The Meaning of Boots

img_9153.jpg Derrick Knight
Photo courtesy of Derrick Knight 2017

Everyone had a theory about Dani or a judgment and a strong inkling that they were right. It had become a pastime of sorts, the kind that sneaks up on you because there is a lull in the conversation or you’re irritable with the day and why not? Telling stories about other people is infectious and ingrained in the human species, whether or not we get things right. So when she took off after the rifle shots, everyone had a pretty good idea what had happened.

Ben was the sort of man who knew better–his upbringing was decent enough, he had two parents who took reasonable care of things and their six kids– but didn’t much or often enough care. If he didn’t get what he wanted at his real work, with his side business or in other more personal ways, he caused a scene that often played out at home. Especially if the audience wasn’t good enough at the bar. But people got tired of his belly aching and the bartender would cut him off and then he’d stumble on his way until he ran into some unfortunate buddy or stray creature. At home, the door was slammed shut and he’d let her have it, everyone said. She wasn’t saying much at all at her post office job. She was not a shrinking violet, she was private. And tough, there was no denying that. Who else could live with Ben Kerrigan?

The bigger question was: who would want to live with contrary, immature Ben who had temper tantrums at the least? And that’s how it started, all the hypotheses that became rumors before and after the rifle shots.

For one thing, she wasn’t from around there. She’d come up from Cape Farnham, a half a day away, and nobody imagined Ben would end up with her. She was sleeker, smarter, and seven years older.

Her co-workers whispered behind her back–or so they thought–right off.

“She’s bound to have come from a tough background, see how she walks? Like she’s ready for anything, heels hitting pavement so hard those boot soles will wear out in under six months,” Tilly said.

“I know but look how she dresses. Money and style, she’ll get another pair if our shoe repair shop doesn’t suit her. Unlike Ben who has no style though he may have some cash. It is funny she wears them all the time, that’s her look, I guess.” Fran snorted.

“Money doesn’t mean class. Time will unravel this one. Maybe it’s animal attraction.”

“Well, she is attractive. That sophisticated shiny black hair–what does she put on it?–and all the rest.”

“I meant him, sad to say, he does have that going for him though who would put up with him? Oh, right, she weirdly does.”

“Just give him ten years. You know how his brother and father turned out.”

Dani came to work and kept her mouth shut except what related to work and, of course, general pleasantries. She was a fast learner and not so hard to get along with as they all got used to each other. All she said about her life down south was that she had cared for her mother until her passing and then asked for a transfer after the family home was sold. So they knew she was flush with more than a few bucks, just no sure how much or from what source beyond the house sale. Dani didn’t flaunt it, just was literally and figuretively well-heeled–didn’t they all want fine leather shoes or boots and flair like hers? But they were luxuries. They half-wanted to overlook things, get to know her, forgive her as they continued to gossip.

But when she got serious with Ben, they were more than taken aback.

“He can be an idiotic brute and is just a carpenter! She has college education,” Fran said as if others had forgotten. He did much of the good work in town, that was also true.

“No, he’s an artiste!” Tilly chortled, as if this was a designation could not possibly fit such a rough blue-collar guy.

The fact was he made things that sold well in Carrington’s, the main gift shop. Beautifully turned bowls and candlesticks and small animal figurines, but also toys, of all things, for toddlers. Plus a few finely wrought and intricate wood puzzles. But this was not nearly enough to endear him to any woman–until Dani came, apparently. The men, they took him as he came, and when they were tired of him, they just walked away if possible.

“She must be in it for something, but what?” Fran said as Dani happened to walk out of the back office.

Dani paused, looked up at her co-workers with her piercing blue eyes and the room cooled twenty degrees. Then she kept on working as if nothing was said. The women tried to keep it quiet until breaks and lunch after that. Dani went her own way, not that they ever asked her to join them.

Life just carried on for about eight months and then Dani moved in with Ben. Some said they’d taken off and eloped and among all the things postulated, this one was true, apparently. She wore a ring; Ben actually called her “my one and only.” The guys at the bar clapped him on the back and he liked that, being a part of the group that had at last gotten hitched and were glad of it. But no one asked him more though curious, as they saw he was in love. That was enough for them, at least for the time being.

More than one wondered if she was pregnant, and so did their wives and girlfriends. But was Dani in love with Ben? Who was this woman and why was she with this guy? Time would tell.

“I heard she comes from some money, her family is into art and she thinks he is a good investment. Weird, huh?”

“You mean, his wood working?” Fran’s husband Jake paid attention all of a sudden. “I need to get busier in my shop!”

“I guess so, he is pretty good at it.”

“Better than I am, I cannot deny it. Well, I suspect Ben got the better end of the deal,” he said.

“Yeah, and now she’s about to be our supervisor since Cass retires soon. I mean, I sure don’t want that job but Tilly is pretty hot about it.”

“Tilly can get hot about a hangnail.”

But Jake wondered even more about Dani, what they were up to. There had to be some connection of dots no one could see. There had to be something way deeper. He didn’t like the talk at the bar about her good looks or her so-called attitude or choice of men and so he kept his thoughts to himself. He wasn’t overly fond of Ben, despite his good carpentry  but he wasn’t against the man. Jake just wasn’t a gabber. Gossip was for the idle, he was too busy.

Some wondered if Ben was different around her. They weren’t often seen together yet he still could get prickly when they were about their business. She ignored it, as if it was best not to feed the moodiness attention. Likely, that was true. But they often walked arm in arm, too, sharing each other’s company in a quieter way. Maybe that was her effect on him, calming, despite her almost haughty ways around others.

“Odd ducks, both of them, they’re about suited, I’d guess,” Mr. Carrington mentioned to his wife.

She agreed and that was that at their dining table.

But somehow that idea got around so other citizens just shook their heads when they saw them. Some muttered about Dani’s too-quick acceptance of authority at the post office as if it was a weakness. Her long-legged, fast and strong walk reinforced the appearance of great confidence. Many thought it obnoxious while others said it was captivating. And then there were Ben’s rising prices on those figurines. But overall nothing much else changed except Ben’s bar tab. He wasn’t so often there.

Everyone watched, waiting for the day when Dani would come to her senses, even if no one was exactly rooting for her. And they feared it, too, as Ben’s behavior could be so impulsive.

It was Black-tailed deer season so when the rifle went off, people were only mildly startled. Each year some fool acted erroneously but so far not in a deadly fashion. Those incidents resulted in steep fines if happening within town limits. When the neighbor by Ben’s place called the police, word spread fast and a couple trucks raced up near house before the cops even got there. But no one answered the door so the law crept around back, gun at the ready; another police car came screaming down the road. They found a rifle on the ground but nothing else disturbed. The small, sparse woods behind the place was entered and searched. Soon people called up friends and family and the unofficial reports went flying.

Nonetheless, inside nothing was stirred up or amiss. They went looking for Ben and Dani.

And she was soon found–due to Tilly’s fast snooping–just walking fast and hard down to the bay in her good work clothes but bundled up to fend off wet, chill wind.

Then Ben came out of nowhere and ran after her at a good pace.

“Dani, are you okay? Wait up, Dani, I really want to talk to you!”

Police sirens shrieked but the official cars slowed once they saw the tow of them on the walk way by the sea. Both were accounted for and no one trailed blood. The officers got out and stayed put, preparing for whatever came next.

Ben had caught up with Dani and when he thrust his arms about her, she pushed him off,  and garbled words were exchanged. but he kept at it, grabbing her coat sleeve and pulling her close as she beat upon his chest and yelled something not one of the several who had gathered could understand.

Two officers stepped forward with a guarded sense of urgency.

Mrs. Carrington and a friend–both of whom had gotten out of her car and started to call home–retreated. She felt embarrassed and sullied, observing it all unfold. Jake, despite himself, stayed on, gravely worried that Ben had lost his temper more than usual or might do so. He had seen the younger man get into and out of many a scrape; he’d hoped for better things to come. But Tilly, Fran and a couple of their friends (who had been walking, as luck had it) had gathered on a waterfront bench, a couple pairs of gloved hands pressed to their faces in anxious anticipation.

Dani turned and collapsed into Ben’s arms. He led her to an empty bench and as he did so he glanced over his shoulder and saw police advancing.

“No, don’t come over here now! When will you people let us be?”

He shielded Dani’s body with his, but that didn’t stop them and they came up behind the couple, then stood before them with hands hovering by their guns. Then they dropped back as they briefly conversed.

The irregular group of passersby had melded at park’s edge, a hushed murmur rising in puffs of foggy breath. Fran and Tilly and friends were on the edge of their claimed bench, heads together.

Dani stood up, Ben at her side. He put a hand on her shoulder as the police stepped farther back.

“Why are you all staring at us? What is it you just have to know? Did you want to think we’d gone and hurt somebody? Did you think Ben lost his cool and hit me? Were you awaiting news of the dire situation like vultures circling over fresh road kill?”

“Please, Dani, just stop. They’re not worth all this, let’s go home,” Ben pleaded, eyes big with worry and misgiving, with his arms lifted, hands opened to her.

“No, I will tell them. Then they’ll stop making things up.”

Dani walked rapidly up to Tilly and Fran.

“You and you.” She pointed, shook her finger, then let it drop. “You want the raw truth? Then you shall get it this one time.” Dani paced a bit then stopped, arms folded tightly before her as Ben hung his head and shook it once.

Dani’s voice was so low that the crowd edged forward as if one, straining to hear as she lifted her chin a little. Blinked at them, eyes bright and fierce.

I pulled that trigger on the rifle. I shot into the woods, then right into the heavens. Yes, that’s right, me,” she said as many voiced surprise, “I was yelling at God. Everyone and everything.” Her chin tipped up more. “Because this–this–this is the date my only beloved, three year old child died two years ago and this is a day after the date my father was put in a nursing home after an accident left him irretrievably damaged four years ago…and this is when my mother died last year, sick at heart, bereft of him and her granddaughter. This, you see, is the date my life was changed beyond any reasonable recognition.”

Dani clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a scream as the crowd started to blur. Was silenced. She pulled in a deep breath.

“I just got out Ben’s rifle, shot a tiny hole in the trees, in the sky. I don’t know why. To find a passage to God or try to hurt the universe back. And it didn’t help.”

Fran could see, in the pale luminosity of winter, a tear slipping down Dani’s reddened cheek and  smoothed her own face, chest heavy.

“And now I’m going back home with my husband. And I may even get drunk, if you don’t mind. I came here to start anew, to find peace, and I’m still searching.”

Ben reached for her and she let her hand be taken into his.

“Is that enough for you?” Ben said but his heart and words were emptied of usual anger. “Can we just go on and live our lives now? We’re all just people.”

They strode by everyone–she, an inch taller than he; he, harder shouldered than she–with eyes forward, leaving the police behind, deserting all who shifted from foot to foot with dark faces turned away from the couple whose lives they’d dissected. Made into a common, vulgar pastime.

But Mrs. Carrington and Jake got out of their cars as Dani and Ben neared.

“I’m so sorry,” Jake told them, cap crumpled in his big hands.

“My sincere condolences,” the older woman whispered as she brushed Dani’s sleeve. “Forgive us.”

The couple nodded but moved on down the street, arms about each other’s waists.  Their booted feet struck asphalt like exclamations uttered in clearest unity.

 

******

Thanks kindly to Derrick Knight, for use of his atmospheric photograph. Please visit his offerings at  his blog, https://derrickjknight.com/

So Many/Where I Was

world-trade-center-memorial-
World-Trade-Center-Memorial,  public domain

I heard the ringing from my bedroom as an annoyance, a disturbance of the cool still depths of sleep. It was the landline ringing. This was before I owned a most basic flip phone, before I felt a need to be laden with technology’s greater services and demands. The morning was two days before I remarried my second husband, a short week before my heart procedure (but after the forest heart attack).

It was early, much earlier than I expected to be awakened. I fell into a surface skimming sleep, my heart steady enough, even quiet.

The ringing again. The sound sliced through the rooms, penetrated the wall dividing me from it. I stirred, stretched. What was it? Who called me this early? It had to be an appointment reminder. Oh, appointment–yes, the dentist this morning! I slipped out of the warm bed, rushed to shower, dressed hurriedly. I had an hour maximum to eat, brush my teeth, drive downtown.

I recalled the ringing so checked the recent numbers and calls in passing. There had been seven calls, all in a row. I stood motionless. Then the phone rang once more and I felt it in my body, that double clutch of fear.

Naomi, my daughter from across the country.

“Hello? What is it Na?”

“Mom!” Her voice a riptide of tears.

“They attacked the World Trade Center! Crashing planes–more is happening right now! It’s horrifying–I’ve been trying to get you all morning!”

What do you mean? I was–I have a dentist appointment soon…What are you saying, Naomi? In New York, now?”

I turned on the television. Saw.

I cannot tell you what else we said, how we reached each other across the miles, what was pushed and pulled from us then put into a new kind of language, one informed by the catastrophes unfolding. It was felt by all of us in my country, a deluge of anguish unleashed in seconds, a fearsome vulnerability overcoming each fiber of mind and body, the very soul snatched from its moorings.

And yet I went to the dentist. It wasn’t a decision. It was following a protocol of doing the next task, a simple reaction to what was next on my schedule: dentist, 10:00 a.m. I recall driving over one of our fourteen bridges, glancing at the hills to find them still there, then at other drivers. We were all staring forward, and if we caught sight of someone looking back, our shock was a deep darkness emanating from one to the other.

I remember checking in at the office, the radio with no music, its volume turned up, the urgent news being cast among us. The weighted silence in a nearly empty waiting room.

I sat back in the dentist chair, mind bleak. Blank and overflowing at once.

“I…” My jaw felt frozen.

The female dentist, one whose native tongue was not English, stared back at me, small dark eyes wide. “I know… how? Can we get through any of it?”

The terror attacks? The absurdly kept dental appointment when all was hellacious, falling apart? Being alive while others died? How, yes, how anything but a scream I could not let out?

But we acted out the senseless moments. I got into my car. My limbs were stiff, as if my body did not want to move forward, not enter the street, not witness this changed country I lived in and loved, all too much, too much, not even what I could imagine. Worse.

There were ongoing phone calls to and from family, friends. My face taut, mouth clamped shut then wrenched by sobbing. The church across the street opened its doors. I watched  groups of people gathering on the sidewalks, entering arm in arm, crying, hunched in each other’s arms. Moving in this landscape of tragedy, finding no comfort.

The moment there arrived the news that my sister-in-law was in the Pentagon when another plane crashed into it, I collapsed. In a little while I got up and walked across the street to the church, holding the cross in my view, seeing it framed by an ordinary Portland sky. I entered the building so full of the heat of life, a place echoing with tears that fell hard as the autumn rains, prayers offered by lips that could barely part to find the words. I stayed as long as I could stand the amassing pain. The loneliness knowing my sister-in-law was in unbelievable jeopardy. Or gone. So many. The day immovable yet massive with loss.

Countless phone calls: they fell apart quickly or ended in silence, my hand clutching the receiver, knowing the one on the other end was doing the same. Holding phones as if holding close the bodies of those we loved, wondering over those others we could never know.

The afternoon was a trap. Sharp moments crisscrossing mind and being. Numbness coming and going, feeling on the outer reaches of lucidity. Waiting to know more. Not wanting to hear or see the latest reports while refusing to not do so. The urge was to resist this reality of earth spinning into a whirling blur.

My husband arrived, another daughter. We waited.

It was an email at last. J. had managed to get out safely, after hours and hours and things I never would know, to finally arrive at her front door and have it opened by my brother and his arms enveloping her.

She had moved an important meeting from one place in the Pentagon to another at the last minute. One decisive action rescued lives, her own and others that unspeakable morning.

I can barely conjur what it was, acrid smoke billowing down the hallways, the monstrous din within the madness of moments as streams of people ran and ran and ran. I cannot ever know a fragment of the whole truth, cannot fit together the who, what, how and why of it all even now.

I mean the counted and untold lives, the very last moments. The herculean emergency salvaging, strangers working in earnest. Miraculous repair of wounds as thousands died. After effects that no one can know unless in those places of horror. The incomprehensible reverberations for countless individuals. For generations. For my country oh my beloved country.

But here, fourteen years later, I feel it still as tears take me.

I terribly feel it.

*******In Memoriam, for all who lost their lives on 9/11******

candle-in-the-darkness

 

 

Deep, Even Deeper This Pause

DSCN8459

It is hard to say when words will again flow without hesitancy, like odds and ends in a sudden stream I can snatch with delight. For my beloved sister  has left the land of the sentient, has entered another vista, far, far more incorruptible than this. I know such things, but it is as if she has gone missing and I do not know where she might have wandered, how to just be with her while being here. Not yet. How can one say, this is the measure of a life and it is shortened without our full compliance? The mind hears but the heart does not. It draws into quietude so resounding that nothing echoes. It is just human sorrow but it swallows me whole without a glance. This gaping ache pounds upon the center of me where the best parts have waxed and waned, where the wellspring that offers nourishment of love gives forth without end. I have no real questions. I know the present time has an answer and that answer is life, more life, here or there, this moment or another one, they are all a mysterious, elegant movement of the dance of being, our souls expanding to overlay others while still… we are asked to let go, each one. We are like fine lace shadows upon this landscape of changing light. We are the breath of the sky, the shifting wind offering power. I watch the branches of a tree shimmy and wave and want to take refuge there. Let me reach to heaven, too. Yes, yes, this life beyond life speaks to me. We live within that slender space between life and death. And endure the taking of so much. But this one earthly loss that cannot, will not be avoided: it undoes me today, it undoes me, leaves me flattened against a void where only God’s voice is known, where God alone hears all I cannot now speak without this thunder of weeping.