Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Among the Others

It was this: gauzy breath of things, a wild perfume

settled on grass and leaf, and whirring wings about me,

the wash of light sheer raiment falling to earth.

Saltwater marsh, wetland woods, mudflats spread out.

Stepping down the path, heart’s beat pulling me along,

and different tattoos of footprints wound about stones.

Mountains rose up, far off as loved ones.

The tableau revealed the paucity of what I knew

and was trying to learn but always, a simpler woman stirred.

Water rested, shone of myriad worlds above,

below, beyond to deeper, deepest waters. The greenest life.

I was as a twin, outside while also still myself:

to sense all that drank, rested, snarled, predated,

slipped into murky green and blue, fur and hooves,

tails and claws that flew and teeth that tore and ears

that pricked long before any small knowing

came to such as myself, a lesser being,

neophyte of nature’s finer absolutes.

Struck dumb by love for all I do not comprehend,

lost to amazement again–I took it in, held it close

Elderberries, bear-berries, salal berries

leaned this way and that. And my legs went weak

as I recalled their bounty meant for wild things.

Day’s revealing light began to cool,

water lulled each side of a narrow path.

No sound followed but a sigh from within

family of grasses, scrunch of bushes.

Trees gathered up shadows and light

like gatekeepers of that country.

But I felt the others. Tell me not otherwise,

they were there and noses lifted, paws stilled,

ears came awake–

black bears, a cougar or bobcat and coyote.

And this was not–despite my adoration–

our common hunting ground.

Not my moody sky to cover

my differentness in the coming night.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Find the Welcome, Wherever You Are

I am back to travelling mostly by magazine and video, and it isn’t too bad. I have often been tantalized by pictures of foreign places, of turquoise waters slapping glistening beaches; jagged mountains contrasting with plunging canyons; grass-dancing plains with endless sky; apparently jewel-encrusted snow and hulking icebergs; boggy moors and emerald, undulating hills. Book my trip! And, too, there are such possibilities within fascinating sprawl of cities and cozy, tidy villages. What lives must be led there, what treats await, doors opening into another way of living.

I know people who have enjoyed vast far-flung travels. I would go here and there if I could, but content myself with passing visuals that enable my imagination’s many returns. Luckily, I can mentally insert myself into what I see–likely most do the same. Thus, I can “arrive” so many places, and have a partial experience of what is out there. During childhood I read magazines like National Geographic, Life or Look (awhile ago…) and developed a more voracious appetite for learning. I found this akin to getting on a train and reaching out to the greater world. It was a way to transport my “imaging mind”.

By comparison, my quotidian home views are perhaps modest. From the windows of our home on the west side are towering sitka spruce trees and big leaf maples, so thick sunlight barely sneaks onto the balcony with several yearning-for-more potted flowers. The trees provide a fine cooling effect as temperatures rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We are built into a steep incline; being high up, this view offers a sneak peek at townhouses below and vivid patches of sky. In the distance are mountains, less visible until winter.

A partial balcony view
Another nearby view

On the east side of our place is a narrow winding drive, but there are more spruce trees lining the way and mostly hidden residences. Generally, we are in extensive woodlands. It is Oregon; we are located within a metro area embraced by trees, rimmed by mountains. Unlike one of my beloved sisters who cut down several pines about her mountainside house, oddly complaining she could see little else and it was too shady, I never tire of any sort of trees.

My realization is that although I can’t travel far these days, I’m not so discontent–in truth, never bored with the Pacific Northwest, as I often unabashedly state in my posts.

Since we left the city and moved here, I was surprised, though, to see only a handful of folks walking regularly. More go out a short time with their dogs. Now, by cars noted, I surmise many work at home–or not working at all. I wonder what they do–we live in a privacy-prized place. People are less easily connected with now. Children’s happy shouts may shake the silence–or stillness is punctured by wails if rarely. Some nights adult voices dial up. Yet I hear an owl or two as I fall asleep. Quietness can feel palpable the long days and nights, a genial companion. When cars pass down the hill, it is a fleeting rumble. This area can give off a dreamy quality. I am acutely aware we are set apart since our last neighborhood, fascinating and lovely, was part of a buzzing, traffic-jammed, densely-packed Portland.

It is more than a pretty place. It is a world within many, and an abundance of natural designs rippled outward. The extinct volcano upon which we live is bounded only by inattention or attention, what we do with what is experienced. Nature provides inestimable opportunities to consider more than meets the eye. (I confess I also love the clean lines of typical older Northwest architectural styles; even grander houses blend into landscape, semi-secret sanctuaries.)

Marc looks for oak galls that are discarded, which he collects. Wasps lay parasitic larvae on a part of the tree and then inject a hormone into tissue that creates a round, hard protective growth. Oddly, one can make ink from these, and Marc is into making natural inks. (Then making pens to use the ink.) He also is on the lookout for good rocks anywhere we trod. His collection is gathering… he knows a few things by now. (And shares finds with my son, an true wilderness rock hunter.)

We both admire all the varieties of birds, mostly small and always industrious, unique in plumage and behaviors. Cooper’s hawks call fairly often in one spot and we spotted two last week. When attempting to photograph them, they were just too camouflaged high on branches. They watched me as I watched them, attractive and stealthy, strong hunters. Their high pitched calls sail, silvery and piercing at once. There are also downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, juncos and spotted owls as well and some visit our feeder and nest close by. (Sad to say baby juncos drowned in their nest, made within a hanging confetti plant after a deluge early summer). Hummingbirds are a favorite, and love my fuchsias. I have much to learn and but it is treat to watch the birds anywhere.

During a pandemic, such low-risk activities are good entertainment. I am fortunate to live here and take advantage of its wonders. I’ve shared many day trip outings, too, in WordPress posts. We don’t remain inside long– even books and computers are taken outdoors in good weather. If we are stuck here for a lot longer, we will be quite alright. Or find other solutions.

The truth is, I’ll always be alright in my core–unless totally unable due to circumstances beyond total control. For one thing, it is not a foreign experience to endure difficult places and circumstances: in very inhospitable hospitals; in rundown abodes (a tiny chicken coop converted to a dwelling before tiny houses were on trend); in miles of neighbor-less countryside; in places where my life was in jeopardy; in a neighborhood where gunshots and gang action were common–we got good at hitting the floor; without little food and/or no heat in winter; and homeless for weeks or months.

One quite unusual situation was living in a state park, first in a park lodge, then in two millipede- and other insect-infested, rustic cabins for two and a half months with five kids. No reasonable houses were available in a rural Tennessee area after a job transfer. But it worked out okay. Any shelter with water…well, anyone can manage with basics.

I have gotten intimate with a life lacking pride and artifice. Every place I landed presented an opportunity for self-knowledge and greater gains.

Sure, I’ve lived in more gracious situations in these 70 years, a few that remain happy to recall. They are also good to write about. But since I don’t know what next year will bring–Marc being one more person to lose his job due to COVID-19 downsizing–it is better to recall how one adapts further. We may retire to a tiny cottage somewhere far from here, who knows? It may be harder than that.

Clearly, people possess a mammoth urge to survive; we overcome what appears daunting, even disabling circumstances. We make things do, make even better out of very little. We can manage to find our way during shut down resultant of a virulent contagion. In fact, we are fortunate if we have a place that is safe.

I find–no matter where I am–there are a few things to consider:

  1. There are goodhearted and fascinating people to connect with in some manner, even if only to observe and wonder over. Hopefully to swap stories with and appreciate. And flora and fauna to learn about if you tend that way.
  2. There are ever changing sights to seek beyond your nose, just look out a window. (If only the sky. Clouds are marvelous with changing hues and shapes, gradations of dark and light–and indicate weather, too.) Magical things are await to be explored, no matter how weird or inconsequential it may seem to another. There is never a dearth of ways to contemplate how and why we connect to the greater universe each day. The infinitesimal miracles of creation, as our senses and busy brains are springboards to greater knowledge. Practice quietness, and listen.
  3. Indoor spaces are what you make of them. Let in more light. If small, use your ways and means to enlarge upon it. Get organized and pare down. If your place feels a bit shabby, make a picture, place colorful pictures from magazines on walls, add nature’s decor. If big and empty, turn it into a place of refuge by honoring chosen areas with what you value, even candles, sweet grass, incense, a humble bouquet, a chime for the wind outside. Open your arms, dance, make music so that your body finds its better balance and joy. Let creatures be happily around/with you. Breathe in that space. And fill time with ideas, even dreams for a hopeful future. And here, too, gentle stillness will keep you well. Finally, read to escape or enliven, make for something for fun not perfection, try new hobbies, meditate and pray, offer up songs–and include others. Thank them for being there… you are less alone than many. Make a phone call–the human voice is a pleasure to hear, a lifesaver sometimes.
  4. You in entirety make a physical space what it is: your attitude and personal vision will alter it. If you’re sullen and bleak, so will be your home. If you find relief even in smallest happiness, it will grow. If you have gratitude, you cannot forget what matters most. If you offer hope to others it will color your world, too, with expectancy of healing and wholeness. You will expand beyond circumstance. Reach out.
  5. I am never entirely alone. Nature is attendant, for certain. But for me the omnipresent, numinous power of Divine Love, of God is here, is there. I can’t persuade anyone to believe in this; we each find our own way. It shapes my living and creating, seeking and growing. It enables trust in living hour to hour, if needed. I acknowledge the world and its terrors. But this does not discount my faith in both humanity and God’s wisdom and the universal pulses that connect all. I admit I feel as if visiting here, at times; likely it is so for everyone. Wayfarers, we are. In the meantime, we can be authentically ourselves and aspire to more. We can be present for one another–is this not doing good? It is a reflection of God-ness: to not be stingy with kindness, forgiveness.
  6. The world isn’t a static place and human beings are in a state of flux internally, externally. Life is a mighty change agent as we participate in the process of building, dissembling, recreating, pursuing worthy solutions. Either we utilize forces of mind and soul, or we do not. We gather resources and share them, or do not. We brainstorm, push on. Prepare while waiting until we can do so once more.
  7. Patience is required of us in tough circumstances of any sort, as well as insight and a modicum of courage. And if generosity of heart can tip a balance, we are better off to trust one another–more so now, in a time when greater energy and flexibility are needed to keep on.
  8. All of this is not too much to ask of myself. Ourselves. I have survived other trials, as have you. We awaken, if all goes well enough, to a new day. The world’s history attests to human resilience and perseverance, even amid pestilence and war and natural destruction.

So, back to unknown vista where I shall not go: I don’t travel far these days. But neither do I feel imprisoned in a time or place. I don’t have to go far to find inspiration and peace. There remains energetic human imagination. Impulses of spirit to seek more beyond the moment. Powers of body to adapt, keep on, recover, be strengthened even when damage may be wrought. Some may not, this is also true. It is grievous–we play out our mythic cycle of being born, living and dying. To be human is to know the wrenching away from it all, too.

We have the capacity to become more than survivors of the times. We can become forces for regeneration, rebuilding, greater equity of human lives. It takes persistence and faith to believe in change, even enough for this day.

I muse often in this time of crisis as I walk the woodlands: how to find the grace in every circumstance, and make the weaving of my life denser and varied. How to share compassion–the deeper, richer hope of it. The whole of things as opposed to simply small pieces I can see. Each morning I return to waking sunlight and leave it with heart and soul intact, not just this reaching, plodding body. My truest self is, then, my permanent residence. And the welcome mat is out.

Monday’s Meander: Welcome to My Neighborhood

A scene along Old River Road.

Summer has hit full force, with the good and not so good. City center protests for 53 days that now have brought federal troops’ presence, for one, have ramped up local worries….And I need nature all the more.

It has increasingly gotten very hot and dry here. Where to meander? When we considered where to ramble over the weekend, we decided to keep it very local and mostly ventured along the river again. That late July Oregon sunshine burned too fiercely for me; it was a slower, sweatier time time out and about. It may rain for 7 months, but when the summer arrives it brings plenty of blue skies radiating sharp heat! (Not any rain to talk about until October or November.)

Since I worked hard on another piece of writing today, this post will be short and sweet. I have scads of photos of our surrounding woodsy/ riverine/suburban Portland area and local trails we walk. Though I have at times featured shots specific to a larger topic, there are scads more that you might enjoy – these are fairly random random but, hopefully, a refreshing assortment.

A Gabriel Park trail, close to our city.
The ole Willamette River.
It really is nearby–a view from a Cook’s Butte trail.
“Our” woods to call home.
Community gardens

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Summer’s Song

A summer day sings a choir of trees,

tonal brilliance leaping branch to leaf,

skimming long-necked flowers or snaking vines,

then at rest in clouds and dirt, pooling in our hands.

Wind is breath of heavens unknown, unending;

sweeping valley, summit, plain or desert;

across swamp, the sea and brook;

and swirling, fleeing about gorge and tunnel.

Summer succor is warmth laid upon our flesh.

It wakes sleep walkers with notes of invitation.

Music to romance the ones who must crack open to mend.

July’s tunes dance where there is no one hopeful

enough to move to rhythms of living–the times so

reviled, forsaken and stolen. Suffering, cries that echo.

But still, let summertime enter, settle, sweep out the rooms,

shore up the fearful or weakened, calm the proud or jaded.

Summer unfurls its golden streamers, builds such lattice of shadows.

It deepens the seams of what is torn then slowly repaired.

Find herein a refuge of beauty’s secrets; tilt faces upward.

What can we not love about this winsome repertoire of calls;

gold glimmer astride wings; sunshine-ripened fruits;

and greenness, a miracle of this our yet-turning sphere–

such power, promise cascading from chalice of an azure sky?

Listen. Attune the soul with sweetness,

for it ever sings, the summer, generous

and abundant, day in and day out,

and will most sing for us here, now.

Wednesday’s Words/Short Story: Her Oasis on a Tilt

It was very late afternoon, light sifting through treetops in a shower of gold, a slight pause before hearty or unusual fragrances of culinary works began sailing across one emerald, expansive yard to another. Songbirds, entertaining and costumed with fine feathers, rested. Heat had finally been turned up by the invisible hand of nature. The pool shimmered as if diamonds had been tossed across its surface, and for a moment Bella found herself blinded.

Her damp, straight hair hung about pale shoulders. She was a swimmer but not a sunbather and shade of the mountain ash, though patchy, soothed her drying skin. She didn’t want to move under great overhanging maples; her body was in repose. Nothing stirred her. Not even Remy, her golden doodle, snuffling about edges of things. Not even the phone ringing from the dining table where she had left it.

She was almost dreaming while awake. Images of her drawings bled through the pale orange to pink screen behind her eyelids and she saw their flaws and potential, meanings not noticed before. This was one reason she swam every day she could: mind released its contents as body unclenched its knotty parts. It was a feast of ideas, and Bella let them arrive and depart as if a click of old fashioned slides. Decades, now, of work. The actual, salable art was often removed from her faster than anticipated. Or desired. That was success, she mourned, and turned her face from the light that blared on all.

There was no reason to get up soon. No dinner to create. Antonio was gone, this time for perhaps a month. This was not unexpected; he was a corporate financial consultant and traveled widely. He conducted business she had only an inkling about and that suited her. If he was challenged enough… that was the tipping point– from bored to enthused, stressed to invigorated, irritable to expansive and more attentive when he returned. Otherwise, they could be more like two cautious partners fielding questions and flinging looks despite reaching for each other, and then suddenly there might come sparks that flared. But vanished, too soon. They both resisted an undertow of discontent for long. It damaged the landscape of their lives so had to be repaired. Bella learned to find her own way, to let Anthony realign himself. To nurture her own soul as needed.

It was mysteriousness, being married. Who was trained in the requisite skills? It was instinct and risk, or nothing. For them, a hoped for oneness was everything when together, even during trials. And the best way to survive in the wider world.

On the breeze came an almost acrid if rich odor that made her mouth water: choice beef on the grill. She turned over and glanced at the high fence, thought of Nance, wondered if she was home from work or, no, it was the chef they had in four evenings a week. Ridiculous. Nance, too, was one of just a couple over there–their son left for university, never quite returned. It was as if she and Rollie, her spouse, needed some sort of reward after their labors, their many sacrifices for success which Nance always referred to with a sigh, gaze lowering in a small show of self-pity.

What sacrifices, she wondered. What was lost or left behind, what had been given up or ripped away? Nance never said. There was something, maybe one day they would talk. Or not. Life was a private affair in that neighborhood.

Bella ran afoul of the norm lived around her: an art maker, not a professional woman in a business suit, not a mother hen gathering and exhibiting her chicks proudly. Married to a man she cared deeply about. She was not a scholar or any sort of teacher, nor a gallery director or curator. And never a commercial artist. Not close to becoming a mother, that was how it worked out for her body. Only an artist thinking, sketching, drawing, examining, transforming day after day. Her choice was made long ago to create. Antonio did not truly understand. But he loved her. It worked well enough.

He was in Spain again. Basking in the poetic sunlight, seeing family, working, working, an engine that never stopped until vague far off destination.

Her skin perspired under the last of the day’s deep rays. She lightly pressed her forehead with a palm so not to disturb the sun block, then tousled the dark drier strands that fell over her brow. She would work more after she ate, sit on the upper terrace with sketchbook. See if he called her.

Now, a cool shower. Candlelight with Remy at her side.

******

After she had showered off chlorine and sweat, dressed in a caftan and padded about the kitchen thinking of salad, Bella remembered the mail.

The small pile lay in a black lacquered tray; it was on a small entry table against the wall. The mail slot beside the massive door neatly released its contents into the tray. It was one of the things she loved about the house: it was efficient in design. Too showy for her but practical in its ways.

The mail was usually dull. Perhaps an invitation to a wedding now that it was summer–yes, there it was–advertising circulars (a waste that maddened her), thick or thin art magazines she wouldn’t give up as they felt so happy in her hands, a small order of something, oh, that lip gloss she found online (she’d use it only if they went out).

Then a plain white envelope. The white security kind you might have used to pay bills. Handwritten address, to Mr. Antonio Alvarado. The handwriting sloped downward a bit but was firm, even bold in a way that seemed studied: this address must look serious, confident. Unadorned, not quite printing, but close. She turned it over. Blank. Just a brownish smudge, as if dropped on the ground en route to a mailbox. Bella studied the front once more, frowning. Was that young or old handwriting? Male, female? Perhaps the second, something in an exaggerated curve or tail here and there. A personal letter, not business. No return address.

The postmark was San Francisco, CA. They were in New Mexico.

Eyebrows rose to high arches. Who might he know there? When had he been last? Two or more years, she thought. She stared hard at the front door as if Antonio was going to bound in so she might put an end to speculation.

She replaced it in the lacquered tray. Decided on salad with chopped smoky ham, the vegetables left she could scavenge. And iced black tea with a lemon slice. Her head was a tad swimmy until she sat and ate slowly, trying to not think of it further.

******

It didn’t make that much difference when her leg snapped as she hit the ground all those years ago. Though everyone cast pity her way, worried about her too long. She barely could keep her seat for longer than a half hour, they all knew that, but Antonio loved riding so she went along, and elegant beasts were wonderful. She had a dancer’s body, used it well but it was only another passion and though reined in, not quite dampened despite the leg. Of course, she didn’t publicly dance after that, not even for charity events or arts festivals or flamenco classes she’d attended. She was left with a limp, not so terrible that a stranger would gawk over two seconds. But everyone who knew her, saw her altered and looked away so they wouldn’t embarrass her. Or themselves.

It impacted her sense of self but Antonio was shaken–by the accident, her terrible broken bones, the difficult surgeries and rehabilitation. His guilt. If he hadn’t persuaded her to ride so often. Or at all. But she’d tried to reassure him.

“This doesn’t change so much–just my childish wish to perform. Well, it changes my gait, it might slow me down awhile. Does that disturb you?”

They suspected it would last indefinitely, the uneven walk, the chronic pain and nerve damage. And so he hesitated ever so little but it was there, a flicker of his eyes, and it was then she knew it did. Perhaps enough to change his view of her in an essential way.

“No. I love that you’re so positive about this, that you stand up to seeming defeat and take matters in hand. You can well temper you romantic side with your realistic attitude. You know how to make the best of things, can recreate the design of your living.”

“Really, what things do you mean? I can walk, I will one day hike again, I can swim–and there is making art, which if you recall requires little to no movement of my legs, right? I–“

He clasped her forearms, then slid fingertips over her face and smiled. She shivered, moved in closer, his warmth a magnet for her growing coolness. He kissed the tip of her nose, stepped away, looked at his phone as he replied.

“Bella, you inspire me…I’m proud of your hard work. A limp is nothing, we are grateful you can walk! But please excuse me, I have a call coming in.” He looked back as he left the living room. “Don’t forget I have to leave on Sunday for London. We’ll call that physical therapist- Stan? Steve?-back in–okay?” He held up a finger as he answered the clarion call to business and put ear to cell.

His back receded to a shadow beyond the doorway. She thought again that he admired too entirely her body, when she spent much of the time unaware of it. Creating, for her, took her out of flesh and bones in many ways. For Antonio, physicality brought him to a place where he felt most at home, felt elevated even by her presence, and there were times of jubilation. He was a person of action first and last. She admired and was pulled to this, too.

There was another hunger she sought to satisfy more: creating. And how graciously he deferred–usually. It was that or get less of her.

Still, it worried her a little as she struggled to heal. But nothing much did change. Oh, the nagging or lightning pains even after seventeen years. Bella had donated her collection of high heels. She gave up any desire for superficial perfection. She stopped dreaming of marathons. She worked on more secure, critical balance. Her endurance and strength improved as she swam, undertook vigorous exercise regimens, began short hikes with a custom made staff to keep her steadier and went with or without him–but always with Remy if possible. He was her look-out and her buddy.

The limp did not disappear. It was a part of her, like the brush of pale freckles across chest and cheeks. Irrelevant in the end.

Anyway, she still danced on their long, deep terraces at back of the house in dry weather. Nance, Rollie and few others about occasionally noticed her swaying, turning in less than perfect circles across space to soft music and murmuring to each other, what a shame, once such a graceful woman, an asset to Antonio –but a fine artist, thank god for that.

Now before she began brainstorming for the latest project she danced, no music, just movement like licks of wind, flicks of a paintbrush, a ringing of glass chimes a call for more beauty in the world as she turned, turned, reached and at last sat down with her tools for art.

Nance watched her from her patio and said to Rollie, “She’s become more of a ghost over the years, don’t you think? Secluded and pale, even with all the swimming. He’s gone so much and she draws, swims. Flutters about. In her own dream world.” She felt a proximity to envy, as if she wanted to join into those moments and see what it was she had. It was a moment gone as soon as it began.

Rollie laughed. “What do you expect? She’s an artiste, my dear. They don’t have an inclination for much else. Anthony could be a saint– or at least loyal as heck. Though she’s a fine person, but who could imagine that she would end up with him?”

“Come on, a saint– Antonio? You think so? She’s fascinating, but he’s as good looking and charming as they get after forty-five. And he’s all over the world, alone…Idle hands, they say. No saint, I wager.”

“Mmmm, yes.” He grimaced. “Well, now–a steak, dear? Thank you, Brett, you always do such a royal job on a rare chunk of meat!”

“Rollie, your manners. Just a smidgen, Brett, I’ve got to keep my health on the straight and narrow.”

Bella worked long after Nance and Rollie went indoors. The night air was light and cool, feathers drifting against arms and legs. And the quietness a balm, though their voices had been muted and even if she’d desired to, it wasn’t possible to eavesdrop readily. The residences were built to insure separateness.

She lit a lavender-scented pillar candle, sketched away. Antonio didn’t call–but he often did not for a week or so.

When she was done, she found trails of nonsensical writing across white pages, shapes at odds with each other, and objects from faraway places she had once visited floating across the expanse… yet at the edges were darkly shaded spaces with nothing to show. Like a graphite collage of random bits and worn out pieces of her past. Where was cohesiveness, a central idea? Why could she not get her brain and muse on the right track with this?

Not a good night, after all. Remy had nuzzled her leg more than once, then gave up and stretched out by her feet, soon snoring. The stars had come out. The yard was shaped by gradations of grey and black and treetops cut a fading filigreed silhouette again a lighter navy sky. All seemed calm in their home despite her angst.

Bella stood abruptly. It was that damned letter, it was just sitting there, waiting. Dizziness visited her, then she reoriented herself and went to bed.

******

In the morning after breakfast, Remy and Bella took a walk, then trotted inside, threw open the french doors and jumped into the pool’s silky, turquoise water. He liked to swim, too, if only a few minutes, while she swam easy laps for a half hour. She stopped when her left leg twinged. Some days it felt worse, some better. Sometimes she had to pull herself up by only the force of her arms; below her waist then it was as if much got heavier with a slow-aging lameness. Antonio hadn’t seen that yet.

As she dried off, she recalled a book on the kitchen island. Once inside, she dawdled, drinking remains of tepid coffee, then looked toward the foyer. Put the book down.

The letter was the only thing there. Should she take it to his study, lay it on his desk? Prop it up on his dresser? Casually leave it on the island or the dining table or…Why did it matter to her? It could sit there. It could wait for its recipient just as she could.

The book was more of a bore than she expected–an academic treatise from an old professor friend on how art creates smarter children and youth. Nothing new. But it had primarily made her feel different than her peers, as if she had x-ray vision while they were nearly blind. She still didn’t quite fit in many places. But it was no longer a problem she felt any desire to solve.

She swam more: backstroke, sidestroke, breaststroke, crawl. She dove deep and moved along the bottom like another creature, then shot back up for air.

It is only a letter, a letter, breathe, stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe.

After sun’s heat roasted her–she’d fallen into a light sleep–she startled at a sports car roaring by. Stretched. She gathered up Remy, pushed her face into luxuriant fur, inhaled his good doggy scent, gave him a rub and compliments. More tea, a snack for them both, then back to the drawings.

They were for a new exhibit in three short months. This time, pastels and colored pencils. And more clarity, letting the unexpected move to the fore, accept it for what it was, transition, a sorting out. Alterations. All afternoon she worked and considered, made small progress. An imagined travelogue of a woman moving between places, people, stages. A map– of the verdant oasis of body and soul within which she lived. Then, a lure of more exotic unknowns. And how to make peace or encourage change, how to shape it to her, her to it.

She was a woman of deepening ideas and impulses, and nearing middle age she’d again realized that so much more was unknown. Like an infinity before her. Antonio didn’t seem to feel nit as acutely. He mastered what he could, let the rest slough off.

She got out of the pool, shook out her bundled hair.

Inside it waited, nearly glowed–a warning or an illumination?– it was inert in the tray’s glazed darkness when she checked for mail later. Bella, of course, got letters from those who had bought her work, or from her niece in fourth grade and sometimes her brother, a journalist. Anyone, she supposed, might send a letter to Anthony, it was nothing of such interest. Only a small thing, then. So why did she return to it and feel unnerved?

******

The fourth day after the letter had arrived–ninth since he’d left– he called. It came after a late dinner of salmon with rice and green beans on the patio.

“Darling, you answered–a quick hello from Madrid–I thought you’d be in your studio at work, no phone on, but glad you did.”

“Hello, Anthony, no, I made good progress today so am slacking off tonight.” She glanced at the orange kitchen wall clock–five a.m tomorrow over there.

“As well you should. The exhibit is not yet tomorrow.”

“You’re up early, as usual. How is your work going? Are you enjoying being with your uncle?”

“He misses seeing you, sends love. Work is work, going well enough, making money for all. Anything thrilling there?”

She updated him on the water bill–skyrocketing with all those sprinklers–and the boulevard repaving work begun and walks Remy and she had been taking on a long path in the woods. For the salvation of coolness, she said, but also for the birds. “We heard the calls and saw two Cooper’s hawks today, Remy nearly took chase.”

Antonio laughed. “Good, all sounds right. It’s sweltering here, already my shirt feels damp, of course. Bella, the reason for the call is I’m coming home sooner than anticipated, early next week.’

“Glad to hear it! But all goes well, you said?”

“It has, but there are changes in plans, another meeting will be held after a quick trip to L.A. So I will be home for a week between. Arrival is sometime next” -he tapped on his computer- “next Tuesday afternoon. I’ll send details. Get my car, then home for a late meal. It’ll be restful to have a week off for once.”

“Sounds wonderful. Maybe go to the lake a few days?”

“We’ll see, darling, that might be just the thing.” He sighed: days of simpler pleasures. Bella held close to him. “I should get something to eat and prepare more for my meetings. I just wanted to check in with you, inform of my earlier return. Te amo, Bella.” He offered last intimately, a whisper.

“Love you, too… Antonio, wait…ah, I…”

“Yes? What is it?”

Impatience book-ended his words; he had made the loving but dutiful call, had business to address.

“Nothing, it will wait.”

“Until next Tuesday, then.”

******

The next days and nights were like mud and molasses, Bella slogging her way through them. Yet loose sketches still were executed rapidly, then a few good drawings. The engagement truly buoyed her–discerning shapes and movement and meanings in her work. Remy pestered her less, romped more on his own after daily swims but she always scooped him up after her work, loyal companions.

Only once did she look at the letter. It seemed to have cooled down, was less intriguing to her, as if it was in stasis after too long untouched and unregarded. It seemed almost a frivolous thing the more she burrowed into work, aware of less time left for herself. She had not expected his return so soon, and so sought the greater and better sum of her artistic efforts.

She started to swim at night again, something she had not done for months, but lazily. Remy drowsed on the first floor terrace. The air was redolent of a rosiness freshened yet dimming as nightfall came, and the moon sat in its throne to survey lawns and inhabitants.

And what in Madrid? Was he staying out late with his uncle? Was he looking upward for a propitious sign, even rain? He could be superstitious. Maybe he had made plans for their jaunt to the lake resort–he was good at that–or did he puzzle over what he would do with himself every day?

Everything around her offered the usual magic but her eyes closed, ears were underwater. She floated, floated, keeping the revelations due on Tuesday out of mind.

******

Nance on the other side of the fence leaned toward Rollie.

“Why didn’t we get a pool? I can hear her swimming at night sometimes. It sounds so relaxing. For years I’ve asked for a pool. I know you don’t swim much and it costs, but we’ll get a big raft for you to float about.”

“It might be nice. Remember, she’s still young, strong, she’s…well, she has a lot of time, don’t you think?”

She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes at him. “So do we, now that we’re retiring soon. Think of that.” She listened for Bella’s strokes, the water making a gentle shusssh when she resumed.

“Let’s go to Barbados, instead, before fall,” he said and lit his cigar. “Just wait until Tony gets back, they always have us over for a meal so you can have your swim then.”

“We can only hope. Or why not just put in a pool, Rollie, just do it.”

He studied the brilliant slip of moon and then the glow of the cigar’s end. Retirement might not be all he had hoped, or it might be more, time would tell.

******

She had made an effort to shine up the place, adding small bouquets here and there–they both liked that. He had long ago wanted her to get cleaning help, the house was so big, but she resisted. Instead, she spiffed it up well once a week and in between could care less. Neither did he–he barely noticed between trips. But this time it seemed important.

In the mirror’s reflection, she examined her face, found it acceptable. The fine lines about her eyes had deepened since working longer hours; she needed readers to better aid her focus. She had chosen flaxen-colored linen pants with a sleeveless white tunic, turquoise at ear lobes and neck. Unadorned, bare feet, the norm all summer. It was Antonio, not a guest, anyhow.

He arrived nearly on time for once, and when he unpacked and put on shorts and old polo shirt they chatted about this and that, then settled into the upper terrace chairs, cold drinks in hand–he, a beer, she, iced tea.

He looked good, burnished by the Spanish sunshine; he seemed pleased with the trip, seeing his uncle again. His kiss was long, almost spicy-fruity as if he’d consumed peaches with ginger. He always looked well even if crinkling about the edges, as if travel became him rather than wore him out, unlike herself. More importantly, his work was satisfactory; next steps were in place for clients. Bella liked how he’d mastered his career, knew his way in greater arenas and came right back to her, still. With the unseemly limp and all.

They were a pair, alright.

“Antonio, I held back something for you. It came in the mail last week.”

“Nothing of interest in the pile you handed me…something more?”

She pulled out the creased letter from her pants pocket, offered it to him. “It has felt a bit of a mystery…I will leave the room if you prefer.”

Antonio took the envelope, gazed at it, turned it over and back again as had she. “No return address? Ah, I see-California?”

“You don’t recognize the handwriting?”

“Not at all. Stay, Bella, it is only a letter!”

He tore it open without hesitation and read. He lay two pages on his thigh and then read it again, more slowly. His face betrayed puzzlement, then a dawning distress.

She leaned closer to him. “What is it? Who?”

He looked up at her, his mouth agape, eyes wide, and shook his head.

“Bella.” He wet his lips, took a frail breath. “I may have a daughter and she may have found me.”

******

“How old, Antonio, and who is she? When did this happen? Where? Answer me!”

She was standing above him, yelling as quietly as she could when her insides wanted to shriek. Her hand went to her mouth, before she did let out a harridan screech. He rose from his chair and his eyes swept over the vibrant garden and sparkling pool, then walked into their bedroom, letter in hand, and then he struck the door jamb with it three times.

She followed and they sat on the bed; her heart was running, running away from her. This was not what she expected, not what he ever imagined, she felt by his response. She’d long ago considered he might not be entirely faithful. She ignored the possibility, however. Her mother–so unbending yet certain of herself and well readied to corral the messiness of life– had taught her this was more or less the norm: how else could ambitious men manage for long periods out there? Bella’s own father may have strayed–“Too much, too much, stop!” she’d yelled at her mother when just a new wife–but one just gets on with it. It could be worse–gambling, drugs addiction abuse. She had to be at ease with men if they would be at ease with her.

She hated that advice. She’d struck out in her own direction, hadn’t she? Her needs mattered, too, it was an egalitarian marriage. Wasn’t it?

He folded the letter, slid it back into the envelope. Laid it on the dresser. She wanted to snatch it and read a loud.

“It was in Italy. That summer we were thinking of separating.” he rubbed his face with both hands. “So long ago, Bella! Such craziness then.”

“When were we thinking of that? You mean, during my long recovery?”

But she knew what he referred to, that she retreated, how long it was before she let him come closer, then even blamed him. Most days and nights she despaired in private, smiled in public. It was that it should not ever have happened, a ruined leg at age 28, a life unbalanced by pain.

“After the riding accident you became depressed about progress… and not being able to have kids, a last blow…we fought so much, remember?” He looked at her, brown eyes glassy, unfocused. “I was in Italy for two months, maybe more, working and staying with an old friend.”

“What friend? A woman friend?” Her words sliced the air. How could he simply roll out this story, hide his face?

“No, no, with Ian–who was with Trevor then. I told you where I stayed.”

“Apparently not all the time! And, who was the woman, Antonio? Who and why, dammit…”

“It doesn’t matter now. It was once, that is all…she was a friend of a business colleague. We all went out. I never dreamed it might happen, felt like hell about it, please Bella, believe me, it has haunted me ever since.”

She covered her face with her hands and lay back on the bed. “It has now come back in the shape of a daughter,” she mumbled. “How can you know for sure?”

He continued, voice quiet, trembling. “This…girl is seventeen. Adelina. The facts line up, she says she has a birth certificate copy with her. Here for college. Somehow she managed to get my name–and address. Through work contacts of her mother?” He made a sharp sound, bark of a laugh, once. “I don’t recall her name, her mother…”

Bella could not stop tears even if proffered a life of fame and a happily forever after. She would not believe him easily ever again–she also could not glibly accept this as truth.

“Bella, please forgive me, forgive me.” He lay down beside her. She didn’t move but wept soundlessly, then in gulps. Antonio’s eyes filled, too, as he stared at the shadowy ceiling, then let himself cry.

“What an idiot, what a fool and a failure I was that summer, Bella!”

She threw a hand out and smacked his chest once, twice. Then rolled halfway to him. Put an arm about him which he pressed close. They wept together, tried to speak but gave up and finally, silenced by hurts and regrets, they fell into a restless sleep.

Remy sat outside their door, whimpering, but no one came to him.

******

She swam three times the next day. Hid in her studio.

He moved to a guest room.

Remy looked from one to the other all day, and finally left for a breezy hallway, lay down, head on paws.

******

She swam and sat under the biggest maple with her sketchbooks and scanned each page, looking for direction, inspiration. Peace.

He swam. Drank chilled wine as he sat on the terrace. Nothing to do but wait. And think about Adelina more than he wanted.

Remy swam, too, caught the ball he threw him a few times.

******

Repeat.

In the middle of the night Antonio looked at their favorite lake spot, dreamed of a different reality.

Remy ate, chased his tail, ran in circles. Lay under the bushes until he joined first one, then the other.

******

She swam and he swam at the same time finally, though they didn’t come close or toss out words. A pantomime of a slow duel, a silent confab. Her eyes were clear beneath thick wet lashes. Her gaze held a simmering anger and it bored into him several times; even when he didn’t see her, he felt it. His own eyes, bloodshot in the high summer spotlight, did not look away.

That night they made a meal together, commenting on the tenderness of parsley and ripeness of the avocado, the smokiness of the turkey. They ate outdoors together by the pool. They sat at its edge, feet dangling in the water. Remy waited long enough, then bounded up to them.

“So. This girl. She wants to meet you, then.”

“Yes.”

“Her mother know?”

“No, she wrote. Her mother never spoke of me until Adelina pleaded with her a long time…her mother is long married, she likes her father. No one cares to talk about the unfortunate past…” He opened his hands up to the sky.

Bella kicked at the water, splashing him. She felt like she could dive in and maybe not resurface…or she could dive in and come back up and just try swimming with him. Her husband. The secret keeper, that fool. The man she loved, and deeply hurt long ago.

She had turned away from him. It wasn’t right, his impulsive diversion, no. But she’d left him with only his work, friends, no promise of better times ahead. She had forgotten those soul battered days and pain wracked nights. The well of loss. She had thought she’d been alright at first. She’d survived and overcome and kept on. A bit heroic perhaps–see how she learned to walk? To become a a more well known artist? See how she managed to beam at Antonio’s side, and that she was acceptable to him, still?

Until he left that summer. She no longer could face the scrutinizing realms within which they resided, any time in the world a reminder and her leg stealing her attention with roaring pain. Her awkwardness and weakness commandeering a life she had lived intensely, body, mind and soul. She had suffered, it was true. As had he, helpless. They made wrong choices–she with pain pills and isolation, he with a stranger. But they came round to one another again by that autumn, didn’t they. And that was a choice, too, but of a greater, not a lesser, love.

“She wrote that she is studying theater arts…costume design, maybe.”

Bella stared ahead. Then burst out laughing. “Her mother must have a few good genes.”

He inhaled a huge breath, let it slide out in a soft whistle so that Remy came running, barking, with tail a-wag.

“Oh, Antonio… what needs to be done, that’s the next question. Perhaps tell her to come–when you are ready,” Bella said as she slipped into the water. The half moon glowed, a pearl in night’s velvet hands. “I will help figure things out with you.”

he had hoped but was not expecting it. “Thank you.”

Antonio wiped his eyes. Never had he wept so much as the last three days.

“You see what kind of person she is, Remy? Do we deserve her? No. But she is still with us, she always perseveres, so we shall love her even better, and more.”

Remy licked his face of sadness. Bella embraced them both.

******

Rollie stood by the fence and tried to jump up to peek over it, but he wasn’t that tall and he got nothing even bouncing up and down. His wife smirked as she weeded.

“Nance, it’s just that I know he’s home already, I saw his car. Kinda miss the guy when he’s been gone long. Want to hear about those trips, the deals. Shouldn’t we stop over, say hi?”

Nance stood and shook her head as he gave up and sauntered over, hands in pockets.

“If they want us about, we’ll hear, Rollie. They’re still young and lovely, and interesting people. Her art really is wonderful. And he’s got that spark that makes a man reach farther. They aren’t half-bored out of their minds like we get. I suspect they could use more time alone, with each other.”

“You often have a nose about people. But we could ask them over here soon, too. And I was thinking about that pool. It might be fun. Our son might visit more, too.”

“Now you’re talking. Our son might or might not come, but it’ll be great. Drinks on a floating swan, imagine it.”

******

Bella and Antonio spread three comforters on the upper terrace that night. They watched the sky offer minuscule blooms of light, talked about the lake. They slept well, and Remy, too.