6 A.M. and nothing’s alive. Everything is still.
Gray’s walking his dog, Shirley. Fog smoothes out and from their path along Ashby making its way to College Avenue. They mean to meet Gray there.
He comes upon Jeremy’s Department Store. Looking into the glass wall, he sees ’92—Aunt Lucy had opened its doors to a seven-year-old him, wide-eyed and ready to claim the sequined green cardigan limp in the window display for his mother that week before Christmas. Now there were six wool sweaters on display before him—the boyfriend kinds, not meant for boys at all.
Down that side of the street the lamps grow dimly, fading out and giving in to the sun seeping through from above. Browning dead leaves crisp and flake under their feet, Shirley sniffing at the damp pavement. She excitedly nips at the stale pieces of nori scattered before the sushi bar.
This little hole-in-the-wall dingy space served as shelter for Gray and Babette the night of their first date. She was beaming with those pale lips, loose sandy braids and sharp amused brows, childish and timid as she took his hand over the plastic table at last. They toasted shots of Dr. Pepper to getting past their first year of college. He didn’t get to kiss her that evening. He was nineteen.
He could almost feel Josh come up behind him, passing the little soap shop adjacent to the shanty psychic reading. Gray was thinking that Josh’s scar must have gone away now, four years since the two of them found themselves darting away from the police station. This was a moment for Josh, punching his bare pale hand into that hard window of chamomile and milk lotions to alert the city of his probation. The blood streaming through the shards that fastened into his fist stuck in Gray’s mind. It was the day he stopped buying Swisher Sweets. Josh didn’t get the message.
Shirley pulls him under a tree. It’s a trifle weak-looking thing, about to give out and throw its arms onto that complex right there—the second story flat where Grace took up residence before. It was only one class they had together, that one party sophomore year which he was graciously invited to up there and where that studious black-haired Madonna became careless, sensual, and shouted full-heartedly to David Albarn’s voice—that one time he wished he’d stuck around after class for her.
There are trees, tall lamps, bricks and cracks and cold sidewalks with few dewy-clad Volvos slowing through. Gray keeps his eyes dead ahead onto the curve. Now the sun shines. Beneath the rays he thinks about the windows, how Aunt Lucy is dead. Josh barely writes from San Diego. Babette posts pictures on Facebook with her Berlin fiancée. God knows what Grace has done—in class she was always scribbling scenes of whales and boats still in the waters onto her notebook backs. It seemed like her place. Gray could amuse at that.
They had all gone away and out of here. Only memories on display at the queer shops that hung about. Gray crosses the street—and to the other side, he is happily still there.