September 5, 2016
The walls of our family room tremble in fear of death rattles while the Phillies experience a similar thing on the screen across the room. We are home after a day’s round-trip to upstate New York for the first birthday party of Pete and Ariel’s son, and we are really shot.
The phone rings. It’s Joseph.
John picks up the phone and talks to him for a while. The question is asked: what are we doing tomorrow?
This is transmitted to me through John.
“We’re taking a walk,” I transmit back, “if we’re not dead.”
John repeats what I say, adding, “You can see she’s not at her most bubbly.”
Bubbly? I’m lucky I can talk.
So the four of them will come over in the morning. John and I can actually walk across the room by then. Before they arrive, John vacuums and I do laundry and we do a few things so babies won’t find too much dirt or cat hair to eat.
“Just an hour and a half,” says John to persuade. “Maybe two hours.”
“Okay. Sure. We’ll be dead, but okay.”
And they come. Brendan gives us hugs and Gary gives us hugs, and so do their parents. Gary takes a nap and we all have lunch except Gary who’s sleeping, and Brendan plays with toy cars and Legos and tries not to use the bathroom which makes the grown-ups nervous. Too bad we’re made to pee. Too bad we can’t just program those functions like a computer. Later. Later. After I’m done with the Legos.
Then then the foursome leaves, and we are so tired.
John goes to the sunroom to check on the stray to see if he is still outside of it, and I try watching the Phillies. Nah. A Woody Allen movie. Nah.
Pathetic. Not the movie or the game. Well, maybe. But I’m the pathetic thing sitting in some dark hole while outside, the sun is shining, and I’m tired and don’t want this, want this, want this, so I wander around, find John in the sunroom attempting a crossword without the help of the stray.
“The Phils are losing. Can’t we root for the Cubs this year?”
I come back to the TV and stand in the doorway while somebody throws or hits or bites the ball, I don’t know which, because it’s all pathetic and stupid and sorry, and John comes in.
He says, “Let’s walk.”
We don’t care where we go, just that we go. So, on foot, we take off on the driveway and turn left down the hill. It’s always a left turn. We could turn right, but that would only take us up the hill where it gets the steepest. Just watch a car trying to pass our house during a snowstorm.
We snub the hill and take a left, descending and descending past where someone leveled a house on the other side and let the woods take over. A gazebo sprang up in the middle, and fairy tales infuse the place now. Oberon. Titania. Puck. It doesn’t work without Puck.
I have John’s hand. We let go, and his arm comes around my waist.
“People will talk,” he says.
“I sleep with you.” I point out. “Every night.”
We pass two houses of new people we haven’t met yet, and circle around the school that faces onto a busy road.
“Something died,” says John.
“I hope it wasn’t anybody I knew.”
On past the stink, we’re even with a sign inviting Pokemon devotees to enter the nature center and enjoy a S’mores event sometime soon. We could enter here, but we don’t. I never do, not anymore, although John sometimes does when he’s solo. I’m glad for the nature center’s open space, but I gave up walking in it years ago. It’s about dogs.
Dogs tend to think I’m great and jump on me. If only I loved dogs! If only people used leashes! If only—well, I don’t, they don’t, and I can’t change either thing. But I accept. See? I can accept things. This one became a no-brainer. Don’t go there.
The nature center is my forest of genies and cauldrons and flames and shadows. Rubies and diamonds await the daring and darling and valorous. I’m not brave. Daring, maybe, possibly darling, but not brave. Maybe once.
Which walk shall we take? We don’t decide until inertia has us past the dogleg. Not to decide is to decide. True. Pay attention!
Well, it doesn’t matter so much. This one thing may not be a matter of life or death.
We’ve passed the nature center, crossed the culvert where the creek sometimes rises over the road and blocks traffic—now that’s exciting!—and we’re walking, walking, loving the feel of the air, the feeling of motion, on our way to a township park which offers tennis courts and swings and a playing field where softball is played. Sometimes it’s soccer.
“Cricket,” John tells me. “It’s cricket.”
For me, cricket means an insect, but okay, I know it’s also a game with balls. Cricket. But the word always evokes an insect to me. Sometimes, they come into the house. Good luck catching them!
Nothing much going on peoplewise in the neighborhood leading to the park, but we see evidence of new pipes where yards and not the street were dug up.
“Because that’s where the pipes already were.” John knows this stuff. Where was I when this information was handed out?
“But what about that big tree? Did they cut up the roots of that tree to replace the pipes? Will it withstand that?”
“Maybe they avoided the roots. But that’s an old tree, and I just don’t think they’d detour around it.”
Good luck, tree!
I am glad they aren’t my yards that got dug up, but maybe it’s better than digging up the street. Some other homes along the way have new driveways with cones protecting them from happenstance drivers. One such driveway belongs to a couple we know, and John says it looks more like a sealing job than a completely new driveway. I don’t know how to tell the difference, but I think it likely that this couple is on top of things in a way that we never are and have their driveway resealed every couple of years and will never have to replace it like we will, having carelessly allowed some too-heavy fuel truck to park on ours and smush things around on a soggy day. This is so us. I just don’t know why. We weren’t driving the truck.
Next year for that project. Maybe. We can live with gravel.
Around we go and down a side street to the park. The last time I was here, goats, secured for the season behind electric fences, grazed in the wooded area. It’s somebody’s idea of green control, but I don’t like the idea of electric fences, especially since the powers that be stuck them in the middle of a path. It’s where we make our loop before emerging like cocooned butterflies—surprise!
There are two fences, the outer one probably to protect those clumsies who will walk through the woods anyway because, well, because. Nobody says we can’t, and it’s the route we like.
On the field, no cricket, no softball, in play, but a father-son duo attempts a kite-flying experiment. There isn’t much of a wind, but it is a beautiful day. Flying a kite without wind on a beautiful day is a good idea even if mostly what you’re doing is running and getting grass stains on your knees and the kite. It’s a good idea even with the flirting of tree branches and ponds where geese and mallards glide.
They’re making memories.
Remember the day we took the kite to the park? Remember how we fell into the pond? Remember remember remember?
You can’t waste a good prop like that. They have to fall into the drink.
“Can I have a turn, Dad?” asks the kid.
“Let me try again first.”
So he’s still a kid, too, being a kid, wanting his turn, why not? Exhilaration and joy and wonderful air the day before Labor Day.
Labor Day Weekend!
A fragile, scary bit of threaded-together time. We need to survive another few hours before the danger is past. The real reason we need this walk.
But we’re safe. Nothing bad happened this time, not so far, and that father-son duo is making a golden memory. It’s good to feel their aura.
Even if it is Labor Day.
We’ll just low-key it, John and me, breathe-blow, breathe-blow, and make it to a regular Tuesday where you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe read the comics. Not even a flat tire to mar the day. It’s hard to get a flat tire on a walk.
Little kids play on the swings ahead.
“I think that’s a pair of grandparents with them,” I say.
“Where are the actual parents?”
“Escaping,” I answer. “They sneaked through the back door when no one was looking. Having a second honeymoon while someone’s parents are loving this chance. Maybe. They seem all right with it. What are they going to do? Refuse?”
“No goats,” John says, on to the next thing. We aren’t concerned with these grandparents or their kids’ motives.
I don’t see the goats, either. The last time I was here, I’d seen maybe half a dozen, browns, whites. Just eating. What else? Should they be square-dancing?
Goats don’t blend in much. If they’re here, you see them. Goats. Unless I’m wrong about that. Maybe they blend in for privacy. A quiet reunion at a far corner with all the aunts and uncles. Look! A new baby!
We take the path through the woods in the few inches the fences haven’t stolen, but it doesn’t matter if we touch it. The outer fence is cut open half-way through our trek, and the inner one has been manipulated so it would be an easy crawl to get inside. Or out. No goats. Did they escape? Did someone help them? Did they finish their servitude and go back to mama for some real home cookin’?
“The electricity has to be off,” says John, “and it was only for the inner fence, anyway.”
This is a fact for which I’m glad since I’ve already run up against the outer fence. No frying. So far. Even though it is Labor Day Weekend.
I’m sorry for the no-goats part even if they only eat and ignore me and don’t ask my name. Sue, I’d tell them. Sue. You can call me Sue.
Out through the woods and into open sunlight. So bright! It’s a beautiful day with a slight breeze. I wonder if the father-son duo got the kite into the blue beyond. Wouldn’t that be cool?
I’m feeling not so dead, not dead at all, and what a great day to be outside!
But we still have to get home. It will be another twenty minute with steady walking.
That’s the beauty and the curse of walks. Sometimes you just want to be done, but home is still where you left it, and you have to walk that much more to get there. Good. It’s what you want, or did.
I’ll take this house, now, I sometimes think. If I don’t have to walk the rest of the way and can just sit down and be here, I’ll belong to this family now.
Today, though, I’m okay with just walking and walking in the warming sun, in the breeze that John likes best in the shade. So do I. Lovely, lovely. Make this forever!
We return past the nature center and over the culvert that isn’t flooding.
Ew! I’d forgotten about that that smell.
“Don’t scavengers take care of things before they stink like that?”
John doesn’t know. Clearly, it didn’t happen this time.
That dead thing is still there, still dead, I hope it’s dead. Whatever it is, it’s not following us like a homeless dog. Nature will take care of it, I hope, before the Pokemon/S’mores festival.
We’ve made it to the foot of our hill. It’s not just our hill, but it is ours. We’ve been here almost the longest of anyone. Maybe we’re the historians of the hill. A hill with trees and a place where a house used to be, where ours remains, fronted by a lumpy, gravelly, unsuave driveway.
We’re not holding hands. John’s arm isn’t around my waist.
Not so you can see.