Eyes to See

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The morning was bleaker than it had been in weeks. Fog had arrived in a villainous blur, then crept through the blinds. I glanced a second time at the clock, then yanked the quilt over my head. Tiredness clogged my brain; it begged for a longer time out. I drifted and awakened, drifted, awakened. I was trying to get comfortable on the tightrope between waking and dreaming, to put off the inevitability of daylight and its requisites.

Then dangerous thoughts erupted: No reason to get up; dreams are preferable; besides, you are getting older every second and what do you have to do? In fact, what is there to show for all your efforts up to this moment?  I enumerated chores and errands as well as writing goals ahead of me. They seemed insignificant. Why even write? Who actually cares? What are you DOING with your life? The taunts brought forth an overpowering urge to do…as little as possible. I peered between the blinds and found the fog in communion with the black hole of my ruminations.

Well, almost. I looked again. Billions of chilled molecules of water gathered pallid light and illuminated air from inside out. The fog being hovered, mysterious. I opened the window a half inch and smelled the delicious cold. Then vacated the warmth entirely.

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Another day to greet if not welcome with open arms. Enter here but be forewarned. Remnants of negative energy trailed my footsteps. I thought briefly of ODAP, the acronym for “Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities”, widely known to those familiar with AA. How ODAP can sit on one’s shoulder, dispensing sabotaging directives.

Not going to a job every day can be sweet but harbors pitfalls. I have to be mindful of booby traps, like those in old jungle movies: if I am not paying attention I can end up dangling upside down, on my way to a snake hole. Other than accepting that there is no paycheck for my toil and isolation is more familiar than it has been for years, I am supposed to be having fun. And awakening with a lovely sense of few-and-far-between pressures. A lack of critical usefulness to which, finally, I am entitled. But time has shown me that, to paraphrase Pogo the possum, “I have met the enemy, and the enemy is me.” I forgot I knew that before. But I had been too busy working, with family and managing a household for forty-five years to dissect who I was every single day.

There are times in our lives when we need a full inspection, to root out the weak spots and shore up the mightier ones. In early recovery I was instructed to take a personal inventory daily to become truly honest with myself and others. It wasn’t easy but not so taxing; I still practice it in some form. I’ve long been enamored of introspection and self-analysis. Raised to be responsible for my actions, I knew how to track the good, not-so-good and unacceptable aspects of my life and personhood. In fact, I thought too much for my own good, so my mother noted. It was a luxury people could ill afford if they were engaged in achieving something. She was right in that, though a dreamer at heart, action made me happier. But I didn’t quite get it as a youth. Many years of being introspective to the point of burn-out clarified her statement. What she really meant was self-analysis can border on self-obsession, which comes to no good. Such as selfishness, or narcissism in therapeutic language. I didn’t want that.

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I thought of these things as I struggled through the internal charcoal palette of the morning. “Blue” it was not; blue implies a tinge of bitter-sweetness. This was not that. By noon I had concluded I had little good to offer and nothing decent I might yet accomplish. How can one get to my age and not have blazed trails I envisioned at sixteen? All this, partly resultant of a year of mini failures added to unforeseen challenges. Dissatisfaction with little successes. But it also came with the transition into another stage of life. And having way too much time alone. My head was a neighborhood I needed to vacate more often.

So I went to the park. There is almost nothing a good walk cannot alleviate and I walk daily. I took my camera and started to shoot, as usual. I felt peace elbow out the dis-ease. Creatures both human and otherwise cavorted and chattered. Rested and worked. I watched sunlight melt away fog and reveal colors of the Northwest in winter. There were kids practicing for track and couples arm in arm. Trees presided over all with stolid strength. Green shoots broke through dirt. Everywhere were stories of earth’s old ways and lives being lived.

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It may seem rudimentary but suddenly it came to me that I have these eyes to see. Not just to record, but really see life. They are one of numerous gifts of the body that can create and bridge whole worlds. Sensory data enters the brain’s alchemical laboratory and informs me. But my eyes also are a bridge from my own internal world–my particular ways of observing and responding–to the greater world with its moving complexity. What if, I thought, we are also given vision–and our other senses–in order to profoundly align us with all that is is just outside our skin and, thus, to save us from scrappy egos that meddle? To keep us closely attached to the earth we share, this planet we call home. So we can more often stay out of our own way. We can then forget our aloneness, recall our universality. Remember the compelling qualities of life that we  often want to divide and compartmentalize. Try to control. Personalize and dramatize when it isn’t remotely necessary.

I speculated what it would be like to have eyes that looked only inward and shuddered. The walk lasted over an hour and gratitude for sight increased. I wondered what it would be like if my vision one day fails me. I suppose other senses will come forward more, to the rescue. Our bodies are made to fit our needs. At least I have been blessed with basic operational requirements, if they’ve sometimes sputtered and paused.

Taking action is what I can do to change my life daily. Once more my vision scanned the horizon, allowing healthy escape and refreshment. It was opening a window when spiritual suffocation was threatening. My walks take me out of a cramped habitation–this mind that can stir up trouble–so I discover conduits to finer wonders again. With these eyes, I can see but what and how I perceive is a choice. And without fail, there is God within and without, my sure compass wherever I go. The path again clears.

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Christmas, Anyway

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Jasper Dye was not feeling benevolent toward Christmas and he didn’t apologize. The past five years he’d put up with it. Alright, he maybe liked it a bit once or twice but since the wife was gone he didn’t, of his own volition, choose to meet a decorated tree face-to-face. He had plenty of trees, right out back; they already had decorations courtesy of Mother Nature. He lived on more land than he now needed and could have made money if he sold off a few dozen white and jack pines or whatever people wanted. But he liked their company. Balsam fir, hemlock, black and white spruce, tamarack with some oaks and maples and birches thrown in: they all looked good around his farmhouse. Jasper found it a terrible waste to chop them down for a couple of weeks and then trash them.

His son, Shawn, threatened to oust him from his haven and drag him to Marionville where they could admire the goings on and spread great good wishes.

“Dad! It’s a couple weeks a year! You miss out when you hunker down and refuse all the cheer. You need to stop by our place and see the wreaths Olivia’s made. That woman has skills. Or we can go to her shop, then have lunch.”

Jasper grunted and poked at the crackling fire. Olivia was new to their realm. The way Shawn gushed about her craftiness you’d think he was a real art lover. She’d moved from “down below” and brought entrepreneurial spirit galore, just like other refuges from the cities. Jasper didn’t say it but she would never be enough north country for him. He worried Shawn had lost his sense thanks to her lively looks and ways with nature’s bounty.

“I’m not promising anything. You been ice fishing this week?” Jasper chatted another minute and hung up. He could see Shawn roll his eyes.

The next day he woke up and heard the silence, then saw the new snow. His acreage glistened and glittered like a carpet laid out for a Queen. It was a comfort to Jasper although he didn’t favor the cold like he used to. His wife would have put the suet up and her own quilted and bowed wreath at the door and there’d be fresh bread. They’d make brandy-soaked fruitcake together. He usually got out the wreath, but this year things felt hollowed out and useless. Big Yancy had died last winter around New Year’s yet Jasper still found himself commenting to the old mutt. Between the dog, Shawn and his wife–who had been sick too long then finally let go–he’d had it made once.

After breakfast, Jasper opened the door for a blast of Arctic air so his mind would clear. It felt like a big breath of life. He grabbed his coat and hat. He stepped out and walked down the slick pathway toward the road.

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Down beyond the road was the psychic’s place owned by Heaven Steele. He preferred to think of her as the artist and not mull over the rest too much. Heaven’s glass chimes were unique, melodious, and this time of year she’d reap the rewards of her work. Last summer his vote was still out on whether she was nuts or sort of special, dangerous or good-hearted. He’d determined she was reasonably talented with both her skills. When she’d made him her watchman, entrusting her property to him when she travelled, he slowly opened his mind. He even helped her out with a few cases when clients proved to be a handful for one reason or another. And they managed to save Riley, a young woman from town, from her monstrous father. That had done it; they had good teamwork.

Heaven’s house looked quiet. Her car was parked behind it, as usual, lately. He thought about her tea and company, so headed down the worn path, boots crunching on the snow, hat straps flapping in the wind. His nose ran and his cheeks were beet red by the time she opened a once-green but now yellow door. She’d added a different kind of wreath. Artists! He looked around to confirm it was her place.

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She nodded and let him in. He took in her wavy white hair and violet and brown eyes, all still a shock. She was probably twenty years younger yet beyond age. Jasper didn’t like to think about that. She was different enough.

“Jasper, good you came. I was about ready to go to town. Wait and I’ll get my coat. You’ll come along, of course.”

“Uh, no thanks, I’ll head back up and catch you later.”

But she left him, then returned with voluminous woolen cape and a heap of small boxes which she placed in his arms. She went to her studio again and came back with more in her tote bag. She gave him another bag to fill up.

He started to protest but he saw she could use his help. The bags were laden with her chimes, last minute orders to post.

“I have to send one to Iceland and two to France, can you imagine?”

Heaven unlocked the car doors, they put the bags in the back seat and were off.

Marionville shone like a giant necklace of rainbowed jewels as they entered town. Jasper squinted at the colored lights on buildings, at windows, around lamp posts and wished he’d brought sunglasses. Cherry bright flags were flying for an outdoor holiday market, and Lake Minnatchee was no longer an undulating swath of blue but a frozen playground. He counted twelve kids skating and a few adults. Traffic was dense and noisy, people were laden with bags bulging with trinkets no one could possibly want. He wanted to open the door, make an excuse and run back home. The thought of the steep road back stopped him since he’d neglected to bring gloves. A muddle of anxiety crept up his chest. He swallowed it back.

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Heaven parked a block from the post office and turned to look him full in the face. He froze.

“Go. You will like it out there. You’ll do just fine.” She smiled and her teeth flashed in a shock of sunlight. She patted his arm and got out. He relented and did the same.

Oh, the garishness of it all, he thought, as they grabbed the bags. Why couldn’t people be more restrained about things, keep life simple, not make so much stink over things that didn’t reflect Bethlehem and that star and the Baby, anyway? He followed her, then entered the post office and got in line.

More people spoke to Heaven Steele than him. They felt better about her after ten years, despite her heralding from Chicago and reading the future without even a tea leaf. A few said hello to him, acting as if he’d been gone for months when Jasper had come into town three weeks ago for supplies. They buzzed with curiosity: what had he been up to, and had he given thought to a another dog yet and, man, that Shawn had sure found himself a winner, hadn’t he?

“Doing fine, no need to replace Big Yancy. Yes, Olivia’s okay. Just came down to help Heaven with her orders.”

When they finished business, he headed back to her car but Heaven didn’t follow.

“I have something to pick up at the bookstore. Then I’m going to the fabric store. Be about a half hour. Want to come?”

Jasper knit his brows at her, waved her off, and said he’d meet her in thirty minutes. All around him people streamed, lights twinkled until he felt blind and doors opened and closed. When there was a break in the crowd he entered the first place that appealed. His intention was to disappear in some corner.

Inside it was all dressed up, full of beautiful things, nothing he’d want but it smelled good. Berries, woods, something that made him recall the baking he and his wife had enjoyed. A tender melancholy squeezed his heart as he stopped to examine a bird house with a tiny wreath below the perch. Thirty-five bucks when the creatures could enjoy a whole tree for free.

“Mr. Dye!”

Olivia walked with that loping stride, red curls bouncing on her shoulders. She held out her hands and he found himself gravitating toward them. Her strong fingers were warm.

“I’m happy you came to see my shop!”

“Well, I came downtown on an errand and…well, yes, your shop. Shawn mentioned it to me earlier.”

“It looks good, doesn’t it? It’s been almost a year and business is picking up well. Shawn helped me hang some wreaths. Do you need one?”

Jasper studied them on the walls: the source of the fragrances. He admired the shapes, noted natural ribbon and sprays of flowers and handsome feathers. Olivia had a feel for this.

“I’m not a reliable critic of arts and crafts but they look nice. I don’t need a wreath, no.”

The young woman gave him a wide grin. “You’re coming for Christmas Eve dinner, of course!”

He stepped back and was going to note his regrets, say the arthritis had been bad and he wasn’t liable to come back down for a while, thanks all the same. But her eyes were brightly blue with pleasure, excitement shimmering off her. Whether it was the holidays or her success or his son, he didn’t know.

And then she reached for and placed a wreath in Jasper’s hands, one made with a tasteful bow with ruddy berries, pine cones and dashes of greenery in a triangle shape. Small enough to fit his door. Something in him resisted the gifting of it.

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“I couldn’t, really, thanks.”

“But it’s my pleasure, Mr. Dye. It’s the Christmas season, after all!”

The door opened and people arrived; voices and laughter rattled around the warmth. Olivia turned away with a wave thrown back. He hooked the wreath on his fingers and left.

Heaven was waiting for him. When she saw the wreath she knew better than to say one word. He almost suspected she had beamed a message to Olivia, set it all up, made sure he got bit by the holiday bug. His mind was still set on emergency brake mode, but straining despite it.

“Let’s get a peppermint chocolate coffee,” she said and put her arm through his free one, acting like he was a gentleman she’d long wanted to catch up with. It was one of her ways with him.

He was suddenly terribly thirsty. It was going to be Christmas, anyway. Jasper’s will might as well give a little. Then he could return home. Make a good fire. Muse about the wife, Big Yancy, that dinner he’d likely share on the holy night.

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(Painting by Pisarro courtesy Wikipedia;”Winter Landscape” photo by dan/courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Space and Time to Celebrate Family

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(A gathering in 1964)

Because I am soon off to visit my brother, along with a gaggle of other family members, I thought I’d share a bit before I board the plane. I am more a traveler by car so this trip, non-stop, requires a good reason. Much of my family is converging on the other side of the country to celebrate W.’s seventieth birthday in a few days. It seems preposterous we all could have aged so, but certainly it’s a blessing we’re yet here on earth and engaged in hearty living. To that end, there will even be a nephew arriving from Germany. The party will be a good one.

December is a month full of meaningful dates. It occurs to me my mother’s birthday was this month; I wonder if she will attend in in spirit, which would be like her. And a dear grandson will be turning eight the day I fly back home. But, too, I must say–because he is so much on my mind–that I lost another nephew far too soon one December. I grieve his passing, still. And Christmas is coming up, a time of faith that matters to me spiritually, far less so materially.

Family. We all have complicated families. I read once that those who maintain congenial family relationships tend to fare better as they age–particularly if one feels close to siblings. There is comfort in familiarity (notice the root word there!), the forbearance and forgiving acceptance that being blood-connected offer us, and a love that cannot be shared in quite the same way with any other.

Besides, in my family we share: similar cowlicks, white hair generally arriving quite early (I am the odd one with more auburn brown still), large and mostly blue eyes, mental and physical stamina, musicality, and a tendency to believe all things possible, even good things. We love to hope, learn and create. We also can be fussy and critical, high-handed, overly generous rescuers, perfectionistic, easily moved by suffering and kept awake by troubles here and afar. We pull toward God, those ancient teachings a divine compass, yet we can be too demanding of ourselves and others. Fervency can be a pro or con here but at least we have passion.

I have written of my family before, most recently of the aforementioned brother on Veteran’s Day. What could possibly interest you further? I’ve told a few tales about five children growing up in a two-story bungalow in a small Michigan city. Our father was a music educator and administrator, a conductor and musician. Our mother, an elementary school teacher. For some years she was a stay-at-home mom, which translates into being the CEO of a home-based business: a large family with drive, wide-ranging goals and assorted needs and deeds. We were (and are) a slew of “doers”. That meant keeping track of intricate schedules for each one, not to mention my father, who was so busy his recalled presence is at times like a blur except for dinner and Sunday mornings. Then he slowed down, sat (often with a symphony score at hand), talked with us. Quizzed us on various topics. It was like school at home and we all had something to say.

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(Birthday brother and our father and a shared appreciation of cameras)

W. is much like my father, with his passion for history and music and his artistic eye, a genial way with people and generous laugh. Today I got a text message from my sister-in-law: they were on their way to perform with a small choir at a White House holiday reception. It doesn’t surprise me; they remain professional singers (not their actual vocations) though they are retired. W. plays viola well but his voice is lovely. We all used to gather together around the baby grand at my parents’ house, five kids singing and/or playing an instrument, a mini-orchestral experience. Our father accompanied us on piano and directed; my mother watched from the kitchen door.

You can see where this has gone: family reunions unlock the door to memories and it is an experience that recalls sounds and smells, feelings, specific slices of life. The way my father’s eyes warmed (yes, twinkled), his laugh when sharing a new pun. The way my mother touched the side of her nose with an index finger while regaling us with a story. It might have been what happened as she walked to the store yet it was somehow funny and fascinating.

I am the youngest of the bunch. My two brothers and two sisters were off to college when I was barely thirteen. W. is more a known entity today, despite the miles. One of the sweet pleasures of being an adult is getting to know your siblings as co-adults. I feel fortunate; there is not one I am not proud to know, and I look forward to being in their company.

If holidays triggers nostalgia, then family reunions bring reality into sharper focus. No one is without flaws or quirks; we are all creative types and strong-willed, but were taught to be kind and civilized. Laughter will embellish conversations. Debate will be commonplace. I am sure there will be discussion of our diminishing extended family, events we recall from our youth, the passing of pictures to exclaim over. There will be feasting around tables. Music: it goes without saying, whether we sing, attend a concert or listen to the stereo. And since W. is a professional photographer, as well, his cameras will be recording details. The schedule for five days will be orderly with some room for spontaneity. My brother’s house will accommodate us, people wall-to-wall. I look forward to the “side-by-side” composition of our meeting, rubbing shoulders, exchanging hugs.

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(Childhood home)

When all seven of us, our friends and father’s music students were present in the house it was cramped. Often it felt lacking in privacy, was noisy and action-packed. I would climb the backyard maple tree with notebook and pen, breathe and think, plan faraway jaunts and dreams. After my siblings departed for the next stage of life there was such gaping space, a swell of silence that at times unnerved me. Then I’d sit on my bed and marvel at finally having my very own huge (so it seemed) room. I felt suddenly like an only child for the next several years, with the high and low points that came with it.

We can’t go back to the house on Ashman Street–no one wants to return to childhood, really, and my parents are long gone. But this is even better. Each of us grew up, became individuated beyond the group as everyone does with good fortune. Our lives have at times been challenged, even fragmented, then stitched together and made whole again. We have many interesting years between us, voluminous talk to share. We will develop new snapshots while tending and savoring each moment. Age has sculpted our faces and no one knows just what lies ahead. So now we make space and time enough to celebrate my brother and, too, these enduring and deepened family ties.

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(My brother and me)

Decorating with Books

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(Photograph from Public Domain)

I had reason to survey my bedroom this summer, to take stock of what makes it liveable. There are aspects that could benefit from better design; it is a big square room. At the least some items might be put in smart boxes or on hidden shelves. For example, I have perhaps thirty scarves, the overflow of which currently dangles from a broad, ugly hook on a closet door. (I finally shopped at World Market for an attractive pewter owl hook; it is waiting to go up.) There are pictures and postcards stuck around the frame of my dresser mirror. I can glimpse a partial view of myself if I need to determine my presentability. It is mirror enough; I would enjoy more pictures, visual art glutton that I am.

Atop the massive, old desk which fits between bed and closet are stacked folders categorized by writing, ripped out magazine items, medical information, drawings by grandchildren, tax documents, and special interest topics like the Roma. A photo of spouse and myself taken along a riverside walkway ten years ago has taken center stage. I like how we look: alert, breezy, young. Next to this is an aged photo of two aunts and my mother showing off their smiles and their ironed print shirtwaists. Above the desk is a poor quality but beloved print of a multi-generational line of female dancers. They are more than a chorus line to me, a testament to longer life maintained by joi de vivre. I have a good print and original art on the walls as well as a poster of Crete on the door. Or it might be Santorini. The point is, it is beautiful. There is a tulip design woven through a wool area rug from my sister. It frankly outclasses many other objects.

The reality is, this is a room shaped by things that make me a contented woman, not a chic style icon. Well, shabby chic might be appropriate to describe the space.

There is one dominating element not yet mentioned. Upon entering, I am surrounded, almost inundated by books. I don’t mean just two decent-sized bookshelves that are stuffed full two-book deep, with books wedged on top of others. There are books stacked against the floor by open wall space. They are lined up like sentinels by the door, and there are stacks of a half dozen each camping by an electric heating board. In winter when the heat threatens to singe paper, I push them back a couple inches, leaving just enough room to get into bed. Once in, I plump the pillows and settle in with the current intriguing story taken form the bedside table. In that way I am no different than others who lean toward sleep with a fresh hardback or well-used paperback in hand.

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But I have to admit it may be a bit out of control, at least to some. In defense, I am not a collector. I don’t have a china cabinet boasting rows of Lladro figurines or a room transformed by model trains, tiny trees and people. I am not so nostalgic that I want to search out matchbooks from the sixties or tinted glass from the Depression. I find things I appreciate when my sister and I go to estate sales from time to time. But what I head for, always, are the books in subterranean corners or sad, stuffy attics. Most of my books have been bought at bookstores but also have been gifts, not to mention books traded with others.

I evaluated the room before two of my daughters arrived for a family reunion. I needed to tidy it up a bit more, put on a more presentable face, or so I thought. I had been meaning to do something about all those volumes, namely, take a good number to Powell’s Bookstore and trade them in or, maybe for once, just get a nice check. I blew off the dust from the higher volumes and took some down. Here was Rumer Godden, who grew up in India and whose novels reflect her love of a certain place and time. There was Pearl Buck’s adventurous life revealed in story and John Steinbeck’s truth-telling. Wallace Stegner. Madeline L’Engle. Charles Dickens. John LeCarre: more current novelists have lured me, as well. There are mystery and thriller shelves, and general non-fiction and poetry sections. A section about writing and about religion and spirituality. Nature and a few about flamenco. There are travel writers’ tales that can take me away from chill January rains to come.

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When did I last read Denise Levertov or Neruda? I stepped back, a Mary Oliver collection held close. There were so many of them, writers who experienced history unfolding, imagined worlds within worlds, shared heartbreaks and epiphanies. The dust jackets were brash, beautiful or somber as they leaned together like old cohorts.

But I couldn’t believe I would read them all before my own life was done, before, one day surely my eyes would lose their already corrected vision. What was I doing with all these books? How much money had gone to my inordinate passion for books and reading? It seemed a grave disservice to them, waiting for someone to pull one down. A wave of irritation prickled me. I took a breath and dug in; sorted, rearranged. Re-shelved.

I could not seem to let them go, not yet. I needed these tomes, even–or especially–the orphan books with bent and slightly dirty pages. After more dusting I thought about their place in my life.

It was when sitting on the balcony one evening, enjoying a waft of summer fragrance, imagining moving to a house that had suddenly become available. Wondering how there would be room enough for all those books–I didn’t even mention my husband’s separate beloved library–in those narrow, truncated spaces. My mind ran over titles and authors that populated shelves, tables, desks and floor space throughout our apartment. Magazines are cousins to books so they had their own spots. These were all part of our way of life, the wide-ranging seeking and learning, reading aloud to one another a humorous insight, a poetic turn of phrase making the moment better. As a writer, I read with an innermost ear that longs to hear more. My best mentors have been other authors. Books meliorate the quality of my living.

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And then it occurred to me: I keep buying, reading and stacking books out of interest, it’s true, but there was something more. Since I could not possibly read everything I wanted to read, maybe it was also a stay against the shortening of time, the awareness of mortality that arises as years pass. Each book said: take me home, give me room to unfold my story, offer me time and attention in your busy life and I will keep yours moving forward another quiet night, another daybreak.

Maybe books have been part of my hope of living well past any reasonable time, the desire to keep throwing myself into the thick of life with open arms. I want to still awaken with a rapturous hunger to see, do, become more. I need to stay alive long enough to read every single book I own. So the more books bought, the longer I get to stay. No, it is a pact: I cannot be discharged of my duties here until the last book is investigated.

It may seem odd to use the idea of books as an analogy for a talisman, an epiphany about life. After all, I started this essay wondering over my lack of good taste in decorative style. What to do about those scarves (and jewelry that overflows wooden boxes and handmade ceramic containers)? What about the stacks of folders that contain some of what matters to my daily living or the pictures jammed along edges of the mirror?

Nothing, nothing at all. I am keeping it like it is. It makes sense to me. The room with its random textures and colors delights every time I scan its configuration. I would rather stumble over books in the middle of a sleepless night than have a wide berth to nowhere of note. This way I can still reach the window, crane my neck to see the moon, return to comfort with a choice book propped up on my knees and sail away. I will awaken armed for a new day, the languages of heart, mind and soul at the ready as I carry on with it all. My daughters’ visit? They get it; they have their own books and more.

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The Watchman

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Heaven Steele hung the windsock at the back of her house, near the fence that enclosed her courtyard. Right where Jasper Dye could see it. It flapped and spun in the hot breeze. The placement had been his idea. She walked up the hill and offered it to him last month. She thought it would liven up his house a bit, she said. She preferred the many handmade wind chimes that called out from her eaves. Most of those hung in the front, one big one in back by the driveway like an announcement. Jasper liked the mix of brittle and sweet notes that kept him company. He told her he’d see the windsock better from his porch. He liked seeing it whip in the wind but thought how funny she did that for him. He didn’t like being indebted, either.

He had grown used to the woman’s strangeness. She wasn’t like most people in Marionville. She was much younger than she first appeared as she had silvery, cropped hair. It was a fact that she was industrious (that she had in common with the others), operating an art studio where she made hundreds of glass chimes year-round. Her other business had to do with desperate folks who showed up at her door all hours of day and night. Counseling, he had heard, but he knew better. Maybe a witch–did they even exist these days, in real life? He shivered. She had one nearly violet eye and one brown. That made her somebody outside of the usual box but he didn’t know quite what. He could see a few goings-on from his porch, although his ratty–he admitted it–farm overlooked the back of Heaven’s modern house. He hadn’t crossed that threshold yet, saw no need. It had to have things in there he couldn’t decipher. The fall was a warning, anyway. He had been trying to get a good look at the girl who was pounding on Heaven’s window when he’d slipped in mud and tripped over a root or rock. Maybe he knew her, was what he was thinking. Drat his curiosity. Now he had a thick cast on his right arm and nasty bruises up and down his leg and side that still hurt. He felt half-helpless although it could be worse at his age. “Jasper’s Downfall” his son, Shawn, said laughing at him when he came by and helped out.

So now Jasper really had little better to do than watch plumes of dust stirred by the rare car that sped by and Heaven’s comings and goings. He wondered if she knew he could see her in part of the spacious courtyard. Tree branches overhung more than half of it. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to have a water feature; the sound of a waterfall slipped in and out of his hearing range.  That’s where she met with people if the weather was nice and it had been. All he usually saw was someone’s head or a flash of one of her bright dresses between the leafy branches. When the wind was still and the road empty, a murmur of voices would drift up to him. He felt a peculiar contentment knowing she was there. Had been for over ten years. Yet all Jasper knew about her were rumors of her unusual talents (Shawn said she was also psychic, she advised people on things), the beautiful chimes, and her odd, lovely eyes. She had been friendly enough the few times they had crossed paths. But he didn’t like talking much and she wasn’t nosey. Like him. It worked out well enough.

On the third Thursday of the month Shawn had picked up two prescriptions for him, made them both burgers, then cleaned up and left. Jasper sat on the porch drinking coffee, having rolled the same lumpy cigarette three times before he got it right. He needed one of those machines. It was almost dusk, the light rich and soft on  trees and grasses. The air had a sheerness to it that said it was summer. Everything sparked with color. Jasper lit the cigarette as his gaze ran over the scene before him, resting briefly on Heaven’s darkening house. The lively windsock settled down as though tired. There was a silver car parked in the long driveway. It wasn’t familiar but, then, lots of cars parked at her house, especially since the summer season had started.

Heaven got people from all over wanting to see how she made those wind chimes, he’d heard, and they always bought some from what he could see. He smoked as Heaven walked into the courtyard and back again, talking to someone, hands gesturing. There was a guy a lot taller than she was. Jasper leaned forward, straining to hear something, a word, a tone of voice. The man stopped in front of her and grabbed her shoulders. She stood still and became silent. Jasper re-lit a last half of another cigarette. Well, this wasn’t his business, he thought, she had herself quite a life made in Marionville, while he was restless and getting old and bored with things, that’s all. The glowing stub faded and he crushed it in a ceramic pot with stones in the bottom. Rubbing his eyes and wincing at the sharp ache in his left hip, he stood. He looked out over the valley. The lake had a soft sheen to it still. He imagined the kids on Lake Minnatchee had gone home now and teenagers would be taking their place when darkness snuffed out a coral and rose sunset. They would be up to no good or romance. Jasper felt something close to peace but melancholy sneaked in as usual.

He turned to go inside with a last glance at Heaven’s house. The silver car was still there. There was no sound or movement coming from the courtyard other than the faintest tinkling of water. He frowned. Something had changed in the last five minutes. So they had left the courtyard, no big deal. But something else. Unease coursed through his legs. A stab of pain made him reach to his hip and rub it hard. He rocked forward to change his weight distribution and scanned the house again. It was the windsock. It wasn’t there now. The air was still; no gusts had swept over their hillside. The windows in her house were grayed out; even the courtyard’s rainbow lights usually lit at dusk were still off. He swallowed a walnut-sized lump in his throat and started down the pathway to the road and Heaven’s place.

It seemed like slow going, half because Jasper didn’t want o feel he had to hurry for anything and half because he didn’t want to trip and tumble into a twilight road. When he inched his way down and crossed the road, he noted the car was a Porsche, then walked around to the high courtyard fence. There was the windsock, on the ground. He couldn’t quite reach the hook from which it had hung so stuffed it into his pocket.

“Jasper.” It was Heaven whispering to him, more a hiss than a whole word.

“Yep, it’s me,” he whispered back but couldn’t find where she was.

“Here, the window,” she said softly.

Jasper moved three feet to his left and saw her face in the screen. He felt bashful, a little embarrassed to be there at her window, and almost backed away.

“Don’t go. I have an issue. I need a little help.”

“What?”

“There’s a man, a guy who came hoping to talk to his dead wife…I don’t do that kind of stuff….but he’s drunk. I can’t get him off my rocking chair in the courtyard and that’s where my cell phone is. I need to call a cop or a cab or something. The phone was tossed on that chair and it’s under him…I stood on the garden bench and pulled off the windsock, hoping you’d see. Well, that you would understand. Which, of course and thankfully, you did.”

Jasper really looked at her for the first time. Her eyes implored him  yet sweetly through the scrim of falling darkness. Those eyes were two beautiful magnets; he couldn’t stop himself from staring.

“Jasper.” She pressed her nose and lips against the screen and her face flattened comically. “Can you either come in or call the police?”

Jasper started, shook his head to clear it, then walked briskly around the front of the house, past her glinting, swaying chimes, up to the door. Walked right in. He knew to turn left to find the courtyard; Heaven met up with him. The man was indeed drunk. He was slumped over in the rocking chair, drooling and reeking of something expensive. Jasper raised his bushy eyebrows and shrugged, pointing to his cast. And he knew about wives dying and wanting to hear from them. It had never occurred to him to do anything but have his own conversations with her. Apparently Heaven had a big reputation.

Jasper did the easy thing. He called a cab and waited at the door while Heaven sat in the courtyard keeping tabs. Then he and the driver wrestled the weeping man to his feet and got him out of the house and into the cab. He would have to get his Porsche tomorrow.

He and Heaven stood on the road and watched the car disappear into a disappearing cave of blackness. He felt wide awake and surprised at himself.

“That about it, then?” he asked her.

She took his good arm and steered him toward her house. She smelled familiar and good, like the lilies of the valley that grew back of his house.

“Let’s have my good tea with strawberry pie.”

He didn’t resist. Nothing too crazy had happened yet. “How did you know I’d see the windsock was gone?”

“I’ve got my eye on you, Jasper Dye.” She squeezed his arm and it wasn’t unpleasant.

“Is that right?” He smiled despite himself.

“I saw your cigarette smoke. But I know you watch me, too.”

“Hmm…” he said as he crossed her threshold a second time.

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