They’re here! We have so many of them now. Rufous hummingbirds are very aggressive, chasing each other and every other kind away from the feeders and even out of the yard. I put up five feeders. With the crowds we get, some of them are empty by the end of the day.
“We’ve got to get out of here, John!” she said, scrunched up on the loveseat with her hands over her face. Married this long and I get the name. I totally agree. This time it was more madness across the fence at a house that may or may not belong to whoever may or may not be living there. How could they, anyway, without a toilet. A man I know supposedly sold it to them several years ago, although he still picks up his mail, comes and goes and gets stuff, and a long-dead Chevy van that any real new owner would have hauled away still sits there as it has since Jesus rode a frigging donkey into town. There’s been the strangest pounding and clattering going on for days, and last night someone parked an RV in the crowded space in front of the gate. There’s a woman living in it now. What the hell, I figure. Maybe they needed help moving the meth lab.
It’s the cheating, as my wife puts it. A lurking vibe. (There’s more than she knows.) No one ever really tells the truth. Old professional hippies with guns. Never trust the man or pay a licensed plumber. Hire “a Mexican” or do the job yourself because a pro will always rip you off.
“John,” she called out as I was heading for the door, “could I see you for a minute?” Coming from my eighth grade social studies teacher in Abilene, Texas when Buddy Holly walked the earth, this was no request, but I was fine. Ever the would-be teacher’s pet—grateful for the only grownups who sometimes understood—I thought some special privilege or honor must await. The class had been a triumph for me that day. The assignment, whatever it was, was one that interested me (historical or map-related, perhaps), and I knew the answer to every question she had asked. I couldn’t fathom why the other kids were bored or dumb, and didn’t care much either, happy I’d done well.
“I’d like you not to raise your hand so much,” she said. “I know you know the answers, but let the other students have a chance to answer first! All right?”
My mind raced like a pinball heading for the hole. What was wrong with being right? The others never answered questions, anyway. I couldn’t understand, but said the thing she wanted. “Okay,” I stammered, ashamed and stunned, as doors were slamming in my head. It had been my favorite class of all and now was snatched away.
Of all the things that happened to me in school, this probably stayed with me the longest. I see her now as real as life: dark hair, black sweater, white blouse, red skirt. She bends down to talk to me in the doorway as the bell rings and my classmates push past to the hallway. My arms are full of books—at least I brought mine—my head is bowed, my ears are red. I manage not to cry.
As awful as this was, I could have parried the blow with better training, but my parents were of similar mind and taught me well. A few years before in Germany, my sister and brother weren’t the best in school, so my father invented a plan to boost our grades: every “A” on our report cards was worth a quarter, a “B” a dime, and so forth. This meant a bonanza for me, I knew, because I always got straight A’s. My weekly allowance was only twenty-five cents, anyway. It took over a month to save enough to buy a record (45 rpm) or a simple model plane.
You can probably guess the rest. Just before Christmas, report cards in hand, Johnny, Teresa, and Bill walked proudly up to Dad. He started with with my brother, who only got a nickel. Teresa got a couple of dimes. I had six A’s on my card and was so excited!
My father handed me a single quarter.
“Your mother and I expect you to get A’s,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to give you that much more than them…”
The fucking sons of bitches, I sometimes think, these many decades later. The lonely, weary, Depression-era bastards full of preacher’s guilt. I’m not so angry now—I know they loved me, in their way, and holy wounds can lead full-circle to the truth. Here I am though, much older than I ever dreamed I’d be, with a closet full of ragged shirts I bought ten years ago on sale. Then this morning someone mildly famous whom I’ve never met loved something I’d written and shared online. The telling thing was what a shock it was, like something didn’t fit!
The reaction brought the memories back. I understood about the shirts and gave myself another day to be a goddamn mighty man.
For behold! From deep inside the dried mud cave with windows—look how thick the wall is in the doorway—a brief report on July at seven thousand feet. The cat, you see, has been outside, where it’s a little over ninety. Not inside these old adobe walls, however, and that is where she rests. The cracks in the concrete stucco are from water damage. Not so bad here on the floor, but consider what happens with load-bearing structures. Dry adobe expands when it gets wet, and as it dries again, a portion collapses into powder. Repeat this process over and over until the stucco is all that’s holding up the wall, and then the ceiling falls into your lap. Over the years preceding this inevitable end, the finest dust you ever saw sifts secretly over everything you own.
But all is cool and quiet here just now. Through the open screen door I hear doves and magpies—if there’s a breeze, the rustling of the elm tree leaves.
“What do you want to eat tonight?” she said, leaving it up to me. Whatever I wanted to make, in other words. That’s how we ended up with apple pancakes and bacon in the living room. After a hard day of screwing around on Twitter and Medium (marketing!), hosing the ants off the hummingbird feeders, and avoiding calling the mortgage broker, I was ready for some comfort food. Turns out the lady has an email address, by the way.
I’m such a wimp. That’s what the dermatologist called me. I was in the room where he was doing eyelid surgery on my wife. “You wanna see?” he asked before he stitched her back together. I knew he was proud of his work, but I said no and pissed him off. He goes diving in the South Pacific. There’s a fish tank in the wall.