In the South End, it’s easy for your eyes to flit by ghost architecture, like skipping a prologue in a fantasy novel, or falling asleep on a train. In all instances you eventually get to where you want to go, but you miss the scenery.
Some places yell out, asking to be seen. The Sahara, the syrian restaurant that wears boards over its windows like a grandmother’s tea service wears lace, calls out by sheer size and belly-dance promise. The two churches, both for sale, bordering Tremont and Union Park, look out at the passerby with a solemn distrust in their surroundings. They’ll be first class apartment complexes within a year.
Caleb walks the streets and ovaline parks of the South End with a biodegradable cup of iced coffee and a vague sense of unease. The alcohol from the night before still roils in his system, his sunglasses either block too much or not enough, either way his eyelids seem to hurt. Usually, he sees none of the trappings of the South End surroundings. The red brick distorts and melds into one streak of greyish red. The tall, green trees are unthanked for their shade. Caleb has gestured at the South End’s beauty-out-of-time to visitors, but he barely looks himself.
Today, though, Caleb is shuffling slowly, stumbling home, sipping on his coffee, and he stops every couple of blocks to sip and languish in the sun. The sun hurts his eyes, but feels good on his skin. There’s a Vitamin D connection that he can’t quite remember - either the sun’s rays have it, or they invigorate the Vitamin D production in his body. Either way, he feels better when he leans on an iron trellis and looks at old painted Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola advertisements that fight against the elements to stay legible. He moves on, his eyes slipping past the row houses in great repair, instead looking at the apartment buildings with boards over their windows.
Caleb himself lives on the top of floor of an eight story building that has given its first floor to a TD Bank outlet. The seven other floors are occupied by furnished apartments like his own, redolent in chrome and steel and leather furniture that you sink into and lose days in, if you aren’t careful, or if you deign to sit on them at all. Caleb usually doesn’t. He drinks a smoothie sitting on a bar stool next to the counter with the blender, tapping on his iPad. When he comes home, he goes to bed. Originally, he thought the circular bed was tacky, but comfort won over taste.
Caleb passes his building, walks diagonally away from Back Bay and into Bay Village, despite how it feels. The coffee is taking hold, the sun still feels good. Sweat prickles on his brow, on his back, and it feels like he might be able to sweat the alcohol right out of him. Bay Village is steeped in the ghost architecture that he can’t help but see. The nicer buildings are muted by the inherent interest of 4 story brick homes stacked against each other, windows blown out. You can wander between these buildings and never get lost.
He comes out, of Bay Villlage, having not seen a soul, and walks back toward the South End, up Berkeley street, over on Washington, and wends his way around the buildings and by-ways between Washington and Shawmut. He says hi to dogs, waves at babies in strollers. His steps become less labored, his grey t-shirt dampens to a darker grey. He takes off his sunglasses and squints instead, trying to keep within the shade of buildings. The workout of squinting seems to alleviate the pressure on his eyelids, and he feels fresh.
Yet all he sees is not fresh. He sees overgrown lawns and corridors with broken cars. The low-income housing is a beating heart, and the recovered, reclaimed, and recivilized buildings are a testament to humanity’s ability to meld nostalgia and progress, but that doesn’t mean anything to the buildings that seem squeezed out of vitality. No wonder the glass has burst and no longer stays, no wonder fire escapes sag, and trash piles up in wasted corners.
Caleb marvels at the decay brightly revealed by the sun, and wonders at who owns the building he stands in front of. There’s an old sedan missing wheels caught in shade, and he feels like he might be looking at the back of a false front. Are those front doors? Who owns the land? Who wouldn’t want to put four stories of modernity right there, so close to bakeries that cater to both humans and dogs? Within walking distance to restaurants that serve bone marrow with a smile? Caleb sucks the last of the raw sugar and coffee from the bottom of his cup with a straw. It’s biodegradable - he throws it on the heap of garbage underneath one side of the sagging floor and starts to shuffle home.
C.D. Hermelin, 25, is a writer and professional canine companion. Questions? Comments? email him at skooberar AT gmail DOT com. Check out some more of his short fiction at astoryandapicture.com.