I looked up from some of my files and saw a little boy, through the train window. It was somewhere near Deventer, on the way to Berlin, and he tumbled towards the tracks a toddling mess of blond hair and fair skin, halting just beyond the shade of the tree where his family picnicked. He started to wave up at the train, in little floppy motions, and I felt something catch in my chest. I paused a moment and lifted my hand, but his little arms and little red shirt had already disappeared, still waving, beyond the horizons of my window.
I remembered, then, a night over a year ago, some muggy twilight in the heart of a Chicago August; I was in town for one night before I had my one-way to Berlin in the morning, where I was moving for work, the first good job offer I’d ever gotten. We were stepping off the El somewhere near Wrigleyville, where Memo suggested we get off and take a walk for a while. There was a wine-bottle’s worth of drunk between us, and we seemed to veer off the platform without direction. It was hot, and my shirt stuck to my chest and shoulders. Memo wore a dark blouse and a white skirt that danced against her legs every time she walked.
Memo finally pointed us towards Lake Michigan, looking down at her feet as we walked, gripping her skirt at her hips and squeezing the fabric between her fingers. “Look at this,” she said, rubbing it with her thumb and inviting me to touch. “Got it today. Guess how much.”
“Ten dollars,” I said, just looking.
“I like where your mind is,” she said, “but this is Chicago. Forty bucks. Still a great deal.”
“Okay.” I smiled.
The brownstones seemed to lean in over the street, covered in the thin membrane of orange streetlight that bounded in arcs across their fronts with every lamp. We passed a busker with an accordion squeezing out a tango by Piazzolla, with a nose that looked to have been broken three times, pivoting to face us as we walked by. We passed a deli with a green awning that we would eat at when I used to visit, still bearing the same white strip of 80’s balloon font, Sal’s, that now looked a little bit older and a little more foreign from the wear of passing time. Caked stains from rain runoff striped its sides. I stopped for a moment as Memo walked ahead and I watched her reflection disappear off the edge of the deli window in a drain of color. I’d loved her before, and always would, but I would never tell her, not then, not ever. There were the little rules of the universe, repeating themselves infinitely in quiet dramas played out in the past and present and future, at school, in the Little Village, on the waterfront where we were about to make love and then dress without speaking. A history and destiny so real and certain that its story seemed to be printed in letters of fire.
My breath shook. Beneath the lights and the motion of the city, the streets seemed to writhe and tremble with life. Ahead, there was a storefront neon whose cursive message—Open 24 hrs.—seemed to set the air around her shoulders into vibrations, and Memo paused a moment before stepping off the curb ahead.
“Hey,” I said, even as she started to turn. “Wait up.”