8:30 pm, June 30th
By Mimi von Schack
The last day of June is humid, thick and sticky. “Sultry, that’s what you call a day like today,” my mom declares as we watch little clouds of steam rise from the glassy swimming pool. It’s the kind of day that seems to go on forever; the afternoon slowly unfolds into a bright gold dusk. We eat dinner outside that evening, my one-year old niece toddles around the deck, studying the wicker of our chairs with her cherub fingers. When the plates are cleared, the leftovers tucked into tin foil, the dog and I leave on a sunset adventure. He trots next to my bike, his poodle heritage makes his strides graceful, but his Labrador side makes his wide tongue flop out the side of his snout. I like that mix. We barrel down the streets that are still hushed in a dinnertime reverence, and the wind hugs our backs. I become so caught up in his revelry, sniffing flowers, inspecting bushes, absorbing every stimulus. For a moment, I forget we are different animals. Freedom looks different depending on your species, but I bet it all feels the same.
We reach the bay, and I notice his age has caught up with him (maybe that’s what he was bounding away from as we left the house?) and we meander home. I catch a glimmer of soft pink and deep gold from a pocket of sky between large pine trees from the window in the kitchen. I leave the dog to gulp from his water bowl, and I take off again, into the dwindling twilight.
The physical sensation of riding a retro cruiser bike like mine, which is heavy and large and built seemingly to oppose aerodynamics, is one of great achievement. Every stride forward is met with a squeaky creak, and the grind of the metal chain keeps a steady, mechanical rhythm. I haven’t set a course for this ride, except to follow the sunset as it saturates on the horizon. I pedal towards the end of the inlet, where the smaller ponds are swallowed by the wide mouth of the bay. I pick up speed and feel the heat of the day rise up from the concrete, dispersing into the hazy air around me. The trees and hedges seem to swallow up the houses in lush density. The air smells sweet with…what is that bush? With the little white blooms? I make a mental reminder to ask my mother, who seems to know every flower and their ideal habitat with the accuracy of a shrewd botanist.
As I approach the water, the smell of the bay takes over the air. Bay water and the faint scent of barbeque and bug spray. I take a deeper breath. Unfinished wood of the skeleton of a house being built. Another deep breath. Freshly laid sod. Trimmed hedges. The overall olfactory sensation is so layered and laden with sense memories, my eyes begin to water, but I can’t place the emotion. It’s more complicated than freedom but more melancholy than euphoria. My limbs push into the bike.
I round the corner to the dock, and the sky is a wash of pink and pale blue, reflecting into the murky green of the Long Island Sound. The water laps up against the bulkhead and mourning doves call out to each other. I hear the distant whirr of a small plane off in the distance. If I close my eyes, I am sixteen years old, sitting on the dock with my first boyfriend. If I close them even tighter, I am six years old, wrapped in a towel, waking from a nap in the shade of a sun-dappled porch. These sounds are an indiscriminate part of the landscape of the island and my own life and they are unaware of the passage of time. Tears are still pricking the inside of my eyes; in this moment, it appears the world exists simply to be beautiful. Not to be painful, or challenging or unfair, but simply to be beautiful.
This moment is so familiar, it’s maybe even ordinary. I’ve biked this route at this hour many times, often to experience an even grander sunset, in the company of family or friends. This moment is decidedly inconsequential to my life. I’ve logged hundreds of miles on my bike, and yet, tonight, everything glistens with euphoric nostalgia and gratitude. The girl I was is so close, if she appeared, we could hold hands. I’m proud of my body for bringing me here, the muscle memory of each pedal stroke. I continue on to a lovely lot of land, that, due to an increasingly expensive property value, (or maybe magic) has not sold. It’s so overrun with cattails it looks like a meadow. There’s a flight of wooden stairs, attached to nothing, at the end of the clearing. It’s meant to show prospective buyers what their second story view would look like, but I’d prefer to think it’s really a stairway to perfect sunsets. A gift.
The sun is casting its last spell for the night. I begin the trip home, watching fireflies light up a patch of woods, creating an enchanted forest. Each minute feels expanded but flimsy, like the chasm of time between my childhood and my adulthood is really just a sheer curtain that I can slip right through. I am electrified by this thought. I imagine being a grandmother, my children and their children around me. I will show them this time of night, the squeaky bikes, the smell of the wood and the dew, the stairway to sunsets, the fireflies. The little slices of heaven that let us know the earth—assuming she hasn’t boiled over by then—is for us. I will show them this moment, intangible but beautiful like soul. I will show them the bliss of going home, seeing a window glowing with yellow light, and knowing it’s for you.
I wonder if home and God are maybe the same thing.