when someone responds so perfectly to everything you say and do that it seems to defy reason, and I try to remember the last time I found that in the way someone says pajamas or the way someone’s nostrils flare with excitement, but I can’t.

Because I can’t even remember the last time I left this house, the house I’ve lived in for most of my life, or when I last felt the trunks of the cypress trees that line our street with my hands. How long it’s been since I dropped out of college and came home.

How can this man and this woman make small talk when glaciers are retreating all around the world? Don’t they know that fishermen catch sharks just to kill them for their fins (to make a soup of all things) and then toss the carcasses back into the ocean? Someone should tell them this is no time to stroll around the neighborhood when people are dying for any reason and no reason at all.

I want to tell them this and so much more, but first I want them to tell me what it’s like to be in love. I want to hear the story of some time they got into their cars and just drove, without reason and without purpose, when they weren’t thinking about some other place or some other thing or some other person, only the road in front of them, the song playing on the radio, and the way their fingers felt on the steering wheel, powerful and relaxed all at once. I want to know what it’s like to run through grass with your shoes off without worrying about ticks and pesticides. The content feeling of eating too much popcorn at the movies without worrying about what processed food might do to their bodies and what the over-production of corn is doing to our soil, and our diets, and our bodies.

I want to know everything and nothing. I want them to feel my fear, and I want to feel their apathy or optimism or skepticism or whatever it is that makes them get out of bed and carry on every day as if there weren’t a million reasons to hide away from the world, where on any given day a young boy might be shot simply because of the color of his skin, or a young girl might be raped and strangled simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I want to see the good they must see.

I open the window, but it’s too late. They walk, in opposite directions, the Malinois walking in step beside the man, the Labrador tugging the woman forward in pursuit of a squirrel two yards away. They are too far to call to. I watch them walk away until the sidewalk is empty again.

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About Ashley Olsen

Ashley Nicole Nieblas (née Olsen) holds an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College and a BA in History from UCLA. Her writing has been published in Devil's Lake and Consequence Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles.