Two Short Pieces
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.
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.