Vonnie eases up on the gas pedal and they coast the last couple of feet to the side of the road. A staccato burst of rain erupts on the body of the car as if it wants to dismantle every bit of glass, metal and rubber. Vonnie can just see them sitting in their seats after the storm, each lock, nut, bolt and gear of the “jalop,” as Paul called it, scattered around them. Worthless pieces not even a magpie would take to its nest.
She inherited my uncle’s face. She inherited his pale skin, freckled nose, smoky eyes, narrow cheek bones, the way he tilted his head to his left when he spoke. She inherited his love of gab and tendency to lecture. She inherited his profession, his talent at poker, his longing for mountain streams and the habit of a rod and line in his hand. She inherited many things from Uncle Dave, but not his name.
I didn’t believe in religion, in transitions to the other side, in seeing people after death. But the first time I met Renata Taylor that changed.
At thirty-three, I have moved home to live with my parents. They have converted the small space above the garage into an apartment. Oddly, instead of negotiating with my soon to be mother-in-law over the food we’ll serve at the Wedding Reception, I am living in a mother-in-law apartment.
The queen bed seems too big. I am not used to sleeping alone. I am not used to going this long without talking to Miriam. We dated for eight years. Eight years and six months, give or take. No. That is wrong. We dated for six years and six months, give or take. We were engaged for two years. But, ultimately, I wonder if there is that much of a difference.
I imagine them finding her on the beach blond hair spread out on the sand, skin pale and taut the water pooling in a foamy halo around her head eyes fixed unblinking on the early morning sun. I don’t think about the crabs and seagulls that must have surely found her before the first pair of joggers stumbled across her in their morning run and whatever other damage that must have occurred from being battered about by the waves before being hurled up on shore. I close my eyes against the curt voice on the phone methodically ticking off the contents of her pockets the jewelry she was still wearing, the description of a tattoo I never knew about and instead, think of angels on Christmas trees, tiny wings spread half-remembered psalms, shattered lectures of Heaven.
In an old cardboard box in the attic… personal notes sent on cold mornings, rusted nails, paper clips, a gold high school graduation ring, pencil stubs, a chipped red checker piece, but mostly a collection of long-lost memories. The dusty box sits beside a cracked antique mirror, a single bed, a dented in trumpet from the 1930s, boxes of esoteric books, magazines, grocery sacks of old games: monopoly, chess, clue, and on the bottom, an old picture album of known and unknown faces… unfinished: The forgotten memories inside, covered with countless years. The things glistened with newness a long time ago when those who lived in this old house still breathed, laughed and loved, now only an empty silence. Life, so brief, so taken for granted. Then, in a sudden moment, everything faded, and what was can only be found in old cardboard boxes in attics, and far less often, in the memories of those few who are still alive to remember.
This beautiful morning delivers through swirling pastel cloud wisps a baby pink and blue sunrise. The gentle view sets my tone for the day. No complaining, even in thought— I will have, exhibit, and enjoy peace, patience, love and kindness. I’ll start by not caring if the sunrise is a boy or a girl. I can’t decide it, but I can delight in it. Tomorrow I am sure I will be back to persistence, effort, and goal setting, but today I am taking the day off to play with the baby.
All day at least all afternoon on the porch outside my office window a little, fledgling barn swallow sits. Above in the corner nest, 4 swallow siblings cram side by side in the one room mud stucco nest obviously too small for 5 to mature to full flight. Four sets of yellow lips gape for airborne lunch Bud below is out of sight out of mind. Odd man out gapes his yellow lips too. Food deliveries are rare compared to nestlings’ fare Groundling tries to fly, but wing and tail feathers unfinished. Does he need one week, two weeks? How long to lift off? His best flight 3” high and 18” long. Wright brothers beginning Downed Vietnam fighter pilot Unlucky fledgling barn swallow Do I catch, box, and bring inside? Do I try to replace endangering the other four? All afternoon agony It’s dark now. He is out of sight under the porch shrubbery. His siblings and I are secure. The snake, feral cat, or skunk Could very well happen on a midnight snack. Such is life or the end of it. Letting nature take its course is crappy. No, daylight shines and he is still on the porch. The saga continues all week. Day three and single grounded fledgling has a buddy. Now on Sunday I see only two left in nest. Then, by golly, two hours later there are 6 adults flying kamikaze blue angel patterns through the porch. And there is only one baby still in the nest. Monday morning empty nest, empty porch Arial circus thru the porch and around the front yard Five new birds in the show. Now I can get rid of that gosh awful ugly mud nest in the corner of the porch ceiling and clean up that pile of droppings on the cement below. They’ll be back next spring for home construction blessed events, and off to college in July. I hope the next five are as lucky as these, but I would like to suggest birth control, bigger nest, or window curtains to ease my anxiety.
A twelve-zinnia bouquet five days cut still stands. Two stems collapsed; blossoms face down now. Others still smiling upright but dried, colors faded frayed and crinkled around the edges. I see continued dignity, beauty, and function. The hundred years old sagging prairie barn flaunts weathered paintless wood shades of decaying gray. Rusty hinges still swing creaking groaning doors. Role impaired but stored hay still dry I see continued dignity, beauty, and function. My 1970 college friends boldly gathered. Little contact in 50 years all aging in their places. After introductions, recognition, and reminiscence the inner souls of character show polish by time. I see continued dignity, beauty, and function.
The clutch of fresh tortillas You bought at Mata’s Fruit Store Just north of the Stanton Street Bridge Paired perfectly with your green chile stew. Long ago, I stopped with my daughters For combo plates and salsa in Las Cruces And learned the baptism of hatch pepper As it rinsed the dust from my eyes. So, when I stood in your small kitchen, Cubes of pork and potatoes swimming In a deep stained cauldron of verde, I knew I was in for another scalding. After a spoon or two, my tongue lit up And beads of sweat pooled on my scalp. Next came tears and laughter, a drippy nose. Down my neck and back, ran a rivulet. The mistake, of course, is to lick your lips. But even that quick blistering subsided As I peeled back and folded another tortilla To sop up what remained of my remedy.