Harlequin River Dreams

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Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

More than anything–despite the security of his high paid job, despite many rewards he had labored long and hard to gain–Ward secretly wanted to be a poet. Or, if he was honest with himself, still wanted to be, as it was not a new inclination, nor a whimsy that came and went. The dream had remained like a watchful dog sitting in a corner of the attic. That’s how he thought of it, of that life: the slanted walls, a view of the river Harlequin, the old desk made by his grandfather snug against the slant of the southwest wall. It wasn’t all fully his. If it was, he’d be there now, or at the least whenever he could take off a few days now and then. But it was the family place, owned by his two brothers, Randy and Owen, and himself. But when you got down to it, they were the ones the place belonged to as they were the overseers and regular week-end inhabitants. He got there once a year at best, so far from his life was every bit of that. In miles and in culture for twenty-five years.

Ward was the oldest so he might have been the one to get all one hundred fifty acres and the cabin. Their grandfather had passed on the horse farm, all that verdant rolling land, to their father where he still lorded over the successful stables and breeding business.

Grandpa Greer had informed them of some of the will’s contents the night before he slipped away.

“You now.” His thin, deeply veined hand rose a half-inch off the ancient quilt. A finger beckoned toward Ward. “You’ll share the cabin with your brothers. But you’ll get your own Harlequin acreage. Where we liked to fish…you’ll know what to do with it, son.”

The wrinkled, age-spotted old man had tried a smile, chin quivering, eyes lit up for an instant before shuttering. Ward took his weightless hand though it made him anxious, the terrible frailty of aging and impending death.

He later wondered what Grandpa Greer meant but for a long while it felt enough to enjoy reminiscing about the place. The fishing they’d all done. How they might stand at the Harlequin’s banks on a clear blue and yellow day, raising and spreading their arms to open sky like wings. Freedom, Grandpa often told Ward, is what you find when you stop all the ruses and the running. You’ll get there.

He’d frankly acknowledged that Ward was the one who had to strive harder, keep the family name flying high.

You have to jump on that treadmill of life, spit blood and sweat until you make a big splash, Ward. You got born first with more sense and brain power so you have to do more. It’s the way of things. But you can’t take one thing for granted in this life and you have to give back. Those are two rules. We’ll talk about the others later, alright? Get to it, boy.”

So he’d become a corporate attorney as planned from days of middle school. Like his father, only his father was a divorce attorney who had married three times. Now on his fourth. At least the latest stepmother knew about horses and made his father laugh. Unlike his father, Ward became high-profile and also had had only one wife. Now an ex-wife. His father called up when he heard of the proceedings.

“Well, I’m sorry, but Merrill was not much good at the game. Now you’re let loose, I guess. Need any legal advice?”

Ward considered his response. He knew Merrill never took to the lifestyle or that endless entertaining. She had chafed until she pulled away from him. He hadn’t been watchful enough; he’d found her reprimands too sharp. But he didn’t see a divorce as the grand open gate that guaranteed  freedom. He still reeled from it after a year. “I’ll have more time and space. Yes, for more work, I’m sure. No, I don’t need your counsel, thanks.”

“Time to loosen up, son. We should get together at the cabin soon, relax as so damned well deserved.”

And then he’d laughed with anticipatory pleasure, like it was a great victory for Ward, as if the men in the family would get together and engage in a manly celebration dance around an open fire, spears in hands, puncturing the skies with guttural roars. He could imagine his father, Randy and Owen having at it while he slunk back into the darkness, headed toward the river. It hadn’t happened, not then. Randy, his youngest brother, was busy with his fledgling dentistry practice, Owen with his cheese/wine/chocolate stores. They managed to go there every couple of months, but Ward was in Seattle. A long way from southeastern Pennsylvania.

And now he found himself at a city park’s pond more often than not on a week-end, book in hand. It was a four block walk from his place. It did him good to be a bit reckless with time even as the tug of work was always nattering at his shoulders.

He brushed something with wings off his shoulder and watched the ducks paddling on the water in easy unity. He could count on those ducks being there and doing that. It was the first warmish day in over two months; the air was a caress on skin rather than a slap. He put his book aside, pulled from his jacket pocket a small black notebook along, a mechanical pencil snug in its small loop. His hand, pencil held aloft, hovered above white blankness, then fell upon it with trembling.

If power of dreaming wins,
I’ll take to that intimate river
and let the water roil, carry me  
gasping to distant rims of earth,
submerge me in heart-deep currents
until I rise, float, grow sharp fins of light.

He read them, erased a few words, realigned things, uncrossed his legs. Leaned forward to write more. Put a big space between last line and the next. But it felt a new poem and a much harder thing.

Can you ever love me this way, as much falls away?
Can you even find me in iridescent undercurrents,
amid sly, dangerous waters that return me
a different man to banks of a forgotten ravine?

A dog barked, then two more got into it and Ward set down the notebook with pencil. His eyes stung in richly exposing sunlight. What did he really mean by giving voice to such strange feelings? He didn’t know but kept at it, the last few months measured by work hours but, increasingly, also poetry time. He told no one, shared nothing. All Ward knew was he wanted to do this, had to write these things and he didn’t know if they made sense, if they were worth the time, if he should feel embarrassed anxiety more than the happiness. He just set each word down like a marker along a precipice he traversed alone. He was trying to make his way without falling prey to disparate elements, to superfluous demands, to the enveloping disappointment and hurt. And so he accepted any help his beleaguered mind and soul could bring him.

A few months ago he’d stayed awake until the frail light of day seeped into night’s hollows. Not so unusual, anymore. But it wasn’t work nagging at him. His now ex-wife and forever daughter–Merrill and Kelsey–haunted him most empty minutes. Yet not that night. He’d heard rumbling traffic beyond the partly cracked window; heard a homeless woman muttering to herself while she searched through trash; heard peevish cats yowl below his new city condo. He had once looked out and caught a glimpse of a coyote in an alert pause and this had frozen him in a thrill of discovery for one long second.

But that night Ward just lay with eyes half-closed, then began to hear words. They rose up like musical notes, lithe and bright, as if a windfall of rain had blown across the parched expanse of his brain and left lush vegetation. Things began inhabiting the wild trees and secretive undergrowth and they crept out and spoke to him as if he was the one they were waiting for, so he listened. The more interested he was, the faster they arrived, those creeping and leaping words, and he rummaged for an old law magazine in his night stand and wrote them down along the curled edges of pages, feverish.

When the alarm went off, after a fast shower, he studied them as he sipped coffee and was horrified. It barely made any sense and he attributed it all to crazy effects of sleeplessness, the roaming magnet of his mind picking up useless syllables and depositing them into a half-consciousness. But this didn’t stop him from being open to more of the same. In time things straightened themselves out a bit. The phrases were better held together by greater connectivity of poetic thought.

In the daytime, smooth tailor-made suits carried his body and his will carried his active mind; he allowed himself to be overtaken by rigors of his profession as required. He excelled as usual, pushed through it all. And then at end of day he looked for more words to harvest that didn’t buy or sell, divest or ruin or reconfigure lives and lesser assets, although this was what he did and it was nothing more or less than that. Still, he waited for poetry as if for a shy lover, his very being leaning into the ether that might hold a phrase that could make a bridge over the grit and sweat and tarnish of the world and into a soon familiar other land, that place of wonders.

“Ward, are you doing alright?” his assistant Sandy asked once a week at least. “You seem tired out. Distracted.”

“Divorce has a way of draining the energy from you but yes, I’m okay, thanks.”

“How about a few drinks after the meeting? You need to get out there again, get to it, man, come on!” Terrance from across the hall demanded this for weeks.

Ward noticed people were trying to engage him more personally, as if he was a bit feeble and in the throes of mourning and in need of dauntless encouragement. They wanted to share sly asides about liberation from the heavy yoke of marriage. It got on his nerves. He refilled his coffee cup as everyone else was otherwise engaged and just smiled wanly at the few co-workers who actually meant something to him.

“What’s going on?” His brother, Owen, asked when he called out of the blue. “You haven’t said a thing since…since you two broke up. How’s Kelsey doing?”

“Well, you know, she’s really busy with soccer and friends and school. Okay, I think.”

“You had better take some time off, huh? Come out to the cabin. Really relax. We can have a family reunion of sorts, what do you say? How about soon?”

Ward looked out at the dregs of slush from a freak early March snowfall. Puget Sound looked icy-grey, mostly empty of activity. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

He kept writing on Saturday or Sunday mornings, sometimes off and on all week-end and except for house chores and a movie here and there with friends plus a couple of drinks, did little else. Ward bought ordinary notebooks on sale and kept pencils handy, ink pens freshly filled and at the ready. And when he walked around his neighborhood or elsewhere he let his barriers down so in flowed that new friendliness of language, its fast or slow meandering a balm, its unadorned frankness a relief. How had he forgotten what he had wanted all those years ago? To be a poet. To let magic flow with its wealth of stimuli, and generous evocations come forward so his world changed on the turn of a simple word, and then a tide of truth and fiction that no one else might decipher opened in him such locked places he was overcome at times by tears. Yes, tears. His ex-wife, his daughter, would not believe such things.

He felt humbled.

The nights, too, continued to shine darkly and sweetly with poetry that sang to him, angels and sirens. They were generous, faithful, without judgment. Full of transformative possibilities.

******

“I can’t believe you came,” his brother, Randy, said as he parked the car by the cabin. “It seems ages since the brothers have gotten together. And maybe Dad will get away. It’s been three years now, right?”

“It has.” Ward hoisted his bag out of the back seat. He turned in a slow semi-circle to take in the green, familiar scene. Spring time in Pennsylvania.

Randy unlocked  the cabin and they entered. Ward pulled open curtains on two sets of windows as Randy took a small bag to his own room. The spacious, open, pine dominated space was musty but neat, the kitchen at back was cramped and out of style. He smiled, ran upstairs to the attic space. To the left were two bedrooms. Straight ahead was the attic room he had tried to reconfigure in his memory for so long. He pushed ajar the door. Pale light thick with agitated dust motes met his entry. There were no curtains on the square windows, only dirty wood blinds half-raised. He wrenched them open to let in a waft of cool air. The built-in desk and bookshelves were homely, mostly devoid of magazines and sturdy volumes.

Ward sat down at the desk. Below, through a thicket of budding bushes and trees, he could see the Harlequin River and hear its voice in its rush of lightness and unruliness. It calmed him now as he heard Randy talk on his phone to Owen or their father. A wave of unease intruded as his brother’s voice rose in an attack of laughter, a blade through the air. Randy, the hunter, the warrior. The youngest who fought for everything. Owen had a different sensibility, finer-tuned, quieter. Owen had convinced him to come. But Owen–no one–knew that Ward already had a plan, that he had looked already at plane fares, that he knew what he wanted to happen.

And here they all soon would meet. Gathering into a circle around that primordial fire, sharing beers, swapping stories and entering strongholds of memories.

******

It had gone well. Everyone was relaxed after two days, felt more reconnected to the land they loved and were more pleased with each other and themselves than expected. They had taken the rowboat and then canoes onto Weller’s Pond and they’d fished for catfish and bass with some small success. Their father had arrived for the last day–he had had an emergency with a prized horse and missed most of the fun–and now they were walking along the Harlequin, talking from time to time.

“It’s so good to have my boys together again!” He was chewing on a drooping piece of wild grass and it bobbed up and down beneath his spare white mustache as he spoke. “We’re coming up to it now, Ward, remember?”

He naturally remembered. This was the swath he had inherited and it was the same one he’d many times enjoyed with Grandpa Greer and others. There were groupings of old silver maple, sycamore and river birches he’d long admired. The river ran slower up here north of the cabin; it was wider and deeper, curved a bit. Behind them was a graceful open meadow, then a good-sized hill which offered higher ground, safe from water breaching the riverbanks as it was likely to do now and again.

“Any reflections to offer?” Owen asked. “I know you and Grandpa Greer loved this area. Me, too. After you took off for college five years ahead of me, I found myself traipsing about with him and Dad more.”

“I’m happy, relieved to be back, for sure.”

He walked to river’s edge and squatted, looked more closely at rocks and sodden earth, swirling patterns of greenish brown water. He stood again and strecthed and was suddenly aware of his six foot two inches which originated from their deceased mother’s side of family. His brothers looked healthy, ruddy cheeked with thickly auburn haired but they were weedy, he thought with a chuckle, slighter of  build. Ward felt like he towered over them and wondered if it had always been so. Even his father looked smaller than he recalled a few short years ago. They looked at him in expectation, as if he was about to say something about the past that would draw them together even more, bridge their various ages, gaps in connection, and old pesky slights. But he didn’t want to just pull out stories as they had at a bonfire the night before.  So he said nothing for a bit.

The brothers and their father murmured among themselves, recollecting good times, glancing over their shoulders at Ward as they jostled each other, and wondered if he was just depressed about the divorce or if there was something else. He had always been a little apart somehow, less free with thoughts yet forceful when ready to talk.

And he studied again the ebb and flow of the river, felt how it was ever made new with rain water and snow melt, how it brought along creatures small and larger, how it eroded and rebuilt common domains of dirt. Ward breathed deeply of it, the potent fertility of plant, air, water, mineral, animal.

“I’m coming back,” he said as he turned to face them. “I’m giving notice when I get back and moving here. I’m going to build a house on the hill”-he pointed at the mound of earth beyond-“and I’m going to do something different with my life.”

The brother stepped closer to one another, as if seeking refuge from such odd  words. Their father stepped forward, hands opening wide.

“You mean here, you’re building here? We have a great family cabin already. You can use it any time, you know that. And what do you mean by ‘giving notice’?”

“I’m quitting the firm. I have other ideas to implement. Building my own house is one of them.”

Owen stirred, eyes lively. “Okay, then what’s next?”

“I’m going to write.”

Randy gave a low nervous twitter.

“Alright, tell us more,” Owen said cautiously.

“Write? You are a lawyer, not a writer…” Their father stood with feet apart, arms crossed before his chest. “I’m sure you’re good with language–but write what? A memoir or something? Oh, wait, a legal thriller, maybe? That makes sense, I guess. And it’s your land, this piece, anyway… But what about Kelsey?”

Ward took his place in a reformed circle. “She’s off to college in the fall, remember? I’ll see her, you can count on that.” He put one arm around Owen’s shoulders, the other about Randy’s. “I feel like a change is necessary. Look, I’m fifty-four. I can leave the field and be okay. I can return if needed, if it doesn’t work out. But I already have contacted a builder and an architect. I have ideas for the design. It won’t mess with our…my… land. Don’t worry. And I want to be closer to family. And I really love to write.”

They exchanged exclamations and ideas as they started back to the cabin. For the most part, the mood was buoyant. Ward believed it could really happen, at last.

Owen pulled him aside as Randy and their father kept on.

“Okay, Ward, what’s up? I agree a woman right now is not the answer. And I love the idea of you being near us, I look forward to hanging out more. But what’s really going on?”

Ward gazed at his middle brother long and hard. “I. Am. Going. To write. In fact, already am.”

“Yeah…but what?”

“Poetry.”

Owen seemed to weave a little as he squinted in the sunshine and then Ward’s hand shot out to grasp his shoulder.

“Poetry, ” his brother repeated, stood up taller and gave a moment of consideration to the possibility his brother had not lost his mind, after all. “Like you talked of doing as a kid, if I recall.”

“Yes.” His hand slipped off Owen’s shoulder as they began to walk again.

Owen took a chest expanding breath and let it out in a soft whistle. “Wow. Alright then. Write your poems. I’ll stand by that. And they will, too, I think.”

Ward shrugged.

They caught  up with Randy and their father. Ward thought the afternoon exceptional, the river music perfectly pitched, trees casting just the right gradations of shade along the path they made. He barely restrained himself from running up to the attic room desk, from diving into a poem that was coming forward with easy urgency, a fine new gift from that ancient, fecund land and from his reawakening mind and soul. And when all was said and done, in no small measure, from family.

SOS: Dreams to the Rescue

 

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I know these who arrive in the night. They are as familiar to me as my own reflection, and yet I cannot identify their features as easily as their intentions and meaning. The are speaking to me in fluid tones, as if we are underwater or flying. This different communication requires heightened interpretation. I sense things, feel things richly, not like fleeting emotions but a deeper knowing. I think vaguely as I watch us all that it is like a telegraph system of glances, pulses of energy, knowledge sent and received in a transparent, efficient manner. Swift passages of understanding flow, heard by dreaming ears.

It is neither day or night here, and we have basic bodies that mean far less than thoughts. But they provide me with a tangible sense of happiness, a buoyancy in this hazy, opalescent place. It is clear I deeply love them and they, me. There is excitement, as though I am being cheered on, as if something wonderful is happening. I realize I am part of this forever even as I awaken from the sweetness of the dream.

There has been a crisis in my family involving a grandchild. I am filled with consternation and sadness as we problem solve. My dream reminds me not only of the strength of love in my daily life but also the love that is given us by our angels, passed relatives and allies, even God Almighty, those who tend our hearts and souls even as we slumber.

I have been in that Otherland we enter when crossing from the country of physical wakefulness into territories of dream life. We exist there for seven or so hours every twenty-four hours if we are fortunate. We sink into REM sleep state and dream. We recall it vividly or partially, or not at all. But life continues to be experienced despite our slumber. We gather information, bring it back and break the surface to wakefulness. Then we let go of dream gleanings or bring them closer for examination. We remember, we forget, but there is a difference made.

I remember. Not everything–how could I even capture all that is left behind once my body reclaims my attention? A dream might nag me yet remain ephemeral, unable to reconfigure fully in this consciousness. An identifiable sensation lingers for hours, days. Yet every night there arrive interesting scenarios, bits of ideas. Dreaming is a potent resource. Questions and answers arise from the journeying there.

It is an ancient idea. Dreaming has been valued throughout our human history and remains more important to some cultures than others. Dreams have been revered as oracular, providing wisdom. They are fables for greater living. They are sorters or filters of the ceaseless input we receive and discharge during all our human endeavors. Scientists study brain waves in an attempt to demystify the how, why and when of the subtle complexity of dreaming. Psychologists analyze, develop a guide of dream symbols; psychics advertise skill in personalized interpretation. We know that without sound sleep that supports dreaming the human mind becomes disordered, even disturbed.

Moon and clouds

I have always believed in the value of dreams. It was my mother who taught me about them when I was a youth. Each morning she would ask how I slept. Then we would share our respective dreams over breakfast. I found her dreams intense, vivid, full of portents, sometimes fears, beautiful visions and tales of life. Even prayerful answers. Her dreams could foretell alarming events; she never discounted them and was often correct. I saw how dreams swirled about her otherwise well-organized, accomplished living. They moved her and impacted me as the receiver.  Early on I acquired the habit of observing and keeping track of my own, sometimes in dream journals.

Perhaps this example of how dreaming seemed to save me will further clarify the heart of this essay.

During early adulthood I ended up in situations defined by economic instability, victimization and spiritual crisis. I utilized resources but still saw there was not enough headway made. I needed definitive answers, tending to discover external solutions as I examined internal issues. I clung to hope but self-esteem became fragile. I prayed yet it seemed both pleadings and praises were often placed on hold. I wasn’t sure what to feel grateful of: that I had housing but lived in uncertainty and fear? That although my children were cherished they inconsistently had bare necessities? I had barely begun college only to have to quit, had few wage earning skills. I daily ruminated over all that had brought me to that point. If God loved me well–I still believed it so–then why did I feel I was barely hanging on to the sides of a small boat rolling in treacherous waters?

My dreaming reflected the turmoil. For years, they included an emergency–a fire, dangerous intruder, the house on the verge of collapse, a tornado or other catastrophic natural event–and I would immediately seek help. In these situations a partner turned away, family and friends were otherwise engaged, were not to be found or did not know who I was. I dialed 911 repeatedly only to find the number was wrong, the phone was damaged or disconnected, had vanished at the last minute. I was hanging on to my children as I tried to find an escape route. Yet I could not get out or in any door or window I located. It doesn’t take a scholar to see these dreams mirrored my feelings. I awakened fighting off defeat, tired out by a relentless sense of futility that even permeated sleep.

But I kept praying to be heard and delivered. Gradually, I began to dream differently: during an emergency, I would secure the children with watchful, benign people and go in search of help, or strike out alone and stop passersby to ask for aid. There was friendliness and pleasing events at some junctures, danger at others. I had adventures that became frightening, tests of my resilience and wits but I managed to stay alive, to keep going. Ultimately, though, I found no lasting help. So I would return to the starting point. It seemed I could depend on no one. Yet I awakened thinking: This is different–I leave and go looking for help, take more risks. But there is still no constructive solution. 

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In time, I fell asleep and found myself wandering a college campus, exploring classrooms, navigating throngs, stumbling over books, finding rest under fairy-tale giant trees. Trying to find my way back home, feeling disoriented but unafraid. I discovered different houses, often oddly familiar, some marred by disarray but safer. I then travelled to places with commonalities such as sparkling expanses of water, in mountains, situated on verdant land, town centers astir with activity. In the mornings I thought: I must save myself, my family; I must take much greater chances. God will always be with me but I must take full responsibility. Take action soon. No one else will. This is my life. 

The thoughts crystallized. One night I dreamed of trudging up a mountainous path, children in my arms, all of us sweating. So weary. The difficult path led to a huge, exquisite structure at the peak. I stood before heavy golden double doors and then turned the doorknobs. The doors sprung open. Before us was a gleaming white and black tiled floor which was part of an expansive reception area that seemed to not end. To my right and left were infinite numbers of doors. I stood before several. I did not want to open any of them, thinking then I would be ensnared in another room that was not my place of peace or freedom.

I stepped forward and kept walking when before me the wall melted away. There were white columns on either side of a vast veranda. Beyond shining steps was a paradisal garden, a scene of multiple wonders and beauties, sustenance awaiting us. A grand fountain burbled into a large pool. Sunlight warmed and energized. There were people moving among plants and walkways, engaged in discourse. At ease. I was overcome with relief. Happiness, even. We had made it. Strength and resolve welled up inside as I awakened.

I shared this with a Methodist minister who counseled me. He was so affected his hand flew to his mouth a moment, then said, “I believe God has shown you something powerful. You will make it out of your difficulties and be alright.” (Later I learned he shared my experience in a counseling workshop as an example of spiritual and emotional healing.)

So I left home. I gathered my children up, found a new spot to live, returned to college. For years I had delayed this–leaving that marriage felt cataclysmic after being in love and losing so much. The act felt defined by defeat. Yet it changed my course in many good ways. I am not telling you it was easy, that new problems didn’t arrive and need to be overcome. But opportunities also appeared. I began to trust that a better way of life was within my grasp. That I had what it took to succeed. Eventually a surprising career changed everything futher. And it had all started with a vision that came from dreaming, a choice that was spurred by night-time seeking.

Dreaming has assisted me in fine-tuning life, taught me how to resolve conflicts, become more creative, reach out to others. Even to forgive. Not every dream matters as much as others. But they each do their job of keeping mind, body and soul in running order.

Do you willingly enter the innermost place where dreams tell you a truth, even a difficult one? Have they helped save your life, too? Tonight, rest well; sleep an ancient slumber. Recharge your soul and mind. Expect to learn good things. You will find your way there and back again with more pieces of the puzzle put in place.

"Reach" by Naomi J Falk, 2003
“Reach” by Naomi J Falk, 2003

 

Yours is Not Mine

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Margarite’s Viewpoint

He made the decision impulsively. Very unlike him, everyone agreed, moving from one side of the river to the next, from a five bedroom, 4500 sq.ft. home in the hills to a homey bungalow on a corner. In one of the historic districts but still! I wasn’t prepared for it. I should have been. I was his wife for thirty-six years until last February. What was I going to do with all the room if he left? Not that he was there so much. But he was still vitally important to his company and that meant entertaining, plus everything we just required. The marriage had been fading a long time, so we both had ample preparation for that. No, the house was the issue along with a few other loose strings.

One Saturday I mentioned looking for a condo in southern California near one of our daughters so I could have an escape from the blasted rain all winter. We could even share it if he wanted, I thought, but knew better. He was staying at the house until we decided when to sell it. I had been resisting this part.

Robert agreed. “Go ahead, that will do you good. We should talk  about selling the house after the solarium is finished being renovated. I need to move, anyway.”

Busily repotting a plant while he sat on a white deck chair created some distance between us. I hated talking about the house and what we had to do next. It made everything so final, despite my agreeing to the divorce. Endings can be made to seem tidy while still feeling messy.

“Really? Are you being transferred?” I felt a little alarm go off.

“Putting an offer on a house.”

I heard him say “offer” and “house” but the Bensons’ riding mower next door had started up. I noticed he casually turned the page of his magazine, Smithsonian. He no longer read me articles aloud, for which I was grateful. How many random facts about the Amazon, thirteenth century Florence or how our bodies are not designed for speed can a person absorb? I had flowers on my mind; I was hosting the garden club meeting in two weeks.

“What did you say, Robert? The mower!” I gestured to the neighbor’s house. “Someone offered to buy our house before we even got it on the market?”

The magazine was tossed on the round table and he kicked his legs out. He put his hands behind his head and stretched back both elbows, that chest puffing out. His bare feet–it was seventy out–were enormous and clearly in need of grooming. I kept noticing things about him I had managed to ignore or blur. I returned to yellow pansies, pretty even though their tiny faces scowled at me. Robert says flowers don’t have faces and of course he is right, as he is about so much. But he knows nothing about making things grow.

“I’m leaving as soon as I close on a house on the east side. It’s much more manageable than this one. I thought you’d be happy to stay here–or sell. It always was for you, really–you’re good with large spaces, complicated landscaping. My career, I know, has required it. But I just want a nice new spot of my own.”

And then he got up and refilled his glass with lemonade, freshly made by yours truly. I knelt there in the dirt and watched him quaff a whole glass of it down, as though he was dying of thirst despite doing nothing all morning. How did he just go out and get a house without my considerable skills and input? How would he decorate it? The thought frightened me. What would become of it while he was gone for weeks? I needn’t worry myself about it, but still. Most of all, what drove him to leave so suddenly, the divorce papers’ ink just drying? It felt like an unecessary affront. We were amicable enough, uncoupling in a fashion that everyone envied.

“Is it another woman?” I demanded even though I knew it was absurd. I stood, then walked toward him. He was never a man to stray; it would have taken too much effort. Robert was attached entirely to his work and when he retired in ten years there would be another passionate interest for which he developed an inordinate devotion. I’m glad I never needed that sort of  attention; I would become claustrophobic.

Robert looked at me, unblinking, as though incredulous, those thick grey eyebrows fluttering an instant as though uncertain how to match his internal response.

“You know, I like the pansies and tulips,” he said. “The rest of this-” he made a sweeping gesture with his arm across the large, bedecked yard-“always struck me as superfluous other than it provided you a haven. But that was good enough. If you could see my new yard”–he paused and I thought he was going to say it wasn’t an invitation–“is small with little to distinguish it. There is, though, a good front porch. I can sit in the breeze and watch people stroll by. I will enjoy that immensely though I know it would strike you as a waste and a bore. No, this is not about another woman, Margarite.”

And then he went indoors. I barely knew what to think. Robert on a humble porch watching neighbors. To think houses might be close enough for him to see them at table. How odd an image to summon. He’s never had time or inclination for such a life. It was always rush rush to this and that, work to do, people to meet, flights to catch. Nothing will change just because he is changing an address. He just won’t have me around to tidy up after him, to make sure his shirts are back from the cleaners, to call the caterer or make reservations when his business people come to town. To keep track of his life so he can live it elsewhere, with others.

To wake me up when he finally slips under the covers and tosses and turns, then slumbers as though dreaming is the elixir of those such as he, like Zeus and Midas. Well, maybe I will finally get some sleep. And redecorate. Possibly sell, sooner or later.

Robert’s Viewpoint

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I found it serendipitously so there’s no going back. My GPS had malfunctioned earlier in the week. I didn’t miss it until I had a business lunch on the east side with a supplier, then made a wrong turn on the way back.

It was a perfect error, leading me to a different solution. I will use it to all its advantage, cheerfully so.

Margarite and I just hadn’t wanted to face giving up that house. It was made into a home in which to raise three kids and enjoy as many dogs over the years, had been a perfect place for entertaining and her expensive love affair with gardening. It was–is–a good place, substantial, elegant, affording good views of the river and a rolling park. But we are done with it. I am, anyway. Margarite will enjoy it until the last piece of crystal and panel of draperies are removed. But she will have to start over just as I will be.

It’s shingled which is full circle in a way. Margarite will be aghast. I always said I would never again live in a house covered in shingles. My parents had one and it embarrassed me when growing up. I wanted so much more, a ravenous child with no end to my appetite. And got the positions that enabled me to buy a few houses that impressed, our last being intimidating, I suspect. But the new place has cedar shakes, not ugly green asphalt shingles like my parents’ had. It has a couple extra bedrooms upstairs for kids or grandkids when they want to come around. The back yard is smallish but big enough to fit easily a dozen on the patio. I can set a long bench or two along the edges. It has a small area that’s partly covered with an open beamed roof. Purple wisteria is hanging from it, the real estate agent informed me. It is enchanting. A new word for me to use, enchanting, and mean it.

I know it’s a shock to those who think they know me. But I have always wanted this–to detour, slow down. To sit back and observe something other than the arcane workings of international business. My best friend–is he that? do we have enough in common besides work, handball, golf?–is sure I’m having a midlife crisis and I need to buy a new Jag. I told him I’ve shifted altogether different gears. I want less, not more. My career won’t likely change, at least for now. But I can. Will. Maybe I’ll learn to cook. I like Italian, which Margarite found too common; she can have her saucy French cuisine. I want to eat fat grapes off the stem while reading a good mystery novel half the night. Walking to the store is likely as I am close to everything there; what a novelty that is. I want to listen to bossa nova and hum along with the music without anyone telling me I’m a late-booming romantic without a willing dance partner. I can dance alone. There are far worse things.

Should I have waited to see if my wife could get with my new program? No. She needs certain things and has the inner resources to adapt, believe me. She can have the possessions since she oversaw all acquisitions. Yet she lost track of our trajectory long ago, somewhere between my eighty hour work weeks and her antique clock and china collections, garden tours and trips to exotic spas. Well, I lost sight of her altogether. Soon we could only manage our separate ways. I didn’t intend this and it does hurt, still. We ended up in different places. I don’t see a way back.

But this unique new house. It has the pure lines and spaces of a structure devoid of the ostentatious. I had no idea I liked that so much but when I sat on a rocker on that porch the vise around my chest (that has been convincing me I am going to die any minute) finally loosened. There were two blue glass hummingbird feeders and I thought, I’m going to see and hear hummingbird wings flap! Ten to eighty wingbeats a second! I looked it up later but that realization bowled me over. I felt my eyes moisten even with the realtor standing nearby. My wife would think I was having a mini-breakdown.

Instead I am becoming the man she never knew and now will not know at all. I am making the years left mean something more. I feel it like a hunger, but a better sort this time. There has to be more satisfaction. Peace. I could build a koi pond in the back. Learn to meditate though that may be going a bit far. I can cut back my hours at this point. I’ll buy a basic barbecue and grill chicken legs, then invite every neighbor over! I haven’t done that in twenty years. It feels like my accidental turn offers a possibility of happiness. I aim to make that happen. Now. At last.