Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: He Stepped Over the Threshold

He had vowed never to return to the house, and in fact, it appeared he had not. Looking right, left and behind his shoulder, Thomas assessed the circumference of the front yard and proliferation of colorful growth in it, then squinted hard at steps and door. This was not the yard he recalled, not the entry into a house he knew.

There were not six wonky brick steps, nor uninspired wooden door with peeling grey paint. These blue steps led to a porch that extended across the width of the charcoal grey bungalow. A proper one, somewhere you’d enjoy wasting time. He observed two white rocking chairs with fat floral cushions to entice a passerby. Well, he had come by and here he was staring at the lighter blue front door like he might see through it if he gazed hard enough. He wanted to discern whether he’d made a grave error. But no, the number–76–under one of two tasteful brushed metal porch lights confirmed his destination. No way could it be his childhood home.

But it was. He could hear her voice–high pitched, on the strident side–and rapid footsteps. He used to take one step to her three. And she never quite caught up. Now they were whole lives apart, not footsteps. And if this foreign-seeming house was any indication, he had little idea what he was getting into once he crossed into her domain.

He pressed the doorbell and there were those reverberating chimes. They hadn’t changed. He shivered in the July heat, but his neck was sweaty.

“Coming, coming!” Thudding feet.

Of course, the house had been more or less Keri’s for a year. Ever since their mother had gone into the nursing home and Keri took over her finances and property matters. And that meant the house was also Milo’s, that husband he didn’t like despite having “met” him only once via video chat with Mom and her. Didn’t they have a kid years back, his mother had said? Brent, Brandon? He knew zero about his half-sister’s life except that she had managed to inherit the house, and early–he hadn’t wanted it, he was set on the West coast. Thomas retained only watery memories of being there after 14, when Jim, her father– by default also his due to marrying his mother (who soon had Keri)–had passed.

It rained and stormed for two weeks after Jim was gone; the neighborhood creek swelled and overflowed. But Thomas didn’t cry. He hadn’t actively missed the man, just felt his absence like a deep cool spot in and near the cracked leather easy chair. But he did miss his mother, who disappeared into her room after long hours of work directing things at the shelter, even taking meals there.

Thomas stepped back and turned away, his long, sandaled right foot on the second step down. Toward freedom, away from the past.

“Tommy. I can’t believe you came. After eighteen years. About time.”

Her voice whizzed over his head. The nickname. He cringed. Took the next step down. She was going to start out complaining, as usual? But he had made it this far so turned and faced the whole situation.

Keri was tall like he was, like their mother (Jim was three inches shorter) had once been, and black palazzo pants made her legs seem unnaturally long, with matching black painted toenails pointed right at him, bare feet like when she was a kid. He raised his head, took in a sleeveless top of tiny red and white threads woven through more black. Her arms also seemed too thin and long–wasn’t she supposed to be heavier and look older?–and finally met her face. Bronzed sharp cheekbones, eyes shimmery at the edges. Thin lips stretched into a smile, revealing two crooked top teeth. No dental work and caps yet.

Her sharp brown eyes took in his length and emotional temperature. She looked like an exotic snake in good clothes. When she moved her bony hands, silver and gold bracelets jangled. He suspected those were Mom’s; she used to wear the same type, he suddenly recalled.

Something inside him sank.

“Keri,” he said, forcing a half-smile. “It was  a quick trip from the hotel, so I’m here.”

“Don’t just stand there, come in, Tommy. Please. You look decent, I have to say, but quite hot. We put A/C in awhile back, come on, cool off.”

Keri held open the door and he dodged past her. Talk, talk, talk that was Keri despite their rarely communicating all the years gone. As he entered the foyer it fairly gleamed. Polished wood floors reflected light that floated into the living room to the left, down the hallway on the right toward the kitchen and right up the stairwell on far right. The walls were no longer wallpapered, but beige or grey. He froze, tried to meld the old house with all that was before him, and the pieces didn’t wedge together. It was like a stage set or a rented retreat.

“Lots of changes, I know. Here, come through to the dining room and kitchen–that massive wall was taken down–and have a good drink. There’s time to talk, right?”

Why was she being courteous, not sharp-edged? Mean, really, was the word for her back then. Why did she ask for him to come insistently the last time and then demand it after he visited his mother this week? Their mother, right; not just his. And Keri  had looked after her the past many years, hadn’t she?

“Still like iced tea with a lemon slice, or something else? I’m out of booze.”

Thomas thanked her and sat. He could glimpse the back yard through the windows and averted his eyes. His one place of happiness, he realized, was right there all those years as his mother mourned, then let her anger seep out as she dealt with Jim’s gambling debts that left them living hand to mouth. Keri knew that was true, but she’d always left the room if the topic came up,  hand slicing the air, a refusal to accept.

He didn’t care to gamble; he saw it wreck so much. He wondered if she did. Likely not; the house looked too stylish, clean.

The dining table was made of heavy glass and rich wood. He flattened warm hands on the surface as she got the tea; his palms left damp outlines so he put them in his lap. He felt like a schoolboy, clumsy even as he waited, impatient for it all to be over.

The smells were different in recirculated, chilled air. Well, of course they would be. His mother had left the house years ago. She had taken her cheap but good violet perfume scent, and her baking scents and daily fresh orange juice scent and her used books and garden flower scent. Now there lingered random smells: fresh paint, scented candles, furniture polish and stark white lilies–a fragrance of funerals–that stood tall in a clear blue vase before him.

Keri returned with two water-beaded glasses clinking with ice cubes. They were round and small, like tiny golf balls. They had once enjoyed put-put golf, down the street, he mused and shook his head clear.

“I thought I’d never get you to stop by. All the years you might have…when Mom was feeling better, or to help when she was moved one place to another.”

“Well, I’m in California and you all are here in Massachusetts. Now I’m here, Keri. And why? Mom still has time to live, if not a great life, a decent life taken care of by us both. I knew she gave you money oversight and the house, basically. I’ve not argued about it, I don’t care about all that. I don’t come here to see you because it isn’t necessary. And I would rather not. I visit Mom a couple of days every four months–you know that–then I leave. “

“Mr. Big Shot, eh? So busy with hot music, your decadent partying  life, is that it? No real time for family even when they need you around…Okay, yes, there’s a reason I wanted you to come.” The words were spit at him.

She threw him a dagger look, those cheeks sucked in more, but he ducked internally, leaned back, legs sprawling out under the table. She leaned in with her glare, then swiftly looked away.

He wasn’t here for more drama so maybe it was time to go.

“Oh, stop. We aren’t kids now. This is why I didn’t see you, in case you forgot. Your blatant lack of acceptance, those well-placed words of derision. I don’t drink now, anyway. Though that isn’t relevant.”

“Well, huh.” She frowned, confused, as if this wasn’t part of the script, then almost smiled. “Nice, good for you. Me, neither. Not since Milo left.”

“He left you guys? When?”

“After Mom went into the nursing home. He’d had enough of everything, her illnesses, my bingeing, house needing too much work and the money of it all. The yard and foundation dug up due to a rat infestation and rebuilt, replanted. Can you picture that? It was the final straw; he’s lazy, self-centered by nature. So he moved out, filed for divorce. Also ,Brad isn’t so easy, he has issues like preteens do, I guess. Milo sees him every other week-end now.”

She turned sideways, looked to the yard so lush and green, then shrugged, and her eyes were unblinking as she fixed on him. “But that’s enough, more than I should have said. What about you? Now that you came, at last.”

Brad, her boy, how old was he? Thomas struggled to recall; Mom sent him a school picture a few times. “He’s almost ten?”

“Last fall. Will be eleven.” She twisted a dark wave around her finger, an old self-soothing motion. “He’s pretty musical.”

Thomas started, sat up. “What does he play?”

“Can’t decide. I am not yet encouraging him.”

“Of course not, you wouldn’t want him to be a good-for-nothing-musician like me.” He laughed despite himself. “What has he tried? What does he love?”

“A few things, trombone, drums, guitar. You should ask him.”

“Is he here?” He looked out the windows, over the rooms. Upstairs, waiting them out? He saw a baseball glove on a chair, a bat in a corner, and he felt a tinge of warmth for what he’d loved, too, long ago in this place.

“No. He might be later.” She sipped her tea, ice cubes tinkling as she swirled them. “I used to wish I could turn this into rum and Coke by swirling it enough. Like an idiot. It got bad, you know…”

“Mom said you had a few too many here and there and I knew there was more to it or she wouldn’t have said so. But I get it, no judgment. I was stumbling off-stage near the end, missing gigs. Got six years in.”

“One, with a daily counting.”

She held up her index finger and he wanted to give her a high five but sat quietly. He noted a crisscross of lines etching her dusky skin. She weighed too little, she looked too worn out but she wasn’t 15 anymore.

“I’m so sorry for it all,” Keri said, bottom lip a quiver, then covered her face with bony tapered fingers.

“Wait, Keri, just wait.” He shifted taller, held up his hands, palms facing her.

“Just let me say it, just this once, and that will be it!”

“Okay–but you have to know it was more than rough those years, what you said to me over and over. How worthless a brother and even a son I was, how stupid to not pass Algebra much less get on the honor roll like you, to not even make the football team. How horrible my trumpet playing was no matter how hard I practiced, how glad it made me. How insane I was to think I could make it out there ‘in any way shape or form, so do us all a favor and just give up!’ Remember that? That’s when I left, at 17. I never forgot that I left behind my mother and a sister. But I also bore wounds, had to move on.”

Keri stood up, started to pace about the room. “I know, I know! I was drinking already and Dad gambled so much and then died in the car accident and Mom was down the rabbit hole with grief and depression. And I was…I was…”

“Look, we all have pain to figure out. Get over. I don’t like to look back, anymore. Let’s talk about now, how Mom is doing today, the house, what you’ve done here–how good it looks.” His heart pounded; the room seemed to sway, he felt dizzy. He should not have come, had to get out or suffocate all over again.

She stopped by his chair, and placed her hands on his shoulders carefully and her pupils opened wide in circles of dark amber. He thought saw the start of tears so he closed his own eyes. He missed that her eyes cleared and were calm.

But she didn’t quit. She never did.

“I was lost, Thomas. Afraid, angry. I needed you. I didn’t know how to tell you so I pushed hard, and then away from you, from all. It was wrong but it happened.”

“Yeah, far away.” She let go of him and sauntered to the back door. “I left and traveled as far as I could go,” he called after her. But he got up and followed.

She was in the roses. Bushes and bushes of them, narrow paths in between–thick blooms of red, yellow, white, pink, peach. He knew their mother liked to garden, then less and less over time. And she hadn’t planted more roses, he didn’t think. Everywhere Thomas looked now there were pops of color and trees grown mammoth, bushes and flowering things new to him. And two wood benches, a small burbling fountain and a trellis with climbing red roses.

It was impeccable and beautiful. A haven. And it was Keri’s hand that fashioned it, gave it all that was needed to flourish.

“Amazing,” he said, “a heavenly place here, alive.”

And then she joined him.

“You appreciate the fruits of my labors? My pet project, a way of keeping Mom engaged for a few years though she mostly directed and scolded from a bench. But she loved the result. I’ve found it just the thing for me after draining work in the Emergency Room. So much blood and ruin traded for so much hearty life. Let me show you around.”

After the tour  they were silent and rested on a bench.

“So, why did you insist I visit now, Keri? Besides trying to make amends…which we both need to finish, I guess.”

She ruffled her dark bob. “I’m–we are–selling. I did all this renovation, with Milo’s help and Mom’s fiances, of course, in order to sell it. I don’t want to live here, anymore. Brad and I need a change, a home of our own. Mom is okay with it, and she can use the money.”

“Selling. Soon?’

“I’m about to put it on the market. I wanted you to see it, and also to ask you–would you care to buy it for investment purposes, maybe? Or maybe you’d like part of the profit since it has great value now, really top dollar for the area. I mean, even Milo may get a small cut. You should have something of what you’d like from here. Right?” 

He took a deep breath, released it in an admiring whistle. “You’re offering me our house or money? Wow. But I don’t need or want it, Keri. I left so long ago and come here to find so much changed and for the better. It’s yours and Mom’s to sell. I’m actually glad you’ve enjoyed it. It was not a great place to be for so long. Now it shines, Keri. The ghosts may have fled. Not toxic enough for them, anymore.”

She laughed. Not a considerate or restrained laugh, but as he remembered, from the belly, mouth wide open, head tossed back. Her hand grabbed his forearm and he laughed with her.

She smoothed her black pants, checked her finely lined palms and fingernails so short for gardening and her emergency nurse work. Both hands then collapsed into her lap, finally at ease.

“Well.”

“Yes,” Thomas said.

“So just sell?”

“Keep the money, you and Mom. Not so sure abut Milo…”

“I think you should accept some.”

“I don’t want any, Keri, you know I do well. If there’s something left over, you and Brad might fly out to my beach place for a visit.”

He heard himself and was shocked by his own words, as was she.

“A real vacation in California, at your house?”

“Mom! Who’s out there? Did he come?”

Thomas twisted around to see a young boy, lanky and dark haired and bright eyed, hands in pockets, and his cap with its bill backwards.

“Come and see.”

“Is it Tommy? I mean, Thomas Haines?”

He elbowed Keri.”Tommy, always that Tommy.”

He stood up and extended a hand to him and Brad who came right up to shake it hard, smiling.

“The famous musician from California!..My ole lost uncle! I have your music, too! Hey, I play trombone. Brass, like trumpet.”

Thomas raised an eyebrow at Keri; so that was it, then, for the kid. Like when the trumpet found him, love at first note.

They gathered at the outdoor table, swapping more history. Keri and he were agreed that Jim was a man with heart who went terribly wrong with addiction to gambling, and that their mother was a codependent who loved them the best she could. And she had suffered more than they knew. It was a lot to say and harder to accept. Though he was interested, Brad went inside, his interest waning, and the notes from his trombone sounded true as they wafted through his window.

The afternoon melted into evening so they cooked spaghetti, sausages and fresh green beans. Thomas couldn’t say it was all easy and natural. It was randomly awkward, at moments felt strange to be around her like regular family, as if they had not suffered and learned to sometimes hate or drink into stuporous states– and given up on each other.

And they did all that here, and now they were starting over within an altered house. And it was changing them, sitting at the table across from each other, talking of nothing much yet some of much else, sharing a simple meal, making plans for their visit to his spot on the Pacific Ocean. He’d make the time. Finally, he could make a little room for them. And he saw himself get right in the mix.

 

Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: Baby, Will You Still Love Me?

Photo by Martin Parr

It might have been a coincidence that things turned out how they did, but maybe not. But we were enjoying the sea air, visiting from the city. We always stayed a week at Burke’s Beach in July, maybe two if Len had enough vacation time. So our minds weren’t on random people, they were on each other, for once, and the rolling waves, and welcome sunshine eking through the clouds. It had stormed the night before; the air was thick with leftover moisture. My hair was going nuts, wild and curly. Len said he liked it that way–he told me this every summer there. It was good for us both, that beach town.

I had, though, noticed the guy on the bike earlier. He was weaving back and forth along the walkway, a bit wobbly, maybe tired out, undecided where to go next, wasting time. But a grown man–I guess it did strike me–on a kid’s bike. Maybe he borrowed the bike from his son. Once he zipped past us and we were distracted by other things I thought nothing more of him.

I never saw that young gal strolling up the sidewalk. If I had, I would’ve looked twice, sure. It isn’t every day a grown woman carries a baby doll under her arm– in public, anyway. When the gossip started its rounds, she–who we learned to be Elaine Moss–was a huge focal point, so I knew I’d missed the boat as the whole thing unfolded. But Tole Tolman, the bicyclist, took up much of the daily rag’s headline the next day.

Yet we were there and it feels odd we wouldn’t have known more. A person on a bike who vaguely caught my attention–Len pleads ignorant–partly because his jacket was peachy, hair bleached blond. Well, I’m a hairdresser. I notice these things. Possibly female, I’d considered, then settled on male–but whatever people are, they can be, no matter to me. Then Len suggested we find that new good restaurant, not go back to the old fish and chips joint so heavy on the grease. His stomach doesn’t welcome grease, though he loves his fish and chips. I didn’t want vacation ruined by his nagging ulcer so we turned away before that woman started down the sidewalk.

But I glimpsed her moving toward past the guy, blithe as can be. Len, too. A bit of a swagger, but mostly moving fast, a day out and about. And then the guy on the bike slumped over, fell off the bike–so they said later. We’d turned to stare out to sea, then heard commotion behind us, a yell, feet scurrying. Len turned abruptly, then tugged at me, saying, “Let’s go, Denise, we don’t need to be a part of any scene.”

Of course I wanted to see what was going on–how can you not want to find out the details when something unusual occurs? Not Len–he took my elbow, rushed me away as I craned my neck to see a group growing.

He’s very clear on priorities. That’s why he’s successful; he knows when to get on it and when to let the world run itself. That is what he tells me: “Let the world do its own business, we have our own.” He’s not like me. I volunteer for things, participate in gardening club, book club. Hands-on sort of person. Len, he’s hands-on mostly when it benefits him, mostly. But I fell in love with him thirty-six years ago and still feel he’s the one.

So we left and started a search for the restaurant that would make us both happy, and soon found one.

At the corner table with the fresh white candle lit and shining between us, we enjoyed companionable quiet after ordering. The place was attractive with simple, gracious surroundings, deep greens and tawny beige. It was busy but not overly busy for a Wednesday night. I admired the window sashes and curtains and while I leaned over to examined the material I began to muse. Or as Len calls it, overthink–but what does he know of people matters? He’s a manufacturing guy, likes machines and numbers.

“What do you think happened back there?”

Len looked at me steadily. He knew this was not going to be put to rest with a simple shrug. “I guess the guy was ill and fainted. Simplest deduction.”

I considered. Maybe that was why all the weaving. “Like a diabetic, perhaps like that man who fell over in front of our house a few years ago? Went into insulin shock or something? But what else was going on…?”

“How would I know? We left, the right thing to do.”

“I saw a woman walking past. Wonder if she helped him–someone did, for sure.”

“I saw her, too.” He smiled faintly. “Had a doll with her, carried it in her arm. Like it was half-real.”

“Oh, you saw her coming, then. But with a doll. What sort? And why?”

“People do odd things, Denise. Maybe it was a gift though it wasn’t dressed from what I could tell. I don’t think it had a bunch of hair. Really, there were more interesting things today than that little scene, don’t you think?”

“Well, you got more info than I did!”

“One and only time, I suspect.”

Our salads arrived and we dove in.

More interesting things? Maybe not. We took a morning swim–chilly and fast–and strolled around the town’s rose gardens, read after a picnic lunch, stopped at a wine bar for a couple glasses, rested at our cottage, then headed out to the boardwalk area. Now, dinner.

The snippet of a scene nagged at me; I wanted to find out more. Len has always said I make much of little but the fact is, life is chock full of tiny nothings that add up to something bigger. As a hairdresser–had my own salon for twenty years–there were at least ten ongoing stories daily. People were walking books, needing to be shared, in my opinion. And we could each do with more listening and observing. But that’s just me, going on about things, as usual.

“What did that guy on the bike do when she was coming along the sidewalk, anything of interest?”

Len waved his fork lightly in the air, pieces of avocado, romaine and red onion falling back in his bowl and on the table. “You should’ve been a detective, for crying out loud. I don’t really know–give it a little rest, darlin’.”

I fell silent, stung, but then he put his two big feet aside my small ones and winked at me, silvery hair flopping over his lined forehead. I sighed, slipped off a golden sandal, ran bare toes over his shin and chuckled with him. Our conversation moved on. The night got its lovely glow back. That’s what our vacations are meant to be about.

******

Burke’s Beach Weekly blared its unusual headline as I grabbed it from our doorstep. I carried it to the patio out back, reading as I did so. Len poured our coffee, then slipped a steaming omelet on each plate.

“Man attacks woman, steals doll: arrest swift,” I read, then looked at him, agape. “It’s the two we saw yesterday! What on earth…”

I sat down and Len scanned the paper over my shoulder, then sat back down and began to eat. “Enjoy it while it’s hot,” he suggested but I was busy absorbing the news. I finished the article, sighed hugely and took a fast drink of coffee, scalding my tongue and letting out a gasp. Len was a third done with breakfast and he paused, his small grey eyes held mine, thick brows aloft.

“Tongue stings now. So it says that one Tole–Tole?– Tolman, the man we saw, pretended he fainted, then suddenly grabbed Elaine Moss by the ankle, tackled her to the ground and forcibly took her doll. There was a tug of war over it but he got it loose from her– in one piece, I gather– and hopped on his bike and away he went. But someone had watched them, called the police and he was apprehended. And the doll was valuable, apparently, but more than that, it had belonged to Mr. Tolman’s aunt. It was her favorite of a collection. She had raised him, it says. She had some money. The doll was sold off in an estate sale–to that Moss lady–and he had despaired of ever finding it again. So when he saw it, he took it.”

“Despaired, really? Your word or the paper’s?”

“Well, it had been his mother’s childhood toy… he was very sad to have lost it… but anyway, Elaine Moss collects dolls and owns a shop outside of town. She was taking it to get clothes made for the baby doll. I wonder how it fared. And why she didn’t just give it up to Tolman. Money?”

“Such fanfare over a doll! A grown man attacking a woman, robbing her of it. Unusual, wouldn’t you say? Life is strange, Denise. I’d personally rather not think much on it.”

I began to eat, thoughtfully. I had a mind to visit the shop and wondered if it was open after the press coverage.

“I know, Len, but it keeps things interesting.”

“So you say,” he said, and got up to pour more coffee in the big white mugs. “I know you’ll have quite a tale to offer when you get back to your salon. But the thief was arrested and charged, I imagine, and the woman recovered okay, with doll intact.”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“Well, justice done.” He shook his near-shaggy head–he loved my hair wilder I loved his untrimmed–and bent over a book on production methodology, discussion over.

But I wondered.

******

I walked down two short side streets until I came to the store. Moss and Wright, Emporium, a painted blue and white sign stated, elaborate scrolls along the edges. It was open and I went in, the bell on the door chiming my entry. It was busy, a couple of men and several women milling about with items in their hands, talking softly among themselves. I hadn’t heard of it until now, a shop of wonders. It had to be new since last summer.

Everywhere were shelves and tables and displays full of brightly colored and textured items, a variety imported from other continents, also antiques and beautiful, random odds and ends: refinished or painted furniture pieces, lamps of all sorts, pillows fat and small, lovely jewelry here and there, fabrics and ribbons, glass vases and candlesticks, tea sets, old books and magazines that were a bit musty and more. I needed nothing but had my eye on a necklace when a sales woman stopped by. Not Elaine Moss, I surmised due to different coloring.

“May I help you find something special?”

“I’m new to the shop, is it just opened?”

“Just last September.” Her hand fluttered to smooth her bangs, which were wavy and thick. “So glad you found us–so many have come today…” She tried to look congenial but barely succeeded, and there were crinkling lines creeping about her young eyes, and skin as pallid as if drained of natural blush.

“Ah, the news– everyone from out of town reads the newspaper,” I said.

“I’m afraid so. You didn’t come to see Elaine, too, did you? She’s not in today, nor tomorrow.”

“My sympathies…no, but I did come to see all the dolls.”

“We don’t sell dolls–just a couple now and then. She keeps a private collection, under lock and key due to their value. Surprising what antique or rare dolls can bring.”

“I see. Like the one Mr. Tolman tried to get?”

“No, well, that was different…” The woman peered at me, eyes narrowed. “You with the paper or something…?”

I found myself stepping back, gesturing with palms up. “Oh, no, we were just nearby right before it happened, coincidentally. I’m just wondering what it was all about. I mean, a doll doesn’t usually warrant an attack, does it?”

The woman’s head swung around left, then back to me. She was again composed. “Odd timing for you. Perhaps you should contact the police, they might be interested? Excuse me, someone wants to check out.”

“Of course.”

I wandered about then went back to the necklace. It appeared to be made of sterling and tourmaline. It would go with my summery dress purchased just for our trip’s last nice dinner out in a few days. Pricey but not too pricey so I decided to buy it and went to the back of a small line.

Two women in front of me spoke in low, exclamatory voices, easy to overhear so, of course, I listened in.

“They say he is, you know, mentally challenged. Not right, anyway, and at some point he was sent away–to be raised by the aunt. Who was also Elaine’s, I guess.”

“Oh, really. The same aunt? They’re cousins? He robbed his own cousin! Of a doll! How peculiar.” She giggled. “I wonder if he was in love with Elaine as a kid or something!” The woman shrieked, hand clamping her mouth.

“Shhh! “The first whisperer glanced back; I stared at the necklace, so she resumed. “I don’t know if they’re related, exactly. Ask Carolyn Wright, that’s the business partner up front. Yeah, inheritance issues that finally got to him, I guess. He still lives in the deceased aunt’s house, but who knows when he gets out of jail. He might end up homeless, poor thing. Elaine Moss has clout, you know she married Hugh Moss. Gorgeous woman, too. Anyway, no one is going to leave valuable things with someone who is so–well, odd… maybe even actually gay. Certainly he comes up rather mentally short!” She turned to her friend. “Hey, maybe she walked right past him with that doll on purpose, you think–to shake him up?”

The friend put a hand on the other woman’s arm, stifling a laugh, and they shook their heads in unison.

I cleared my throat loudly and stepped forward. The women turned to look at me. “Moving along, aren’t we? Not gossiping about such sad news, are we? I mean, really?…Come on.”

“None of your damned business–no doubt you don’t even live here, right?” It came out tartly, one hand on the rail-thin woman’s hip, but the two gossipers moved forward. Nothing more was uttered despite my wanting more than anything to lay into them both. When they purchased their items they loped past with cold glares, arms linked.

I studied the gleaming necklace, fingered it gently. Thought of the man on his bike and the woman–his relative–walking right by him, the beloved doll thrust under her arm, its presence taunting him. Who knew exactly why it meant so much to them both? Why he had to get it any way he could? It was more than a little painful to contemplate now as she recalled him weaving about on his too-small bike, his peachy jacket loose on a thin frame, his blond hair too bright in the clouded July light. Alone. A man born with less, perhaps, than he may have needed or surely desired. A child abandoned, a man unaccepted and brimming with needs– and once more left behind.

It was all too terrible.

My cheeks burned with embarrassment that rapidly felt like shame. I had been too curious, full of a hunger to glean more–personal details that were not even mine to know. I had looked askance at the man on the bike, perhaps, and had a few of my own unwise ideas. I was not so pure of intent. And I had listened a long time before having the courage to say anything…I shook my head in an effort to clear it, stepped out of line, put the necklace back on its display and left the store.

The air had become crystalline, the temperature had risen. I noted sunbathers and swimmers swarming the beach as I approached our modest, dear cottage. I wanted to go lie down, hide my head awhile. Feel only the fan sweep salty air back and forth, the ocean’s energy hush my writhing thoughts. Not even talk to Len, who would, mercifully, then go back to the patio with wine and book. And just wait.

******

The next morning Len snuggled up to her, fresh from his shower. He knew better than to awaken her but her eyelids quivered, then blue irises and dark pools of pupils peeked at him. He planted a soft kiss on her cheek. He didn’t ask how she was. He didn’t ask for anything. Nor did he expect continuing silence from her as she rolled closer.

“It just goes to show what you can learn,” she murmured. “Even at our age.”

“What now?”

“You seldom know where a person’s story begins or ends and you’re lucky to know any of its true middle parts. But you also can learn more about yourself in the unfolding. I’m going to remember that when I get back to the salon.”

Len liked that thought but frankly, he didn’t know entirely what it meant to her this morning and watched the yellow flowery curtains flap in the breeze. He did know she had a good heart and a very inquisitive mind and he adored her. He wrapped his arms about her but she pulled back to look at him better, then seemed satisfied and found her place within his embrace.

“Thank goodness we come here every summer–maybe we should come in winter, spring and fall, too! Why not?”

“I second that, my darlin’ Denise,” he said, a rush of relief underscoring his chuckle.

They remained just so, soft belly to rounder one, wrinkling chest to pudgy parts, until the coffee he’d begun was done perking, its sharp, happy fragrance filling the place with its welcome.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Celebrate, Anyway!

Celebrate summer–a surprised, perplexed but happy dog sure was!

Another 4th of July brings to mind celebrations of many sorts, not just of our beleaguered, beloved USA with its complex warp and weave of surprising variegations these days. Far be it from me to offer political commentary that is truly astute and reasonably calm. If that is what you want to muse over today, read on elsewhere and bless you. This is about humbler celebrations.

Many are the other experiences to which I can relate and articulate better. I am thinking of times that bear reconsideration after first being embraced and then, as circumstances fully dawn upon you, are slogged through step by step. There is the initial elation: unique challenges, freshness of change! And then may come a giant whump!… as gravity tugs, you may end up flattened a bit or at least bewildered, agape.

A metamorphosis is likely in the offing; sometimes the best you can do is try to step back and observe while surrendering to its quiet power. Transformation is not meant to be a snap but a complex process. The relief and encouragement of little successes mean something and deserve small celebrations we can share with others. Or even alone. No fireworks are required nor one hundred bright balloons set free into the ether or parades to toot one’s horn. Just an acknowledgement of another stone removed from the shoe, another hill crested, another day gotten through–a nod at more gratitude. It takes those first small steps towards victory. We can be like swimmers who finally survive by floating even as legs start to sink, or straining with a side stroke when arms tingle and go numb, the water threatening to submerge the whole attempt. I get it: you want to sink but keep on going. And eventually reach the shore–cue lighthouse beam cutting through the stormy ebony veils.

Cinematics aside, it has been like that off and on this spring/early summer. The big move; a hard birth for our daughter; the twins’ arrival after which came subsequent postpartum depression. Daily and sometimes odd hours with babies and new parents; becoming overtired and falling sick with a respiratory illness that began with a small cold passed around at their house. After two and a half weeks of feeling unwell, I have trouble getting through a day with enough energy, without a rattling cough. Lst week I was felled and spent three days in bed, on the couch, sleeping between spasms of coughing. But I saw the doctor today; she looked at me steadily, shook her head, eyebrows lifting (she may have been in her forties, about my kids’ age; I liked her). “Grand-mothering…! More germs to come. You need a steroid inhaler to ease those respiratory symptoms, I think. And get more rest.”

Right, check–will do. I start training for eight to ten hour days next week with the beautiful, amazing babies that make me so happy to give love. And also so tired. How did I raise the five I had? Well, they were spaced out some, not multiple infants all at once. Though I did raise four teenagers at once… for many years.

My daughter, the one who has surmounted so much, is soon returning to work, yet it seems so fast. (Her husband is seeking part-time work so he can help more, longer. Years longer, perhaps; two is like three times more baby some days.) Somehow we can figure this out so eventually I can do it alone: with the little ones’ feeding/sleep schedules, the right attire for varying temperatures according to dad, the correct degree of light in each room so they are not disturbed, the different baby monitors’ workings, the cat’s whereabouts so he doesn’t lick their tender feet or faces. The inconsolable crying–I lived through it before, didn’t I? Of course I did.

I am a person who is not averse to seeking help–I have had the therapy bills to prove it, as in one form or another it acts as basic self management. And there have been many events during which I did not stand tall and shine, to say the least. (One counselor decades ago stated bluntly she was amazed “you are alive, even standing upright– and well spoken and well groomed.” What? It was rather shocking. But the truth was that I was barely on my feet.) Everyone I have known has fought battles; more come out smelling like humble but gorgeous roses than those who do not. How can one accurately determine the “hard-harder-hardest” of hurdles when approaching each? Best not think about it–go forward to meet it.

I sure wasn’t in the market for pity back then (or now), and certainly not for the counselor’s weirdly near-admiring undercurrent. I, as ever, wanted knowledge of methods to make smarter choices, to become more adept at being the me I had actual faith in. I think I half-laughed at her, gave some facsimile of a smile (with tears masked–I acted tougher then). I had and have been worse, and better. Any time I’ve snagged a shard of light or a waft of humor–drier is better–I hold it steady in eye and mind, then use it as a tool, a lifesaving thing. Who else was going to do it? Resilience is often predicated on resourcefulness.

As I muse on these things I find a finer, stronger energy despite the rumbling cough– and a foolish romantic impulse to be a superwoman. Haven’t I learned by 69 that this is not a smart idea? Instead, I choose to celebrate what is coming together, then work on what is lagging. I tallied up the positives. Smaller steps that have cumulatively become greater steps forward. I, of course, know more challenges are to come; we will rise to each occasion as best we can. Who would not? Very few.

Below are a few ongoing mini-celebrations in my life: Cheers and hooray!

My daughter–new mother–has so rallied. I have never seen her more raw and distressed when all she wanted was to be joyous and confident. She not only came to grips little by little, she ultimately took the problem by its perilous horns, tamed it and rode it toward its demise, transforming it into more health. Every resource she could find was utilized from acupuncture and Reiki energy work, group support and therapy, meditation and prayer. She did not give up despite haunting urges to do so. It took two months. She reached out to those who loved her, became so vulnerable with her family and close friends. She learned new skills, took charge of what was biochemically powerful, and gave her recovery infusions of an analytical mind, a bright if aching spirit and a profound heart. And she showed up for her babies even as she wrestled with daunting fears, sadness and exhaustion. This is an ongoing investigation into unknown territory, this being first-time (ambitious, working) mother, and of twins. She deosnt; kid herself despite the healing. I watched her make sacrifices that I never imagined she might choose to make… but I have to note that fighting for betterment of life is not a new labor. As a child (and into adulthood) she had significant medical issues that did not deter her, or not for long. And she remains one of my heroines.

Her husband, our son in law, rallied. He actually quit a job in order to take over as he and I went into high gear at their home. He used his bent toward methodical perseverance to tackle boundless chores, increased demands. He schooled himself as he took charge and mapped out ways and means. He took meticulous notes, shared his concerns and insights. I recall one time when I broke down in tears. I was embarrassed by losing my generally calm demeanor but it was overwhelming for a moment. He came over, put his arms around me and said quietly with surety: “We will get through this, things will be better again, I promise.” Then he got busy again and so did I. It was what I had been telling my daughter every other hour, but when he said it, I believed it more. And he’d understood how I hurt, too; his kindness was never more evident. I appreciate his various strengths and genuine compassion.

My own husband has a sure knack for feeding and burping infants and diapering, even after a day of work and long commute back home. I had forgotten how good he was at these things. He has had a good nature about my absences, my random prickly, unbidden sensitivity, the worry and weariness. Just sitting on the sofa with me, watching an old mystery series one episode after another was fine with him…conversation can be overrated sometimes. And he still cooked dinner, sometimes for all of us at the kids’ place, even at eight at night. We still read aloud to each other here and there, and take daily walks as possible in the cool of overarching greenness. And listen to birds settling into twilight, our mugs of tea at hand. And he knows how to pray with me and apart from me.

And those twin girls are thriving, now two and a half months. They have double chins and fat knees now; grasping, soft hands; kicking-strong legs and arms. They coo and try to talk in their own ways, blow tiny bubbles, smile suddenly as they reach for our faces and hair. You know how there is a spark of happy recognition when a baby looks at you and you know she knows you? And likes you? They are unalike in temperament, we think, but time will tell their stories. They look uniquely themselves–one more fair with wide grey-blue eyes; the other reflecting other roots with large deep brown peepers, slightly tawnier skin. They still primarily need to be fed, diapered, soothed, cleaned up. But they also now enjoy playing, love to be sung to and danced with. What a pleasure to find their skill levels increasing, to share in their new journeys and their delight.

From hearts nearly breaking to a sense of peace hard won and a deepened hope: it has been a period unexpected and lived through together. And yet the same can be said of other human lives being lived a day at a time. Humans loving one another, not flawlessly but richly, and as a fierce and loyal team. It is a story that is replicated in every culture: taking care of business, caring for family, working against daunting odds at times.

Another scene that pops up: my oldest daughter visiting. We see her once or twice a year; she lives and teaches in the South Carolina, she travels, she is busy making art. One day she was having a full, lyrical conversation with Baby A, whom she was carrying around a long while, then feeding, then diapering, then burping. The little one gazed up at her, clung to her and nuzzled her neck and N. snuggled back gently. Her face against the baby’s was a snapshot of tenderness. She does not and will not likely children; she creates things, and when she departed for an art residency, she left with me an elegant indigo-dyed silk scarf from her new collection, a woodblock print of a blue butterfly, fine chocolate, and a very strong, quiet hug.

But the best moments came when her sister–the twins’ mama–played with the little girls spontaneously, sang them songs in her lilting voice and really laughed with them. Held them in wonder, eyes radiant with the loving hopefulness she had so needed to experience, to believe was true and lasting. As it was and is now.

And then finally, there is this: my only surviving sister has advancing dementia at only 74. I do not live close to her since our move. It has been a slow losing of one sort of person for a new rendition of my sister, for she was during her working life an executive mover and shaker, a real estate “flipper”, an greatly engaged person who spent much time on her hobbies as well. In short, a dynamo, bright as can be and given to easy laughter.

I brought her over for a large family gathering and she chatted as she could, and asked questions, and held babies, great-nieces! She never had her own kids. She hugged grown nieces and nephew. It was nearly like old times with the laughter and gabbing, except it is not old times. No, it is this moment, and it is what it is. And so wonderful to have her in our full circle, our embrace, to share her love. She is still my sister inside, despite memory loss, and the awkward shyness that never suited her before. I will be there as much as I can, though it is hard to find time now, as time can just leak away.

I often am given pause as I realize this world seems to be tilting ever more within our solar system and generally uncharted universe. Who are we, the homo sapiens living here? Who can we yet be? Time may be really running out. We hear the worst of things. We are asked to prepare for more devastations. And there are agitations everywhere, and schemes, wars of all sorts brewing. The terrible failures to communicate effectively and for our collective well being is glaring. The neglect of common courtesy proliferates while acts of good will seem sparse. I question that, though, as there are so many being kind everywhere. And yet, there is still this risky business of making one’s way on earth. I do wonder just hoq the babies and all others will find their way. But I believe in the Divine Creator, God, the source of all true wisdom and so pay attention and nurture trust, despite the noise around us.

So I will yet celebrate the smaller moments, the ones that do not show up in newsworthy spotlights: ordinary courage, a forward momentum when work needs to be done. A dragonfly’s small pause on a thin reed and summer wind singing in the big leaf maple’s shining crown. The sweet touch of one warm, even when trembling, hand on another. Water for the thirsty and healing moments for the broken–affirmations of faith when the long days are done. At the end of more loving/sometimes weeping, I close my eyes and feel it, the truth of goodness of things, all the redeeming moments there are. Ones we can create. I yet do celebrate each morning that still arrives with the rising sun. And all that is worth a modest party now and then, at the least.

PS Have a safe 4th of July, those who are marking the day!

(I am not labeling all our motley crew but there are three of four daughters present; my son and fiancee; my sister; son-in-law; my husband; me.)

Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: Two Wings and a Man

Everett took Trixie everywhere allowed, which meant he mostly wandered outdoors with her as he could. That was alright. They sometimes visited Gerry’s Joint for lunch–she was more willing than most to have them both. Saw a couple of friends. He was retired now from his mechanic’s work and finally had time to relax. But he and Trixie were old mates, they went with the basic flow of things. Goodness knows, they had seen it all, had dealt with high and low waters.

“Literally as well as figuratively, this is the reality, and you two have  been the better for it”, Annalisa, his niece, said.

Ev didn’t say things complicated like that.

The two of them lived on Chancy River’s west bank in a plain modular home, the sort you might note as a double wide trailer at first glance. He was pleased to be there. He was eight miles from town and Petersen’s Garage where he worked forty years. Annalisa lived with her husband (he was alright, but didn’t deserve her) and their two rugrats down the road. He never called them that out loud; he meant no harm in thinking it. They were just loud, got into mischief–well, they were kids. Everett liked them much of the time despite himself. It was family and family was good–mostly or, more honestly, sometimes.

But when thinking of family, he first thought of Trixie, his blue and yellow budgie, or parakeet as most called her. And he knew people didn’t quite get that.

Trixie was closer to him than any person, really. He did have John and Morrie, fished with them every Sunday, their own secret church, Morrie once said, and they all heehawed and snorted. And he had Annalisa and the bar and grill owner, Gerry. Bernie the garage owner. A coworker here and there. Overall, they respected that Trixie and Everett were companions 11 years. Trixies heard his tales, cheered him up, kept him company through the drizzly long winter. And vice versa.

At the garage it had been harder. He was teased by new guys and random customers like it made their day.

“Hey Ev, how’s the little lady this morning?

“Did you brush out her feathers before you left for work?”

“Does she complain about the greasy slob you are after work? Maybe she won’t sing a tune then, huh?”

“Polly wants a cracker–and a glass of wine, please!”

They cackled at him but he ignored them best he could, laughed back under his breath. Fools. Everyone who knew anything knew that Everett cared so much for Trixie for good cause.

Annalisa had found, bought, then taken the parakeet to him after his cabin burned down. He had also lost his dog to the wildfire. She thought since he loved birds singing and flitting about outdoors he might like one to live with him indoors. To talk to and such. And she was right. Trixie helped things get better.

Everett was a born bird lover. He had it in his blood; even his grandpa had kept track of bird sightings, their songs and habits. But it was different than his dad who hunted them to eat and for sheer sport. He never got that. But, then, he didn’t get lots of things, apparently. He learned early on he was stupid, for that’s what his dad told him day and night, and his ma said little to change that impression. He barely finished tenth grade but knew how to fix mechanical things with hardly a thought. That was how he knew birds and their singing: he paid close attention to them and used his own instincts.

He half-believed them holy. Those wings. Those songs. The amazing freedom from gravity’s heaviness.

******

Trixie was let out of her medium-sized, rectangular cage every day for about three hours. Ev took her to the sun room at east end of the house–so-called because that’s where pools of sunshine gathered and soaked up. There was a bunch of potted plants, a raggedy easy chair by the picture window, an end table with binoculars and a dogeared bird book. He’d have let his parakeet buddy go footloose and fancy free more, but he had things to do on his acreage. There was fishing first of all, almost daily attacks on the curse of ivy, tending his vegetable garden; errands to run; someone’s car to fix on the cheap–he couldn’t help himself on that. He found he’d nearly as few free hours as before retirement. It just filled up differently and felt better.

So Ev took Trixie out with him, her cage settled on the passenger side of his truck if he had to drive somewhere. Otherwise, they were on the riverbank or went to nearby wetlands and meadows. He could see how happy this made her. She fluttered about, hopping from one perch to the other, wings opening, closing like beautiful fans. She pecked at him affectionately and settled under his protective hold when he took her out a bit. She sang a little as wild birds called out, as if they’d invite her over. But more often she listened, and chirped and nattered at him.

“You like being out here. I wonder if I should let you go. You know, Trixie, you’re right spoiled. You wouldn’t make it out there, just chaos. We’ve a good home, ya think? Our refuge, yeah?” He wiped his brow. “Hot today.”

“Good day, Ev, good home,” she said to confirm that it was, then turned to watch a wren fly by. “Hot enough for ya?” She shook her head in slow fashion.

“Yep, sweating like a stuck pig. Good thing you hang around, buddy.”

“Buddies,” Trixie said. “Good day.”

He decided to open the tiny door and stuck his hand in. She hopped atop his index and middle finger. He placed his other hand over her body, eased her out. He could feel her trembling, almond-sized heart racing. Maybe it was wrong to do this, but she always fell under a happy spell, and later seemed calmer, and rested well. It was her little adventure the few times he had braved it.

Her bright yellow and blue mask was vibrant in the sun, her feathers so warm, shiny and soft as he carefully held her against his chest. Her head turned this way and that as she watched and then a tune escaped, one he taught her. She added other notes to wild sounds in treetops.

They sat there awhile, enjoying a light rattle of tree branches and birds working and tittering and as he was about to put her back in, the grasses behind him rustled, hushed, rustled once more but very slightly. Everett slowly turned, Trixie held closer, but he expected a rabbit or squirrel, even a beaver waddling to water. He reached for the cage, Trixie momentarily blinded by his palm, when there was the faintest swishing of grasses as the creature–bigger than he thought– closed the distance between them. His heartbeat banged away as he turned to see a sleek red fox leap out and dash to Trixie who leapt, too, right off Everett’s finger, stirring still air as she rose, a receding spot of soft blue melding with sky’s aquamarine brilliance.

Ev was frozen a second, then jumped to his feet, stared at his empty hands in disbelief while the fox glanced upwards with longing– then ran on, hidden once more in swaying grass.

“Trixie! Trixie! Oh no, no no…! Fly back to me! Where’d you go?”

He ran where she flew, ran more only to find watchful trees studded with birds who cared nothing of this small drama, and a sky so immense he’d never find her there.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I bring her and open that door? She was bound to leave one day. She just needed a fox for an excuse!”

He knew how silly that sounded and covered his long face with scarred, strong hands, refused to cry out as surely he was not that sort of man or friend. He’d just find her somehow. Wouldn’t he? Had to.

******

“They’re called budgies in other parts of the world, ya know. Native to Australia. Came to the USA around 1920 and we call ’em parakeets. Related to parrots, yeah, talk pretty well if you teach ’em well. Smart, unlike me, and also sociable.”

“Unlike you?” Gerry asked. “You manage fine, Ev, just fine. And Trixie isn’t the be-all, end-all..okay, so maybe she is. Sorry.”

“They can whistle any tune you teach them, you know that? Sure, you’ve heard her.” He kept running a hand through his hair absentmindedly.

“I do like your Trixie. I can’t believe she flew off…”

“She’s a bird,” John offered.

“She’ll be back,” Morrie said, washing down a french fry with his beer. “Patience.”

“Well, she might not, it’s a big world,” John said, patting Ev on a shoulder. “Sorry, sure was a fine parakeet, a good ally.”

Morrie glared at him, nudged their friend. “There are things we get and things we don’t. You never know. She might not like it out there. Might get lucky, too.”

Ev’s shoulders, broad and muscular, folded as he hunched over, lifted the beer mug to lips. Stared into depths of amber liquid. He could get lost in there, he was not above it. “She might just end up loving it,” he said and drank it all down.

“But then foxes and cougars, snakes and eagles…” John said, as he was a practical man and felt it had to be accepted. But this time Morrie reached over, smacked him back of his head so his ears nearly rang. He glared at him, but tried again. “I mean, she knows where the house is, right? She could find her way.”

“They’re tough, smart. Lots of good food out there so that won’t be a worry.” Gerry swiped at the counter, leaned across from Ev. “Have a little faith.”

Why was everyone yakking at him? His insides were pulling apart, no matter their words or that he was on his third beer.

“Parakeets prefer being with their humans, they really do,” Gerry said, patting his hand. “Read that once. She has a decent flock right here.”

“Yeah.” Ev got up, slid off the stool, walked out the door, his friends turning and calling him to come back. He kept on.

“Man. This is going to be rough,” Morrie said quietly. His oldest friend slunk past the window into the darkness, chin hanging on his chest. He’d never seen the man look so defeated except when his cabin burned down and his mutt died–much worse, and even then he hadn’t carried on about it to others. But maybe this was partly about Trixie coming into his life on the tail of that nightmare.

It had been instant affection and stayed like that, the odd couple.

Annalisa visited her Uncle Everett on her way to night shifts but all she could say was, “I’m so sorry, Uncle. The worst. Such a budgie! But she might still come home.” And then half-hugged him, as he was not one to be hugged.

After she left, he sighed and sighed, sat like a lump, and he felt her caring and sadness, too, like a good but heavy blanket.

*****

Ev got up at the crack of dawn day after day, made and packed a sandwich, filled his thermos with coffee, then headed to the marshy area that gave way to grasslands. Where they’d last sat under cottonwood trees. He made a spot against the best tree. He listened to birds singing their heads off and the faint rippling of Chancy River not far off and accepted sun’s offering of warmth kindly on his tired body, softly upon his mind. He’d have counted this as a fine happiness if not for Trixie’s absence. He sipped steaming coffee; more sweat rolled down his neck and disappeared under the collar of his chambray shirt.

“Why did I call you that? That’s what they always want to know. As if it matters to them. But it was the little girl in the picture book, that’s all, the one with poems and paintings when I was seven, nursery rhymes I imagine. There was a picture of her running in the field, red-winged blackbirds lining up on a fence. It was on that page: ‘Trixie gave her day away to red wings and blue butterflies, her face a beacon of happiness.’ Or maybe I made it up, the poem had to have been better… but it made me put down my own words later. We’d talk about things like that. I was reading those haiku out loud. You listened.”

He was watching, watching. He recalled the fire, how it took everything and he had been ready to leave it all, find another town but then she came, thanks to Annalisa.

“Where did you go? You had to have out-flown the murderous creatures. Got enough to eat? Fresh berries, veggies?”

At the end of the afternoon he’d trudge home and sit in the dark, doze and dream of bright wings, lightning, smoke.

It was not a surprise that he thought he spotted her on the sixth day. He always believed he saw her, in flight, perched on distant branches. This time he crisscrossed marshy parts and then there was a bundle of pale blue, tiny and crumpled in mud a few feet away. He came closer, fear filling him as he knelt. There she was–wasn’t she? Yes, Trixie, dirty, worn out and keeled over on her side, eyes opening to him.

“Trixie! Oh my, let’s get you home, there you go, girl…I got you.”

Everett very slowly put her into his cupped hand, then both hands carried her to their house. And on his front stoop were Morrie and Doc Vale.

He nearly fell to the ground in relief, only stopped by his hurt cargo. Morrie slapped his knees, stood right up followed by the other man.

“I brought the vet for ideas, to help look but– wait–is that Trixie?”

The vet took the shuddering bird as they entered the house. For several minutes no one spoke as he efficiently checked her. She was almost inert on the dining table, a twitch of foot, tiniest bob of head, barest sound loosed. She still looked half dead.

“Broken wing, surely, might be recent as she seems well fed. Dirtied up is all. She managed to stay alive–how did she elude predators?”

“Busted wing? Can that be fixed? Will she feel okay again?” Ev was horrified, expected the worst. To have found her, then lose her again would do him in.

Doc Vale stroked his white goatee and considered. “Yes, I suspect so if I determine for sure it’s a simple fracture. She must have run into something or fallen fast and hard. No other injuries. I can take her with me now, Everett.”

“Yes, take her, get her healed up and I thank you, Doc.”

******

“I see you,” Trixie called out from her cage perch as Ev popped up his head, then hid beind the couch again. “I see you, I see you!”

“Yeah, I see you, too, you ole feisty budgie. Here to stay– can’t fly too far now… what a surprise you are.”

“Surprise, surprise! See you!”

He finished frying up the bacon and set it aside his eggs. Tore tiniest bits into a small china bowl that held cooled, cooked potato and carrot, good seeds of all sorts, then took it to Trixie’s cage. He set it on her freshly cleaned floor, then she hopped down and over to it, wings aflutter.

“Eat hearty.”

“Heart and soul, heart and soul,” Trixie sang out and whistled the tune as Everett took her cage to the sun room, then got his own plate. They sat beside each other, bird cage set on side table, Ev in his easy chair.

“Yes, a pleasure, ole Trixie, let’s eat.”

“Yes, a pleasure, ole Ev–thank you!”

He gazed at her. Did she thank him, was that for real or was he hearing things? Trixie was busy gorging on breakfast so he dug in, too.

 

 

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Move to Something, Somewhere

The photo is deceptively personal, full of the sense of a certain communal peace, an idyllic setting most would love to insert ourselves within even for a short time. It is my home, so I should know. Or, rather, it is not my actual property; I do not live on either side of those river banks. But it is within my territory since we moved from the close-in city neighborhood to the current spot. And it is much like this–green-treed, near water, seemingly far from the constant din of city life heaving itself into consciousness. Here, the conscious mind is alive with nature and at a distance from much else, and this results in a stunning quietude.

But it has felt like living a small mystery, being here, and every day when I first look out the large opened windows or take walks along serpentine pathways that surround acreage, I am surprised.

For one thing, it is a wealthy enclave. Let’s call it Lakemont. It is a city set apart from the Portland metropolis or other suburbs. And we are not wealthy, so it may seem odd that we are here now. We do alright, could’ve done better if we’d planned differently (if life hadn’t thrown curve balls, if the economy hadn’t nosedived in 2008–if-if-if!)– and will likely manage when we’re fully retired. But we certainly don’t aspire to occupy the manse-like or maybe a bit more reasonably classy homes that characterize the city, each nestled within ubiquitous trees. I like to look at them–I enjoy such variety of architecture– but we’ve been apartment dwellers awhile. And so we now appreciate our spot within green, birdsong-infused expanses.

It was a joke that I even looked here as the deadline pressed upon us beginning in January. The goal was to vacate the old place and inhabit the new by 1st of March, in order to be much closer to one daughter undergoing a hysterectomy (so we could have here with us to support recovery days after the move), then another giving birth to twins 6 weeks later (so we could help daily). And, too, my husband was leaving for a long business trip within days of relocating.

So it was with urgency that I searched for something affordable–not at the top of the limit, not too cheap–and roomy and comfortable enough, with walking areas close by, too. I wanted to get to all within five minutes. There was little to be found anywhere within five miles of them. Places were way too small, worn out, lacking in sidewalks or parks nearby, or way too expensive.

And then an advertisement on a website caught my eye. What– in Lakemont? So fancy, no way! But I kept going back to it–looked at the square footage, the prices, rooms. And that location. Under 7 minutes drive, depending on traffic, to the daughters.

The decision was made after a visit and a long drive about the neighborhood. When sharing that, people we knew couldn’t believe we’d choose to live there. Far from our city’s fab bustle, for one thing, which we’ve enjoyed decades. Wouldn’t we be lonely? And Marc and I are aging hippies, still working on living more simply. Moderate, overall (but I am still well in more liberal zone), in lifestyle and ideological choices. Far more invested in various intellectual pursuits and nature’s delights/activities than money or–really, just forget this–status. Those simply do not cohere with who we are–and would not , still, if there were greater means.

And yet. This apartment felt like home even empty, like it would be the best place when all was said and done. We called the movers. I was ready to go. Now, each morning we open our doors and windows to refreshment of mind and body.

Today, after visiting my new, more pricey dentist, I reflected on the costs of that choice. I do think of money some, though I cannot deny one tends to get what is paid for. How much more do I get? Well, the solitude and tranquility of rolling woodlands, for one. Every time we step onto the long, deep balcony–a treat–we are inspired by towering trees, bird watching, bright summer skies; the lack of fire/police/ambulance sirens and not-infrequent night-time gunshots and late night revelers weaving home from bars around the corner. Our old area was pretty well heeled, but it was deep within big city stuff. Which we were comfortable with, overall. And which, strangely, we no longer miss much. We can always get fast into the city to attend a concert, visit the huge farmers’ market, stroll amid colorful jumbles of humanity and events.

It, though, sometimes feels as if we are living a charade–even though this matters much less than proximity to family now. No, I do not drive a Tesla or Mercedes; yes, I adore my worn Teva sandals; and we enjoy sandwiches and Italian dishes and chicken/veggie/rice pots with a seltzer water, not rare prime rib or fancy French cuisine (okay, a French bakery for week-end brunch) with fine wine or whatever else is eaten and imbibed here.

As I drive about, I grow more accustomed to circuitous streets, aged woods, cleaner parks, valley and mountain views, lake and rivers. It is a sweet relief on tough days, a sudden happiness on easier ones to enjoy these.

I watch the other women at church, at the library, on the trails or on quiet streets and wonder who I may meet, who I might become friends with here. I don’t care how much money is made, who you know. I care how you act. I smile at all; I often enjoy a smile returned, a hand raised in greeting. I look for graciousness, a friendly sort. I hope at least some are genuine… as well as basically accepting of varieties of persons, genders, statuses, religions, races–or at least courteous, kindly. Do I ask too much? Though I am short on time and energy, anymore, I think of ways to reach out.

It is true that Lakemont is known as a mostly white community; I was looked at askance for moving here by some since we do have an interracial family. And an extended family of eccentrics, creatives, and those challenged in varying ways, most all of whom are generous and can be zany fun. Maybe a few of our friends forgot what matters most now: to be closer to family, with a room enough for all to gather; to be situated within nature’s bounties–walk outside and find peace as an antidote to a multitude of life stressors. We’ve lived in well over a dozen places and a high priority has generally been to stay close to nature. Now, again, we are. So we embrace change even as we learn to adapt.

This afternoon I seriously muse on this feeling of dislocation–is this the right choice made, can this be a true home for us, at least awhile?–that may be closer to resolving as each week passes. We are intent on making it so but I wonder what really lies ahead. For it is not just new housing. It is an emotional and spiritual territory that is different for us. The birth of our daughter’s twins was not an easy event. It still is not but rather a most intricate dance, a breath-taking journey, and a time of consternation, too.

I remain restrained in what I share here but this has been a period of upheaval and worry and of deeper, broader love. A daily laboring toward better but healthier times. Prayers are said every busy day, and in the still deep cup of night, there come tears. Yet pitching in to help a new mother is standard labor no matter what comes. We hold those new ones so close, helping feed and diaper and soothe them, usher them toward better slumber, a gentle security. Tapping reserves as we go, and finding, too, small cheer here and there, moments of victory. Things will get better in time, always it takes time, we tell each other and offer love songs to the grand babies, these heartbreakingly wonderful ones.

Becoming a neophyte mother is a monumental transformation, perhaps more so when a bit older–and so is becoming a new father. Why does modern society insist it is roses and moonbeams and laughter from the start? Or gloss over many variations, including those of endless confounding, exhausting days and nights, plus the hugely unexpected? There is such judgement, so very high expectations, and there even seems a lack of empathy, at times. Birthing into this world is a risky venture for every parent and that each infant undertakes–in this case, two–and for some, more so than others. A risk but additionally opportunity to discover ways to thrive. To become one’s self more profoundly– as the little ones will do, too.

My daughter asks questions I cannot answer well enough. I sit with her, work beside her. And there is a well of silence as she summons courage to sort it all out. Her husband is stalwart, stressed, yet I witness their bravery every day, am overwhelmed with respect as well as love. I feel the ache of things paired with beauty of the twins’ lives, and want to obliterate any harshness that dares to impede the rooting of happiness. They are resourceful adults, are so conscientious, and will prevail. Rather, commitment to parenting will; it is that mammoth push that initiates movement in right directions.

Being a 69 year old mother and a grandmother is no walk in perfect weather, either. It is accepting the storms and waiting for transparent, lush rainbows. It is having faith when faith is pummeled and the bones are hurting, tired. And one wonders if one did the best thing or the worst; if one was a smart young mom or a foolish one way back then, if too misguided, impulsive. We can only have done what we did and let the past be past. I have this one day to carry on with my life tasks and missions, even if insignificant to others. I also stand right beside or protectively before my family; that will never change.

Those of us who have lived longer lives know what that stone lighthouse means as it prevails, shining and defiant, amidst all weather. There is a print of such, right above the bed. I look at it each day, then I pause on my balcony, scan branches for juncos, hummingbirds, chickadees, stellar jays, listen to wind song and squirrels scrabbling. And I do know why I am here: we were blessed to have been led to this haven. In truth, I knew it was critical to move as close as possible to this part of our family. The reality is that these are very hard and beautiful times… and here Marc and I can gather sustenance like blooms of light.

We are never sure of well being in this world–so why do we persist in believing life is so finely wrought, a story brilliant and bursting with wonder? Because it is this, too, whether we can perceive it or not. Because we can make it so if we become open to such, and realize persistence in becoming a more compassionate and courageous human is key. How can we live well without these as guidance? To be brave we have to put one foot in front of the other, not win awards for major heroics. And seek a helping hand as well as offer one. We must not attempt this life alone, not for long.

We arrive here with expansive heart and eternal soul, a calculating mind and so well-outfitted body; we have been given excellent tools. Thus, we carry on, with even thinnest of hope as a tether and perhaps a plethora of fears striving to sink us. We create ways to celebrate what small gifts are found and shared even as we know that, yes, it is true, once again tears will come. I am too well acquainted with grief, as sooner or later all of us are. Yet I will corral potential for better and brighter, within and without. There is no other worthy choice than to reach for and grab hold, then get on with it. Whatever it takes. This has aided me well for nearly seven decades. So often we must simply stand firm when shaken, take a first step when we can. And I count Divine Love as my most constant companion for those endeavors. My truest compass is God.

We each sooner or later make a move for something more or different, to somewhere else. To find out what’s next. We are just travelers in one way or another. May we make the move count. Make it wholehearted. I am taking it all in, creating my story while mending ripped portions and weaving in new pieces with many others’; then, the whole of it is richer. Heartier. May it be, oh God, enough, as I praise this life that yet allows me to live it with opened hands: let me have every, I mean every single moment.