Afternoon

In the fall, we transition from chasing shadow to chasing sun. At its brightest it is only just enough and cause for celebration. It is scarce and so savored. Sunblock and floppy hats are cast aside and we pretend not to notice the freckles we get in the fall. They can’t hurt us, what could be the harm.

Stretching, the cat extends one paw into the afternoon’s shadow and recoils it immediately, bringing it close to her body as if comforting it after its foray out of the light. The little yard looks dusty and unkept with dry leaves littering the back and the brown grass with clumps of rope weed like an unshaved beard, embarrassing to look at in conversation.

We don’t care. Me with my books and lists and recipes and coffee; Bella and Betty with their scraps of sun and satisfaction. It is all we need, this little open air room of a yard with trees, flowers, birds and a flat place to stretch out. It is our little place, an island in a sea of humanity.

Things you can trust

You can trust a birdbath to be what it says. It cannot fill itself, but it is willing. You can trust it to bring birds. Cat or no cat.

Pink flamingoes in the yard harbor no ill will or secret agenda. They have no pockets in which to hide a knife and they will not sneak up on you unaware.

Provided basic environmental conditions are favorable, an apple tree may be counted upon to grow and to bear fruit.

Regardless of individual qualities, dogs will have dog breath, smell bad when wet and frequently when dry. They will eat unspeakable things, of this we may be certain.

Before recent days, Bay Area dwellers knew that 3 or 4 days of heat would absolutely bring a cooling fog. Laughingly we called it god’s air-conditioning. Has god’s repair person been called?

At our house we know if a high pressure system is coming, because the wind makes our delicate wind chimes clatter and bang. In the heat, a slender breeze sashays through the yard and rings only 1 chime several times, while the others remain silent. I rely upon the purity of its one clear note.

At the Sea Shore

This summer I’ve longed for the shore with an ache that must be like a plant longing for rain. I don’t much go in the water, but I want the sound, smell, and vastness of it.

Tonight I’m at a baseball game at AT&T Park, which feels like being in the middle of the Bay from where I sit over third base. The moon rises above us, sailboats, ferries, and cargo ships float by and seagulls gather to feed and poop all over baseball. The barn swallows at the Colosseum are easier to love.

Happily, I can also see Oakland from here, clad as I am in my A’s green and gold at this Giants/Cubs game. All for the love of the game and the husband. Accustomed as we are to the dingy Colosseum at this point, coming here is like visiting our rich cousins.

The fog spills over the wall and it’s winter in August when sometimes the Bay disappears and it is only us and the fog and our shivering blankets.

5 objects in juxtaposition

Outside the paella restaurant

I am driving under the freeway. Cars above me are inching along like my Grandma in winter with Creepers attached to the bottom of her boots. If I’d planned to get on, I wouldn’t, but watching them is peaceful, no stress, no impatience from here.

A train is blowing its whistle nearby, advising those capitol corridor dwellers to come hither, and reminding me that I, too, can ride the rail, the clickety clack rumble carrying me further on down the line. It rolls slowly between stops until it flies like a winged stallion up the delta, out of the fog and into the oven, like a rocket to the sun.

An older hippie gone button up office worker pedals his bike down Brush Street. His blondish grayish hair trails down his back in ropy pieces, not dreads, but he wishes they were. A bag of oranges is tied on the back of his bicycle, heading toward the ferry.

Brush Street ends near the train tracks, its perpendicular end point. On the other side of the tracks, a ferry rises out of the water. It’s not the Casco Bay Ferry of my youth, a slow moving donkey low in the water that carries mail, island dwellers with faces worn by the wind, and occasional cars, although most of the island are too small to use one. The beast before me rises out of the bay like a giant ready to grab cars off the street to swallow them. Lines of buttoned shirted, tie loosened, hair freed travelers line up for passage west, into the sunset only to return with its rise tomorrow.

Overshadowing my parking spot, there’s a squared off, painfully modern building. It sits like a pompous little man in a too-hip bar, forgetting that he’s wearing a Hello My Name Is label with Digital Realty written in block letters. I see Digital Reality and am reflexively disgusted.

I hope the paella is old-fashioned good.

You have 3 Minutes

“She said I had 3 minutes to impress her, man! I came up empty!I put my hands in my pockets and pulled them inside out—I didn’t even have no lint!” Edgar said.

“Bro, why 3 minutes? What do 3 minutes have to do with anything? You can’t even eat a burrito in 3 minutes unless it’s one of those little freezer burritos,” Junior said.

You think I know? What do I know?” Edgar shrugged and shuffled across the hall to his room.

Edgar has a window with a tree in it, so he’s all good. Me, I got the dumpster to look out on. Rain or shine, no buena for this homie, Junior thought.

Edgar shuffled back in with 2 plastic wrapped burritos in his hands.

“Your microwave working, Junior? Mine’s roto. Brought us some lunch.

“That’s good, Edgar. They cook in about 3 minutes, right?

Edgar smiled and nodded.

“So, you going to ask her out?”

“Think I should?”

“I say you better think about it real good. Polish up those words and blind her with ‘em. And I don’t mean with your gold tooth, homie. ” Junior said laughing.

Scar Tissue

As I stood in front of my house, one of our neighbors walked down the street and passed me without speaking. Although we have had pleasant conversations in past months, she seemed not to recognize me.

“Hello, Marie!” I call to her.

She turned back, “Oh! Hello!”

“How have you been? We haven’t seen you and your daughter Frieda for a while.”

We first met them when Frieda was about 2 ½. Marie and her daughter would walk by and Frieda often detoured to climb front our stairs. Our cat Buster always sat looking out the window near the top of them and she looked for him, when she remembered, and squealed with delight when he was there.

“Frieda is doing pretty well, although she has a new sister. An older sister. So it’s a big change.”

“Wow! Congratulations on the addition to your family!”

“We adopted her from Korea. She’s experienced a lot of trauma, especially related to dogs. There were wild dogs running in the streets and she’s horribly afraid of them.

I told Marie about the boxer I’d adopted from a shelter and told her Betty was afraid of a lot of things, especially hoses. We parted ways at the end of the block and over the next few weeks as I walked Betty around the neighborhood; I noticed the changes in the front yard of the little cottage—2 hoola hoops, 2 scooters, 2 of everything.

Lately we’ve had a heat wave and all our windows have been flung wide open. Twice in the last month, I’ve heard a little girl wake up screaming when I sat in the back of the house. Who knows how deep the hurt goes.

He Wore a Bowtie

They had been to the theater. Tom had taken her to a Sondheim musical for her birthday and although it was bedtime on a work night and they still had to cross the Bay on BART, her heart was humming and happy.

The train arrived at the station as they stepped off the stairs. The doors opened and they glided in as if royalty with car service. Sitting together in the middle of the car, they held hands. The noise of the train prevented easy conversation, so they sat in companionable silence. Tom looked at his phone while Charlene looked around the train.

People at this hour in this lighting look ghastly, she thought. We’re all one step from zombies.

There were the usual riders—hipsters, eyes unfocused and balance impaired from their evening of sipping bacon infused vodka drinks, workers going home after a long underpaid day of cleaning office toilets, theater goers, and a homeless man sleeping in the last seat, his back against the wall.

There was one man who was different from the rest and Charlene’s eyes rested on him. He wore a bow tie, a bowler hat and small round glasses. He sat like a perfectly bent paper clip, all right angles, with his hands flat on the top of his thighs. He looked forward, his head slightly nodding to a quiet melody he could hear woven into the canvas of the train noise. He closed his eyes sometime after the Lake Merritt station and the melody settled into him, deepening the nod and becoming a wave in his torso until he fell onto his side, into the seat beside him.

Charlene and Tom got off at the Fruitvale station. Walking by him, Charlene paused to take a long look and decided he must certainly be asleep.