She is wearing a jacket that zips, and the wind picks up. She looks at the grey sidewalk, colored at its edges by the efforts of a lone streetlight. She likes using the filter because of the feel of it between her front teeth, the sound it makes. If it were warm outside, if the air was damp, she would be afraid to walk home alone. It’s cool and the wind is gaining on her, and she feels as though she has a fair chance. She is cautious, though. Let’s be clear.
There is a park on her left. She clicks the filter between her teeth, inhales. She cannot see anyone in the park, but assumes they are there, under benches, trying to sleep, having lost the anxiety and the fear of being caught years ago. She considers Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and how every girl in the continental United States is thinking of someone in particular when they sing the song, light-headed in karaoke bars, tired and alone in cars. She thinks of hers while watching the sidewalk again, and how he isn’t really all that vain, but still she feels that hot indignation, that fury, tingly and breathless when she sings. On the radio in the driver’s seat sometimes, it makes her take the corners sharp and shift into third gear with unnecessary force.
She stops at a crosswalk, in a vague circle of buzzing, electric light. Across the street, something moves in the bushes. The quiet is confusing, unfathomable. It is the city, and it’s only 11. From a few streets up the wind carries the evidence of activity and sound, but this street, half-lit, has been granted clemency. She walks when the sign bids her do so. She could walk and walk and things would improve for her, she is certain. But it is also certain that she is unable to walk forever. She wipes her nose.
On her left again is a house, short, painted red and green vined all over. There is a big window, unprotected by blinds or shades, and she looks in. The walls are white and the floors are wooden, and in the middle of the room there is a rectangular table. In the middle of this table there is a reading lamp, the only light in the room. There are no pictures on the walls, no other furniture, and no other signs of life at all. She stops walking and continues to look in the window. She wishes she knew the reasons for such a bare room, but is content to invent them for herself. With whom, she wonders, can she share the mystery of the lonely lamp? Because a lamp, she says to herself, is beautiful and fraught with possibility. So are most things. But to date, she has not made the acquaintance of anyone who would not respond by saying, “It’s just a lamp.” Or worse: “I’m not going to look into somebody else’s window!”
She crosses the street again, and hangs a left. She puts the filter to her lips again. She does not miss the burning at the back of her throat that she would feel without it. Mostly it is the faint implication of smoke that she enjoys, and the deep breaths, the slow release. Something rustles a bush again. It’s been a rough year. There will be worse years probably. There will be better ones, too. She drops the cigarette butt on the sidewalk for the first time ever, touches it briefly with her toe, keeps going. There is the off chance that, in a better year, she will not look into open windows alone. Lamps across America will have their histories co-written. She tries to remember everything about this walk home; the wind, the window, and the smoke. The uncharitable coat. The missteps of a drunken blonde. She must pin it down, make it stick, before she walks into her apartment and is warm again, safe and hungry and tired, and forgets. She pinches her eyes shut for a moment, and is sure that the best stories are true, or make you wish they were, anyway.