Soft curves, sharp focus.
Black layers edged in curls of the setting sun’s reflected light on a cloudless night.
The white is an illusion; he will blend seamlessly into night within the hour.
Red-winged blackbirds seem in a frenzy to find one another, cawing madly and swooping among the highest branches. Other birds, tiny and tea-colored, dive into marsh grass, leaving weaving trails which last only seconds before the reeds and early summer stalks unbend and unbow. A rare bird of prey circles overhead.
Once again I’m alone in the woods–the same predicament that was the subject of my first favorite picture book, whose words I memorized to give the appearance of being a precocious reader.
Well, not quite alone. The only traditionally visible human, however.
That childhood book, Betsy’s Adventure in the Woods, ended before the protagonist’s bedtime, when her big brother found her and lead her back home to her family. My outing will end in a solitary walk under a sliver of moon to an empty home. Life has hurled some curve balls.
I am not particularly well-constituted for them.
“Yesterday I did not know that today it would be raining.” Edward Gorey once wrote.
Even when it’s something God-awful, I’d prefer to know what’s coming.
“Is there something I should pick up for dinner?”
“Surprise me,” my son says, echoing his father.
“Pleasantly, or unpleasantly?” I echo him, too.
Of course it was not my plan to be a widowed mother of still growing children, although that is always a possibility when one enters the sacrament of marriage and receives the blessing of little ones.
My husband Jim was a planner, for all of us. He meticulously mapped accounts for our children’s educations, to culminate in commencements he would not live to attend, and for a retirement he would never enjoy. I had to fire up his computer recently–after my most recent catastrophic computer missteps. The screen still flashes reminders of weekly work meetings at which he is absent, and several programs ask me for passwords I do not know. My heart hurt when I saw financial files he had assembled, with titles like “What to do if I cannot.” (Even those were cushioned for my eyes: he used an “if,” and not a “when.”)
I remember standing behind him as he sat at his computer, probably drafting these very files.
“I should show you how to do this. And this is a list of things I do every season outside.”
“I can’t. It won’t be any easier.” My head was down, tears falling to the wide dark pine floorboard.
“But it would be easier for me.”
And I saw in his eyes that he needed to know he would still be helping take care of us. “Anything that makes it easier for you,” I thought, but did not say, and tried to stop crying.
I am not a natural planner, perhaps because I grew up with a curiously exaggerated sense of the probability of imminent disaster.
Paradoxically, that fear, which bled into fears of the relatively ordinary–from highway driving to having blood taken to flying–disappeared only once something I had never thought to fear made itself known, and everything else “dissolve[d] in a moment/ like salt in a weakened broth.”
A moth lands and dawdles in tattered grass in front of me before flitting off again. One wing, dotted with tiny white hearts, follows a meandering path, broken only very slightly above one heart, a tributary scar. The other wing is pinked, sheared off below another cluster of hearts.
I wonder how it keeps aloft with such a large missing piece.