Parentheses

 

It's summer and there is a mourning dove sitting on her nest on the white pine branch that dips over the clematis and swings like it's conscious sometimes. The dove doesn't care, doesn't seem to notice. Even when I've been outside, standing just under the branch—pruning away, planting some annuals—she stays put. It's her job, although Ravana gives this all a different spin. We can see the nest right outside the kitchen window after all.

“It's raining,” she says. “Not hard, but I think I can see her blinking. Talk about devotion. She's not one with 'the rain'. It's tough being diligent. She's working.”

“It's not devotion. See that blank look on her face. What that means is her brain is a pair of parentheses and in between them is nothing but a picture of an egg, and maybe some bird seed. Maybe a sky to fly into, a couple of white clouds in it. She's barely aware of what she's doing.”

“Good God, your cynicism is going to melt a hole in the carbon monoxide layer that is heating up the planet. I'm proud of you. You might achieve super-hero status yet. What a human being.”

This is where we are now. “I just don’t know,” Ravana says. But I know and I hover above us, looking down, I swear, and I want to be the one who reaches out and knocks our heads together like a couple of hollow coconuts. I want to hear the report and then watch as we stagger backwards, away from each other.

Are we special? Put us together at a table at the local block party, for example. People stare at us. We both have reddish brown hair, a few freckles, and are relatively small-boned. I speak and she laughs, like a sprinkler coming back around. And she's got a hot little body. It's hard not to pretend that it really does belong totally to me, and that it always will.

In some ways we're different, sure. She might say, Oh, Helen, this potato salad is out of this world, and then later tell me And did you get a load of the Midwestern menu? I kept thinking, when are the Amish going to arrive.

I rarely compliment anyone's cooking. Food by its very nature tends to taste good—who makes crummy tasting food? It seems almost redundant to say anything. I might say, instead, Have you seen any good movies? Then, later, Have you noticed all anyone watches around here are things with Jeff Daniels in them? The point is, I'd ask the question while clearly enjoying the food. And I expect my neighbors movie viewing habits to be predictable, and I know it will be fun to say something about this fact a little while later…

“Okay, so we need to split everything in half?” I say. “Or that's what you coast along thinking, but obviously there is no way to make everything equal.” No subtext escapes being given voice.

“You're sounding even more manic than usual.” Part of what I love about being married is being able to say every stupid thing that enters one’s mind. Regular sex? What is that but some really great side benefit, like cottage cheese as part of a salad bar. Okay, okay, sex is more than that (a lot more), but to be able to sit on the couch in your underwear and say very uncool things like “I must have peed nine times last night and now I'm craving chicken noodle soup. What gives?” and to still have the hearer of such inanities lust after you, that's something quite special.

But, I guess, when you come right down to it, these things often don't work out in the end.

It's really too bad.

“I get most of the poetry books obviously,” I say. “But what about the art on the walls? Can I claim the portrait you drew of us, the ‘Nude Sunbathers’? I'll pay for it even.”

“It's just called 'Sunbathers.’ You're the one who’s always insisted it was us.”

“Oh, come on. I’d recognize your bush anywhere.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Well, can I at least think of them as our doppelgangers?”

Outside a car drives by, and backfires. Ravana looks beautiful, the way the wind sweeps in through the windows making her flimsy black shirt rattle on her. In front of our house is a street, complete with mailboxes made to resemble little farmhouses or barns. The back yard slopes down into woods, dark and wet and crawling with beings who love the decay. Logs are sunk deep into the moss back there, like wrecked boats. Mourning cloak butterflies hover over rotting stumps, and yet I’ve never seen one fluttering around in our front yard, where the mourning dove nest is, where the solicitors straighten their sleeves before knocking on our door despite a sign I printed out and taped there that says NO SOLICITORS, where a spanking new automobile shines, resting on its wheels in front of the house near the green, green lawn, our American coat of arms.

Right now all the windows in the house are open. It thunders but it still isn't raining that hard. The maple leaves whisper when a second front comes through (perhaps it's a wind shift line), but that's it. Nothing arrives to entertain or distract us. Even on television (which is on mute) the Dow Jones is up an unremarkable 18 points (not much, but growing, speculators assuring us the economy is expanding, and that we will never stop feeling happier and happier).

Once I flew over our house and watched it from the airplane window. It seemed possible—probable even—that there was love under our roof, like in all the other houses, love like the smell of warm bread baking. I could see light coming from the front window, along with the thousands of other lights just then blinking on or off, near and far, lights in the consoling dark emanating out of the heated houses, houses full of plants and blankets and photographs and people in love, after dusk, when everything is forgiven…

* * *

Ravana opens the junk drawer and rams stuff around in it. Her brain is burning like a computer. “Where's that thing-a-ma-bob?” she says.

There's packing tape and boxes. That's all there is.

I manage to put my elbow on the kitchen counter. Further, I manage to place the tips of my fingers on my eyebrows—really more like press my fingers into the bones that give shape to my eyebrows—and I let the muscles in my arm stand out. There is a slight trembling involved.

“That's really grown up,” Ravana says.

“Well it’s better than pretending I'm rational,” I say.

“Act angry like a normal person,” Ravana says.

It thunders again. Louder this time.

We both stop, look out the windows at the clouds. Whatever is out there is filling the sky with its sweeping and substantive darkness, rolling down from the north, a blue-black ocean, a few gusts of wind, a little cold air coming in through the screens. Pretty soon the world is going to blow up.

But the mourning dove, dear lady, isn't moving an inch. Chances are good she'll eventually get crushed under a car tire or shot for sport on migration, but right now she's determined to stay in the moment. She’s not rational or angry. Although I guess you can’t tell that for sure just by looking at her.

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