By Anna Isaacson
I catch myself in the middle of something mundane and ephemeral. A sentence marches through my head, a simple description of what I have done. I let the water run over the dirty plates.
I am transfixed by the stream of water wearing off the ketchup, then percolating down the drain and vanishing. These plates are getting cleaned, first by me here at the sink, then mysteriously by the dishwasher. When I draw the dishwasher door open at the end of the churning, Tada something will celebrate under its breath, and then I will place the plates back where they started.
I can hear my husband, Justin, and my son, Ed, through the screen door. Theyre debating baseball out by the new pool. When I leave the table, Ed lets loose. He deepens his childs voice, reclines, and even taps his fingers on his armrest in mimicry of his fathers nonchalance. Justin speaks in layers. With tweezers I can peel off each sheet. To Eds ears, my husband is merely engaging in a manly discussion. Once in awhile, one of Justins words will glint with amusement verging on mockery, Oh, no, no, not this season, no. Justin has noticed how Ed juts out his jaw calculatingly as he listens, a mannerism Im sure Justin himself hadnt been aware of until he saw his son reproduce it. And this amuses my husband. But beneath it all, Justin is proud. I can hear pride reverberating like the bass note in the chord of Justins Catcher for the Yanks last year. The truth is, I love them. Thats that.
As I am finishing the dishes, I hear chairs scratch floor tiles. Justin is scooting out of their father-to-son for a beer from the fridge. My mother has always said that she hates getting up from the dinner table; she says it reminds her of the dandelion seeds flying off lonely on the wind. My father and I would remind her that we would eat dinner together again tomorrow.
Ed is just tall enough to set his elbows on the counter, and does so. He watches me scrub for a minute before informing me languorously, Mom, everyones coming over tomorrow.
My inclination, initially, I will admit, is to a tired and bored No. Can you see me? My hair wispy and weary and my stomach dark with dishwater? No, they cant come, because I said so? Eds friends showed up four afternoons out of five last week because of the new pool. Let some other mother worry about them for an afternoon.
But just look at the expression on that boys face. Am I supposed to be angry? He is destroying a paper clip. His head is cocked, his eyes are directed vaguely above my head, and he is blinking ever so slowly.
Well, all right, you little twerp, I say, But no throwing things in the pool and no drowning, and dont let anyone eat the dip its for Tuesday.
I know Mom, he says without much zest, ambling over to the couch to plop on it.
Justin sets his beer on the counter and stands beside me. We look at our son together, indulging in a moment of satisfaction. Ed looks over his shoulder at us admonishingly and we break. I lean on the counter to take off my socks. Exactly those words scroll through my mind. I lean on the counter to take off my socks. Hasnt someone noticed how distinct this motion is? Wont my husband turn his head, smile a little, and think, Now that is what I love about my wife, her particular manner of doing the simplest things? Hasnt Ed watched his mother exist and loved the fact of her wholeheartedly as only a son can?
I promise myself to be peaceful when I look at them each in turn. Justin is fiddling with Eds paper clip and spinning his beer slowly on the counter. Ed is pouting at the black TV screen. Id only been taking off my socks, after all. But I am mad. About the paper clip, and the TV, which flickers on presently.
Have you ever wondered if your face is linked with your soul? I often muse over the fact that Ed has my eyes but Justins intonation, my nose but Justins carriage, my head but Justins mind. He is flipping through the channels with Justins impatience. But the two cords in the back of my sons neck, hazy with blonde fuzz, I claim those. I have tried jealously to sort out who Ed really is, resembling me and all. The peaceful thing to do would be to have a daughter. As to that, Justin says business is picking up and neither of us has time for a baby. The mother says bitterly, Business schmisness, I want true love. The wife says, So, no time for new life, plenty of time for getting old and rich and companionless in a house of aging men...The peaceful thing would be to look again at the back of Eds neck.
Ed and his friends caper down the road Monday afternoon. I am watching them from upstairs. What boys! They walk here from school, like the city mothers dream from when I grew up in New York. These are the jocks and the ladies men of the seventh gradeplus Ryan, the fat kid who earned his place being funny. This mother adores Ryan, and I would if he werent fat, too. Hes really very clever for a seventh grader, but he speaks against a current of sadness. What is that sadness, dragging his jokes down to a murmur at the end or drawing his eyes away from the commotion in the street to the culvert beside him, just for an instant? Its not that I pity him. I believe he knows something. The rest of them are not yet whole people, traipsing down the street as if theyd learned the seventh-grade saunter in marching band.
Theyve distracted me from my work. Justin and I are designing a house to go in the last lot in the section on the left side of Hayden Road heading into Ruddingham. The Crowes have a low budget, which makes designing their house less fun.
Do you know whos at the head of that motley crowd? Our very own. I guess he does own the pool, but, moreover, he owns everything. Were all just borrowing from him. His friends behave as though its worth money to walk on his street behind him. He leads them onto our yard and, before setting them loose, commands, Nobody throw leaves in the pool, and dont go inside yet. Ill get some food in a minute. Were you imagining Ed insolent? No, its just that I take my sons dignity for granted. Eds arrogance is only the finest. He takes pride in the pool and doesnt want a mess in it. And his friends are like a pool to him, requiring certain attendance. Excuse him, hes young.
As soon as Ed turns to go inside, the boys scatter. Some strip down to swimsuits and jump in, some find things to chuck at the swimmers, and some try to push the chuckers in. I am surprised to hear myself snort and to notice my mind thinking, Oh, seventh-grade boys! My son is not altogether one of them. They do need a leader, I suppose, and I, too, admire and appreciate God and the President and Darla Morgan, who ably organizes PTA meetings. Yet I do wish sometimes that Ed were not a king. Look at Derrick Fry, for example. You can guess what hes doing. Cannonballs too close to his friends. Then racing around the pool wet and liable to fall. He falls and yells, genuinely angry. Then he leaps up for another cannonball because Bruce is within range but fleeing madly at a doggy-paddle and yelling himself in what sounds like genuine fear. Watching Derrick makes me pity Ed. Derrick has all Eds passion in his little toe.
Ed drifts out with a bowl of chips and two bottles of soda. Cups, he says to himself as he sets everything on the table and turns about to get them.
The boys swarm around chips. Thank you, Ryan calls to Eds back. Ed returns with cups and sunglasses. Settling in a lawn chair, he dons the glasses with a flourish, then is still. He never swims when his friends are here. He stays in his throne and lords it over his subjects, graciously refilling the chips bowl often but hollering if anyone dips in with wet hands and gets them all soggy.
Well, Ive been interrupted. Tomorrow, Justin and I are having our friends over to see the pool. Ostensibly to see one another. So, since Ive been interrupted, I will go downstairs to cook. I lean on the banister and take the stairs two at a time. Theres one of those moments. I lean on the banister and take the stairs two at a time. Why not when I am doing something triumphant, or at least important? Why not, As I put the finishing touches on the plan, I feel certain that the house I have designed will be perfect for Mr. and Mrs. Crowe? Or, I decide that what my mother really needs is to leave the city?
Here they come down the street, driving their burly SUVs. Right there is fine, Justin calls, waving a hand. Theyve got two wheels on the grass. Justin is out shaking hands. I am parading hors douvres outside dish by dish. I wish men would not wear cologne, as if they had something to hide. Derricks parents will come, but theyre tired to death of their rambunctious son and they wont do any cannonballs. Its too bad about grown-ups. I grab some dip and a plate of vegetables and carry them out.
Darla Morgan is the first to rush at me.
Hello, Reyna! Let me say the pool looks great. What lucky ducks you are!
Hello, Darla, thank you, yes, were pretty lucky. Three blind mice. Hello, thank you, and yes.
So youre happy with it? Is it a lot of work, keeping it clean and all?
Oh no, its really not much. No. Thats the cat making a meal of the conversation, tails and all. An awkward silence. Do you remember how I admire Darla? I wish I had a thing or two to say to her.
But people are eager to get in a word about the pool. After Hello, Sandy Rivers says, Great pool. And I thank her. Darla and Sandy go for carrots and wine while Julie Hallaway pays her dues to the newly-pooled woman. The men? Theyre walking around the pool with beers in their fists or their fists in their pockets, peering into it and yelling over to Justin, Wow, this is really great, really a nice touch. Justin waves his wave, which goes like this: thrust one hand up in the air, jerk it once, then slap it onto head. Then scratch the back of neck to disguise having checking on hair, which is crisp with gel but perhaps not perfect.
He always looks ready to laugh at these parties, even before the alcohol gets to him. He twinkles his eyes at me over the crowd, and then continues on his route to Seth Wheaton, whom he offers beer, wine, anything? Seth apologizes, Water? Come to think of it, I can remember a party where Seth got drunk. Hes a nice man, thin and timid and quiet, but he got very mean and boisterous off just a little wine. We were all a little appalled. Wasnt that good of him to decline just now?
Henry Fry happens to be next to me and so says, Hello, Reyna, how are you? He tends to speak with almost eccentric enunciation. One of his hands shoots up to give his left eyebrow an odd, furtive yank. He smiles meekly, as if apologizing for these deviations. Id thought them endearing.
Oh, Im fine thanks. How are you, Henry? When did you get here? I didnt see you come.
Just a few minutes ago. The babysitter was late, he replies. You know, he adds confidingly.
Ohh, yes, I say, a little too heavily, woops. I tap the side of my wine glass to set the dew streaming down the sides. I tap the side of my wine glass to set the dew streaming down the sides. Did Henry see that? My stomach flips in dread and anticipation. Perhaps he saw it. Perhaps he has suddenly fallen in love with every move I make. What shall we do then? Itll be a project for me to fall in love with him, but I did enjoy that tug he gave his eyebrow.
Reyna, hows your mother doing these days? he says.
I look at him. To say the least, he did not notice my tapping. His face is almost passionate with genuine concern, but hes not in love with me and my strange lucid moments.
Oh, shes doing all right. In truth, she went back to the hospital two days after we left, and shes getting worse all the time. The distressing expression doesnt fade from Henrys face. Suddenly, I feel guilty. He had wanted the truth!
But somehow Justin is standing beside me. He says, You know we went down to see her a few weeks ago, when she was first hospitalized? What a cannonball of a statement. Justin is going to tell Henry the truth for me, because I was too pathetic to do so. My husband will not laugh, now, but his eyes still twinkle. Perhaps his twinkling hadnt been laughter at all.
Henry nods. His eyebrows are furrowed. Henry has never met my mother. His mother has lived in an annex of his house ever since Henrys father died maybe ten years ago.
Justin continues, She was out of the hospital when we left, doing really well. She really seemed very upbeat and optimistic. But she had another breakdown right after we got home. Shes been in the hospital since.
Henry shakes his head a few times. You know that gesture, but you havent seen it on Henry Fry. He has his head down a little, and shadows make the bags under his eyes look darker. His dark grey hair falls over his forehead. He looks younger that way. Back and forth he shakes his head. Abruptly, he looks up and stares into my eyes to say, Reyna, Im so sorry.
I could say, Thank you, or perhaps, No, but I dont. I sort of nod. I realize that I am allowing the silence to become awkward, and then I feel awkward, and then Henry notices, too, and he feels awkward. Still he does not speak. If awkward, then genuinely awkward, I suppose. I feel bad about seeing the silence coming. Oh, I saw Henry running around all wet. And, you know, I havent used the pool since the first day we put water in it. Justin swims laps in the mornings.
When everyone is gone, Justin and I sit a moment at the table and watch the pool shiver. Earlier we lit torches to keep the bugs away, and now the water reflects their light elegantly. Route 12 rumbles contentedly in the background. My knees are tired from standing and happy about sitting. Justin sighs and says, Good party.
You ready to clean up?
yeah. We push back from the table and hoist ourselves out of our seats. Chairs on tiles, and the fragile children of dandelions plucked loose by windI think of my mother. While Justin folds chairs, I collect glasses. I hold the glasses by the rims, two in each hand and one tucked in my elbow. I hold the glasses by the rims, two in each hand and one tucked in my elbow. Its me here, with so many glasses. I am holding all these glasses. Its not so miraculous. I laid out these glasses. We messed them up. Now I will take them inside. Clean them and put them away. Thats life. These glasses, hooked up to all parts of my arms, are life. Is that it?