After Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
In the city of Strangers, the wood panels between apartments hold their breath. There is never an opportunity for them to creak and sigh in tune with a jubilant footstep beneath that woolly coating of dust. The dust blockades the doors, but no one minds. They dwindle their days within their apartments.
Every apartment is unraveling. Scrupulously tucked books and VHS tapes fall from their shelves nightly; the neat corners of fuzzy baby blue carpets are turned up and stiff from last week’s––months’s? year’s?––red tomato sauce. When it comes time to sleep, the people lay their bodies, folded neatly, on cold and shapeless covers, their hips and shoulders square in hollow atriums, their heads falling aortas, their arms collapsed stretches of ventricle cycling the bloodstream of their hopes.
Flirtations, invariably unsuccessful, are conducted through peepholes. Friendships, where they exist, go unnamed and are conveyed exclusively through shared laundry lines or waves between windows. Everyone stargazes. Those smiles, millions of miles away, are safe companions, ever out of reach, accepting the shadows of their beauty and never lashing out. Everyone sings and no one knows it. Everyone has been hurt and no one knows how.
The layers of dust deepen and deepen until they bring the complexes to shambles. Crumbling piles of bricks swallow their residents. No one misses people they never knew.
In the city of Strangers, paper airplanes litter the streets. They are the frail imaginings of those who realized too late that they were falling apart. Upon their release at the window, the planes were imbued with no destination, no particular cheek upon which to lay their delicate lips. If you meander, on a lazy day, through the city of Strangers, you will find that every one of these contains, between its limp blue notebook lines, the faint pencil-scratched “I Love You,” and that this is your own tearful handwriting beneath your thumb––that you are leaning out your own window, your own elbows on the chipped-paint pane, staring at the street from a hundred floors in the sky.