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 eat the best mango I have ever tasted. It wasn’t much to look at when it was still whole. It never got that lovely red blush. There was a small patch of yellow on the skin. I even put it in the refrigerator because I’d bought too much fruit. I didn’t want it to spoil. When I peel it, inside it is a rich orange, the flesh wet and firm. I cut it up in big, messy chunks, the mango slipping out of my hands. I gnaw on the big white pit. (I always want to save the pits, make art with them, but I resist.) I eat it in the courtyard with a small pile of Brazil nuts. I eat with my fingers, savor each bite. The cicadas—two of them, I think—begin buzzing in the Palo Verde when I am chewing the last piece. I don’t know how long I sit there, mesmerized by the lingering taste of sweet, delicious mango and the exotic summer song of the cicadas, the bowl propped against my belly. I come to with my hand still poised over the empty bowl, my fingers slick with mango juice.
It’s the small things that stop me, give me breath. The unbelievable yellow of the new kitchen cloth from Trader Joe’s lying in a bright wet clump on the edge of the sink, the fleeting perfection of its spotlessness. The messy lumps of peeled mango piled inside the red glass bowl, waiting for me to finish writing and open a chilled bottle of Topo Chico to go with them. The surprising thunder of the cicadas in the neighbor’s tree, filling our courtyard garden, growing louder and louder as dusk darkens to night, their wild crescendo crashing through the open windows, the abrupt silence at full dark. I still find myself rubbing my fingers against each other sometimes, evidence of my hidden anxiety. But tonight I listen to the now-quiet air and feel the kind of peace I’ve been longing for.
[Editor’s note: This was originally written shortly after “The Thinning Veil.” As I work to return to my blog, there will no doubt be a mix of things past and present, maybe off season–this was in the heart of the summer–and so on. But here I am!]
I pick the big green mango up from the counter, cradle it in my cupped hands. I probe the sides with gentle fingers. I am surprised by how quickly it has softened, even in our late summer heat, becoming almost ripe while I was away overnight celebrating Mami’s birthday. Yesterday in the late afternoon I placed it on the patio table beside a tiny vase of blossoms from my garden to honor the equinox.
Now without knowing, I have brought the mango to my face. The sweet, spicy, astringent smell drifts across me. Tears fill my eyes like a yawn, that quick stretching yearning. For one long moment, the scent takes me to Todos Santos. I am sitting at my tall round wrought iron table in the courtyard at Las Flores, marveling over the ripe red mango that has appeared there as if conjured. Later, Alfredo mimes peeling and eating one, not even trying to name it for me, not knowing the word is the same in English except for our terrible American “a” that butchers its beauty. There are three little trees behind the main house. I pass them when I go to use the washing machine. Alfredo brings me more as the weeks go by, sharing the largesse as the season swells and ends. Always they appear on my little courtyard table like sweet offerings to the gods. Sometimes, when he has borrowed my binoculars to look for whales from the steps at the other side of the inn, he will return them to my table with a mango beside them. Back in my desert kitchen, a world away, I roll the big green mango in my palms, my thumbs brushing across it. I press my nose to the firm skin, inhaling, my lips touching, too, my pose a prayer.