Thursday, September 10, 2009

Watering the Lawn

This is a short story I wrote many years ago. It's theme concerns a married couple who are struggling in their relationship and the feelings associated in that struggle.

The bright morning outside—the night we are protected from—lies far away beyond our hills. One night, this night I told her, I thought maybe I told her, that I explained myself to her,

—Sarah, speak to me, please!

She turned, turned on the stove and said, well, nothing. She went over in the dark so to speak, all by herself, standing still. And that was that. I thought, What is this? She removing the boiling water from the stove and pouring it into a cup. She misses most of it, her hand trembling—hot water hitting the sides of and surrounding the cup—picking the cup up, a ring remains, and says,

—I know what your’e thinking, and yes.

And that was that, and she leaves the room for our bedroom, switching the kitchen light off leaving me standing in the dark. Her last words being, Don’t worry.

Inside I’m screaming (as if in the middle of the lake with no one around), leaning against the sink. My arms folded uncomfortably. I stand here for at least ten minutes waiting for her to come in and at least turn the lights back on. She lays in bed, still. Still the waters. Who despises the day of small things, and why is it for at least these past four years she has not spoken to me? And so I stand and think about another woman.

Pitched headlong. A phrase my grandmother often used, but what did that mean? Pitched headlong? Was it like, Break a leg? Something you’d say without thinking or batting an eyelash to what you were actually saying but you’d say it anyway, because it was routine and right. My grandma though, if you met her you’d say my grandma had a way with words. Maybe to the eye she was nothing spectacular but once you stayed with her long enough you’d begin to realize that she was probably one of the most remarkable people you’d ever met, one where you’d say, That’s how I want to be. She had barely gotten through eighth grade, but her words were her own, maybe not her words exactly because in many cases she didn’t know exactly how she was using them—she would just throw them out there, went through them like you go through pages in a magazine and not reading anything at all, but somehow she could turn a word around and pitch it in a way that brought out its own peculiarity. Up to the day she passed away I’d save her letters just for that. To get that—the words.

I push away from the sink and return to our bedroom. There she is with her cup of tea steaming next to her, a book I had given her in her lap. I lay down, just out of reach. I look over at the three pictures on the nighttable. Only one stands out tonight. Beside our bed sits a picture of my grandma and grandpa, a picture I’ve had since high school. Holding hands, my grandpa in his famous khaki suit, crisp white button-down, off-navy tie with tie bar, and just barely hanging out of his suit-pocket a handkerchief with part of the S for Strauch still sitting inside. My grandmother in her usual ivory with a pink scarf that’s almost inconspicuous. Both are smiling as usual. Outside this window I can see a house. Actually its roof and some if its siding which has begun to peel away with these last years. Our home is filled with the smell of our son, but he is away sleeping at his friends. At times I wonder if I can hear him and the neighbor kids running and screaming through the streets outside. I know full well of the possibilities because I was his age once. The freedom of the nighttime air at one in the morning as a boy of ten has many possibilities and a mystery, everything right and good. But the window, the window acts as a painting on a wall, every now and then if you watch intently enough you can see it move. Into the picture emerges the leaves from our tree, or in the fall, perhaps if your lucky, and quick enough a broken-off leaf will move into view. Ever so swift and short-lived. Outside, rain is coming for the wind hitting the windows says as much. Yet my wife lies next to me as all this goes on. She sleeps as the branches brush the window of our bedroom, and lies at the other side, her back turned. A bird passes by the panes. At this hour? There, down below our window our neighbor’s dog barks consistently and without care of our sleep. My wife can sleep through things such as these, but for me the littlest noise keeps me awake. This happened since I began to stay at home. Waiting for the problems. Before having our children I would never worry and always sleep sound. Now I am anxious and never sleep. How different we are and have become. Even with this, I lay in front of this window and wait.

They say that every argument has someone that is in the wrong. Am I wrong in this instance? Is it I? I walk to the other room out of our bed and rush past a chair bouncing my right leg against it. I forget that a chair is here and now my right thigh bleats out in pain. Angrily, I mumble something which I myself cannot even hear. It’s late and when I can’t sleep I don’t even listen to myself. What am I doing out of bed anyway? I go to the chair in the foyer. What does this room look like? Above my head are photos we have collected over the years, some more significant than others. Mostly of family and friends from our lives, ones who have come and gone and have stayed. The one I can’t keep my eyes off is one of the insignificant ones, but important. This is the picture: two girls stand with a deep grey sheet draped over them. The one girl is a young girl I used to know many years ago, at a church I used to go to when I was in my twenties. She was the pastor’s daughter, maybe 13, but now she must be in her twenties at least by now. Her name was Kayla. The other girl I met only once on this day. They stand in front of a crimson and carmine brick building (Three things make this picture: the red brick, the girls posing, and a balloon which I will describe in a minute) which makes everything stand out. It is easily the most vibrant of the photos and so stands out and probably why it has caught my eye. Kayla is tilting her head to the side, sticking her tounge out with a smile, just like a girl of thirteen would do. Her one hand in view is also tilted, as if she were a modern statue you’d either find in a mall or in front of a government building, her foot hangs barely, perfectly into focus off the right side of the sheet with a blue balloon tied to her ankle (or sandal) which rises and meets the wind, straying away from her. Everything else is in focus except the balloon. Her friend’s head tilts as well (wide eyes making a face) but uncomfortably down, wondering at the photographer with discussions and discussions. I will not smile; I will smirk. The grass underneath them sits with patches of grey and brown maybe grey even, with all the green in between. I guess you’d have to see the photo to know why it hangs on our wall. More beauty than memories.

I will not run back to our bed for it is not ours any longer. Alone I sit in this other room to my thoughts as I flip through a book that I pretend to read. As the pages go by, the stories go by and I am very alone. I return to her and she is laying awake, unwilling to look at me. Should I lay down or return to that book? She looks toward me and I lay down. But not too close. I sigh as I reach the covers. She reaches for my hand. Our hands are entwined (fingers tied into fingers) and I try to pull my hand away and she will not let go. My part is just for effect, really I wish her hand to hold mine. Mostly, I try to wrestle it away just to see if I can. Her hand holds mine. However, I wrestle it free.

I get up from the bed put on my tennis shoes along with my flannel robe, and go outside. Before I can even leave the room, her back is again turned. I go outside wondering, why have I come out here? It is slightly colder than what I expected, but I am in this and can not get out. I have made a decision to come outside and to go back in would be giving in. This, our problem. Let me explain: What has it been now, fifteen years? The first ten years or so were fine. We were both excited for all this marriage stuff, starting a family, having someone to sleep next to. We were older when we got married compared to most of our friends, I was twenty-seven, she twenty-six. I was working freelance and odd jobs to supplement everything; she a nurse. Yes, there were problems before all this, but that was simply an I’m sorry, a kiss, and a wink, and we went on. Reticence. Maybe all this winking caught up to us. I don’t think so.

What started it was the second child. Or I should say, the second child we did’nt have. Sarah wanted so much to have anoher child. Not right after Josiah was born, but soon thereafter. By time he was six, I wanted to now wait and then things got caught up and soon we looked at our son he was eight, then nine, ten, now eleven. We were both nearly forty and Sarah was antsy. So that’s that. Maybe.

I get up and pace around finally deciding to go to the side of our house and spy up at our window. Our neighbor’s dog finally is quiet sleeping somewhere in the dark just beyond my sight. I look up unable to see our window because the bedroom light has been turned off and the shadows hide it. In disquiet, I put my head toward the ground. I fidget. I walk over to the garden hose; it is wrapped up awkward and most of it lies on the ground; I turn on the water and begin watering the lawn which lies just on the south side of our house. All this in the hope that the noise the pipes make will not let her sleep. Just then the wind’s foreboding comes true and the rain begins to descend on us. I continue to water our lawn as the rain quickly fills my robe with its wetness. I close my eyes as the water falls on me. In frustration, I begin crying, continuing to water this small patch of ground. I go to the ground and sit down cross-legged, the water filling up the pouch the robe makes. It flows over and falls to the sides. My hands on the sides of my head. The rains surround me. All this, maybe like drowning. And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened...And the waters prevailed, and were increased upon the earth...And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. These words assail me without asking, and I wish she was here.

Just then, I open my eyes and turn. Turning I see her standing, her robe wet as mine. She mumbles words that I barely hear,

I will be with you.

At that moment, I see her for the first time.

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