Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One More Night in Leuven

In the afternoon, a surprise storm blasts Leuven with bizarrely-intense rainfall. I hear a rumble grow in our apartment and assume that a pot is coming to a boil on the stove. A sideways glance reveals roommate Dan in mid-reaction to something outside. I stand and look: water from the sky is roaring on the glass. The pot in the kitchen is drying on the rack.

I walk to an unlatched window that has blown open and the force of the storm astonishes me; I haven’t seen rain like this for a long time. Agitated and smiling, I superfluously yell down to a drenched bro running in the courtyard “run, bro!”, and this earns me a middle finger. The bro and I both laugh. He probably didn’t understand me. Twenty minutes later, a rainbow arcs out to the south; it looks as though it was painted on a photograph. Before I can take a second picture with Dan’s camera the color fades into the sky. My soul throws Dan's camera out the window in frustration before my physical hands return it to him.

Hours later I head to the library under the clear light of the sun. Mud and puddles cover swaths of my route, and the smell of wet grass rises from the earth all around. It is warm. The weather is perfect. Of course I head inside, therefore, and bow my head over a white desk, rallying to eek out a few hundred words while the light outside dims.

I leave when the library closes at ten and walk home. The sky is still a deep blue, blackness waiting in the east for the sun to recede further so it can finish its work. Stars are beginning to pop out; they go unnoticed by the group of undergraduates I see standing around outside a faculty bar. Each wears a caveman costume, and when I glance at the bunch of them they are in the middle of helping one another light up. Soon the entire pack is dotted with tiny glowing embers.

I hold my chin as I walk, trying to keep an idea from escaping out of the far end of my face. I look weird, other people give me looks, I don’t care. The lingering thickness of the air, all that moisture and the rich smell of earth, gives the wind a little living extra to carry over the puddles and pools that still line my way home. The idea I am trying to save becomes the scent and vapor of the evening. I don't remember what the thought was that I was trying to think before it dissipated into the materials of the moment.

I am close to home, timidly fording a rock-strewn patch of mud, when I hear the notes. I slow my pace in anticipation. My favorite nameless Leuven resident lives on this street, behind our building. I know the ground floor of his apartment better than I have any right to because I am an occasional creep, and he doesn't seem to believe in curtains.

I half-step towards his window and swing out from the sidewalk to expand my view. A portrait enters the lit rectangle of his window; in it, a grayscale figure sits and looks just away from the viewer. My man's grandfather? His favorite composer? Just a constipated person? Walking further reveals a white banner splashed with inky Japanese characters that fall into a swirling wave. Finally, the man himself appears, leaning into his piano. His gray hair frizzes around his ears, his sleeves are rolled, his glasses hang on the end of his nose. He is playing something delicate and soft, in a minor key, I think, and he’s taking it slow, perhaps practicing a new section. The glass panes cut his figure into a grid; some of the squares cast him in translucent pinks and yellows. Lost in it, he plays with a wide, closed smile. I think he is a teacher. I look inside long enough to merit a spot on the neighborhood watch "suspicious characters" list before easing back into my gait. The notes fade behind me as I walk.

By now I am positively, stupidly drunk on this upsweep of life, and feel porous to the world. I step lightly over another puddle, watch a splotched cat dash after a splotch of something else, hear a shower running inside a room through a propped window. I lean into the leaves that fall across a brick wall next to my route and take in a familiar scent I can’t name. Clouds to the west have purpled undersides, street lamps light up circles of asphalt with an inviting yellow glow; it's as though I’ve stepped into a book cover. The crunch of silted gravel, voices carried on the wind, a temperature that makes the air imperceptible to my skin when the wind stops. The whole atmosphere is a pleasant blanket over a soft earth. There’s not a sharp knife or broken bone in the world right now, I am tempted to believe, caught up in the throes of my porous idiocy.

Sure, I’ll admit it; I’m going to miss this place when I’m gone. I hear a moped engine whine and recede on some nearby block as I approach my building. Under a growing visual chorus of stars, the city is turning in for the night. I hum to myself the last bits of the music I heard on the street before putting my key in the door. Soon I enter my apartment, change for bed, and sit down to type. For the time being, I am still here.


  1. I have a bone to pick with your soul.

  2. I'm not sure if you ever had a chance to see some of Professor Sheesley's paintings...but his work, like this day of yours, seems to be filled with rain and puddles in all the best ways.


  3. A thoroughly enjoyable read; I was laughing in amazement the entire post. The pot in the first paragraph is perfect imagery -- seriously spot on -- and the paradoxes throughout are wonderfully placed and hilarious. Finally, anyone who can use the words "superfluously" and "bro" in the same sentences deserves a hat's off! Looking forward to many more likewise rewarding reads.

  4. Dan - no material damage done, but if you still want to reach out to my soul later, let me know.

    Sally - yeah, I remember these hanging in Buswell for a long time. Very pretty. Thanks for the links.

    Natalie - I take it you were looking in a mirror and auto-typing, which is fine. I would recommend a word document next time though, or your journal. But, to be clear, yes, you are beautiful. Happy wedding planning, chica.

    Erin - Thank you for your kind comment! Natalie directed me to your blog last time I was in Berlin to see her. I appreciate the feedback, especially considering the fine quality of your own prose. Nice to e-meet you, and thanks again for reading!