Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

The secret life of alleys


Wertroofs76971_374138912682406_791237199_nAn editor reviewing my novel manuscript asked whether I might include a smidgen more variety in my use of sensory details. I tend to engage with life visually, like scenes in a movie, and must remember that we humans need all of our senses satisfied.

A curious surprise surfaced in a notebook when I set to work on revisions, like a postcard from the Universe: jottings I’d made last spring and then forgotten. They record what my senses encountered as I hurried through alleyways in a small German town one rainy day.

Perhaps it was the confinement of those narrow spaces immersing me in shadows and light that made everything seem so pronounced and strong that I was moved to sketch it down from fresh memory the moment I was inside a warm café.

Maybe, as sensing and comprehending beings, we need a scale of manageable size in which to experience what we encounter, like the pathways I navigated on my way to these rediscovered impressions:


When she stopped for me at the crosswalk, it felt like a rabbit-hole of role-reversal. SHE was the one on the red, four-wheeled scooter with its sticker that grants parking and other privileges to those traveling through life with disability.

Her nod was authoritative as she waved me across, adjusting the strap on her helmet while she waited. When I took too long in my confused indecision, she squeezed a horn that played bars of a Brahms lullaby. Teasing this laggard, perhaps?

A long-haul lorry slowed and panted behind her like a smokestack. I scurried across, a startled chicken, and heard her hoarse cackle — a smoker’s. Not unkind, but unquestionably satisfied. Her scooter’s motor was a roar, then a whir, then a faint whine as she sped away, lumbering lorry in close pursuit.

Enveloped by a cobble-stoned alley, I was greeted by tinkling piano scales, nearly machine-like in their precision. They grew louder when I neared the open window that was letting them escape. I reached the house as a steel-haired man arrived from the opposite direction carrying a sewing machine under one arm. Photo on 6-4-14 at 12.39 PM

When he unlocked the door, a face-full of frying-onions fragrance blasted out at us so forcefully, I was sure I’d never smell anything else again. My mouth watered instantly. Even the insistent piano sounds, louder, now, seemed muted by this aroma.

It followed me past three more doorways before a thin ozone of rain on cobblestones replaced it. The drops gradually grew larger and louder as the speed of their fall increased.

strudel629-10-gdcomOverhangs on the buildings jutting into the alley sheltered me nearly as well as my umbrella would have, had I remembered to bring it.

The piano was having the last word as the café door shut behind me.

My glasses steamed up over a bakery case lying in wait, crammed with sweet temptation, inescapable as a huge, friendly dog.

“Why, yes, a slice of that warm strudel WOULD be lovely with my coffee, thank you.”

6 thoughts on “The secret life of alleys

  1. I felt like I was there with you, and I could even smell the cinnamon on that piece of
    strudel. How wonderful. Thank you!

  2. A beautiful arrangement of words awakening my senses and emotions! Thanks for sharing a peek of your draft manuscript Phyllis. You are blessed in your craft of writing.

  3. I am just loving this writing, both in the descriptive details and the content. It has the feel that every sentence has been carefully manicured to perfection, without looking like it is pared. It certainly has me yearning for more. So glad you shared this!

  4. Dear readers three – all of whom I know to be discerning, as well as kind and supportive – I thank you with all my heart, Eric, Christie, and Kathy.

  5. … a perfect sensory overload!

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