We park in the
nature preserve near a path that leads downward. On our left is a pond edged
with water lilies and lotus blossoms. Along the outer edge grow reeds and
bulrushes. A familiar sound causes us to
turn towards it.
an ancient poem–
a pond, a frog,
a beginning with
A rustle in the
reeds attracts our attention again. This time, it’s a painted turtle with a
shell about six inches long, moving slowly toward the pond. After watching it
quietly slide into the water, we begin our descent. The dirt path is rutted and
peppered with loose stones.
slow and steady
to keep our
years of marriage
there is still a
plants fill in the spaces between mature trees, the green enlivened by
occasional clusters of small pink or white blossoms.At the end of our descent is a thick growth
of ferns in various sizes and species, from a single shoot of only a few inches
to others two and three feet high and just as wide across.
We’re the only
ones here, but others have come before us.
The autumn chores are complete. Plants cut back. The
planting beds cleared of debris. Wood stacked by the back door. Container
plants we want to save brought inside. Each year we ask:how much longer can we do this? Each year we
move more slowly; the clean-up takes longer; we have more aches afterwards.
Knees, backs, shoulders–all complaining loudly. Each year we think about a
A street empty of people.Just the all night diner is open.Plain, devoid of sentimentality.A sickly greenish light streams through plate
glass windows.A man sits smoking, his eyes looking
straight ahead, expressionless.The woman with him appears more interested in a
matchbook cover than in his company.
A third customer, a man alone with his
back to us, his shoulders hunched.A
faceless man in a gray suit. Behind the counter, a young man in a
white uniform, a sharp contrast to the darkly dressed customers.He's busy with the dishes and appears to be
speaking. Perhaps to himself. No one seems to be listening.
We have a garden
and I have become, by necessity, a gardener.Our move to the country to a house with over an acre of land meant some
gardening had to be done. With books, a spade, and the knowledgeable voice of a
local nurseryman we plant shrubs, grasses, flowers.
dirt under my nails
I trade pink polish
sweeter and longer lasting
than any manicure
daisies, phlox, black-eyed susans, irises, spirea and many shrubs and annuals
have swelled my head. I’m a gardener! I’ll plant roses next. Pooh on all the
doubters who say they are hard to grow. The roses do well that summer and
survive the harsh winter, leafing up
beautifully in the spring. Then, catastrophe. The leaves are full of pin holes
and getting brown. Buds are shriveled. Aphids! That's what the nurseryman tells
me.I go on the attack, spray heavily
and wait one week. Two weeks. One morning I see new leaves growing. By mid-July
new buds have formed. I spray again and wait.
Mrs. Fraser is getting
ready for dinner. A party of twelve. Very special (as always), designed to
impress Mr. Fraser's colleagues and their wives.
A black velvet
dress clings to her slim figure. Diamond earrings and necklace.Silver hair, coiffed in an up-do only her
hairdresser can accomplish. She's almost ready.
From a dresser
drawer, hidden in her silk lingerie, Mrs. Fraser takes out a silver flask and
swallows long and slowly.The liquid
fires up her throat and her nerve.
a lone walker–
cast in shadow
2. The Dinner
English china, Belgian lace. A table set for royalty. Mrs. Fraser longingly
gazes out the window. A summer night cries out for a barbeque, not caviar and
squab; beer not Verve Clicquot.
On her right is
grandson?Precocious is he? Toilet
trained in one week you say? Remarkable! Did you notify The Times?Yes, I'm joking.
Of course I'm joking.
On her left is
Judson Parker. She kicks his creeping foot away from hers.
Yes, I agree. Desperate
hunger in the world. Should all do our part. I'll start now and pack up this dinner for the
Homeless Mission downtown. What's that you say? A joke, yes. Just a joke.
bouquet of roses silky petals
fall with a
Goodnight. Thank you. Lovely to see you. Next week at the Henderson's? Can't wait to
see their infinity pool. A restful view, I'm sure. Perhaps, I'll jump in and
disappear into infinity. Yes. Yes. Another joke.
4. Lights Out
Midnight. The house
locked down. One more successful dinner. One more gold star.
takes out the flask again and places a bottle of pills next to it.She lines up the pills on her dresser. With
slow deliberation her hand moves from pill to mouth to flask, from pill to
mouth to flask, from pill to mouth to flask.
She was a bright student, Phi Beta Kappa.Married before graduation.Has her first child six months later.Three more children follow in rapid
succession.She moves to a New England
Coastal town and writes that she is happy.
She, with husband and children, move to Florence where he
continues his art studies.
She writes that she is happy.
Upon their return she teaches high school English and writes
that she is not happy.
She and the children move to a commune in California where
she grows vegetables, bakes bread, has a lover, changes her name to Sunflower
and writes that she is happy.
An old colonial
house. Ours. Cleaned, painted, polished, scrubbed and repaired. An object on display, a star on stage, ready
for the public. Ready to be someone
We wait, out of
sight and out of hearing. What do they
think, these lookers, these pokers and prodders? Will someone see its charm as
we did 29 years ago? An old lady with a
few idiosyncrasies. The sloping hallway, the creak in the dining room floor,
the leak above the side door when there
is a drenching rain? Will the new family be forgiving and adjust to the old
lady's habits and manners? Another
sweater when winds blow through loose windows, a pot under the leak. This old lady has so much else to offer.
From a bedroom
window, rolling fairways and fastidious greens on the golf course. Lilacs and roses on warm breezes; the maple,
a canopy of gold in autumn and the envy of Midas; the transformation of the
land with fresh snow. Birds, squirrels,
rabbits, raccoons, chipmunks, possums.
Residents and visitors, including the occasional deer and wild turkey.
The walls will soon hear new stories and
absorb new memories. Will they echo with
happy celebrations, crowded with children, grandchildren and friends? And, when
it is time for the owners to move on, will they look back, as I am, and wonder
what has happened to the years?