It is evening. Townes Van Zandt is playing through a scattering of speakers, each calibrated just right to replicate the scratch of a weary needle upon the endless spin of a tattered record, despite the glow of technology designed to hide just that. The song, whiskey-laden perfection sweetened with melancholy twang, is a digital version played through a popular app on a pricy computer, not an album sleeve in sight. I sold my phonograph over a decade ago, my stack of wax shortly after, and while I have regretted it ever since, I have yet to partake in the vinyl renaissance of modern-day collectors — I know a rabbit hole when I see one, and rabbits get expensive real quick.
It is still evening. The sky is pink swirls of cotton candy against a canvas of sun-faded blues. The birds are flying this way and that, singing their goodbyes to another day of whatever they do, one last look at the world before the nest takes them in, warm with worm and weather. The streetlights flicker on as darkness finds them, and I think: This is the closest we will ever be to stars.
More evening. The dogs are done wanting walks and resigned themselves to shedding on the couch. The cats take the pillows, and everyone is happy, if not somewhat itchy. The soundtrack gives way to a waking television, too many pixels suddenly stirring and stretching its stories in shameless fashion. The screen is bigger than a breadbox and nobody knows what that means anymore. There are games and politics and animated silliness, often at the same time. I think a beer sounds good.
Now for the part of the evening we are all well into, and my mind has turned to tomorrow. There are calendars to check, meetings to confirm, deadlines, appointments, lunches to pack and that beer to finish. The dogs go out once more, another look like the birds before them, but with 100 percent more sniffing. The cats will wait an hour to want my attention, maybe two. The TV is off, music back on, Coltrane an echo down the hallway. I put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, and try to decide which of the four books I’m currently reading gets the nod for the night.
It is late enough, my bedtime. The dishes are done, dinner just a memory buried beneath an avalanche of ice cream, the sprinklers damp and dripping, nothing left of the candles but the dying dance of a delicate wisp. The house breathes quiet save a lonely saxophone over a snoring dog, the chime of another bottle clinking upon its old neighbor as they settle in the recycling, anxious for a life reborn, and somewhere, where it shouldn’t be, the soft sound of two boys laughing.
I start to stick my head in the door, again, to remind them they went to bed hours ago, and that there is school in the morning. I think about raising my voice and telling them, again, to take down their forts, put their blankets back on their beds, and go to sleep. But I stop myself. It won’t be long before they are in different rooms, then different homes, perhaps separate states or oceans between them, and what if there are no forts in those places without each other? After all, it’s a two-man job (apparently). For tonight they are fortified, mess and tired their only consequence. That seems fair enough.
I don’t even say good night. Instead I crawl into bed, my wife sleeping with a book like a dog-eared teddy bear, the nightstand sparkling with a pile of coins, a growing shrine to pocket ghosts. All that’s left is Coltrane in the distance, and the stars feel somehow nearer.
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