Places Outside of Normal Setting
On the airplane, when you look down at the sun reflecting off the surface of a Great Lake’s waves and the whole sheet of water looks like crinkled tin foil. From above, the skyscrapers are like pencils, the apartment buildings like carefully stacked Legos along the water’s edge. The grid of streets whose names you unconsciously memorized in college—Van Buren, Clybourn, Prospect, Farwell—orders everything: people, neighborhoods, lives. From here, real things like calling a cab and walking to work and pressing redial on a cell phone seem unreal. When the plane descends, finally sinking from sky to land, it feels at first like you’re dropping into a map, dropping back into your life.
Standing on the concrete bridge gazing through the rusted chain link fence at the junkyard below. Wind whips your hair over your face and the damp air beats cold cold cold like a heart pressed up against your ears. Traffic is scarce, one car followed later by another like the street is on a slow drip IV. You press the lens of your camera against a hole in the fence and through the viewfinder see piles and piles of tires, worn and balding, stacked in leaning mounds. They remind you that people in this city have gone places—for years and years, turning—and eventually stopped. You press a button to capture what they left behind.
Driving through a thunderstorm in the center of the country where the rain falls against the windshield not in drops, but sheets. It feels like the sky is swallowing you, sucking you into the Technicolor cornfields, so bright green, greener, it seems, than jungles and neatly mowed lawns and Crayola markers. You’re en route from one state to another, unable to see even the highway’s exit signs, barely noticing the occasional overpass. Highway 20 is like a tunnel through the ocean, the bottom of the sea. You’ve never seen your destination before and hope that somewhere, at the end of this long swim, lays another existence.
The elevator just after it’s been repaired for the umpteenth time. None of the fliers have been put back yet, so it feels like something is missing. The advertisements for the literary magazine, the posting for an English tutor, the notes about garage sales and free books. The machine creaks its way up to the fourth floor, and you’re surprised no one gets on at the second. When the doors open, the lights are dimmed, and no footsteps echo down the hallway. You wonder for a moment where everyone has gone. Just you and the empty corridor.
In your new office where the fluorescent lights bake the room in a sterile yellow. The air-conditioning hums and the computer hums and your body feels like it’s out of sync with the building’s vibrations. The desk is foreign and you don’t know your own phone number because no one told you what it is—later you will tape it to your phone so when people ask for it you don’t say, “uh…”—and the light makes everything pulse. The lampshade beats and the Kleenex box and the floor beneath your shoes. You remember a time when you didn’t have a door to shut out the world and think maybe it was better that way.
On the edge of the canyon where your depth perception cannot accommodate the vast, empty space before you. Jagged, red-maroon walls drop off into nothing, and lightning reaches down toward the opposite rim from the dark thunderheads in the distance. Millions of years of geology leave you feeling like a time traveler in an ancient land, a place without people, a time before we built all the cities and highways, the cars and the airplanes. Here, at the edge of the abyss, nature lets you look down on something that will always remain a little unfathomable. You lean against the railing. The tourist next to you snaps a photo, drawing you back to the present.
About the author:
Kathryn Sukalich is a Wisconsin native living in Oregon. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in Prick of the Spindle, Switchback, decomP magazinE, and other publications. She received an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. You can find her online at kathrynsukalich.com.