Day after day I watched them fly above me darting in and out of my line of sight beyond the longleaf pines until they were gone.
"Come back." I would whisper. "And take me with you." I used to believe my yearning to be a bird had something to do with jealousy before I recognized the absurdity in comparing my desire for freedom and their quest for survival.
If I am a birder, and I wish to claim that I am, I am an inept one, because I am not sure I could point out the specific differences between a raven and a crow beyond the color black. With hawks and eagles, although I've done my research, if one flies directly over my head, I choke. Unable to differentiate before I lose sight, I consider myself an embarrassment to my country of origin. If I only paid more attention to details I would easily identify the most pictured bird in the US of A as the bald eagle, for shards sake. On coins, on paper money, on postage stamps, in the logos of Federal Agencies, and as a shining example prominently pictured on the one and only great seal since 1782. And then there is me, in 2022, in broad daylight, looking up like it's dark, as ignorant as a babe in the woods, longing to be a species I can't even identify. But ask me to do something stupid like a blind taste test between Miracle Whip and Hellman's Mayonnaise and I'll nail it. Go figure.
But I can definitively state the difference between a male and female cardinal. That tidbit of information grabbed me and stuck. If cardinals were humans, it would be the males wearing the bold slinky red dress and the females wearing the dull drab brown t-shirt. I don't know why, but that struck me as odd. I suppose because I am narrowly perceiving sexuality from a human heterosexual standpoint. Find me a bird that would fault me.
So I woke up this morning, low and behold, to find a message. It was not written down. It was not spoken, yet it was clearly understood telepathically from an unknown entity. I am to be gifted a supreme power to become whatever it is I desire to be. It is not like me to be prone to balderdash. But this message was different from anything else I have ever experienced. No joke. It was all consuming in a junkie meets heroine kind of way. Otherwise, the message was vague, about as specific as the contents of my kitchen junk drawer. Typically, when my eyelids open, like most of the world, I am about two drinks into a jag, semi-conscious, half in half out, so I was already in a compromised state, unwilling to deliberate the implications, rendering me ripe for the picking. It was then that I was distracted and pleasantly aroused by the dawn chorus of the blackbirds, and they led me to impulsively decide my fate; "I am going to be a bird. Not just any bird. A fricking big, bad ass, great seal, bald headed, US of A eagle. And I will fly wherever the hell I want without a care. No bills, no taxes, no stinking rules. Just me and the great big endless sky from sunup to sun down, winging it, where there is no such a thing as a dirty job, demanding girlfriends, party affiliations, Kim Kardashian, Sean Hannity or commercials squawking in the background; AFLAC."
And so it was, just like I had made a wish to a genie in a bottle, and away I went. Conveniently, my starting point was a nest, in a tree, right behind my house. Thankfully an empty nest, otherwise my freedom ride would have come with inconvenient complications. It hadn't occurred to me that an eagle could also be a father, or a mother like a human. It has always been my desire to fly solo. The only aisle I want to walk belongs in a retail store. Marriage, children, the whole picket fence minivan thing; not for me.
It might have been a good idea for me to have gotten up and contemplated my thoughts about such a major life decision over a cup of coffee. At the very least, I should have turned on the weather channel. Hindsight is, as they say 20/20, since little did I know, after several hours of sublime soaring, the sky started to darken. It almost didn't matter, because I believe I had already scratched the itch, and released the beast, until the wind began to knock the shit out of me. It was then, just in the nick of time, that my research from when I was a human paid off. Eagles, as it turns out, are the only birds that fly into a storm, using the wind to lift them up to an altitude above the storm. How smart. No wonder they landed their likeness on every dolla-dolla bill.
I had to remind myself a couple of times to rely on what I learned about eagles, instead of the lingering thoughts of my previous human brain where fear makes us do all sorts of weird shit, like avoiding bridges, climbing Mt. Everest, and steering clear of intimate relationships, and it worked. What a rush. It felt like I had been shot out of a circa 1782 cannon grabbing onto the back of a 2022 space shuttle after lift off. It was wild to look at the storm beneath me as I just lifted and lifted up, gliding like a mofo pro. Funny thing was, I never got tired, another advantage of eaglehood. Maybe my rash decision was the best decision I had ever made. Still, I felt curious and that same familiar yearning returned right after I knew the storm had passed. There was this lingering thought, perhaps it was just another nagging human mental atrocity, but it was strong enough to make me want to return to the nest. After all, isn't that what all birds instinctively do anyway?
When I arrived back in my old neighborhood, I realized, it really wasn't the nest I wanted to return to. It was my old bed. I can't say why, because I still wasn't tired. So I thought, "What harm could be done if I plopped down in the nest, and took a peek into my old bedroom through the window? After all, I was now in possession of the proverbial so-called eagle eye. So why not put it to use to quell my curiosity? I wanted to know if there could be someone else sleeping in my bed.
Don't ask me how I knew, but I knew after I took one look. At that point I wasn't sure who had been given the gift of the supreme power. Was it given to me, or was it given to the bald eagle that had lived all those years in the nest right behind my house, because there he was, in my human form, in my old bed. And he wasn't alone. Lying next to him was a beautiful woman. Not just any beautiful woman. It was my ex-girlfriend. The one I dumped when she said she wanted to get married and have kids.
But either way, I will have to assume things worked out exactly as they were meant to be, because suddenly my yearning stopped. It was replaced by extreme hunger. I flew off, away from my old life, hunting for a small mammal without a care except for the conundrum of how the meat was going to taste without any mayo.
My cup runneth over
"But it's all you have."
"If it was a crumb I would halve it for you. Hunger is only temporary..."
I believe at a time when a war is raging across the pond, this incident is getting much more attention than it should, but after all we Americans are a curious lot. I read this on Facebook today and I thought I would share:
***Written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (UCLA ’69)
"When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife's short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock's face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community. That's a lot to unpack. Let's start with the facts: Rock made a reference to Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, as looking like Demi Moore in 'G.I. Jane,' in which Moore had shaved her head. Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss. Ok, I can see where the Smiths might not have found that joke funny. But Hollywood awards shows are traditionally a venue where much worse things have been said about celebrities as a means of downplaying the fact that it's basically a gathering of multimillionaires giving each other awards to boost business so they can make even more money. The Smiths could have reacted by politely laughing along with the joke or by glowering angrily at Rock. Instead, Smith felt the need to get up in front of his industry peers and millions of people around the world, hit another man, then return to his seat to bellow: 'Keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth.' Twice. Some have romanticized Smith's actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie 'Girls Trip' with Pinkett Smith, praised Smith's actions: '[F]or me, it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.' Actually, it was the opposite. Smith's slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith's intervention would have been welcome. Or if he'd remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I'd seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she's a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show. This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This 'women need men to defend them' is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community. Worse than the slap was Smith's tearful, self-serving acceptance speech in which he rambled on about all the women in the movie 'King Richard' that he's protected. Those who protect don't brag about it in front of 15 million people. They just do it and shut up. You don't do it as a movie promotion claiming how you're like the character you just won an award portraying. But, of course, the speech was about justifying his violence. Apparently, so many people need Smith's protection that occasionally it gets too much and someone needs to be smacked. What is the legacy of Smith's violence? He's brought back the Toxic Bro ideal of embracing Kobra Kai teachings of 'might makes right' and 'talk is for losers.' Let's not forget that this macho John Wayne philosophy was expressed in two movies in which Wayne spanked grown women to teach them a lesson. Young boys—especially Black boys—watching their movie idol not just hit another man over a joke, but then justify it as him being a superhero-like protector, are now much more prone to follow in his childish footsteps. Perhaps the saddest confirmation of this is the tweet from Smith's child Jaden: 'And That’s How We Do It.' The Black community also takes a direct hit from Smith. One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions. Smith just gave comfort to the enemy by providing them with the perfect optics they were dreaming of. Many will be reinvigorated to continue their campaign to marginalize African Americans and others through voter suppression campaign. As for the damage to show business, Smith's violence is an implied threat to all comedians who now have to worry that an edgy or insulting joke might be met with violence. Good thing Don Rickles, Bill Burr, or Ricky Gervais weren't there. As comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted: 'Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.' The one bright note is that Chris Rock, clearly stunned, managed to handle the moment with grace and maturity. If only Smith's acceptance speech had shown similar grace and maturity—and included, instead of self-aggrandizing excuses, a heartfelt apology to Rock."
Whatever will be will be...
I usually like to get the creative apple juices going on challenges I enter, but not so on this one. I will be direct and to the point.
"Can you be friends with a person of the opposite sex whom you're attracted to?"
I say a hard NO! Or should I ask, what do you mean by attracted?
I say if the person of the opposite sex makes you applesaucy and you are already in a relationship, walk away, to a avoid the temptation, if monogamy is something you value.
If the person of the opposite sex makes you all applesaucy and they are as dry as a bale of hay for you, who are you kidding. You know you are keeping them in your life hoping they will have an epiphany and volte-face.
If the person of the opposite sex makes you all applesaucy and you conjure the same response in them, I say carry on with the friendship and que sera sera.
Stop looking at me….I said stop looking at me. Yes. You. Yeah, I am talking to you. How would you like it if I kept staring at you? Since you know I don't have eyes, do you not see the disparity? I was born at a disadvantage so is it fair for you to exploit me?
I know what you are thinking. Where did I come from. The who what where of all of it is driving you crazy. I know your type. You walk the dog before sunrise on trash day, just so you can peek inside recycle bins. So what if the old lady down the block hits the sauce, and it's none of your business if the family next door exceeds your definition of "true green" in their use of consumables. At least they are recycling. Did you remember to pick up your dog's poop in the dark? Aren't you one of those dog walkers who will bend down only when someone is looking pretending to pick it up? The rules of the game don't apply to you. Do they? You are trying to prove you are better than them; all the poor peasants that circumnavigate the world around you.
"It must have been the husband," you think. He has that menacing look in his eye, not quite a Jeffrey Dahmer type, more like Chris Brown. It must have been him in a drunken rage. He caught my harbinger in a lie, when she was only trying to protect her poor children. He grabbed the closest thing to him, a Chinese Dehua Princess, and she defensively raised her arm to block her face. He hit her with such force the glass shattered all over the room. The blood was everywhere. Although she needed stitches, she was afraid to go to the hospital, for fear of reprisal.
Wouldn't you like to know.
It didn't happen that way.
You are never going to know my origin, because it is none of your business.
Walk away little girl.
It is a big goddam cauliflower, a poor excuse for an ear, making me wonder who coined the phrase cauliflower ear and why. Those who know me inside out, like my best friend Harvey, my big sister Sharon and my parents, who think they know every little thing about me but really don't, I can hear them know. "Bradley is a big goddam exaggerator." If they cannot appreciate my creativity, I cannot appreciate their tight underwear. With the outside world, I sprinkle my word salad shit like candy without sinister premeditation. I can't help it if they eat it up. Like the other day when I was on the back of the line in the cafeteria I said, out loud, I don't know why, I guess I was in a mood, "Do not get the macaroni and cheese." Three or four unsuspecting heads within earshot turned around and one of them said, "Why not?" None of them looked familiar to me. They were all tenth graders and I'd never seen them before in my life. That's when I spoke back to them, deciding what to say on the fly in a whisper. I know how whispering can lend an air of credibility. "Bugs." I whispered, pointing towards the tray up in front of us. In my opinion, kids should learn to be less trusting and more confrontational about junk information from a stranger. Seriously, my intent was not to scare them or deceive them. No. And it was not my place to teach them a lesson in gullibility either. I was just bored after French class and I can't help it, dear cafeteria cook, if none of them ordered the macaroni and cheese.
"Exaggerating is the same as lying." Sharon says this almost every time I do declare just about anything at this point, and I vehemently disagree that exaggerating is the same as lying, cause otherwise exaggerating would not be a word unto itself. I'll just look that shit up on my phone again in front of her to prove a point. She knows I will, and she'll roll her eyes round and round like a surprised lemur in a tree or a dizzy old Auntie surprising a skunk. So when I said for the hell of it at the dinner table, "The dog's balls are literally dragging on the rug." I know I said it to get a rise out of my family intentionally, don't ask me why, and Sharon predictably hits right back, "Don't exaggerate you liar." Sharon seriously needs to undo her bun. My parents both sat there eating their peas and carrots as the don't-ask-don't-tell people that they are. And then, true to form, I hit up my phone again, as I always do, repeating the words I read to her in that up and down tone she hates on purpose, even though I already have the words memorized, "Exaggerating: A statement that represents something better or worse than it is." "Got it? Where is the word lying? Besides, Chomps is a goddam old unneutered Basset Hound for Chrissake." I remind her as if this is news. "Have you seen his legs? I've literally eaten egg rolls longer than them, so don't tell me that ball sack isn't dragging on that shag." Okay. She's got me on literally. Literally is an overused word of mine which may or may help prove Sharon's point, but if that ball sack is not dragging, it is damn close to a number measured only by millimeters. And the more Sharon tells me, "don't exaggerate, you liar" the more she feeds the beast, so excuse me Sharon, go suck it.
When I looked up cauliflower ear, I can't exactly say I was disappointed or maybe I can cause I am disappointed when there is a chance I could be proven wrong. The definition is rather specific: A deformity of the outer ear that may occur after injury to the ear. And I will find a way to use it, even if it does not exactly lend itself to the dilemma of how my ear felt when I got off the phone with Granny from Dayton, Ohio, not to be confused with Nana from Clearwater, Florida. It is fairly easy not to confuse my grandmothers. Nana from Clearwarer, Florida is literally about as tall as a giraffe and as skinny as a pogo stick. Her legs alone are a mile high and when I was little she always had to sit down before she could pick me up. Her hair is not silver, but rather blueish and she cuts it so close to her head it blends right in with the color of the spider veins running along her hairline down beneath her ear lobes. She wears nothing but dangly dollar store gypsy-like earrings and clogs in all colors and if it is raining she pulls out a color coordinated umbrella and vest to match, should the imperative need to venture out arise. These are just some of the things I know about her and more, and I can't exactly say why I know these things because I have not seen her since the fourth of July, the year before last or the year before the year before last. I often lose count of minor details and dates. But I do see pictures, so maybe that's how I know, or I just surmise. Surmising is definitely something I excel at, so says my math teacher. My other teachers don't say much of anything to me anymore other than, "Go to the principal's office, right now." Nana regularly sends mini videos to me and my sister and my parents via group MMS as if we care to know about her mahjong friend's heart attack, the price of chicken breast at the Piggly Wiggly and the number of people that did or did not show up for mass on any given Sunday. Even if she annoys me, I will still say she is kinda cool for an old lady. She knows how to use a phone. No kidding.
Granny, on the other hand, is nothing like Nana. At least she wasn't as far as being placed in the annoying category up until today. She is short, not short enough to be considered a dwarf, but short enough that she needs a step ladder for anything above the height of a first shelf. The last time we visited her I took notice of all those shelves she had in her kitchen, rows and rows of them; I did not understand the point of all the upper cabinetry, especially since she bought the house long after Grandpa Dayton, Ohio was dead. That man had some legs, but definitely not as long as Nana Clearwater's. I think. I only know him from the lopsided pictures of him taken besides Dayton Granny at their wedding, at a picnic, at the lake and then there is my favorite of him alone standing upright in his rookie Yankee baseball uniform. He coulda been one of the greats had it not been for the bone spurs, or his astigmatism, or some other minute hindrance known to smash a guys dreams. Details. Details. That minor fact alone does not stop me from bragging about my roots when a bunch a guys are hanging around shooting the shit about the playoffs. "You know," I say, cutting in without an invitation, my Grandfather was a pro ball player. Yankees. He played with the greats, ….DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra. Big names always gets em. "Yeah, yeah?" They all say, as in, "Hell, yeah. Yes. Do tell us more," yeah. Then I keep on walking like I got something more important to do when I really don't, it's just that I have nothing more to tell them. The only thing I know about Yankee baseball history are the few names I just quoted, who may or may not have ever set eyes upon my Grandfather in any uniform.
I surmise it was my mother who pulled out the rug and the chair, causing sweet Granny to become a turn coat. Why does my mother have to play us like that? Does she have nothing left up her sleeves? Does she even answer the calls from the principal anymore? Or has the principal stopped calling her? Beats me, cause she could have said something at the table instead of looking down at her plate as if it was a crystal ball. Why oh why does she have to go and mess up my thing with good old Dayton Granny. Before today, I'd literally hear from her twice a year, on my birthday and Christmas, asking me if I got the check she sent out to me in the mail. That's about it. Not today. And it's not even a holiday. It's friggin '4 p.m. on a Saturday in March and I've got better things to do than to listen to her voice on the other end of the land line, going on and on, Bradley this. Bradley that. All that crap about me not showing empathy, about me not applying myself, about me being disrespectful, about me exaggerating, please Dayton Granny, all the things that I had hoped were off your radar; please just stop before I hang up on you, but not before I do declare, even if it is only to the back of my right hand, that you literally just made my ear blow up as big as a goddam cauliflower.
Heaven on Earth
At the edge of the ocean I see clearly, knowing I have already been there.
Knocks Me Off My Feet
It happened between the sheets but not the way you might think. I; dressed in my tattered pajama pants, the ones with the dime size hole in the left leg (I can't bear to toss them), with messy hair, no makeup, not even lip gloss, experienced my greatest fantasy with a man, who is also a dead author.
Years ago, I learned quickly to keep my unique predilection private, when a friend of mine said point blank, "What difference does it make?" After I had asked one too many impertinent questions. We were at our monthly book club, where anyway, in theory we put more effort into discussing the wine we were drinking and what was going on in our lives in comparison to the amount of time we spent talking about any given book. The book we had just read was Beloved by Toni Morrison, the year was 1990 and at the time Toni Morrison was very much alive. Although I loved the book, it was the first time it occured to me I felt just as interested in the writer, as the writing. Curiously, at the time I had no interest in writing, so why would I need to know if Toni Morrison pulled on her pants one leg at a time? Why would I feel the need to know everything there is to know about her? Even if I was interested in writing, "What gives?" Said the same friend. "Stop obsessing about whoToni Morrison is as a person and why she wrote what she wrote. We are here to talk about the book." My friend's words pinched me, a little, but when she took another swig of wine, so did I. No hard feelings. She was right. It was one of those moments where a person close to you can see something in you that you can't readily see in yourself.
As time went on, long after my book club was disbanded, and I had more time to dedicate to reading, this tendency of mine only intensified. I would get part way into a book, and be smitten, not just with the words, but more so with, "Who is this incredible mind that was able to craft this story?" I had to google them, read everything about them, look at pictures of them, always before I could finish the book.
Recently, I fell in love again with Sherwood Anderson. I remember reading a short story written by him when I was young. The name of the story was "The Discovery of a Father" and it knocked me off my feet. It was the moment I fell in love with fiction. In trying to depict my feelings at the time, I would have to say I felt an intense level of intimacy previously unknown to me. I fell in love with his words in a way that I had been unable to replicate in any intimate relationship. That may sound sad. And I suppose it should have been something discussed with a therapist. I presume my feelings rang true because there were few people I could trust enough to experience a deep level of intimacy with compared to the magic that was happening between the page and my mind. Currently, I can't say there is any fiction I love more than I love my family, my dog and my close friends (maybe), so who needs therapy? Still and all, besides dearly departed Sherwood, there are countless other dead authors I have developed a bond with. Truth be told, and please don't judge, I keep pictures of Sherwood Anderson on my phone that I look at from time to time. I once sent one of them to my sister and told her it was a picture of my dead boyfriend. She totally gets me. She laughed.
This feeling happened to me again the other night with James Baldwin. Insomnia has plagued me, but is pretty much a thing of the past for me, so it was unusual for me to be awake at 2 a.m.
James is dead, has been since 1987, and from what I have read about him, he preferred men over women, or he may have been neutral when it comes to his sexuality, but that does not mean an old heterosexual lady can't crush on him. I am old, I'm not dead, and anyway my crush does not have anything to do with physicality, it is mental. Undoubtedly the level of intimacy I felt with him at 2 a.m. in the morning was stronger than the smell of bleach. I had recently finished reading his novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, and of course, due to my standard operating procedure, part way into the book I had to read his bio. It is always slightly depressing for me when I finish reading a book that I love, although at the conclusion of this particular book, I was also ecstatic, applauding his masterpiece. In reading about his life, I knew what he was up against to get his due recognition. As well, I was sad, because I had reached the end. Untypically, I decided not to wait until such a time as I would forget some of the story, to reread it. It was too good, so I read it again, knowing it would not be the last time. And then I had to pick up something else he had written, non-fiction, The Fire Next Time.
Alone in the dark, between the sheets at 2 a.m. I continued reading his words on my kindle and my heart caught when I read "To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread."
This man was a teacher, a genius, I do believe born to bring us a message, and I, an old lady, was alone with him in my bed, flabbergasted, overwhelmed, in a good way through his words. My goosebumps told me I had to get up and savor the moment. Truth be told, it could have also been my bladder. That does happen to us old folks, but it is not specifically germane to the overall moment. I stopped at the back door and looked out at my yard, my sanctuary, my safe place. It felt right to do so. There was just enough light from the moon to see there was no wind. The trees were unperturbed, not a rustle of a leaf was observed, and suddenly, I heard what sounded like the roar of the wind. It seemed odd to me, as I kept looking at the dead air to hear this roar, but I was not afraid, and considered if it was only my furnace cranking on. It wasn't. My eyes searched outside for movement again. None. You tell me? I do not believe in ghosts, but as a lover of fiction, I would love to believe it was James sending a message, coming to thank me for giving life to him through his words at 2 a.m. in the morning. I got back into bed feeling so connected to him, instead of continuing on with his words, I was compelled to listen to his voice in an old interview on youtube. I lay still, listening to him, watching him, letting him know, if possible, it is I who must thank him.
The standard bucket list is in my rear view. I have spent my time at the beach, I have raised a beautiful family, I live in a beautiful home, I am retired with more than enough money to meet my basic needs. But I will continue to seek my next great fantasy with an author, dead or alive, that will speak to me through the wind or enlighten me in their own chosen way with their words between the sheets be it at 2, 3, 4 a.m., whenever. So be it.
And about that bucket list. Afterthought; I stand corrected. New list. Before I die, I would like to go to visit Clyde, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson's hometown where his literary legacy lives on at the local museum and library.
And after that? Let's see where the wind decides to take me.
Gone With The Wind
They sit in a box in the attic marked MOVIES. The letters look lopsided, almost flat. Edith marked the box herself whilst her wrist was sprained from all the packing. It is the contents held in that box she thinks of when she hears the evocative hum, with no particular film in mind. It is a questioning noise; low enough to be dismissed, yet present enough to consider its maker.
Edith thinks of the song, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
From a young age, Edith had been a veritable movie junkie. With the invention of the VCR, hallelujah; she could pause, rewind and replay. According to Edith, this was a giant step for mankind. An original moonwalk. Watching all of her MOVIES multiple times, she adopted the habit of turning the volume way down during the credits while her husband Jerry dozed beside her still clothed in his sweat stained uniform. Listening to the negligible hum coming from the VCR, she was both fascinated and humbled by the desperate unraveling of each and every tape as it came to its end, thrilled when it held, helpless to save one of them should suicide be their demise. Ironically, not one of them ever snapped. Not one. They held. Yet it was her prerogative to feel this unwarranted concern, fearing beyond reason that all good things must and will eventually come to an end.
"What did I miss?" Jerry would always ask the next morning when they were getting ready for work. He loved movies too, but not as much as he loved Edith. She would fill him in and he intently listened. Rolling his own version of a tape created by her words, he would be satisfied. Back then it was 12 o'clock twice a day, but who knew? Other than having to obey the clock for their work schedules and daylight saving time, time was irrelevant. Their bills got paid, and rainy days were not a disappointment. They were always guilt free movie days. Their leisure minutes together in front of the VCR were never enough, and neither of them could believe they would not live on in love with their movies and each other forever. Cheek to cheek, soul to soul, without counting sheep, sleep was a beautiful mid summer's night dream.
Unable to part with her MOVIES, long after the VCR broke, all of the VHS tapes that survived sat in their sleeves on a shelf collecting dust. When Edith and Jerry neared retirement and decided to move out to the suburbs, she still had trouble parting with them in spite of their obsolescence.
"You're not packing up those old VHS tapes are you? Didn't we agree it was time to throw them out? Edith? Please? Edith? Please? Remember what we agreed upon? Remember Honey? Edith, Honey? Out with the old in with the new?"
Jerry needn't ever refresh her memory.
"Yes dear. I do remember." Edith lamented, always aiming to please him, but still, she just couldn't imagine throwing her MOVIES away in the trash, so without further ado they came along for the ride feeling worthy. Aware of the contents of the box, upon their arrival, Jerry put her MOVIES in the attic himself without complaint. Now, in a corner, in the dark, up above is where they remain in their neglect, unusable, as a completely useless aging commodity refusing to accept their fate.
Jerry was gentle with Edith. Always. Like the time she was weak with a bad bout of the flu. He bathed her, dried and combed her hair so tenderly she fell back asleep before he was done. Waking as her fever broke, he was right there beside her ready to wipe her forehead with a soft dry cloth, lifting up a cool glass of water at needed intervals towards her pale dry lips. After smoothing out the tangled covers, he combed her bangs away from her forehead gingerly with his fingers as they fell, where he planted soft healing kisses. Never before had she been so cared for, not even by her mother. Of this she was sure. Exhausted, he sat up till she fell asleep again, refusing his own inclination to close his eyes until he heard the easing rhythm of her breathing, giving himself permission. He lay beside her, in sickness and in health, always in awe.
Edith did not fall for Jerry because he was movie star handsome. Edith fell for Jerry, because he was Jerry. Because every once in a while life gives someone a fairytale, and life gave Edith a love story. Jerry was never jealous, even when she made such a big deal over Cary Grant or any other lead actor in a movie that clearly did not look anything like him. He was so kind, so good, so loving, even if he had a movie doppelganger, there was no need and no reason for her to connect his likeness to any famous stranger as she was habitually known to do. To others, not Edith, Jerry was average. Average looks, average height, and he tipped the scale on the side of husky. His favorite meal was chicken pot pie and she made it for him once a week, usually on a Friday if she wasn't running late from work. If she was, she'd call Jerry and he'd say, "No worries Hon. Let's get take out." Without asking, somehow he'd pick up exactly what she was craving and they would sit together on the couch eating off of their tray tables, laughing in between bites if it was a comedy, and crying should the drama be tragic.
On Saturdays the meat balls were formed early by Edith's hands right after coffee crafted with intentional stale bread, simmered in tomato sauce all day steeped with fresh garlic. Never afraid of a new recipe, trays of baked goods good enough for a crowd popped out of her oven. Jerry could not figure how he had gotten so lucky. She was beautiful, she was kind, she cooked and she picked him?
It was her joy to watch Jerry come back for seconds. Anyway, she preferred a man with meat on his bones. At least that was what she told him and he believed her. Jerry had thick dark hairy arms that might turn some women off, not Edith. After they would make love she would run her fingers up and down either arm, whichever was closest, she had no preference, combing out the curls with her unmanicured nails. The hair on his arms was way too thick for her to see down to his skin, but she knew the goosebumps were there, it was obvious by the way his eyes rolled back as he lifted up his chin back towards the headboard.
Somewhere between turning off Cake Wars and the teapot whistle, Edith heard the curious hum again, foolishly searching the room for the non-existent VCR. Wanting very much to move towards the sound with no sense of its direction, she stepped forward with cupped hands behind both ears. It didn't matter that it did her no good. She had seen it in a movie. Lacking reason she closed her eyes believing it would help sharpen her hearing, bumping multiple times against the adjoining sheetrocked wall as she walked towards the kitchen. It was then that the hum had lost her focus, if it was still there at all, devoured by the teapot signal and the craving for the oatmeal cookies she could no longer avoid.
Inside the kitchen the steam from the kettle lifted up over her head before it landed on a napkin, the counter, and the top side of her breasts. In spite of her age her breasts were still perky or they appeared to be because Edith made sure from a young age to wear a bra with a proper fit; one with ample support to hold up her comparable Jane Mansfield bosoms. It seemed she was packing on the pounds of late, baking cookies and familiar pot pies to pass the time. Quite often she ate alone at the counter continually taking one bite or two, without washing the fork, knowing she'd return for another bite, and another, why bother? She would lose count of her trips into the kitchen, nibbling on and off all day aiming to keep content, always longing in want.
"Just two." She said out loud, blopping two scratch oatmeal cookies onto the damp napkin. Edith was not about to waste a plate and reused her napkins regularly without cause for alarm.
Edith couldn't say exactly what time of day the drone would become most obvious. Was it a week; two weeks; a month since she first heard the hum? Maybe it was just before bedtime when she turned off the television and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. Maybe it was when she turned off her electric toothbrush, turned off the light and crossed over the threshold expecting something else. Maybe it was when she got into bed and struggled, strangled by her twisted loose leg pajama pants. Overwhelmed, doing nothing to help her out of her predicament, blame was irrationally placed upon her cruel cold feet.
"Spoiled little brats," she called them, as if they were the real problem; as if they had a mind of their own conspiring with her pajamas and the thorny rose print sheets to keep her awake listening to an indeterminable hum. Sitting in the closet neatly stacked, a set of smooth white sheets ready to commit taunted her. Eventually she settled and sleep would come on the other side of the bed previously reserved by her husband.
"Why are my feet always so cold?" She asked Dr. Simpson. She wasn't used to driving to the office alone, choosing to leave the radio off during the drive so she could pay strict attention. Every traffic light was seen as a threat even when it remained green without a hint of yellow. A smiling pregnant woman walked into the brick building beside her and held the door for her. Edith thought, "Isn't this supposed to happen the other way around?"
Edith believed her doctor was quite handsome; that he looked like Rock Hudson, although she was certain he wore too much cologne for the seriousness of his profession. In her opinion, she believed all doctors should strictly adhere to smelling sterile or at least antiseptic. Cologne in general, she believed, should be used sparingly, and prohibited in all places of business. She could not fathom an exception.
"Your feet are cold due to a phenomenon called Raynaud's Syndrome. Basically, Raynaud's causes small arteries supplying blood to the skin to excessively constrict in response to cold. It's very common in women your age, but nothing serious, as I explained to you during your last appointment. Nothing to worry about."
"But how can I sleep with cold feet?" She protested, expecting a pill or some other quick fix.
"Wear double socks." He said before quickly ushering her out of the examination room, clicking his pen, avoiding eye contact. Unnecessary office visits irked him. And then he added, "Or move to a warmer climate." Hoping she would. There were other more critical patients waiting for him in the lobby. She left the building feeling dismissed, feeling small, the same way she felt in kindergarten when a boy she called Meany told the whole class not to pick her for dodgeball.
Double socks did not help. At all. Frustrated, she lay in bed again tangled up, wide awake, unable to find the sweet spot, consumed yet again more acutely with whatever it was that she was hearing. From where and what?
"There it is again."
She was unsure if the hum was coming from the front or the back or possibly even under the house. It would just begin to intrude, increasing in volume, sending a signal that somewhere beyond her control there was a festering invader seeking to unnerve. If the hum was more constant she thought she might have a fighting chance to identify it at its source. However, during several trips outside following the direction of what she suspected could be its origin, with each step closer, the hum would abruptly stop.
"It's mocking me." She whispered to no-one under her breath.
"Does it have eyes?"
Eventually, standing alone in the silence she would surrender, turn around, and walk back towards the house questioning if she had heard it at all. Each time, five or six steps removed, the hum returned with a vengeance. She imagined a skeletal hand reaching up and out of a grave flipping a switch to ON. When she turned back to look behind her there would be nothing but the same dry flat ground and a severed fallen branch from a tree pointing in her direction she felt sure she had already picked up.
Back inside the house she busied herself with routine. A load of laundry and a little vacuuming, baking a tray of cookies to be shared with her neighbors all made her feel a sense of relief while listening to the constant rhythm of the dryer and the hand held motor. Both filled her ears with normalcy, temporarily pardoning the alien hum, when suddenly she was interrupted by the doorbell.
She opened the door to find the letter carrier standing in front of her holding a package containing her medication.
"Shush. Listen. Do you hear it?" She said, completely disregarding the reason for his arrival.
"That strange hum out there coming from under the ground. I think. I'm not sure where it is coming from. Do you know if the earth's core makes any noise before an earthquake?"
"Lady, I drive a truck and deliver things. One of your neighbors just asked me if I know how to make meringue. No offense, but might I suggest as I suggested to her that you people google these things? I've got to finish my route and get home to my wife and infant triplets. And no, to answer your question, I do not hear a strange hum, but if I heard a strange hum my first inclination would be to call the gas company. Don't worry, it's probably nothing, but why don't you call out of precaution? Good luck."
"Oh, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry for bothering you. Thanks for the advice and have a nice day."
Edith said this to him while staring at the back of his head as he hurried back to his truck. He turned around briefly and waved which she thought was quite honorable. He looked a little like Marlon Brando. "A Streetcar Named Desire", Marlon Brando, not "The Godfather", Marlon Brando. She always remembered to give him an envelope at Christmas containing twenty dollars. Maybe it wasn't enough. She made a mental note to give him two twenties next year. Looking down at her hands with the door still wide open she realized she was now in possession of the delivered package, even though she had no recollection of taking it from him.
Edith went inside and put the package down on the counter laughing out loud at her foolishness. All this time she had been attempting to chase down the origin of an unfamiliar sound without googling it. Why? Before turning on her computer, she took the letter carrier's advice and called the gas company first, explaining the nature of the odd hum.
And through the phone she heard, "No ma'am. I can't say we've received a call about a strange hum. Do you smell gas? No? Well then you're okay. But I will make a note of your comments for the inspectors just in case. Why don't you call the water company to play it safe and tell them what you told me?"
She thanked the gas company employee for their time and then called the water company right away and through the phone she heard. "You are out in Pittsville? We've had no complaints in the area. Water flowing properly? Yes? Then you're okay ma'am. But hey. Not that it's any of my business but have you ever heard of tinnitus? I've actually got a case of it myself and sometimes it sounds like a symphony of assorted hums in between my ears. Maybe you should get your ears checked? Just trying to help you out. Don't mean to get personal. Process of elimination, ya know?"
She thanked the water company employee very much for their time and then went straight to her computer laughing out loud at herself again. She googled "hum under the earth before an earthquake" first, and really didn't see any connection to what she was hearing and then she googled "tinnitus."
"Oh. You've got to be kidding me. Why didn't I think to call an ear doctor?"
She made a call to the Pittsville ear doctor and during the week leading up to her appointment, the strange hum was becoming ever more constant and obvious. When Edith met up with Dr. Cleary she asked him about the possibility of her having tinnitus. Dr. Cleary was no Rock Hudson. Nothing like Dr. Simpson. He was "Fred Gwynn" gangly with a slicked down gray comb over. She appreciated that he was cologne free; companionable with the sterile environment. After giving her some routine tests for tinnitus, he said, "I can diagnose you by symptoms alone, so it is quite possible that you do have tinnitus, but just so you know, I don't see anything conclusive in your tests. Sometimes tinnitus is just a passing thing due to a stress induced event. Anything stressful going on in your life?"
"Yeah. There is this strange hum that sounds like it's coming from under the ground at my house that won't stop." She didn't tell him about her cold feet or about Jerry. "What's the use?" She thought.
They both laughed. Cold feet aside, having trouble facing reality, Edith really didn't want to tell Dr. Cleary she was still grieving the loss of her late husband, Jerry. Jerry passed away in his sleep during the night after they had watched "Gone With The Wind" for the umpteenth time. It made her happy that he went peacefully. He would have been 81 the following week. It was Jerry that always kept her feet warm. It was Jerry that always made everything right, always knew what to do, and now he was gone.
She didn't dare tell Dr. Cleary at some point she considered that the hum under the ground had something to do with his loss. If she told him she would have to start crying all over again and she really didn't want to do that. Although it crossed her mind, she suppressed the belief that it could be her dead husband sending out some ethereal auditory signal from beyond the grave. What would Dr. Cleary think about that? Although privately she acknowledged her grief, she was also a firm believer that everyone passes in their own time. As they were inseparable, she always knew one of them would go first. And despite her cold feet, she wasn't ready to go just yet, that is she thought she wasn't, up until the taunting hum began to make her life intolerable. She wondered if she should google "can grief drive someone mad?"
After coming back from her ear appointment, Edith sat down in the quiet to relax with a cup of chamomile tea and it was then that she realized in the silence the strange hum was gone! Had Dr. Cleary remedied the situation by setting her mind at ease? Was the noise only in her head all along? Not really there? After she finished her tea, it was so quiet in the house that she noticed the sound of the refrigerator compressor turning on, causing her to look across the room in that direction. It was then that she heard the first obnoxious crack, then another and another coming from the kitchen. She jumped up and into the kitchen to see the floor all around her was beginning to buckle and crumble. As the surface beneath her feet began to swallow her up, on her way down into the abyss she was very pleased about one thing. She knew she wasn't crazy after all. There was some kind of seismic activity happening under the ground around her house. Her first inclination about the strange hum was right!
It was her conscientious letter carrier that surmised she might be dead. She hadn't picked up the mail from her mailbox in almost a week and had always been home when he came to the door with her medication. He told his supervisor about his suspicion when he got back to the office and his supervisor called the police.
When the police officers arrived the partners had to force their way in through the front door. Edith would have been pleased to know the first officer stepping over her threshold was a Paul Newman look alike, "Cool Hand Luke'' Paul Newman, not "The Color of Money" Paul Newman. Once, on a long, very long, longer than long-line-normal-long Walmart checkout line, after staring at his profile for a considerable amount of time, a healthy senior-ish woman behind him became so mesmerized by the likeness, she became utterly starstruck, and proceeded to pass out. Of course he was the closest most equipped individual in the vicinity to come to her aid, summoning an ambulance with one quick click on his phone. When the afflicted woman came to, shortly after her spell, before the medic arrived, the first thing she saw when she looked up was "Cool Hand Luke'' hovering over her, so close, in her diminished state she delusionally puckered up her lips begging for a kiss. Out of reflex, he recoiled into a safer posture. Similar antics had happened to him before in the line of duty. As she became more coherent, embarrassed, the woman tried unsuccessfully to get up. In actuality whatever strength she had left urged her to bolt, but he wouldn't let her move, firmly but gently holding her down by the shoulder blades.
"So sorry to cause a commotion. Must be my blood sugar." She lied to the officer and he was suspicious, although he could not have known at her last check-up her glucose reading was perfectly normal. A concerned woman nearby overheard and quickly presented a cookie. The compromised woman had to eat it, refusing to be seen as a liar, secretly scheming a covert maneuver to snap a picture of her celebrity crush before he got away. Funny thing is, Paul Newman lived to be 83 and had already been dead for years.
The second officer wasn't a looker per se, but had Edith seen him, she may have been able to pigeonhole him into an A-list bit player, a what's his name that people would recognize without significance.
The smell was the first give away for both of the first responders that there was a dead body within the premises.
There she lay, on the perfectly smooth, cold, stone, kitchen tile floor. Edith. Face up. Jerry's Edith.
"Nothing looks out of the ordinary. Said Luke to what's his name. "No foul play here. Probably a heart attack or stroke; poor old woman living all alone here. How odd? Ya know? I've never seen someone die of a heart attack or a stroke or anything else for that matter with such a serene sweet smile on their face."
What's his name was swift to agree and replied,
"Me too. Well at least we can both agree. It looks like she died happy….Wait a minute. Did you hear that hum?"
Never a problem doing two things at once, Luke looked down at his work cell apps, clicked on the ME for Medical Examiner, and began to type, without looking up, replying,
*****Author's name revealed upon request.
Beyond the tall reeds, in clear view sits a humble abode where an old woman smiles wide while stirring her pots of comfort food, whistling a song I long to hear.
Out of range, even when I begin to walk away, somehow her words still reach me. The message is clear.
"Come home and I will feed you. You will always have a seat at my table, a place to rest, a place to break bread with all of us, but most of all, a place to satisfy your hunger."