It’s July 31st. I hear Carole King singing in my head and dream of waking up beside the man I love on the first day of August. Hers is a love song to summer. It’s not yet noon, over 100 degrees, muggy. Clouds piled against the mountains move toward us. One good thing: this weather gives us cleaner air. Second good thing: cicadas loud in the two trees. They change pitch, volume, breath, weave sound in and out, insect orchestra. I have just read the chapter of Natalie’s book where she talks about teachers, about Wendy. She is right. Wendy’s rich prose makes me envious. But right before, she tells us to copy Hemingway, to write a piece in one or two syllable words. I think: I do that. I don’t need to practice that. It’s organic, what comes to me. Today is the eve of the halfway point between midsummer and the fall equinox, the veil between the worlds thin. I make a small altar on the courtyard table: two tomatoes grown in the big terra cotta pot, bougainvillea, tecoma and Mexican birds of paradise from our garden, orange calcite, yellow citrine. I light one candle for this harvest time, for this turning of our world, and a second candle for all the beings I know who’ve died in recent months, feline, human, canine: Sunny, Auntie Christel’s brother in Germany, Bob, Colleen’s father, Annie. I ask for blessings on their spirits, on the ones left behind, still in bodies. May we honor both sides of this thinning veil. I take a deep breath, hear small chirpings in our tree. A verdin, I think. One lone dove sits on the wooden fence, Boo sprawled beneath the apricot mallow. Sofia comes outside, drinks water. Everything goes still. And then the cicadas begin to buzz again, and I draw another breath, keep my pen moving across the page. Sweat rolls down my right temple. My stomach growls. I twitch a fly off my forearm. I am in love with the last day of July.
Saturday I cry washing dishes because I never got to say goodbye to Ken all those years ago when he was dying in an Oakland hospital. Standing at the sink I remember decades before standing beside him in the driveway in Newport Beach, the two of us watching them drive away with my stepfather’s body. I don’t remember if we spoke, only our silent bond, witnesses to that final leave-taking. When we walked back into the kitchen, Judy and Mary Ann were sweeping things off the counters, quick manic movements, black framed glasses and Bic cigarette lighters and all the little bits of him landing in cardboard boxes. I made myself a tomato and red onion sandwich and sat in the midst of the chaos chewing and swallowing. It could have been different, I think now, my hands full of soap and a slippery blue bowl. It could have been different if we’d all sat down. Maybe Ken and I would have talked about what Jarv meant to us. Maybe Mary Ann and Judy would have joined in, stopped hiding the evidence. It could have been a long slow day of shared grief, even a deep peace at the end of it. Instead, I sat on the barstool licking mayonnaise from my thumb and feeling like an alien.