It runs quietly, the little pattering creature. Carrying death in one hand and the sun in the other. Always just ahead of me, always just around the corner.
Every time, it is like this. Start over from the beginning. Take it from the top.
Which is wrong, I think. Let's not start over. Let's start from here. Take it from the middle.
What's wrong with starting over? Well, the implicit conviction that in order to proceed, I must erase the past.
Warming up the car in the pre-dawn darkness. The upthrust of huge maple roots has made a basin of the sidewalk in front of my neighbor's house. It's full now of dark water. I can't actually see the pool, except where the raindrops strike it, and the circles of water catch their porch light. Pattering rain. A drummer on a dark sparkling snare drum.
Friday night. Cherry red vinyl sofas, basketball on the big plasma screen behind us. A din of music, and the roar of inebriated conversation in a large open space with deliberately ruined acoustics. I can hear only half the words spoken to me. The others play shuffleboard and flirt, delighted to be done with finals, in the throes of love or at least desire; the three of us sit on the sofas and talk. Except that I can only hear Tele, sporadically. Her Swedish friend sits very still and self contained, watching everything with mild, benevolent, anthropological interest. Tele is huddled down a bit, even less at home than I in a place that styles itself the "American Cowgirl," with black and white faux cowhide pillows, and elevated platforms with poles for sexy dancing, and video games in which you can shoot at elk.
Clint, as always, moves easily between worlds, joshing happily with the shuffleboarders, wandering over to sit with us and talk about the spa he and his wife are starting up, speculating about the board exams, clowning a bit whenever things seem in danger of getting sticky. In this world but not of it. "I love seeing Dale walking up to school," he says at one point. "He looks so happy."
Tele talks of wanting to be a doula -- she's taking some training for it this weekend -- and she straightens up, loses her huddle, suddenly awash with light, her luminous smile stilling the noise and Ahrimanic frenzy around us. I can't imagine a greater blessing than having her as a doula. Such gifted hands, and so much kindness.
I coax some of her story from her. How she and her husband got together, how they got here from there. When she asks me in return I go blank. All the narratives of my life have collapsed. I have no idea what my story is, and picking up the old ways I had of telling it feels false. A poor return for her warmth and authenticity. I feel old. What twenty years of childrearing has done to me, to us, is impossible to convey. Or maybe impossible to justify? Among other fifty-year-olds, I can feel that having fought life to a draw is honorable, but in the face of Tele's warmth and eagerness I feel ghostly, insubstantial, inconsequent.
Just for a moment. But I am tired. It has been a very long week, and it's not over yet; I have various family obligations to come. I rise to go. Bow to George, and shake hands. Receive warm unexpected hugs from Clint and Andrea and Lindsay. Tele and I agree to email. I'm happy, tired but happy. I make my way past the little knot of American Cowgirl staff at the door and out into the night.
Out into the cool, rainswept streets. I walk the half mile down to Hawthorne, to catch the bus. The free sweet air, the mist settling on my hat, my beard and my eyebrows. And so home.