Pia Ehrhardt

Two Short Pieces

Watering

What about a morn­ing dove thinks it’s safe to perch in plain sight on a pow­er line?

They’ve stuffed their nest into an eave on our front porch, but doves aban­don ship when threat­ened so the two of us open and shut the door qui­et­ly. New eggs take two weeks to hatch. Five batch­es will be laid this sea­son.

Our mar­riage is in a fair state.

Last week the friend from grad­u­ate school emailed to say his wife had passed. This news was car­ried over two synched devices, one of them the iPad in my husband’s lap where he was trounc­ing me in Scrabble, the oth­er, the cell phone in my pock­et. A delayed herald­ing, this wid­ow­ing.

You stayed in con­tact?” my hus­band asked.

Not once,” I said.

His wife’s mar­gins were clean, but a cell broke loose and trav­eled upriv­er to her head, start­ed a fresh can­cer. “We lost,” he wrote.  “I’m sor­ry,” is what I don’t write back. “My love is beside me, still alive.”

You didn’t stay in touch?” my hus­band asks again in the mid­dle of the night to catch me.

Never once,” I say, grog­gy but cer­tain. It’s been nine years.

He says, “I don’t believe you.” And we go on radio silence for a few days.

Until on the front porch he reads an obit­u­ary out loud. The hus­band of a girl he loved when he was twen­ty, Gloria, gone, the sweet­ness of his feel­ings for her on dis­play. She is a but­ter­fly embla­zoned on a pin, except she can fly. She lives ten miles away in Kenner. “You stayed in con­tact?” I ask. “Now and then,” he says.

She is still on your mind?” I ask, a week lat­er.

He answers, “At the moment.”  Not one beat missed.

I don’t have to put a GPS on you, right?”

He’s on your mind?”

Lately, some, yes.”

Before, too?” he asks.

Sure,” I say. “On occa­sion. Back when there was pri­va­cy.”

He’s an old man now,” my hus­band says. “Like me.”

Gloria’s no spring chick­en.” I can’t bring myself to admit I’m not either.

Remembering doesn’t mean want­i­ng,” he says.

Retroactively, it does.

You think you’re swing­ing out for a minute from the mar­riage, a lit­tle dan­ger­ous, hypo­thet­i­cal, feel­ing dif­fer­ent than your­self, but your husband’s on the trapeze com­ing at you, not for you, and it’s you who’s in his way.

A small white egg fell out of the slop­py nest and both doves sit still, qui­et in the eave, blame­less. My hus­band hoses the bro­ken try off the porch, sad in the task, and tiny bits of shell land on the gar­de­nia bush.

He waters the front and back yard, mov­ing the sprin­kler every twen­ty min­utes, but the spray pat­terns don’t over­lap. Some plants will have to count on rain­fall. I don’t want to hurt him, tell him the water needs to cov­er every inch.

An irri­ga­tion expert trench­es the back­yard; he will lay a grid of white PVC pipe.

This sprin­kler sys­tem is a redun­dan­cy,” my hus­band says.

Every morn­ing I fix his sheet, tuck the elas­tic cor­ner back under the mat­tress, undone by his weight, because if I don’t, at night he climbs into a bed it looks like he nev­er left.

But water springs up every three days on cue at 6:00 a.m., before we wake!

It’s May and I am with the last man in the last house, plant­i­ng orange and red flow­ers that will only bloom if watered twice a week, and dai­ly when the heat index starts to add up. We walk, behold­en, through a green­er yard, and in June there will be cut flow­ers in glass vas­es.

Blues Tent

At Jazz Fest the rain’s tor­ren­tial, and the silky dirt track at the Fairgrounds has turned into a mud­dy creek. I evac­u­ate into a tent crowd­ed with hip­py goers dressed in the clothes they shake out these two week­ends a year: tube tops, Hawaiian shirts, bolero skirts, puka beads. I have on my fad­ed pur­ple gauze tunic turned soft. Walter “Wolfman” Washington is on stage, rak­ing his cher­ry elec­tric gui­tar through “Ride Your Pony.” There’s no place to sit.

Waves of wet peo­ple push in. “Where do you want me to go?” I say, annoyed, to a face that looks famil­iar. Without hav­ing to wrack my brain, I remem­ber him: Clay, a man who worked as a wait­er thir­ty years ago for my first hus­band. He’s got the same boy­ish face, the same square jaw and curly hair, but now he’s a pho­to­copy of his father. People’s aging dis­ori­ents me; my aging betrays me. I do not feel as done with my youth as I look.

Clay is divorced and remar­ried. I knew his kids when they were young. He flips his wal­let open to show me grand­kids. And sure, this hap­pens. I have my own 23-year old, and the batch of grand­kids. But I see Clay sin­gle, young, and I feel the same stuck affec­tion. He updates me on my first hus­band. “He runs 10Ks; he’s the same weight he was with you, but last month he almost died.” He sips his beer. “From a wid­ow mak­er.”

To Clay, five years mar­ried qual­i­fies me as some­one who cares, and I’m good with this intel about a per­son I fol­lowed that night into the kitchen of the restau­rant, want­i­ng the pro­pos­al to be his idea. We loved each oth­er until we didn’t, and dropped the mar­riage like a hot pota­to. I can’t think about him and not ache for how young we were, how off-hand­ed­ly we treat­ed our mar­riage, like an Etch-A-Sketch where you twist knobs to make dark, then dark­er scrap­ings, but with a few shakes of the sand inside, the board is washed clean. What a care­less end. He is the only past love I dread see­ing; the oth­ers I’d wel­come to step right up.

Overhead, skin­ny water pipes mist the already wet crowd.

A wid­ow-mak­er, I think. We had heart prob­lems, not heart prob­lems. I would’ve been an ex-wife wid­ow. The chance I don’t want to sit with him and debrief would be gone. This decade I’m in is one where spous­es die on each oth­er, and almost los­ing my first hus­band is com­pelling, a fic­tion, and a coun­try away from the grief I would feel los­ing my sec­ond one, who went to get two cold beers and is, I hope, also under a tent. Lightning cracks and the drum­mer points his stick at the sky, prais­ing.

Clay and I stop catch­ing up to lis­ten because Walter is tear­ing through “Glasshouse,” threat­en­ing to play the gui­tar with his teeth, a trade­mark he no longer goes through with.

He’s mar­ried?” I ask.

To a den­tist,” Clay says.  And I’m hap­py know­ing that we mar­ried bet­ter, flew off the stun, up and out of our­selves.

Pia Z. Ehrhardt is the author of Famous Fathers & Other Stories. Her fic­tion and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly ConcernOxford AmericanMississippi Review, and Narrative Magazine. Her work has been fea­tured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and at WordTheater in Los Angeles. She is the recip­i­ent of a Bread Loaf Fellowship and the Narrative Prize. She lives in New Orleans, where she’s a vis­it­ing artist at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).