Monday, August 30, 2010

My Consolation

Shriveled peas roll from my plate, into the pail where several crusts from morning toast await. Three escape into the sink and I chase them around the basin like piglets in a pen. I have trouble locating them as a shard of light pierces the tattered curtain, yet I can feel them, cornered. My fingers are still nimble enough to pinch and so they join the others.

On my way out, I pass her chair, pushed snug against the table. I stroke its back the way I used to caress the handrail as I stepped onto the porch of her parents’ house, my stomach twisting and turning with new love. Her barn coat still hangs from the old iron hook like dainties slung over the shower rod. Although the sight of it burns my eyes each time I come in or go out, I would die but for the yearning.

Then, the screen door slams behind me, echoing off every corner of the barnyard. On cue, they call to me like eager hatchlings waiting for their share.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Hanging a load of whites should have been a safe task, in spite of the accumulated heap awaiting the first bit of sun I had seen in days. I counted off each clothespin as I clipped consecutive washcloths, end-to-end; eleven in all. And then dish towels; still stained but clean to me. Bath towels next, trying to keep them from wrapping around me as a stiff breeze took control of three corners. Next row: cotton panties and a series of socks; anklets first and then knee-hi’s, each beside its mate. Finally, one last peculiar wad of cloth.

Distracted by the swoop of a barn swallow, I followed its ascent to the telephone wire overhead, amused at how the string of them, perched evenly between posts, resembled my weatherworn clothespins. I smiled, glad that I remembered how, and reached for that last bit of laundry. I didn’t recognize the T-shirt until I shook it out.

Damp. Clean—no, sterile. Not a trace of the man who wore it, and would never wear it again. I had desecrated the last bit of him, bleached out his scent, traded his sweat—the odor of wood shavings and freshly cut grass—for the smell of sunshine and warm breezes and I could not catch my breath over what I had done.

(I asked my husband if he thought I should change this from first person to third so that readers wouldn't think he died or something, and he said, "Nah—leave it as it is. Third person would ruin the intensity, doncha think?")

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Okay, so I’m sitting here at a little café, with my spinach salad and a chilled stout, when this woman at the checkered-cloth table beside me pulls out a sketch pad. Well, maybe she’s just going to look over some stuff she’s already drawn, but no—she rifles through her bag and proceeds to unfold and assemble, right in front of her, a tiny field set of Windsor Newton watercolors—and not one of those plasticy new sets (like mine), but one of the old, out-of-production leather encased arrangements, with well-used pigments.

Oh, yeah, she’s serious—so serious about it that she’s oblivious to my eyes boring through the side of her head, down her neck and bare arm. The brush seems to slide between her fingers as if she held the wing of a butterfly, not cramped and controlled, like some unwieldy timber, not the way I grip mine.

She hasn’t glanced beyond her table and paints-at-hand since she sat. I want her to look at me, so that I can acknowledge what she’s doing, but at the same time, I don’t want her to see—to detect my envy. Now, she’s sipping her water glass down to half-full. She wets her brush between her pursed lips, drawing those fine sable hairs to a point. I wait, watching, knowing what comes next. She stares ahead for a moment, then plunges her brush into her sweating glass. That’s right, she means business.

All at once, I’m overcome with self-consciousness for her. I look around at the peripheral tables, at the others patrons whose eyes dart from their lunch to her and back to their main concern. She appears unaware of any of us as she dabs her brush, loading it with cadmium red and then dispersing it—with four loose strokes, flower petals spring to life from the vase onto her paper…