That hill. What was it about that hill?
It was a hill that made his heart jump, a yellow brick that seemed too bright for cars and busses. Too clean.
Today is a day for a dreamsicle, a quarter in his hand, a walk up the long, long hill up from his grandparents’ house and up to the flatter road, then on to that hill. He doesn’t often walk up that hill; he usually only sees it from the back window of their car.
But today he is walking with his sister Katie and yes they are going to walk up that clean bright hill. At the top there is a movie theater. Halfway up there is an ice cream store. But they will not go there, she says; they will go instead to the top and around the bend. There will be another store and that’s where all the dreamsicles are. He usually doesn’t want a dreamsicle but today he does.
They are going up. He watches the bricks and they are not really as clean as they look from the car window. There is a bit of paper here and there and tired looking grass every few bricks, and big oily spots. But there is ice cream at the top and now ice cream in a big store halfway up and they’re not stopping there.
Katie has a loud voice. Sometimes he thinks it is louder than his mother’s or his grandmother’s. Now it is very loud as she explains to him that they just don’t sell dreamsicles in the big ice cream store. They are passing it anyway and there is the yellow hill beside him.
A wide blue car is coming down, turning into the ice cream store which is really a milk store because Katie just said so. And she can read, or else she pretends to which is what he really thinks. But he doesn’t like to fight with her when there’s something to look at. The road.
But soon he has to think about breathing instead because Katie walks fast. And it’s summer and sometimes in summer you can’t breathe because the air is full of steam.
They’re already at the top. Come on, come on, says Katie, but no he will stand right there and not talk but breathe.
Below them is the hill now, coming right up to their feet and to Katie’s twisted up face. God will get her for making those faces. Standing above the yellow road which isn’t yellow anymore, but brown or red.
There are hills far back. They are hills against the sky that is faintly blue and the hills gray. A little smoke comes up behind them—between him and the hills comes the yellow road turning brown or red, the old red school, black and gray and green rooftops, busses and streetcars. But he doesn’t see any of this; he only knows he must look at it while Katie pulls him by the shoulder. He will not know or see it for many years. After twenty years he will slowly come to see it, while living in a similar land very far away.
Later they are on the streetcar. He, his sister, and his mother. His mother is sitting quietly the way she usually sits; Katie is asking her things and sometimes she answers Katie. But he has a big seat to himself. He has already looked at all the faces riding with them. Now it is time to look out the window. There are other hills—they go up and down and the streetcar goes back and forth. He doesn’t see the hills; he feels them because the streetcar feels them and he is with the streetcar.
Every single day he wishes he could ride a streetcar. On the streetcar he doesn’t feel like talking. When his mother talks to him he hears her but he doesn’t turn his head; he doesn’t talk. He’d rather say something to the people outside the window, and they can’t hear him.
Some stores go down and then come up again; then he is thrown back a little on the seat and he has to hold on. Sometimes a pigeon flies along with the streetcar; sometimes it is gray and purple or brown and white and one time it was mostly white. That was a good pigeon to see.
Then there is a pizza store with a little green man holding up a big circle pizza, with brown dots on it. Once he saw a big dark sky, and thunder he could hear, and smell. On a hill way out is a line of tall crosses, a place to put people after they die. And there is a place to put fire engines, a place to put a lot of cars, a place where grandfathers go that has dark windows and pink lights like worms, a place where his mother has a friend and they go to visit her.
Balls roll down streets after people lose them. If they are big speckled balls you can see them but if you’re in a streetcar you can’t get them.
Once when the streetcar stops there is a pet store. Now he will tell her he wants a parakeet. Like Lois next door has, but not that color. One that’s blue. He’ll tell her. Not now, after the streetcar ride. He’ll teach it to talk. To say shut up hello I want some pizza and ice cream.
But there is where the doctor is. He doesn’t like the doctor with the cold hands and bald head that gives him shots every week. He smells like new clothes. New clothes are bad to smell and wear. It’s bad to get them new on Christmas morning instead of toys.
There’s the place where all the new cars are parked with big price tags in their windows. New cars are good to smell. Candles are good to smell too and there they are in the window with statues of church people. Church people don’t live, but you can look at them and look at them until their faces shine. And the man with the big voice starts talking all around you. Everyone gets up and sits down and then again.
There’s an older boy on a red bike like he’ll have. He’s going so fast he’s bending down and passing up the streetcar because it stopped. Another grandmother is getting off slow. Nobody is saying anything until she is off and holding a bag hanging down her arm. She is walking away a grandmother like his down the new hill with big ugly toes coming out the front of her shoes like his grandmother’s, who smells good.
It’s okay to close your eyes if the sun feels like it. The streetcar’s going around a bend now with the sun on it.
She wakes him. The streetcar man is waiting for them to get off. He’s not friendly from behind but then he is if he turns around.
The ground feels moving. She has to use his hand to go across the street. Across the street where his father is sitting in the goodsmelling car with candy, waiting.
Copyright 2014 by Mark Saba. All rights reserved. Originally published in the Folio Club’s Drawing Issue (issue number seven) in 2014.Image: Mark Saba, self-portrait, oil on canvas.
I'm a writer of fiction and nonfiction, with a number of essays published by the Paris Review and other literary journals. I'm also the founder of the Folio Club, an independent publishing project, and a longtime staff member of Yale University Press.