I go walking in my neighborhood every day now. The trees that were charcoal smudged are now hazed over with the most delicate green, almost like a mirage against the lucent sky. Last winter's leaves are gathered in scalloped ridges along the sidewalk edges, like icing on a wedding cake.
As soon as I leave the house, my body feels loose and long legged, I throw my head and shoulders back and my arms swing freely. I look a wreck; I wear Swedish leather walking shoes and jeans. I always wait to shower until after I get back, so my hair is generally in a messy braid that I wore the night before. My cell phone rides in the back pocket of my jeans and the house keys in the front.
The roads in my neighborhood wind in and around one another, all the houses share similar architectural traits, as though members of a large and messy extended family. There is the dominant split level layout and the three main windows facing front, as well as the attached, single garage.
I am guessing that they were all designed in the seventies. About one home owner per block got up one morning and decided to pain their house an outrageous shade of unmitigated blue. I often wonder what precipitated this decision.
I pass by one house that is beautifully tidy, the vibrantly green lawn hedged in by a chain link fence that gleams in the sun. The house boasts a small and brave dog of the curly haired variety. One day as I passed by I saw bath mats spread out tidily on the fence.
It gave me a sudden vision of the interior, all dim and incredibly neat, all the nicknacks gleaming and displayed in overflowing lighted cabinets, layered carpets and a lamp that hangs over the dining room table on a chain.
She makes toasted tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, she shops once a week, she speaks to her daughter in law on the phone and wonders why they never seem to get along. She has bathrooms that are all of one piece, where the toothpaste holder matches the frilly cloth shower curtain and the toilet seat is padded.
When I see their lawn, I feel bad for the houses next to it. The house to the left has covered their lawn completely with rocks, so one can only imagine. On top of the rock covered terraces have been placed terracotta circles like polka dots and on top of those have been placed sculptures of various winged insects and many, many ceramics frogs. I imagine that the dragonfly with clear blue wings was was a prized find.
I saw the lady of that house on her porch one morning. She was wearing a voluminous house dress in a vibrant blue that matched the paint job. She also was hanging rugs out to air on the porch railings; apparently the entire neighborhood has caught spring fever.
"You look happy!" she called out to me.
"It's the exercise," I replied with the grin.
People in my neighborhood like to fly flags that speak of their football loyalties, American patriotism and the fact that they like flowers. They like to have cars and trucks parked on the curb in a state of disrepair, a mark of either the perpetual optimist-"But hon, it just needs a little more work! I'll be able to get at least fifteen hundert for her..." or lethargy.
When I walk the neighborhood is silent and still, baking under the late morning sun. Hoses lay uncurled on lawns, windows are blank and empty, in the cool shadows under pine trees hide garden gnomes and cinder blocks. Dog bark, brave and mouthy; they hunt me all along the length of their fences, and then remain at the corner, alert should I decide to return.
Turning the corner, I see our own vehicle sitting at the curb, the short and stalwart Bronco, tan and brown, with the cracked windshield. The sight of it never fails to evoke such a longing for my husband that, for a moment, it becomes a physical sensation.
I remember his face, gleaming with sweat and splattered with oil and his fierce grin. I remember how solidly packed with muscle he is, the fact that he is a physical reality, not just a voice or a two dimensional picture.
By now, I know that I have forgotten so much of what he looks like, sounds like, what he is like to live with. I'm not conscious of it, I simply know because seeing him in December brought it all back and it's been long enough for it to have slipped all away again.
When he called me early this morning, he sounded cross. He was irritable from lack of sleep and frustrated over dealing with some money issues. I was still half asleep, my mind muddled with strange dreams.
I was drinking coffee at the kitchen table an hour later when the phone rang.
"Honey, I'm sorry I was cranky," he said remorsefully. "I couldn't sleep thinkin' on it."
He's getting ready to go somewhere else, involved in a different kind of mission. There won't be any kind of phone contact until they can run phone lines out. So at least I get his voice for now, all light and full of energy, or sweet and sleepy and rueful. How I love that man.
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