This morning my commuter train was momentarily delayed in Justice, a small town just beyond the southwest side of Chicago. The train was stopped next to a subdivision, at the end of a cul de sac. From where I sat, the near view was wide and I could clearly see the first few houses on each side of the street, but further beyond the view narrowed as the trees lining each side of the street obstructed much of the landscape.
As I looked on, a battered pickup truck entered the cul de sac at the far end, steadily came closer and then wound around the circle before driving away again. The truck slowed to drive through a puddle, as if the driver was wary of a damaging pothole. As the truck disappeared I finally noticed the garbage cans which stood at the end of each driveway, and realized it was garbage pickup day and that the driver must have been a scavenger looking for promising discards to be taken and resold. But since he never stopped, I assume he saw nothing of interest, and moved on to the next street.
A slight motion on the left side of the street then drew my attention, and I saw an arm extend from a garage, turn over some sort of container, and pour liquid onto the ground. At first I imagined someone standing outside for their morning smoke, with a cup of coffee, before leaving for work. I pictured the quiet, pensive stance as the person reflected on the night before or looked ahead to their workday. But then I realized that enough liquid had been poured that it couldn’t have been the dregs from a cup of coffee, which ruled out my morning-respite scenario. Instead I decided that the person was dumping a cup that was left overnight in the car. The car backed out of the garage and into the street, but stopped almost immediately, as if the driver was searching the car for something she had forgotten. The car rolled slowly down street, at no more than five miles per hour, before stopping again near the end of the block. After ano ther minute the car started up again, turned the corner and was gone.
While I watched the car progress I also noticed another house across the street, where an SUV was parked in the driveway, its rear bumper overhanging the sidewalk. Which, to me, meant the house had so many cars – with several older teens or young adults living at home – that they could barely fit in the driveway. A crowded house, with noise and laughter and arguments and more than a few frayed nerves.
After a few minutes of observation the train started again, and the neighborhood disappeared from view. But not before inspiring quite a few stories in my mind.
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Nice exercise in narrative tension, Pete. You should teach creative writing.
Maybe, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. Or if I do know, I could never explain it to others, and certainly not to impressionable young students.
Well, maybe you and your students could discover it together.