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In the small wood house of the local farm stand, a billy club leek felt dangerous in my tightened fist. Bok choy bulbs were compact like grenades. We debated over neatly wrapped packages of chicken parts and decided on legs. White pebbly skin stretched tightly over the two thick limbs. In our kitchen, we detached the skin from flesh; stuffed in garlic butter, black pepper flakes, short rosemary leaves; baked the legs until the nubs of protruding bones were too hot to hold; cut muscle from fibula with a sharp knife edge; chewed the dark soft meat like wild wolves.
Autumn was taking the Subaru to the farm on Black Oak Ridge, backing up to the hay bales, sliding some in, stacking them on the lawn like igloo blocks, symmetrical, plunging the sharp scarecrow post deep into the heart of one. Eventually, after rains had made the outer layer soft, much later than the neighbors wanted me to, carrying each to the far back corner of the yard, tawny strands falling, marking my path. Working the tough grass through the compost, jagged pieces scratching my arm exposed beyond workgloves. The rest of the year, finding fat straws throughout the car.
On the edge of the path at Common Ground Farm, the gibbous milkweed pods spew the Milky Way dotted with dark stars; microbrew heads overflow their shapely pilsner glasses; making love we have split the sides of the old feather bed; fine white silk blows to the roadside, follicle and seed making their journey. Bluebird houses rest empty. Lavender wildflowers punch out of grass along the way. When we reach the old red barn, the faded chalkboard for the CSA says there is celeriac for all this week. Such a twisted, gnarled vegetable to be had among all this beauty.
Celebrating a clean mammogram with a chocolate fudge Pop-Tart, a yummy toaster pastry I’ve not eaten in years, which I realize is really the opposite of what I should be eating in celebration -- perhaps an apple or banana ... something healthy of course. But chocolate cannot be denied, except by my husband, who stated last night as I grabbed these off the shelf and tried to hide them in the cart that, aside from brown sugar cinnamon, strawberry is the only decent one, which brought the “have we met?” spouse look as I said, “You know I hate hot fruit.”
After a delicious carrot leek soup (bright orange, sparkling gold, softened green throughout) at a café sidewalk, I walked through the inside to the restroom. One free handicapped door, one occupied standard restroom. I waited for the standard room. A woman arrived, looked at the handicapped room, told me to use it.
I don’t use handicapped facilities,
I said. She seemed confused, saying they’re the same.
Someone might need it,
I said. Seemed simple to me. She said they would just wait, the same as any other occupied situation. I told her she could use it, then. And she did.
I hate to admit this but I spent all day today primping like a vain idiot because tonight is my 20-year high school reunion. Inside (and most of the time outside) I’m a granola crunchy girl, but when I saw the gray hair and boring nails and so on, I freaked out. I spent three hours at the mall this morning buying new underwear and a new dress, all so I can sit with friends I already know and eat what will no doubt be boring food and watch a slideshow of things that are totally not relevant anymore. Pathetic.
She kept her water in an olla on the cool back porch, sat cross-legged on the cement floor, dipped the smooth wood ladle, and drank, imagining the pottery’s black swirls to be snakes eating their tails, a pueblo impressionistic ouroboros, bringing together the conscious and unconscious, her known and unknown, her birth and death, swallowing, swallowing, then standing, stretching the car key off the porch like a dowsing rod, waiting to feel a tug, a pull, a wave of something, anything telling her how to become reborn, how to ignite, whether to drive across the desert or stay and drown.
Here are the best words used for the colors of clothing found in catalogs: cassis, stone, thistle, canyon clay, baltic, thyme, brook, seagrass, java, mushroom, merlot, peat, light tortoise, pinecone, basil, paprika, pewter, smoke, cognac, nutmeg, vicuna, adriatic, russet, chamois, expedition, loden, spice, adobe, harbor, malt, midnight, meridian, lake, graphite, sand, key lime, driftwood, hunter, evening, green tea, butter, kelp, baked clay, timber, marsh, vapor, night, cayenne, squash, riviera, seedling, carbon, aegean, trillium, ash bark, port, sea glass, tarragon, lapis, petal, mineral, mallard, raisin, larkspur, saltwater, cognac, warm cocoa, willow, forget-me-not, cloud, verdigris, oatmeal, doe, bisque, celestial, buckskin, steel, café
Lightning flashed far above the treeline. We walked up the rocky path to the paddock, the only light from a long black flashlight. The white splotches of the outdoor cat zigzagged around us in the dark. When we reached the fence, her horse stretched its neck over the top rail to greet us, widening his round brown eyes and twisting his pointed chestnut ears. He puckered his lips, pushed them far out to gum her hair pulled in a ponytail. We rubbed the flat of his nose, brought out armfuls of hay, smiled when he whinnied in approval of dinner.
At a certain point on the beach there is a barrier, and after that barrier in a low beach chair sits a coast guard officer guarding the nesting ground / military space. She is pretending to read a thick book and eyeing those who come too close to the line. Of course the sand looks cleaner and fluffier over by her. And the best seashells are way over there, down the long beach, rising up large, creamy, and perfectly smooth from the dark, wet sand. The little sharp-beaked sandpipers dance around undisturbed, leaving their little ephemeral pointy prints, taunting me.
Back to the gym for the first time in a year, I see that I should have brought my headphones to hear the television on my treadmill. Without them, I try to read lips on a sitcom rerun. I discern by expressions and body language that the oldest teen daughter is giving the father trouble as they eat their cereal in the kitchen, but not understanding anything I focus on the magnets on their fridge and wonder how long it took the prop staff to gather what must be a hundred different ones just so the kitchen can looked lived-in.
When we drive to our singing group the sun has set. The air is now cool and crisp, and we drive in the dark. We can go two ways, but Mom wants to go over the reservoir, past a small cemetery set back on a hill, large houses pushing against it. Old tombstones slant awkwardly from the earth. Back in their graves, far enough for us not to see as we drive by, are my mother’s parents. It is good to take this way, to have specific memories rise up each time we go past, once before singing, once after.
I hate living in the most densely populated state. To make a 5-minute return at the mall, it takes 2 hours to get through traffic, find a space, walk to the mall, and get back home. When I wander around a mall on a Saturday (which I almost never do; see previous sentence), I sometimes see a person who looks very familiar to me, and I wonder if I have ever seen or met that person before. With 1,151 people per square mile (cf. Wyoming, at 5.2 people per square mile), the chances could be high. Cheyenne sounds really good!
Buying bowling shoes is not what I consider a cool activity. In fact, the shoes are in the back corner of the store, with the balls, not even kept with other sports shoes (even wrestling and volleyball shoes are in the shoe department!). The only item farther in the corner than the bowling things were tackle boxes, one of which my husband bought to store his D&D figures so that they are not strewn all over the apartment. Me with bowling shoes and him with his D&D tackle box. Yes, I see why they put those in the back . . .
At first it was just having a smoke after dinner in the city café, and when they would try to throw him out he’d laugh and stick the bill in his French roast before running out. Then it was screaming that he wanted to order trans fats, jumping the turnstiles, taking detailed photos of city bridges, blocking the box, cracking open the closest fire hydrant on the first hot day, stealing Internet service, offering to sell herbal cigarettes to a 16-year-old, refusing to license the Doberman, weaseling more than two beers out of Yankee Stadium. Nothing was ever illicit enough.
Driving to a doctor appointment at three o’clock, passing an elementary school, waiting as a crossing guard in a DayGlo vest escorts two boys to the other side of the road, smiling as two girls chat as they pass on the sidewalk, one in an oversized navy sweatshirt and large, white hoop earrings, then passing the high school, spotting a boy and girl talking at the corner across the street, the girl a good five feet from the boy, her weight shifted on her right hip, wondering if she likes him, if he likes her, thinking about my corner chats.
Things no longer part of her world that she missed: programs at movies, enough snow in the winter to count on a white Christmas,
episodes, talking on the phone to a girlfriend late into the night, a really great record store, owning a dog, a sunroof in the car, summers watching the flicker of the black-and-white television on the front porch, growing vegetables in the backyard, belonging to a small town, getting a new school wardrobe at the end of August, kickball, a hammock, tabletop Ms. Pacman, daily Foxtrot strips, Silly Putty cartoon faces from the Sunday comics
They would whittle down the thick candy cane rods to wicked sharp points in their mouths and then chase around the house at Christmas, poking the red and white swirled sugar into the others’ shoulders, or someone would find the old cork gun and pick the others off from behind the La-Z-Boy where uncle was sleeping after too much glazed ham. And when they got really bored, there were always the snow pants to put on, the hot fur-lined boots and gloves, the long stocking hats, and then the snowball fights, just an excuse to get hot chocolate from grandmother.
Sometimes to practice not doing she would sit at each stoplight and turn off the windshield wipers as the rain came down in fast sheets over her car, and the itchy, ingrained feeling of needing so badly to flick on the wipers but not turning them on would build a kind of strength, a good patience, an appreciation for the beautiful way that rain runs in thick folds over angled glass, highlighted in cherry red, then amber, then kelly green, then finally to be pushed up and over the side by the thin black blades, but only when absolutely necessary.
Since moving into this house, viewing meteor showers has been less than stellar, pardon the expression. This area has too much light pollution and the sky is not open here, although the park we live next to provides open space, but I am often too tired and cold before dawn to go traipsing over there. Last time we drove around in the early morning hours to find a dark viewing spot, but no luck. Tomorrow morning I will get up early and try again for the Orionids, but even leaning far off the porch, I doubt I will see anything.
Every time she makes a purchase and there are cents involved she holds up the cashier’s line by unzipping the change pocket in her wallet and carefully fingering through the coins, yielding a coppery odor, pushing aside the bicentennial quarter and the dark wheat penny to place exact and shiny change in the clerk’s open palm. In this way she contributes to her day’s perfect balance (defined not as what remains after other parts are subtracted but as the most stable of states brought on by equal and opposing forces), although she sees the clerk as opposing but not equal.
There is a thickness to the air, so familiar from when I last felt it at 8, when it pressed itself to my face and I almost held it. Now it’s here outside the airport, near the shuttle bus, between me and the palm trees. I try to unwrap it as I wait, but there’s no taking it off. It could rain at any time, but I know it won’t. I try to breathe deeply but my lungs are hard to inflate. The moisture hangs invisible, welcoming me back, carried in this famous sunshine, laughing that I’m not wearing shorts.
Discovery is a model of itself, a miniature, a schooner in a clear glass bottle six miles out, small even in the binocular lens yet perfect in every detail I’ve memorized. The zoom lens on my left sends its shadow from its tripod. Loudspeakers call T minus 1 minute and we all stand tiptoe in the grass. Too soon there is liftoff, a fast-forming puff of vapor and acid, flames so orange and bright we think the ship has caught fire. Then it turns, moves through the round cloud, and bursts through as a pinpoint of the brightest white light.
The Astronaut Hall of Fame is dim and cool, reverent, sedated, quiet, unpopulated. Space suits are surprisingly small, fitted close over nondescript white plastic mannequins. The Gemini capsule sits tilted up, encased in thick clear plastic, the smallest of crafts in which to curl up and fly. The Apollo 14 Kitty Hawk craft is encased too, keeping me from rubbing my hands over its filthy underside. Although I am sure the light gray crust covering the rounded bottom is residual Houston dirt, I pretend it is moondust, stick my face close to the seams of the casing, breathe it in.
Waiting in the airport we pull out our novels, read in between glances at CNN, images of dancing red and orange outlines of the topography of California hills taking precedence over other news. The keeper of Gate 6 tells us we’ll be delayed. We go to the food court, buy something not good for us, notice a cheap stroller in the corner holding a brown-haired boy, wheeled in so he is facing the wall. I think of the McCann girl, of many children taken. We look around for the parents, wait as long as we can, but they never come.
She adds salt to her soup, parmesan to her pizza, sour cream to her baked potato, garlic powder to her tomato sauce, chili powder to her cereal, cinnamon to her stir fry, sugar to her lasagna, almonds to her applesauce, fish food to her pad thai, talcum to her cottage cheese, sand to her stroganoff, dirt to her oatmeal, but nothing ever tastes right, nothing ever tastes real, not like she remembers, not since those long years when she ate exactly what was served to her, had to eat whatever that was, tray after tray after tray . . .
The man-made lake at the Celery Farm is almost to its banks, barely leaving the trail alone. We disturb a man with his expensive black camera, perhaps just upset the balance of a wonderful shot by walking along. We make it to our bench, jump over the encroaching water, land our feet on the only dry plank in front of the lake. Mated mallard ducks coast along. More robins than we can count fill the trees, flashing their orange breasts proudly. Two Canada geese float in the pea green algae inlet. Everything different but how we feel for each other.
At the Forest of Fear, we waited in The Slaughterhouse line, jumping to warm ourselves when we weren’t shuffling ahead, lights from spooky carnival games blinking in the distance, zombies roaming the queue, a particularly tall one slurping in my ear, friends laughing at my wide-eyed expression, cups of warm cider steaming into the cold New York night. Finally, The Slaughterhouse, the amazingly scary corridors and well-timed actors, the crib blocking our way and the twisting bridge that made us dizzy. Finally to run out the exit, to see my breath, to look up at the wide expanse of stars.
I’m not sure that I’ll see much wildlife, but right away a small lizard jumps out on the sidewalk, and I smile. Small pipers run the beach, much whiter feathers than those back home. Egrets line the causeway on the way to the space center, bright in our headlights that cut through early morning. A kingfisher sits on a fence, its beak a fine point. Hawks perch on the telephone wires, scoping out the marshland. Two dolphins play in the shallow water by the road as we wait for the drawbridge to lower, their skin the darkest black I’ve seen.
The library made him a quiet patron, looking studious even when he was daydreaming of her behind the pages of the accounting text. The empty chair in the classroom made him absent, again. The subway made him a commuter, hanging wearily from a strap for the length of the trip downtown. The bar made him a slacker, drinking cheap beer in the middle of the afternoon. The alley made him a voyeur, watching one person slide inside another. The hospital made him a patient, a tired, aching, beat-up patient, too old to be a student, a bachelor, a fun drunk.
The morning of the thirty-first, my grandmother would tend to gold corn kernels on her electric stove, watch them turn inside out with the heat, stir the fluffy batch with corn syrup and salt, form perfect balls in her buttered hands, then place one each in a small wax bag and scrunch the bag tops, tying them off with soft black and orange yarn. These would go in one basket. In the other basket would be home-baked chocolate chip cookies, a few to a bag, waiting for the neighborhood children to yell “Trick or treat!” at the tall front door.
The Tip Jar