It's still dark outside when I dress, and a little cold--not parka-cold, but heavy-sweater-cold. It's Monday, one of my grocery days, and I prefer to shop in the early morning, when there are no crowds in the store and the produce clerks have just finished filling the bins. I don't dress in bicycle clothes this morning. It's only a mile and a half to the store, and I won't get too hot in my old jeans. Sometimes I prefer to ride like a duffer. You can't ride athletically in street clothes, so you just relax and cruise. It leaves me more time to look at the world around me.
Being an obsessive recycler, I stuff two weeks' worth of plastic shopping bag debris into a bigger bag to take to the recycling bin--the market keeps one out front by the water dispenser. Our cat crouches over her food bowl in the corner while I sit on the kitchen floor stuffing bags into bags into bags. The house is quiet except for the sound of crunching fangs and crinkling plastic. I reuse bags as much as possible before recycling them, but even so, America delivers more bags to me than I could possibly ever need. I wonder whether these will ever come back to me as--what? A lawn chair, a floppy diskette cover? Who knows. Some markets have been caught lying about their recycling programs, and simply shipping the bags to China to be dumped. When I'm through, I go out into the back yard and lock the house behind me.
There's a pool of chill and darkness between the house and the garage, and overhead the winter stars still glow. Two doors away, the neighbors' back porch light shines yellow through their trees, casting distorted shadows across the yard between. In the east, somewhere beyond the end of my driveway, the indigo of earth's shadow lightens the slightest bit toward lavender. Far away a lawn sprinkler hisses. I heave open the old garage doors and pull out my shopping bike, the one with the fold-out fabric boxes on the rack. I stuff the bag of bags into yet another bag and strap on the helmet.
The headlight on this particular bike, which I rarely use for anything other than the grocery ride, serves only to alert the other users of the road. It doesn't in any usable manner illuminate the road, so I am riding through the natural darkness of our street until I cross the boulevard, where there is a vault of yellow light. A car goes by, trailing a streamer of harsh sound, and then I cross, and return to the dark and the quiet. Between boulevard and store lies the grid of a residential neighborhood, which I must zigzag through diagonally. There are almost no street lights here, only the vigilant glow of porch lamps and an occasional sash window shining from the warmth within. Nevertheless, I'm not alone. Jingling sounds follow along the sidewalk, and I pass a double shadow: someone jogging with their dog. I turn a corner and roll lazily downhill. Warmer and cooler air alternately caress my cheeks, the changes in temperature coming from I don't know where. I turn again and again, following the offsets of the old street grid. Soon I hear more jingling: another dog, this time with the silhouette of a young woman walking beside it. Catercorner from the dog walker, an older couple stands conversing under a yellow lamp. Their heads turn as I pass on the bike. They see the woman with the dog and wave. At the next corner, the shadow of a cat hurries across.
I pass the street where I grew up. No one I know lives there anymore, except my mother, who will be asleep, and Mr. Thomas, who will be ninety this year. I ride on by and turn again, passing the old parish church, passing the triangular street island with the restaurant and the Radio Shack on it--both shuttered behind iron grills--and come to the big intersection with the market on the opposite corner. Two cars wait for the light, another moves silently in the distance. The light changes, and I pedal into the parking lot, where I lock the bike to the rack and throw the bag of plastic bags into the recycling bin. When I turn back to go to the entrance of the store, I see what has been happening behind my back: the dawn has come, the eastern horizon shines a bright transparent lavender behind the silhouettes of roofs and trees, and a long streamer of cloud glows red above it. The stars are dimming above the yellow vapor lamps of the parking lot, and day has begun.