Friday’s Poem: Coming To/Coming Back

It’s not the time of suffering that lingers.

Like all animals who fall, wounded,

I acquiesced to the howling lameness

that demanded laying down

my bones and sinew.

And, then, again.

Again. Again. Every step a boobytrap.

But it is incremental, the resurgence of life

juice trembling in my anemic blood.

I watch the black-red iron drip from

pouch to vein and pray for power returned.

It is rarely the shock of the earliest days

that chases me in daylight

or permeates my dreaming.

It is this rolling aftermath of

complications, the coming to, coming back

as mind and soul are prodded to more work.

I peer into the long blue line

of the distance, looking for myself.

The leg that was strong has been hobbled.

Can I recall its nimble sleekness as I danced?

The strength that carried me deep into mountains?

The boldness when making a trail where there was none?

Before the carving out of my own-ness

and replacing that with titanium–as if

I wanted my knee to outlive me.

But if it must be a balancing act,

foot to ground, hand to heart,

it is what I will learn to do. Blast those days before;

this is what I have, what is given.

It’s the present that inhabits me, directs the way;

the deficits, progress, minute degrees of change.

I will seek my body singing.

I will own and praise it.

Take to smooth or rutted trails,

walk off the ache and embrace the views.

I command my knee to bend,

my leg to swing out, up, down.

Imagine myself a whole woman,

a woman welcoming herself,

better than yesterday,

as good as before:

I am still a traveller on a pilgrimmage.

I know how to root out truth and brook no lies.

The bare facts of living here and now set me free.

Yet it is like this: flailing forward

as if through brambles then having to pull back,

then striking out again even as

each blackberry scar softens, fades.

The ones left by the surgeon’s robot

chill me even now: the things that

happen beyond our control.

How was I remade into someone unsure?

Not born afraid but curious.

And so I am going, watch me try to go

unnoticed, not missing a beat.

Just a part of the moment,

a brush of wings into leaves and light.

So there she is/I am, the river’s breath

ribboning my hair, voluptuous flowers

bobbing as I pass, and the leg that is

not my best leg (but begs to be mine entirely)

rising up, stomping through swirling pollen,

that sky as potent and open as God’s Eye,

my body listing, leaning into the bravery

that comes with summer.

This body shimmies, strides, stumbles.

My awkward crooked salvaged leg

is alive at every juncture of the path,

will become more itself right down to the marrow,

and in these gaps between desire, hope and healing.

Friday’s Poem: Bring Out the Light

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

It may be that you have all a man could want

but now the day is closing doors

as you stand on its long blurred edge,

time careening on without permission

in how or where it leads you. To loneliness.

You have always sought the jewel inside stone,

flowers under frail leaves, peace hidden in the fray

and yet there seems a dearth of light as

life balances on a tremulous hope, and slips.

You could be told otherwise.

That there will be more abundance,

that arms will entwine with yours and joy will gather

and spill like bright water from the well of night.

But this evening as dusk skims the waves

and your thoughts are a web of longing

you remember how she turned a last time,

your name an incantation on her tongue-

as if meant to root itself within the cosmos,

glowing syllables like song as her breath

brought it to a meaning not known before.

But even affections of such import can pass,

evanescent as the misty veil of sea.

So wait now. Rest your heart, empty thoughts.

Bring forward your vestigial light to sunset

as it prepares for twilight blessing.

Let it make a home there and

in your dreaming, and your blood and sinew.

She did not have to search and find it for you.

It was already there, if forgotten, but you

can stand within its prescient power-

you are made for this time, this life and more, much more.

Wednesday’s Words on Thursday/Nonfiction: What’s New, What’s Not?

I’ve not gotten far on contemplating this new decade. In fact, I am barely attuned to the idea of a brand new year. I try to get serious and come up with clear goals, those things good for you like kale, but my notepad remains empty beneath the brief heralding of 2020. Maybe it is my age–is passing of time more irrelevant than it was at 20, 30 40 and so on? Some say more important but it does speed by, then slow down, even pause a split second or two–all as though I’m captive in an oddly edited video. Naturally, I see the past/present/future linked and pertinent to anyone’s identity. It just doesn’t seem as confining to me as it did when younger.

I was thinking, for example, about a class in film making and photography that I took at age 19…50 years ago …and I still want to take a class on film making and 35 mm photography. It was thrilling, that dark room. It would be a different course now but the spring of creative energy and intellectual passion are not less than before. I have plenty I’d love to do–and maybe I will get it done, and maybe I won’t. It was the same back then. But nothing so critical as back then hinges on my decision, only whether or not I fulfill my own desires. That was not the case in 1970, all life met head on with a restless, at times painful urgency, an inbred hunger for perfection, my intense dreams replete with plans for two or three Great Things before the next decade roared in. God forbid that I Not Accomplish Much. I can’t say I did by some standards, but there were other matters of importance, human life being surprising as it is.

Some things came to be, then, some did not come to be. Now I plan less, live more, much oftener in good ease. More spontaneously. I have my calendar with instructive and colorful notations on it already, conspicuously hung. But I know anything is likely to change. I don’t have the power to keep the unexpected from occurring, after all. I can shape my personal time, perhaps some space and events therein, but I cannot perform omnipotent acts.

My life is now in part reflective of the photo shared above. Gathered together: newer and older, inherited and intentionally acquired, chipped but functional, and lovely if spare, open to possibilities and accompanied by light and shadow, comforts of written and spoken language and, though you cannot hear it, music. In this case (from a genre termed “light classical” on TV’s “Music Choice”), a piano sonata by Mozart. I can feast on silence but music suits me more as perpetual winter grayness is absorbed into everything…a humorless palette that needs tonal brightening to be appreciated.

Tea or coffee with almond milk sits close by sooner or later, and chocolate. (Food is sometimes an afterthought. Chocolate covered nuts and fruits are preferred to get a little of the food tucked in.) The chipped china cup and saucer–one more thing that got marred in the move we made, yet still good in the hand. If I am not on my feet doing this and that day into night, I am sitting with a cup or mug, writing tools, my thoughts and a soft light, a stack of books at the ready.

It is 2020, I know, yet how many things remain the same despite that change. Little seems so different from the long past. Much has advanced, self-destructed or worse, it is true. And my generation certainly protested, we marched, demanded a higher national conscience and much better quality of life–equal rights and reproductive rights, cheaper or free and much more informed, expansive education for all. And several goals were met. And also, there were so many lives lost to causes.

Still, those days, these times: the essence of who I am remains, with suitable variations. Like it is for a mature tree, the core of personhood has decades of growth rings, marks left by adaptive responses to the environment, to a myriad interconnections with others that organically or perhaps shockingly came to be. It isn’t only in ind; it is in my very cells and in my soul. We may become ourselves–show ourselves– quickly after birth, I think. But then we tune ourselves up again and again as we grow and conquer and falter, readjusting to circumstances and altering needs.

So what does 2020 mean to me in a personal sense? What is changed or is anticipated? (Note: I do think globally but don’t write strictly of politics here, and am not in the mood to write of it now despite knowing that all that happens around us impacts in some way. The world shares its energy; if the energy wave that flicks us seems small, it still is there. We cannot survive and thrive in exclusivity, despite sometimes wanting to do so.) If I consider my singular life for a moment, I may learn something new here.

First, I have actually lived to see the new decade arrive. A fortunate and necessary grace.

I can’t count on it as it is not a given. My car was totaled in an accident. It might have totaled me. But did not. My heartbeat might have taken utter leave as I enjoyed a brisk walk this morning since heart disease has nagged me 20 years. But it did not. I might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But was not. I’ve also had more stress (due to many life changes plus a health issues for Marc and me) than I can recall encountering in a very long while. But have not retreated, blithering, to the corner (at least not for long) remaining heaped in a soggy ball. And likely will not this year. I have endured harder years and known less joy by far.

Second, this April the grand-baby twins will have been here for an entire year.

Alera and Morgan were not here last January, they were wriggling and snuggling while waiting to arrive. But it was possible they may not have been able to stay there long enough as our daughter was a high risk mother with high risk babies. She’d been informed she’d likely never have children due to severe growth hormone deficiency and other hormone issues since birth. But things can change with right help. And the baby girl-people are strong, well, luminous and such fun.

Third, I am not moving this year. Change can be made to happen or not, at times, and this is not happening.

I almost argued for a change of address to save more money in the long run. But we did this move in 2019. It was taxing. Month by month it has become better for the best reasons. It has enriched my thinking and doing being out here among impressive woodlands, in a pretty place right outside Portland. Never wanted to live a suburban lifestyle, it just doesn’t hold the rhythms and textures I love. It was either city center or the country for this woman–and I’ve enjoyed both with many moves during my life, a suburban town tossed in a couple of times. But this spot has its charms, more quaint town than suburb. And we’re five minutes away from baby girls and their parents, fifteen from another daughter. I can still getto my son and sister within a half hour or less. So I am for now stuck here and starting to like it, surprise. And regarding finances: I’m deliberate with finances for the most part, and do worry about the future at 3 a.m. But some things have to be done in faith. This was one of them. There are babies right here. Much to learn and share.

Fourth, I can write more comfortably as well as edit photos better this year.

This is no small thing. I now have a new Dell Inspiron 15 5000 that I was reluctant to buy (the money thing, though on the cheaper end). But Windows 7 was not much working, anymore, and was not to be supported soon… so my limping Sony Vaio had to be sidelined. Since I am no whiz on the thing–it’s about intuition, trial and error and learning pretty fast I guess–this new machine is a godsend. It does what it is supposed to do; it displays all with orderly clarity. No more cussing at my desk every hour or more as I labor. Or push away and give up for a day. Which means my blood pressure will improve and my creative juices will rise to the occasion with far less interference. I will get more done–ah, this so relieves and heartens me! And Marc will have more peace.

Fifth, I expect to be outdoors a great deal, and not just on sidewalks or attractive balcony.

Is this different? Perhaps not. But some years it has been many city walks and parks (admittedly, still scintillating, refreshing), whereas now it is all woodsy pathways. I might find more routes in city center, though–I miss gazing at varied architecture. And I would like to hike, explore more; the beaches, forests and mountains around here are fabulous as ever. But I know this for sure: walking fixes nearly everything. Writing does the most good for me on a regular basis but walking loosens and polishes ideas as well as being more generally kind to soul and flesh. Such meanders are meant for humans to right the body, mind and spirit.

Oh, plus, I have a gym membership gratis with our housing. So: swimming, treadmill, Zumba, rowing, etc. as needed. Another good year to keep on shaping up.

Sixth, I may find myself designing houses soon. And composing music. Well, to some degree.

They are old plans of action that want to be made anew, that’s all this is. Another daughter and my son told me there are countless apps online to enable those creative forays. Who knew there were so many choices, even for free? So I have made notes and will check them out. I cannot imagine a life without creative activity, no matter my skill level. I don’t demand perfection of myself, not with these endeavors, at least. I wanted to design–and sketched quite a few, built a couple models– houses as a kid. I wrote music as a youth and even as an adult awhile. I can still do both if I want to do. So often we get in our own way. I need to get out of mine more.

And there is that art class I keep intending to take. And didn’t I mention film and photography?

You cannot ever stop learning unless you desire stagnation with resultant boredom. There is not nearly enough time to gather in wonderful bits of knowledge to peruse and use. I am as excited this year as every other year to just keep my mind a-humming with new ideas and experiences.

Seventh, my spiritual life could use more, not less. Of prayer, yes, of sacred moments. But I also just need to stay alert to the shining heart of life, to root out hidden treasures, and keep my being open to grace. The heat of passionate engagement with life’s small miracles can cool, leak away in minuscule woundings as well as grave trials. It is easy to let perplexing moments, those cruelties and hardships of my small life–not to mention those of the billions who make up humanity–transform me into a more jaded person. Or be turned into one who becomes dis-empowered. Empty and unmoved.

But I won’t have it. I wasn’t born to not pay attention. To not take action. To not embrace. To not believe in greater possibilities. We can always be more than we think, better than we imagine. We are made of cosmic stuff; we live our lives in part within realms of Spirit because we are more than flesh, blood, sinew, bone, neurological labyrinths, and our mad self will with many faulty choices. Everything in God’s creation reflects a vital complexity of the magnificent infinite story. Can we not see that for the grand good fortune it is?

I claim my part. Not vaulted, nor far-reaching in scope. But this life is mine, to use as can be of benefit as long as breath is in me. I will be celebrating 70 this spring if all goes well. I care much less than I thought, but it is quite okay with me. I mean, what’s another year? We move through time like secretly winged things, catching the updrafts where we can.

Well, I have to write when I need to understand more. Now that I have some insight, my friends, this is how I see 2020. This particular day. Maybe not tomorrow. But not so differently than before I undertook the exercise. I suspect I am fairly ready for what may come, but then again I may not be. I have been taught a bunch of things this past year and more to come. I carry a bit of goodly knowledge from many years of surviving, growing. Perhaps we don’t quite know what we are made of until we have need to know it.

I do persist in tending an intrinsic hope, despite tatters and moans. Hope for what is good for me and for you. May you each care well for your life and loved ones… and whomever and whatever else you can manage.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem/Photo: Order and Otherwise

Japanese Garden, Portland, OR

This is one sort of preference:

vessels useful and voluptuous,

lithesome fishes lined up for breezes,

trees well refined that mind themselves,

stone with a softer side but that does not give in.

A variety of order beguiles with certainty.

I am intrigued by definitions of texture

and design, of utility and indulgence.

But within chaos rises a web of connectivity

that brings to the fore the powers of Presence.

Out of strife surges creativity,

intimacy with confusion allows clarity,

and it is a value of peace and discord

that we humans can jostle to and fro,

discern amazement within, without

and secure our (mutable) selves here

and beyond the living maze of mirrors.

Mirror Art Installation in San Diego (artist unknown)

Secrets Horses Keep

Photo by Mary Ellen mark
Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

She was in the middle of the park, for goodness’ sake, sitting there with that odd little horse, cuddled up close like a pet she had taken out for a good walk. She was otherwise alone, it was clear there was no one accompanying her. Is that what parents still ordinarily do these days or not?–accompany their charges? I had a nanny; Magdala never let me out of her sight and if I tried to make a getaway she managed to nab me before I could shout “freedom at last!” But it was the way it was. This child was perhaps twelve or so, but she also ought to have had someone there, hadn’t she? When I saw her sitting as with purpose after fifteen minutes, I also stayed put. My bench was kitty corner from hers and I had nothing better to do. My days are endless pages unscrolling at their leisure as if meant to be tarried over, full of illuminated wonders as in the Book of Kells. But they do not, anymore. Not since Paul David’s decision.

And so she sat on, as well. She didn’t seem abandoned, exactly. After about fifteen minutes she looked about, as if searching the entire block but not with urgency, not with any alarm. I can’t say if she looked right at me then; I had my book and after noting her sweeping gaze, looked down until I thought it acceptable to look toward her again. She was holding the brown, plush-coated horse up to her, its nose bumping her own, and she kissed its head twice. I did wonder how many times she did that. It appeared to be beloved in that way children adore an inert yet companionable creature, transferring their secrets and powerful fondness to it. Yes, it almost seemed that they were visiting the park together. So I was not that concerned but interested in a sidelong way. My book was worth reading, a collection of poems and essays by someone no one knows of, anymore. It gets taken out once every year for a glad once-over, then is set back among neighbors with their shredded spines and fading covers. The library could use a thorough clean-up, even renovation, I admit, but it isn’t truly worth expense or bother. I’m not going to live forever. Not many borrow from it anymore, either.

This girl, this young lady, I would prefer to say but cannot quite manage, seemed to own that bench. She sat sideways for a bit, legs stretched out and head leaned against the back, horse on her lap. Eyes closed until I imagined she was asleep and I thought, how peaceful a picture that makes when in a flash she sat straight up and looked out over the pond, eyeing it carefully. I casually glanced that way, as well, and saw two couples and a third unattached young man making their separate ways around the park, towards us. The girl–might I call her Miss Emma? I always liked that name but had no use of it since I did not have the pleasure or grief of my own children–sat up in attention. I wondered which of the five she might be waiting for as they moved closer. But they all passed us by, busy talking, the single male intent on deciphering his cell phone content.

No, she leaned toward an invisible thing, peered at–what? I leaned forward, too, then caught myself, sat back with book up once more. I observed her watchfulness from over the top, how could I not? It was an odd puzzle, what she was doing on a park bench on a late fall day, no coat or satchel, no adult, no little friends.

A clump of bushes about twenty feet away shook and out sprang an urchin. It was a he of uncertain provenance. Not that the young man was utterly frayed or unconscionably dirty, but his hair was roughed up and his pants too short and his tennis shoes were wrecked beyond wearability. Alright, not that being disheveled or even dirty is a crime, of course, or even avoidable at times. But still I felt uncertain of his intentions. He moved quickly and with confidence toward her, as if he, too, claimed a seat at that bench, as if it was theirs to occupy and no others.

He punched Emma’s shoulder upon sitting down; she grabbed her horse and whacked him on the head. It took imagination to consider them friends. It seemed they knew each other, though, as their heads came together then apart. I began to read off and on, deciding the girl had been waiting to see this one, a  boy perhaps two or so years her elder. But there was a manner about him that suggested he was more far worldly than she. He had perhaps been out and about on his own more, or had the wiles and underhanded ways for a common pickpocket. Or worse. It began to creep into my mind in a Dickensian way that this was not a laudable association.

I was correct, at least to some degree.

She nudged him as they laughed and he then pulled out from his too-large Army surplus jacket  pocket a misshapen half-empty package of cigarettes. He put two of them between his lips and lit them with a lighter with a sort of élan, as if this were a debonair moment to share with his young love. I winced and put my book down. He then removed one and placed it oh so carefully between her own and she, rather than toss it in laughter or disgust, left it. Inhaled enough that I expected a cough; she frowned. It could not have been something she relished. Or perhaps I was wrong, as the second inhalation then the third seemed easier, perhaps faintly enjoyable to the intrigued and intriguing Miss Emma. Or at least the idea of it.

I could note the promise of greater femininity on the verge of coming forward. An onset of redefinition, a hidden refinement of face, hand and limb that one day would be grown into and then it would be owned. I do have nieces and they surprised me, too. I know this is not how Miss Emma realistically would be described these days, that an insistent boyishness and even an obscured gender seem in vogue for many youth. That is fine but I imagined it that way, nonetheless. I saw her with the artist’s eyes I possess. A kind of forecasting. A wistfulness that became attached to her visage, perhaps.

But I did possess an acute vision, I must state that at least. I have had success with it. Before all that came and went regarding Paul David, and now is in tandem.

That boy had other things to do, I could see it in his abrupt ways, restlessness after they smoked their smokes. He stood, bent toward her for some exchange and walked away, then looked back and tossed her another cigarette. Ran off. She didn’t appear to be disturbed, although she watched him a bit longingly, perhaps wanting to join him as he made the next stops–where? To what ends did he roam? Perhaps–I half-hoped–they had been school mates, though what sort of school I didn’t hazard to guess. We were in a place, a neighborhood, that generally saw children less wayward in appearance and behavior. They were more worn about the edges yet also seemed in possession of themselves. I never displayed that at such an age. Which may have been a blessing if it meant I had to smoke and seek out other unknowns.

I knew what Paul David would have done at once: marched up to that boy, given him a dressing down that he would then take issue with. But Paul David would not be deterred;  he would run him off with his overbearing manner and height–he is only a bit taller than I am but it is the way he stands, as if he never bends his back or lowers his shoulders. He yet is an attorney and aspiring politician of sorts so used to swaying juries and other groupings.

Certainly commanding the home front. We often did not have a meeting of minds, I must be honest, as I am not one, either, to consider my own ideas and thoughts of any lesser report. It was what he first loved about me thirty years ago. What he said drove him to the estate gates and on to Mrs. Derrien, a widow generally well liked if a too-sweet mouse. I must forgive but I suspect her more copious socioeconomic virtues also held magnetic pull.

I said good-bye to my painting studio. It lost its allure. The studio I have rarely entered now that I have more time and lack of invasions from my husband. Ex-husband. Perhaps I also painted to annoy him or remind him of his own lacks. In any case, it has been too long and I felt the need sharply, though it came and went.

That is what I was thinking as I sat and tried to not so obviously watch Miss Emma: that it was time to take up canvas and oils again. I hadn’t had a show in over two years. I needed to get the feel of it again, and find the happiness that had so long eluded me.

And then she rose. Miss Emma’s horse rose with her and they made their way toward me. I felt a tremulous blush coming on so hid my face in my book.

“You’re watching me. You sure are, so don’t deny it.”

I couldn’t fathom such a rude way to approach an older woman so looked up, then at my book. “So you say.”

“I not only say, I declare it, there. And think you must’ve had quite a show. It’s sort of odd to have a stranger keep tabs on a person. But you seem harmless.”

I rearranged my loops of scarf to do something with increasing nervousness. A bold and unmannerly child can nearly do me in.

“I beg your pardon, dear. I was reading by myself awhile when you arrived, then became distracted by your activities and his.”

She glanced at the book page “Poems.” Looked at me again. “Well, okay.” Her horse, snug in her arms, bobbed a bit at me.

“You enjoy them, too?” I managed to smile a little.

“We like to read fantasy, right, Roan?” The horse emphatically nodded then he lay down beside her on my bench. “Do you come here a lot? I saw you three times before.”

This was more than surprising since I had not noticed her before. To be seen and not know it, unnerving.

“You did?”

“Last summer, this fall. Maybe more, can’t remember now. I see a lot of people when I pop over.”

“Why are you here often?”

“I just live right there.” She pointed up and across the boulevard.”I like the p ark and it’s the one place my father allows me to come alone. Sometimes.”

“Ah. Madrone Place. Lovely historical building. I know it well. My best friend lived there for years, then moved to the country.”

A shadow passed over her face. “We live at the top.” She put a hand at an angle to her brow as sunshine flared again. “You can see almost the entire city from there.” She picked up her horse and held it close. “You live nearby, too–Miss…?”

I held out my hand. “I’m Ms. Leonora Addington. And you are?”

The girl hesitated, then took my hand briefly. “Cassie Gershen. My father is George Gershwin.”

I was taken aback. “Whatever do you mean?”

She snorted, giggled a high giggle and then of course I saw the joke. “George Gershen, I see, many must hear it as Gershwin, how funny!”

“Well, he’s a composer, too, but he goes by GT Gershen and the T is for Thomas. So just ‘GT’, usually, George Thomas would be too much, he says.”

It came to mind that Paul David insisted on using his middle name. How it now irked me. The breeze swept about us and her bangs fluttered in the gust. Her eyes fairly sparkled as she smiled. Then she slumped back.

“He wouldn’t be happy if he knew I smoked so now you know his name, just forget it, please. He might even know. He’s at the piano all afternoon if he can be and also likes to look out the window. He spies on me, like you did, only from farther away. I try to stay out of sight; then he complains. I thought you might be a friend of his for a while. I mean, you live near here and seem like the sort he likes– you read a lot, for one thing.”

I tuned to better see her whole affect. It was sincere, perhaps, such disarming eyes and pleasing face composed, yet relaxed. “I do think it unhealthy and risky behavior that you have even tried smoking–at barely twelve? I was well into my twenties when I tried it. Awful taste and choked me.”

“He says just the same, see what I mean? But I’m thirteen–and older than you think.” She squeezed the horse’s puffy middle quite hard, then released it.

“You know where I live, did you say that?”

“I followed you once. Your house is quite large, made of stone and there is a gate at the drive that required a key or something before you went in. I liked it but I liked our nice place much more. Well, I might like our apartment alright.”

I suddenly questioned if this child was at all who she said she was, if her story was anywhere near the truth, and if she came to the park to learn how to steal with her street sidekicks. Her charm was considerable. But she carried about a stuffed horse, for goodness’ sake, and she kept an eye on me and knew my address, she talked too much to strangers. And there was that suspicious looking older boy. Cassie Gershen, as she’d announced herself, seemed perhaps less than a reliable historian. Muddled in one way while teeming with intelligent observations in another.

“Well, now we both know where the other lives. Information that may or may not be useful.” I picked up my book, considered leaving.

“I’d better go.” She hopped off the bench and looked up at her apartment building. “He’ll worry.” She craned her neck to the left, to see around a stand of evergreens. Sighed. “There he is. See? On the balcony?” She pointed. Waved wildly.

I stood, too, and sought the spot. There was indeed a long balcony protected with wrought iron and there was a man now scanning the boulevard, perhaps the park. He could be her father, in vest and light shirt, with darker hair, glasses. He must have seen her then, as he waved back and slipped indoors, satisfied. I wondered what he actually knew of her comings and goings. Not my business, of course, yet I was nearly moved to speak with him that moment.

“You don’t have some sort of dog?” she asked. We started to the street, weaving in between cyclists and joggers.

“A dog? No, I never have had one. I had two calico cats and before those, a beautiful canary. Now I have nothing but several flourishing plants and my own company, and occasional visitors, of course. You?”

“I do have a dog but he’s way too old to play much. My mom left us; we’ve lived in this place a few months.”

“I see. I’m sorry, Cassie.” We walked in an uneven rhythm; she about kept up with me. “Did she also enjoy horses?”

“Oh, yes, of course and…”

Her voice had grown softer; I leaned down to hear her better.

“We all did. I mean we do but…we did own three.”

“Must have been wonderful, dear.”

After we exited the park, she turned right. I turned left.

“Hey, um, thanks for being around. Nearby. I don’t really like Black Jack that much.”

“That shifty young man?”

She studied the little horse’s face, smoothed his coat.” He just hangs out. Hides places. I think he’s homeless, he doesn’t say. I’m not really a smoker. I mean, maybe some day but I just–I said ‘yes’ once… so now…he’s okay but I don’t know. Maybe not.”

I started to lift my hand to her–to what? smooth her flyaway hair? pat her shoulder?–then, confused by my disregard of polite remove, quickly dropped it. Stood taller with book before my chest.

“Good, you can quit before you get habituated to it. Right now, perhaps. Then your father might never know and you won’t have to pretend you like it. Next time, just tell that slippery Black Jack you aren’t available for more antics. Go home if necessary. Call your father. Or come to where I am, if I’m about. You must stay safe, my dear.”

She narrowed her eyes at me but not angrily or worriedly. Pondering things as she shifted from one foot to the other and held Roan in position atop her shoulder. I waited. Her features softened in relief. She gave me a real smile and then I could see her as a young woman, strong, vibrant and true. Fearless again.

“See you around, Ms. Addington.”

“Good day to you, too, Miss Cassie.”

When I got to the next corner and waited to cross, I looked up and over, where the Gershen balcony was. She was there alone, and reached out over the fancy ironwork as she caught sight of me. I waved both hands at her and she gave a fast flap back at me. I hurried off to my house, feeling lighter. To my studio, which longed for me I was certain, and I, it.