Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forty Days and Nights: Love Stories. 40. Finding the Words

There were old hatreds. Those are part of another story. Now their families never met, never spoke, and all the people of the families were watched and kept strictly apart, as happens in old stories of hatred closely and carefully kept.

One day the girl, who was never anymore allowed to see the boy but who had secret ways of speaking to him, ways that confounded their keepers, stumbled on a precious thing.
A string of words.
She tried to wear it, but no one could see it.
She tried to share it, but no one could hear it.
She thought to put it in a secret place, but she felt it whimpering and knew that dark would kill it, so she took it back out and sat with the string in her hand, wondering, and they were sad together, she and the string.
She tried and tried, she did her best but she couldn't think what a string of words might be for, yet they sat in her hand and looked up at her hopefully, trusting.

And she thought, as she always did, of the boy.

She remembered, long ago, when once she had seen him, for a moment, they had spoken of a game sometimes played by their people, the tribe of speakers.
A story-toss game.
The game of Say and Say.
She thought, I can wrap this string in a secret and send it to the boy by the ways that confuse and confound and he will know what to do.
So she did.
She did.
And waited, looking off toward where she knew the boy was, hopefully, trusting.

The next day a little bundle came to her, a little bundle wrapped in a secret slipping down the hidden ways of mystery and conundrum, sliding and falling at her feet. She opened it and the string of words shouted up at her hopefully, trusting, jumping, hopping in a crowd of friends.

The boy had taken the string and made a scarf.

She wrapped the scarf around her arms, and by evening she had made of it a shawl. She wrapped it up, in the way she knew, the way she had learned, and sent it back to the boy who was hopeful and trustworthy.

He returned her back the shawl and mittens.

She wore the mittens all that day but sent them back before dark only by now the shawl was a cloak which she had made and in which he slept. She knew he slept cold.

This went on, days and days and nights, no one cold, no one lonely, everyone wrapped in a secret tied by words.

What could the world do but stand and shake its head, confounded?

This is not a story that ends, but it is all I will tell.
You may make more of it for yourself.
Find a string of words.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Forty Days and Nights: Love Stories. 39. In the Valley of the Shadow

My mother doesn't approve of it, she said looking out the window, she doesn't approve of love, of people being in love.
He was so startled, he looked over at her, turned to her so quickly that he turned the steering wheel too and the car swerved. He swore softly and corrected carefully, still looking over at her, disbelieving.
What is it? she asked, what's the matter?
What did you just say? he asked her. About your mother? What did you say?
That she doesn't approve of people being in love? she asked him. That? Look where you're driving.
Yes, he said and looked where he was driving, that. What do you mean? How can that be?
Oh, she said. Well, she doesn't approve of most things, you know she doesn't, but my mother doesn't approve of love. Or of passion, she went on, speaking more to herself now than to him, nor even, I think, of happiness, she said sounding surprised. Mother has never been in love herself, you know, and I think she disapproves of it in others.
Really? he asked, really?
Really, she said, smiling a hard little smile, watch them next time, watch my parents. Watch my father.

Your poor dad, he said after the next time, after he had been watching.
Yes, she said, I told you.
I always liked your dad, he said, sounding a little desperate, a little frantic.
Did you? she asked. You've never really even seen my dad, she said with that hard edge of amusement in her voice. Not until today. Not until I told you what to look for.
Still, he said and waved his hand but had no idea what he meant by it.
So you saw it, she said, looking straight in front of her out through the front window, out across the endless desert. You saw them, the way they are.
I saw it, he said, holding tight, tight to the steering wheel.

It's the worst thing I can imagine, she said suddenly as they crossed the state line, after she had been so silent that he had been unable to be anything but silent, silent until he could hear ringing in his ears, til he felt he had to kick something viciously to stay where he was, to stay sane.
Her words surprised him, surprised him so much.
The worst thing? he asked gently. What is? Tell me?
Not to believe. In anything. Not to want anything. Not in happiness, not a shred, not even a shred. And she was crying, just like that, just right there, without warning, without reason. It frightened him. He pulled the car over, reached out for her, unsure, frightened and unsure.
Hey, he said. Hey. Reached out. Arms around her. Two frightened people in a little speck of air conditioned car on the side of a perfectly straight road running as far through an endless desert as any human eyes could see.
You won't end up like your mother, he said with a sudden flash of understanding.
How do you know? she asked, how can you be sure? But it's not my mom I'm thinking about, she said, pushing him back a bit so she could focus on him. It's my dad. And she cried harder. I don't want to end up like my dad. She put her hands over her face.
He held her. What else could he do? She cried softly and he thought about it. Sweetheart, he said into her hair, sweetheart, what do you think I'm for? This is what I'm for, he said helplessly and tightened his arms around her. This is what I'm for. He felt her tears sliding hot down his neck, into his shirt. This is why I'm here, baby, he made strong words for her in the middle of that vast desert. This is why I'm here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forty Days and Night: Love Stories. 38. Tell Me, Sister Ann, Do You See My Brothers Yet?

He seemed fine when he came down to dinner. He asked her how she had been, how the weather had been, how her family was. Boring, he was always so boring. She told him all of it anyway, since he had asked. He listened closely, he seemed to be starting to say something a couple of times, but she just kept on telling him about the weather, all of the weather there had been, every day, since he had gone. He asked, after all. Then she started on her family. Lots to tell there, they were all crazy. Finally he raised his hand and asked her for his keys. That was rude, she thought, just to ask for the keys back while she was answering him about her family and she hadn't even finished with her mother yet, let alone her sisters, but she handed the keys to him without saying anything about his rudeness. Then she went back to catching him up on her mother. He was looking through the keys.
They're all here, he said. As if he had not expected them all to be there.
She stopped mid-word, sat with her mouth open. What are all there? she asked, because of course the keys were all there, where else would they be? It surprised her so much she figured he couldn't be talking about the keys, he must be thinking of something else.
He was turning his keys over and over in his hand, looking at them closely, holding them up to the light. They're all here, he said to himself. Every one of them.
She stared at him, narrowed her eyes. Crazy. Just like her mother. Dang.
He looked up at her, caught her measuring gaze, gave a forced laugh. My keys! he said in a jolly way, my keys are all right here! You took such good care of them. How nice of you.
She was nodding to herself. Yep. Just like her mother.
So, he said casually, what did you do with them while I was gone? Did you have any...adventures?
What did I do with them? she asked, what did I do? I used them to open doors, she said, and felt silly. What else would she use keys for? she wondered. Was this some sort of a test?
Of course, he said heartily, of course! Opening doors! Yes. Yes. Any special doors? he asked suddenly and sharply, looking right into her face.
She made her eyes big. There aren't any special doors here, she said, just the normal sort of boring ones.

The truth was there really wasn't anything special around here, nothing special, nothing to do.

He had given her the keys to everything before he left, of course, and told her she could do anything she liked as long as she never went into the small room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. The trouble was she didn't know what she liked to do, so she watched television and worked on her tan. That was all the work she needed to do here, everything else somebody else was paid to do. It was so boring. Her mother had been excited, so excited about him, even though he was so old and strange looking. Her mother was so excited that finally one of the girls was finally going to marry someone with some real money. Finally. Well, he had money all right, but living in this big old house out in the country was not so great, as far as she could see. Boring, boring. No wonder all his other wives had run off. They'd have died of boredom if they stayed here. She drove to the mall, to her brother's house, to the club, to the lake, to her mother's house, to the mall again, then to all her sister's houses. Then she went home and it was not even lunch time and she thought she was going crazy. So she invited everyone to come stay with her and they all said they'd come. They were coming tomorrow, she was planning a barbecue. But now he was back, which was fine, but he was being so weird about his keys. He was going to spoil it, she knew he was, he was going to be old and strange and spoil her nice plans.

But he didn't spoil anything. He left instead.

First thing in the morning, without explanation. He gave her back the keys, told her the same thing he'd said before and asked her twice, twice! like she was a baby! if she understood she was not to use the little key that was for the small room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. She said she understood. Gosh, he was an old weirdo. This marriage was a mistake, money or no money. He got right in her face, lots of drama. He said she was forbidden to use the little key. Told her in no uncertain terms that if she used it, if she went into that room, he couldn't answer for his actions. He said, I forbid it in the strongest possible terms. So, she didn't go in there. Sheesh. Who wanted to, anyway?

Her party was not ruined and her family loved the house, just loved it. She was almost glad she had married him after all. Almost.

Two days later he was back. Not even pretending to care how she had been, just asking for his keys. Fine. See if she cared. She did not. Keys. Check. Who wanted them, anyway? And he freaked out, he just freaked out. Kept yelling that they were all there, that the stupid things were all fine. Well, what did he expect? This was just stupid.

He didn't even come down to dinner. She could hear him upstairs pacing and talking to himself. She put on loud music so her family wouldn't hear him. That made it feel even more like a party and cheered her up.

He left in the middle of the night. Woke her up to give her the damn keys. Made her promise, swear, that she wouldn't go into the little room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. Or use that little key. In any way. She was so mad at him. In any way? How was she supposed to use it if she didn't go into the room which he had just told her not to do? He was worse than her mother, lots worse.

He came home again that afternoon.

He was calm now, calm and completely creepy. So, he said, so. She looked up from her magazine and her sisters looked away, embarrassed. He was talking in this voice like he was God or something, and like she was a naughty little girl. So, he said, now tell me about it. Because, he held up one finger like he was stopping her even though she wasn't about to say anything to him when he was being such an idiot, because I know. Remember, he said and looked hard at her, I know what you've really done. You're only a woman, you can't help it. You have to know everything, you can't control yourself. Now her sisters were not looking away, they were looking at him, right at him. And they were not happy. He ignored them. He stared at her and his eyes got all twitchy and scary. You went in there, I know you did. It was only a matter of time, they do, they all do, because they're just women! Women can't control themselves, they're weak, they're liars, they're stupid and they deserve what they've got coming to them.

Now her brothers were standing up, walking over, looking hard and hot around the edges. She stood up, too, and she was mad. You're a jerk, she said furiously. You're just a big fat jerk. Why did I even marry you? Who cares about you? Who cares about your stupid room? What the hell can you possibly have that you think anybody is going to be interested in? I hate you, you know that? I hate you and you are every bit as ugly as people say you are. You should shave that horrible thing off your face and stand up straight and dress like you were born in this century. Here are your stupid keys. I never want to see you or them again.

She stormed up to her room, packed her things, all of them, even the new things he had paid for, and stomped out, slamming the door.

Her brothers drove her home.

Well, her mother said, well. So much for the money.
More important things in life, Ma, she said shortly and went upstairs to unpack. Lots more important things, her sisters said as they helped her put away all her new loot. Good stuff, she had gotten some really good stuff. Like, one of her sisters said, like not marrying a man with a funny colored beard. No beard at all next time, she promised herself, I think that's a deal breaker.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Forty Days and Nights: Love Stories. 37. Mirror

It was always about the other mother. The dear one.

For instance, when she arrived at an event.
Hello, darling, don't you look lovely tonight! And how unusual! I mean, not everyone could get away with something like this, could they? So exotic!
And then, turning from her as if in that way she wouldn't really hear, turning to one of the old friends, one of the family-members-in-law, Do you remember how the dear one used to light up a room when she walked in? And she always dressed so simply.But she could pull it off. Class, that was what she had, class. Electric, just electric. The masses of that hair, stunning.

Or, when old friends who were supposed to be her new friends saw what she had done with the house.
Oh, how wonderful! And how brave! You've really gone all out here, haven't you, made the place quite a showcase, yes, really one of a kind now, isn't it? Did you work with someone, or did you come up with this all on your own?
But she would overhear them, huddled together, sotto voce. Oh, it felt so cozy when the dear one was here, she always made it feel just like home from the moment you walked in. Yes, yes, so homey then.

Or with him, even when she was with him.
Thank you, darling, I do love a drink when I get home and this is made just as I like it.
Then he would walk to the bar and change it, fix it, smiling at her.
Oh, sweetheart, have you seen my glasses? I always look for them right here on my desk--what? Where? With the paper? Oh, how thoughtful. No, that's fine. I'm sure I'd have found them sooner or later.
And he would take the glasses and return them to his desk where the dear one had always set them for him to find when he left them on the bookcase or next to the sink or in the pocket of his coat. He was very absentminded.
Are you taking my baby shopping today? he would ask, rumpling his daughter's hair and smiling down with that look only his baby ever, ever got. Oh, I know she doesn't need another dress, she never needs anything, he would say fondly, absently, dismissively, but she's always had a special one for the Christmas tea.
And he would walk away from her, tucking his little daughter's hand under his arm, leaning down to hear words whispered into his ear alone.

It was worst with the little girl, no question, it was by far the worst there. No one turned politely away, no one pretended to whisper, no one considered for a moment whether she would want to hear them gushing, pouring compliments on the blooming little girl like they were warm maple syrup, like they were honey butter.
Have you ever seen lips like this on a child? On anyone, for that matter? It's quite unreal! Other than the dear one, of course, she had a mouth just like that. Quite a showstopper she was. No one, no one could ever touch the dear one, though it looks like this little beauty may, someday!
No one. No one had a mouth like that but the dear one. No one. The dear one and, one day, the child.

The family acting as if any compliment to the little girl were a compliment to her.
Oh, my goodness, look at her, all that black hair! She's going to be a beauty just like her mama.
Just like her mama. Not like the woman standing here now with this little girl, the woman whose smile was set now, set like a stone smile. Not a beauty like her, the living woman, a beauty like the dear one, like the dead mama.

The old/new friends, coming to visit for the first time in a long time.
Oh, will you look a that! She's the spitting image, she is, the very image! That skin! I remember it so well! I thought I'd never see skin like that again, but just look at her!
Just look at her, the image of the dear one.

People meeting them for the first time.
Goodness, your little daughter is gorgeous! You must be very proud. She's so different from you, isn't she? You're so pale. Of course, she's pale too, but she's just rosy, isn't she? Does she take after her father? Oh, not yours? Well, that explains it.
Yes. It explained lots of things.

Strangers stopping them on the street.
Better watch out for this one, she'll cause lots of trouble one day, won't you darling? Do you want a lolly? Is it alright if I give her this candy? What a little beauty, what a little heartbreaker.
Lots of trouble. One day that little girl will cause you lots of trouble.

One day.

And this, when she was a beautiful woman. She knew it. Had always known it. Men stared, stopped to watch her walk down the street. She rested in that place, that safety, that surety. He had fallen in love with her the moment he saw her, and he couldn't say that for the dear one. Childhood sweethearts they had been, so who knows if he had ever really even seen the dear departed as a grown up woman? She was the most beautiful woman people had ever seen, she was, not the dear one, they told her so. people told her so. All the time. Often. Whenever that little girl, his baby, wasn't there, wasn't holding her hand, skipping along, black curls bouncing.

One day.

And she could cook. Her food was magic, pure magic. When they ate her food, nobody thought to remember anyone else. Not the family, not the old/new friends, not strangers who came to her table for the first time. They did a bit of whispering as they sat down, reminding each other that she had grabbed his heart by way of his stomach, but that all stopped when the food came to the table. She was the queen at the table, she ruled. The dear one, rest her soul, wasn't remembered for her food.
Rest in peace, dear one.

She researched boarding schools. He wouldn't hear of it.
She talked about relatives in the country, healthful fresh air and open spaces, the life long benefits of early fellowship with cows and dogs. And rabbits. She mused aloud how vital it was for girls to learn to ride. Young. To ride and to milk and to shear. He paid her no attention whatsoever.
She mused, idly, whether and how anyone could grow up properly without a year abroad. Years abroad. It was, probably, never too early to begin. To go. He laughed at her. He laughed at her and that night at dinner, sitting, eating the dinner she always made for him herself, all of it, made all of it herself for him and him alone, he told his baby, his little beauty, that she had grown into the most beautiful girl in the world.

The first time was nearly an accident. He was gone with his work, traveling. She told that first doctor that the poor little thing had slipped in the kitchen and fallen. Which, of course, the poor little thing had. Fallen, that is. At home she combed so carefully the dried blood out of those black, black curls and reflected that, really, it could have been worse. Much, much worse.

The fourth doctor she didn't like at all. He watched her far too closely. At first she purred and bridled at that attention, recounting to him what was now a long saga of the poor little girl's accidents and injuries, her illnesses and conditions. He talked and talked to her and she loved it, she loved him, til she realized he was taking notes, caught him asking the little girl questions. She put a stop to that at once. I'm sure the silly thing's fine after all, she told the doctor, her jeans are probably too small and she's short of breath. She's very vain that way, wears them cruelly tight. I don't know, he said, she's very pale. Oh, the poor thing's always been like that, she said, takes after her mother you know. Not me. Her mother was famously pale. Skin like snow, I'm told. No, it's just the jeans. I warned her about them, but she never listens. I'm sure she'll be fine as soon as she changes. Sorry to have troubled you, but the smallest thing sets the poor girl off and she always thinks she's dying.
And she gathered them up and went home.

She oversaw the little girl's diet, watched her for sign of chill, hovered over her like a real mother would, if a real mother watched every move and breath and developed ways of discerning thoughts, of reading minds. After the fourth doctor the little girl became very quiet, very watchful, and she was increasingly watchful after each succeeding doctor. Almost as if there were a brain in that glorious, empty head, she thought contemptuously. Days went by and the poor little girl mostly stayed in her room. For years. She ranted in the kitchen, she raved as she concocted delicacies for him, railed against her slavery, her entrapment by a beautiful stranger's beautiful child. Then one day, after a total of six doctors, she had a perfect idea. It would not be easy, it would take some tricky cooking, but it would work. It would work and she would be free and the most important, most beautiful thing in his world. She made the crust and went right out to buy the fruit.

It wasn't easy to get the stupid girl even to eat nowadays, almost as if the little chit were frightened, as it someone had warned her. Here honey, she said in her very best mommy voice, aren't you hungry? You're thin, you're so thin she said and could not keep the envy from twisting her voice. Look, silly girl, I'll eat half of it, and she took her fork and ate half the piece of pie she had cut, half a piece of the best apple pie she had ever tasted, had ever made. I'll work it off tomorrow, she promised herself as she finished the crust, I'll do a double workout at the gym tomorrow.
To celebrate.

But he called an ambulance, of course. Of course he did and no one would let her ride alongside the child. No one. She shouted. Idiots. She had to drive herself because he went with the girl. With my baby, he said, and she despised him, his weakness and his tears and his love, and she made plans as she drove around and around looking for parking. Impossible, she fumed, this is going to take all night. She checked herself in the reflection of the door as she went in. Perfect. Still.

They stopped her at the door. No admittance. But my husband, she began. Family only, the seventh doctor said firmly and nodded to the nurses who escorted her to the waiting room. Well, she thought happily, great! I'm not waiting around here, and she drove home, running a sign and a light. Making plans, making plans all the way home. It was good she hadn't stayed, nothing happened, nothing changed. Coma, this seventh doctor said as he denied her entrance again. We're waiting for a specialist. The specialist came to talk to her first, before even going into see the useless girl. Very handsome, very charming. She gave everything she had, turned it on full force. The young specialist beamed at her. Oh, what an innocent! Asked her what the girl had eaten before she came, asked, delighted, if there were any pie left. She went right home to get some. Tried to remember how she had done it, which side was which. She thought about it, chose a side, cut a piece. The sweet-faced specialist took it with him into the room where the stupid girl was sleeping like the dead. If only, she thought grimly.

And she couldn't figure it out, couldn't piece it together. How the world came flying apart when she had been so careful, so very expert and tricky. She tried, for as long as she could think about anything, to think how that had happened to her when all she had wanted was what other people had. To be the most beautiful. To be loved the most. To have someone who cared only for her. She just wanted what other people had, what she saw they had. That was all. Was that so much? The little hussy married the specialist. Not a baby now, not anymore. All those years in shut in the bedroom, the lying little cheat had grown up. Well, he could have the baggage. Seven doctors indeed. She washed her hands of the lot of them. She sat up very straight in her cell. There she was, in the mirror over the sink. Still. Still the most beautiful woman, the most beautiful woman here. No visitors, please. Let me just be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Forty Days and Nights: Love Stories. 36. The Pieces of the Dreams that You Have

They made a garden and they made a house and they made a fire and then they made dinner.

Then they slept.

While they slept she dreamed of fishes that swam and floated on the air just outside the thoughts in people's heads, fishes that slowly expanded and contracted, fishes that changed from one deep and shimmering hue to another. Red, blue, green. And then of a dress, and herself in the dress, a dress stiff and layered, jewel toned, that slid from color to color as with the flow of her thoughts.

He dreamed of a mountain that fell and kept him from coming to her when the snakes threatened. Then in his dream he walked with her in deep surf and in air that turned to gold as the sun came up over the ocean. He saw the raindrops far, far above their heads falling perfect and whole, golden pearls, flashing past him and into the ocean.

They tended their garden, they set their house in order. They sat by the fire after dinner and when it was autumn she said, we've lost something, and he agreed. He said, I believe you are right. They slept close together and did not dream and when morning came they began to search. Nothing is easy to find but lost things are difficult, and a thing that is lost even to memory and naming is most difficult of any thing to find. Needles and haystacks are named and can be measured; they are weighable, countable, stackable and sewable. A lost thing, on the other hand, might as well be underhand and overland for all the two of them could do to find it. The sun went right down before they had found more than a mere few dozen of lost things and he took her hand in the cool and dusty blue of evening, where they stood tight together under stars no more than a hundred or two of which had names any one knew and he said to her, softly and gently, we will look tomorrow. We will look until we find it. Yes, she said sadly, yes, we won't have a choice. He knew it, he knew the choices they would not have, and he carried her hand soberly in his all the way back to their garden and their fire. Between them they brought all the found things that were no longer lost. Some of the things made nice stacks in the dark garden and some of them needed to go into baskets in the shadowy house and a few of them were eaten for dinner by the fire. Six of them ran away to the neighbor's tool shed.

Winter came and they moved the fire inside their house. It looked as though, if you could peel back the snow out on the garden, under it there would be only bumps of dirt and plant mistakes, but it was really their summer garden sleeping under the snow. The house sang in the cold on the outside and hummed in the heat on the inside. The house was always reaching out to hug them when they came back from a day of searching. We'll know it, he said to her while he sorted into piles the fifty found things of that day, we'll know it when we find it. We'll know then that it's found. Yes, she agreed, we will. We won't have a choice, and she threw away some lost things for which no name could ever be found and made room on the bookshelves for a few others, put two of them into her hair and fed a handful to the cat. Which cat was one thing they had found, but which cat told everyone that it, the cat, had found them. They could not have found me, the cat told people, unless I had in the first place been lost. The evidence that I was never lost is that they know my name; they call me to dinner and I come. Lost things have not known names. This was what the cat told people. The cat was one of the found things that had gone into a basket.

She dreamed of a fair and of dancing with him while birds sat in his shoulders and reminded her of things she had left undone and he said, never listen to birds that talk but don't dance. So they walked away from the dance and were lost until an old man came and showed them the way, grumbling and grumbling.

He dreamed of a little woman who sat down under their bed and told him terrible things until she came and dropped an iron on the little woman. Then he dreamed that she held him while he cried from the terrible things the little woman had said, and while she held him she told him not to eat the woman's bread, and that if he did that, he would forget all about her. And he did.

They made an early spring bonfire with last year's dead growth and sat close to it, drinking hot chocolate in the thin spring sunshine. She looked deep into the coals and said, thoughtfully as she drank some hot chocolate, We maybe need to do this in the house. He spilled some chocolate on his shoes. Do this? he asked, in the house? Make a bonfire? She looked toward him from far away, her eyes focusing beyond him, her hands wrapped tightly around the hot cup. Prune, she said, inside the house. Clear. Cut back. Oh! he said, right! Of course. Prune. Trim inside the house. Yes, I see. So they did; the next day they pared back the winter's growth of found things til only the ones that answered to their names were left and then every year after that, when they had finished outside the house, they cut back inside the house. They threw the parings out the windows and doors and there, in the newly shorn and ship shape garden, would be a houseful of about-to-be-lost-again things. Sometimes they donated those things to the Orphans of Brave Men Lost at Sea Fund, and sometimes they gave the things to the gypsies if the gypsies wandered by in the early spring. Gypsies travel light and they never knew why the gypsies wanted the pile of trimmings, but that was the gypsies' problem. Once or twice they gave the pile away as Christmas gifts. People were so moved at the thoughtfulness of those presents. Sometimes they had a garden sale, but the best by far was when, if that winter's takings had run mostly to wood and other combustibles, they just burned the whole lot. With those fires they had to roast marshmallows on sticks like, ten feet long. That was the most fun by far but it felt so irresponsible that it took them a couple of years to recover before they could do it again and enjoy it. After the huge fire was out, after they got home from donating or gifting or whatever that year had brought them, he always took her face in both his hands and told her, tenderly and because he meant and he knew it, We will find it, you know, we will find the lost thing. We will look until we find it. And she said sadly, I know we will. We have made the choice to look until we find it.

She dreamed of water and sand and dragons.
He dreamed of books with pages that flew away when he opened them.

Then they raked the leaves off of the lawn and jumped in the huge pile to see if there was anything lost in those leaves.

Hunting for a lost thing.
Picking tomatoes.
Making cider.
Pumpkin pies.
Shoveling snow.
Searching for something lost.
Forcing bulbs.
Planting peas.
Flying kites.
Trimming the inside of the house.
Gathering rosebuds.
Spitting watermelon seeds.
Drawing with sparklers.
Questing, together, for a lost thing.
Peach pies.
Reading books in piles of leaves.
Dressing as famous witches.
Sugar cookies.
Looking for a thing that is lost.
Bringing in firewood.
Constructing Valentines.
Hunting asparagus.
Pruning the inside of their house.
Eating by candlelight.
Going to find a lost thin. Or two.

One day he caught her staring out over his head into a sky filled with so many stars that it didn't even matter that they only knew the names of one or two hundred or so. What is it? he asked her, what do you see?
I was wrong, I think, she said, I think I was very wrong.
Oh, lover, he said, wrong about what? She turned to look full at him, and her eyes were filled with tears.
Nothing was ever lost, she said, we had lost nothing. I was so, so wrong. I'm sorry.
Oh, baby, he said helplessly, no, how could you have been wrong? What do you mean saying nothing was ever lost? Think, look, just look at all the things we have found. I told you, I told you all along we'd know when we found it, and we did. We knew every time.
The looking, with you, has been my greatest joy, she told him. I've loved every minute of this.
Yes, he said, we're pretty good at this, aren't we?
Perfect, she said, perfect. Come on, she said, let's go find something. I have a feeling it's lost.

They slept, they woke, they hunted together, and every spring, like clockwork, like yardwork, like tide and tree work, they cleaned out the nameless things in their house.

She dreamed of stores that opened into more stores and drawers filled with buttons and notes and jewelry and tiny dolls' arms and legs.

He dreamed of a city empty and glowing, waiting for him to arrive with piles of found things heaped in basket carriages drawn by cats.

She stood, in her dream, and waited for him, before she opened the Cabinet of Doors.
He hushed the cats, so he could hear her when she would finally come into the waiting city.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Forty Days and Nights: Love Stories. 35. A Thousand Little Girls

He loved her so much he made a song for her. He loved her so much he talked to his mom about her. He tried to get his friends to be nice when she was around but it was hard, almost all his friends were boys and that made it very hard. He thought no one but his mom knew he was thinking about her all the time but after a while his sister knew. His sister said he should like someone else, another girl who was his sister's friend but he didn't. He never would like that other girl, his sister's friend, and after a while his sister gave up bothering him about it. His sister gave him a lot of advice about his girl and told him he better listen to it and he did, mostly, sometimes, but not always.

One day it was his girl's birthday and it was summer and the days were really long and warm. Not so hot, not yet, not hot like it would be when it was his sister's birthday, but not still cold and only pretending to be summer like it always was on his birthday. It was perfect weather for a summer party and it was going to be his girl's birthday and he wanted to do something for her, something nice and a big surprise. He decided to make a fairy town for her by the river and to get his mom to make fairy food and to take it to the fairy town and have a party there when it was evening, with candles in the trees and with music. He'd ask his dad to play the guitar and to not sing and his mom to come with the food and help him make a great party, and he'd only invite the friends who liked to play fairy town. That was three of the people he knew, plus his girl and plus his sisters, so seven people not counting his mom and dad. Seven is a magical number.

He sat in the mud by the edge of the stream carefully tying sticks together with grass. His littlest sister was making steps from the root of the tree down into the water, down to the landing they had made from sticks and smooth stones. She was using round, flat rocks, pressing them into a sloping shelf she had scraped into the soft, damp dirt. He watched her a moment, then went back to his slow work, satisfied she was setting the steps evenly and making them level. He could hear his other sister behind him in the bushes, singing and breaking something. Branches.

His mom and his dad were talking, too, his dad was helping his mom set up the folding table for the fancy fairy food and also some chairs for people who would want to sit down on something and not be able find a good log. He carefully set the stick and grass sliding double door in place on the pod and acorn warehouse that sat on the bank above the landing and then he scooted back from the water. He looked around the town and nodded in satisfaction. His littlest sister had finished the waterside steps and was busy working in the backyards of a row of bark cottages, making raised garden beds with straight rows of tiny, stuck-in leaves. He looked around for his next project and stopped to consider a hollow at one side of a tree, his head a bit on one side, and then began to build a theater, like a Greek one is his book at home.

The day went by and so far no one had come, but it wasn't a bother, wasn't a worry because he had told people his family would be by the river all day and that they could come whenever they wanted to, to help with the fairy town. One of his friends came and started to help and they had a great time all day. His friend loved the theater and helped him make a bakery and a pottery. His littlest sister made stables for mice and the bigger sister made a whole row of shops that sold clothing made out of flowers, and his friend helped both his sisters and talked to his mom and dad and had a great lunch with his family. Then the other two friends came in time to help with the food and with putting the candles in the trees so that by the time his girl got there the whole place looked really magical. The first friend who came also had the great idea of putting little birthday candles into the tiny shops and houses so the fairy buildings just glowed in the warm summer evening, and the candles reflected and flickered in the ripples on the river where it flowed around and under the tiny landing he had made below the pod and acorn warehouse.

His girl loved her gift, just loved it, loved the fairy town, loved the food, loved his dad playing the guitar, and he felt very happy. His littlest sister played with the first friend who had come and his bigger sister watched everyone and made lots of plans in her head for other, better girls her brother should fall in love with and marry. They ate the special fairy food his mom had made and his dad played songs for them to listen to and to sing. The river chuckled and splashed as it flowed past, and all the candles burned low. He was happy, very, very happy. He had done just want he hoped he could do for his girl and she had loved it. Just loved it. He was so happy, and he didn't even fight with his bigger sister on the way home in the car.

Do you think, his dad asked his mom as they drove the rest of the way home with sleeping children in the backseat, do you think he will ever notice that the girl he had so much fun with was not the one he has a crush on? Oh, yes, I expect he will, his mom said, he's a smart boy. His dad drove for a while and didn't talk. His mom watched the reflection of the moon on the river as they drove alongside it. How long, his dad asked, how long do you think it will be before he notices? His mom smiled out the window at the river and at the shredded moon reflected on its surface. By the time he is twenty-three, she prophesied, I think right about then he'll notice.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Forty Days and Nights: Love Stories. 34. All the Pleasures

They realized, more or less at the same time, that they were starving. They set down the books and looked at each other. How long has it been? she asked him, when did we eat? Did we? he asked, did we eat? We must have, she said, we must have, people do. Alright, of course, he said, what was it? What was it we ate? But she couldn't remember. Oh! she said, oh, look here, look at this one, and she picked up a book and blew off the dust. Look! Just look at this! and he came over to look and then he found the even more amazing one, under the stack she had made. So, what with one book and another, no one ate for a while longer. No one remembered to think about it, so no one could have said for how much longer.

By the next time they remembered food, they had gotten shaky. She tried to lift a huge pile of books from a table and had to sit down, hard and fast, pinned under the books. He stood up quickly to help her, concerned, and stumbled against the table where she had piled the books. Honey, he said, I'm sorry. You okay? Yes! she said, yes, I'm fine, nothing was damaged. Good, he said, relieved, what have you got there? Just look! she said, and he came over to sit beside her. He looked and she showed him and he found more to see and she was amazed and he turned the pages, turned the books to the light, turned her face to his, turned them both to the books they turned over and over. They forgot food again. They forgot they had forgotten. They found more books and forgot more and more.

He made a bed for them when their eyes got too dark to see. He made it of books and he helped her to it and lay down by her and she pulled pages over them. She was cold now, very cold, but the book bed was very comfortable, so comfortable, the most forgiving and yielding and loving bed she had ever known, and she curled around him, growing warm and blissful. I'm happy, she said, I'm so cozy and happy to be here with you. Yes, he said, it's wonderful, isn't it wonderful? but something was tugging at him, something was nagging at him. He had to sit up to think, had to sit up even though his head felt light and empty. I think I wouldn't have ever thought, he said very slowly because his thoughts were starved now too, I wouldn't ever have thought books made a nice soft bed. Well, she said, wrapping her arms around him to hold herself against the shaking that swept over her in waves now, these aren't ordinary books. No, he said, no, that's true. I mean, he said picking one of the books up and holding it to the light, I mean, just look at this! and they did look for a long time, at that book and then at another and another and they got emptier inside themselves until they had no choice but to slip into unconsciousness on their pile of bound words, open books spread protectively above them.

He was having trouble waking up. He fought his way out of dreams too rich and too disturbingly bright to be remembered in waking life, he fought his way out because his heart was crying out that he must check on her, make sure of her. But he couldn't do it, he couldn't wake her til he pulled out of her arms the book she still clung to in sleep. It came away from her with a great sound of tearing and she awoke with a gasp of horrible pain. What have you done, she asked, why did you do that? He held her close, pressed against her where she was raw and bleeding now. I couldn't wake you, he said, was it a good book? It was perfect, she said simply, where is it now? Over there, he said, but don't look. I think it's dying. Poor thing, she said, poor, poor thing, and she hid her face against him. Then she looked up, and she was focusing on him, right on him for the first time in days. Wait, she said, wait. I didn't know books could die. I don't believe they can. These are special books, he said, they don't behave the way you'd expect. They're the best books, she said, the very best.

He was opening his mouth to agree when for some reason the thing that had been nagging at him came sharply into view. The bed! he said, the bed is so comfortable. Yes, she agreed, it's the best bed. But it shouldn't be, he said, you know perfectly well it shouldn't be. No, she said slowly, I know it should not be. Sleeping on books should hurt, he said, even sleeping on very good books, even on the best books in the world, should hurt. These are strange books, she said, starting to turn over the ones on her legs. Oh, she breathed, oh, look at this-- But he took her hands in his and made her look into his eyes. It hurt and he felt the books under him flinch with pain, but he did it. They don't behave the way we'd expect, he said. No, she agreed, no, normal books don't die when you put them down. So, she asked, what are you saying? We're starving, he told her, we'll die if we don't eat. Do you mean, she asked, fear and panic rising in her eyes, you don't mean we have to-- No, he said hurriedly as he felt the books hold their breaths and lean forward in dread, no, of course not. We couldn't. We never could. But do you suppose...and he reached out, took a large book, and brought it slowly toward him, do you suppose you can eat books, after all? Because if we can, we never, ever have to go, he said, and he took a large bite.

Turns out you can eat books, or they could, if you can find, as they did, the right sort of books. Not all of them taste good, not all of them sit well inside you, but some are quite nourishing. We do, though, or they did anyway, inescapably become what we eat, and over time they became the sort of love story in which they had never believed. The sort of happy-in the-end story they had disdained, had believed themselves above and beyond, but which they found was not at all hard to believe in when they ate words and slept long and sound and deep on a loving bed of books. Turns out that was the very kind of book they loved best to have for dinner, and if they should have noticed, become alarmed at the sheer number and preponderance of that very sort of story in the stacks and racks around them, well, they just didn't.

And they lived, if you can call it that, very happily ever after. They certainly called it that.