I don’t know how to stop. When I’m alone, I’m better. When I bump my head on the kitchen cabinet or the third time I try to send an email it still doesn’t work, often I stop long enough to recognize the universe is trying to tell me something. Sometimes I can really stop and redirect myself. But with people it can feel impossible. It is a hot, humid afternoon. I am siting on the couch in the living room talking on the phone. I’m frustrated, impatient, and it’s coming through the sound of my voice. I’m trying to resolve something, unwilling to step back and let it go for now. Two hummingbirds fly in through the open louvers, but I am so wrapped up in my own disturbance, I don’t even look at them. Only a small, distant part of me even knows they have come inside. They spiral together, one glimpse from the corner of my eye. I moderate the tone of my voice on the phone, drop back to a kinder delivery, but I do not drop all the way back down to myself. Later, it makes me sad. The universe sent these amazing creatures on my behalf, tiny luminescent messengers meant to help me, and I missed the whole thing. I did recalibrate, and I’m glad for that. But I was so closed up in my limited experience I missed the magnificence of the moment. I didn’t drop down to bedrock, didn’t welcome those two little beings, didn’t touch awe or gratitude. But tonight I don’t berate myself. I touch the sadness, yes, the disappointment. But I remind myself we live in a generous universe. We get lots of chances. I’m just going to keep trying to pay better attention. I’m going to believe I can learn to stop even in the heart of my disturbance. I’m going to keep aiming myself for the next time, or the next. Or maybe the time after that.
I sweep the courtyard in the morning heat. It is covered with seed casings and feathers and the odd dried bougainvillea blossom. I am sick of the mess. I remind myself I love my birds, that this is a small price to pay. I know this because decades ago I was vacuuming just after my dog Sanji died, and I smelled her warmed fur in the machine. I cried thinking about all the times I resented her hair on the furniture, how much dirt she brought in, how I would so gladly deal with it now if only I could have her back. Still, I am grumpy and resentful of the daily bird mess. The hot, humid air only makes it worse. I am angry with myself for not hosing down the cement, for wanting to wait until I’d be home for a longer stretch to enjoy it, setting up the umbrella, bringing out the pillows. I am angry at myself for wanting it all to be perfect at the same time. I know the daily bird mess would feel less overwhelming if the cement wasn’t so spotted with bird poop, so filthy sweeping seems to make little difference. I think of all the birds partying here when I am gone, living it up all over the courtyard. They don’t do that when I’m home. Still, I am pulled down by my grumpiness. I sweep beside the edge of the cement and look down. There is a small mango nestled in the dirt. It stops me, it’s soft greens and golds, the smoothness of its skin when I pick it up. I rest the mango on my open palm, look at the sturdy little tree who has been so abundant this summer. She has jasmine and a wild vine with trumpet flowers looping about her, but she seems content. I remember how lucky I am, how much I have, how much I am given, always. I look up and see the last quarter moon in the blue sky, another gift. I slough off my discontent. It is heavy, anyway. I let the earth swallow it. I lean the broom against the washing machine, wrap both hands around the mango, chastened. “I promise to savor it,” I tell the tree. I carry the mango inside to the cooler air, grateful.
I stay up past 2am, surprise myself by sleeping until almost nine. I’m allowing myself bizarre behavior, working until late, getting up most days between seven and eight, deep sleep again in the afternoon or early evening. My nights keep growing later and later, my naps, too. I can’t tell if this is crazy dumb or something else, some new allowance on my part, not listening to the insistent logic of the gatekeeper, a good thing, maybe. I know it’s opened something up in my days, knowing I can begin again fresh each evening, knowing there is a long stretch of the night ahead of me. In past years, I trained myself to be up by 5:30 or 6am, the thing to do in desert heat, a chance to be outside. This morning I am leery stepping out into the courtyard, testing the air, but even at 9am I am okay. Saved, still, by our delicious, short summer, only four months this year instead of six or seven, so in August I am not yet used up by the long trudge of it, and already it is lessening. Subtle changes, the peak heat not lasting as long, the temperatures easing back when the sun disappears behind the mountains. Today I am late, though, so for now I sweep only the bit I need to lay down my yoga mats, the thin old purple one on top of the shorter, thick, bright orange one I had to cut off because the young desert rats chewed on it during their inadvertent run of the trailer. I watch the shade move across the cement and begin my yoga just in time. I salute the sun again and again. But I linger too long in chavasana, so the sun itself catches me at the end, only half my body left in the disappearing shade. I went deep, though, so it doesn’t matter. I come to sitting, slowed, opened up, grinning. Namaste.
I bang the roll of quarters I got at Ralph’s against the sharp edge of the table.
They break open, and I see they are fresh minted, shiny and untouched, like a gift.
I palm six, rub them between my hands.
It seems wrong to put them in the washing machine.
My new piece doesn’t win the Fish Flash Fiction contest. I am stunned. I thought I was going to win. I thought “The Second Flood” was that good. (Did I know I thought I would win? Have I ever thought I would win before?) I scan the short list and then the long list. My piece is not on either one. If I needed to right now, I would be unable to speak, to push out words that make sense. I scan the short list and the long list two more times in case I missed my name. It is not there. There were more than 900 entries, but I can’t believe my story wasn’t even in the top ten percent. I plunge. I wonder how I could have been so delusional. How could I think my piece was any good at all? I know I am a terrible writer. I am underwater, deep in the cold sea where no light lives. I don’t know how long I stay submerged. Maybe work drags me back up, makes be break the surface, breathe air, answer helpdesk questions, grade summaries. Days pass. I am lying on my back in the courtyard in chavasanah. I dream up ways my livelihood might move even more toward my writing. I picture percussive instruments at my writing retreat, and my feet bounce on the yoga mat. I think of a new way of structuring, “When I Was a Dog.” My fingers itch for the pen. “Commit more deeply to your No. 1 focus,” this week’s horoscope says, “and throw yourself into the daring adventure of it.” I leap. This water is warm, strewn with sunlight. I roll over and float on my back, let the tide take me. I remember I can swim.
My book manuscript sits on the stool, clean new printout, spiral bound. Now and then I pick it up, rub the clear plastic cover with one hand the way I used to stroke my cats. I cradle it against my chest with both arms, rocking side to side. I am in love with its fresh newness. I am in love with its story. I am in love with its existence after all these years. I am eager to make my final pass or two through its pages. But I am not doing it. I think that’s okay. I trust I’ll pick it up at the right time. I wonder if I’m avoiding, resisting, afraid to finish. And if I am, is it because I don’t want it to be over? Because I don’t want to have to grieve? Or is it because I am afraid of what comes next? Maybe all of it is true. But I am comforted to see it waiting for me on the stool. That feels like a good sign. “Soon,” I murmur. “Soon.”
At night 120 miles away my solar Christmas lights
glow and arc in the bougainvillea
silent and dear without me.