I come home from work with some shopping. Jacquie leaves for sewing class and after a short while I’m staring at my feet. She won’t get back until nine. She wants me to meet her half-way at Dominion after it’s done. She’s still not used to the neighborhood. It’s too dark at night, she thinks. What does she think I’ll do? At the first sign of trouble, I’m running.
Nine O’clock, she won’t be back til. Three hours for a sewing class. What on Earth could they possibly be going on about for three fucking hours? Who has the energy for that kind of industriousness?
I’m still on the couch and I haven’t decided what to do about the thing. There’s the couch, there’s the DVD with Star Trek again, the one with the atrocious theme. There’s dinner in a cold pot on the stove. I asked Jacquie to smell it before she left because it was in the refrigerator so many days we had to count backwards on our fingers to remember. The coil sparks against the bottom after the heat’s on long enough. I eat and look at Star Trek and look out the window and it’s going to be light for a while, and there in the wood tray by the laptop, underneath some jewel cases, stray bills and a USB cable, is the thing, nearly empty.
There is something, now that I think of it, that I didn’t get at the store on the way home from work that I can go get now. Jacquie won’t be back for more than two hours. She missed the first class because she was on shift that night, so she made arrangements not to miss the second. She paid a-hundred-something, two-hundred-something dollars. Disparate friends knew of the teacher, all saying the woman has a mean reputation for never refunding deposits to anyone dropping the class, regardless of reason. A prima dona of the Bernina. A prima dona. Instructing a sewing class. I don’t get it.
The overcast sky is at just before the color blue it gets at dusk. It will be like that in another hour, to make your eyes tear. Am I the only one that ever happens to? I pat the key in my right pocket, shaking the thing loose from my left pocket to get it to my mouth. I see the marigolds are doing well. It’s a good time to walk because it’s after everybody comes home, even after they go out for a run. A lot of people here make that healthy lifestyle choice.
There were these two couples I passed the other night. The girls jogged in front talking together side by side a few paces ahead of their male counterparts doing the same thing. I can’t even imagine the dialogue that led up to this scenario. Did they plan it? Did they mark it on their Outlook calendars:
Jogging with Stella and Pete, 6:00-6:30 :-b
It baffled me which among them said to their spouse, “We haven’t seen the lovely so-and-so’s for a while, let’s have them over one night after work. It’ll be fun. We’ll go jogging.” Them jogging meant that—as with any fucked-up relationship—the other spouse had to have enabled the first, saying something like, “What a great idea. I’ll mark it on my Outlook calendar.”
My timing now couldn’t be better. Some evenings you’ll come across a whole family of joggers. None of them are around. There’s a warm salt air to remind you you’re on an island, and birds being territorial in the trees barely in bud. A few doors down toward Sandringham, a late commuter slams the door shut to his car and makes one of those neutral-neighborly assessments of me as I take my hand down from my face and smile back as he turns toward the light of his porch.
There’s a bird carcass near the shortcut to Sandringham. I stop and look. There’s no blood and the wind animates its feathers. But it is dead. It seems to have crash-landed head-first, broken neck, left cheek pressed against the asphalt with its right eye staring up at god kn0ws what. It makes me think of a painting I saw at the National Gallery in Washington, The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, (1430/1435). It shows a guy talking to a satyr. When I first saw it, all I could think was, “What the hell is he doing there.” For a moment, I wondered if there were satyrs in the bible and I just forgot about them. But of anything in the bible, I think I would have remembered something like a satyr. This was a guy with cloven feet, not some no account leper or dime-a-dozen chick with an issue of blood. A satyr in the bible would make it about 1 percent more likely I would still be a theist today, not because I believe in the existence of mythical goat-men, but because goat-men are so fucking awesome.
It started to become apparent to me what was going on in this painting, even before I read up on Saint Anthony of Egypt. Here was this guy. He’s a bit on the devout side. He’s just minding his own business in the fourth century wilderness, thinking about god and stuff, going out of his way to talk about god stuff with another guy who thinks a lot of god. Out of nowhere comes this figment of the Greco-Roman imagination. An emblem of the same culture that inspired a secular, mercantile alternative to domination by the Catholic Church and her noble allies, was tempting a faithful man to stray from the path. I don’t know what was happening in 1435 Siena, but somebody sure was pissed off about the Renaissance.
I finish the thing at the corner, then wait for a car to round the bend before crossing to the short cut. Will the driver see the bird carcass in time or run it over again? I can’t imagine. I cross the road and head to Sandringham. Putting myself in the driver’s shoes, the question would not be if, but how many times I run it over. That’s a lie. There was that sea turtle they found a couple of weeks ago, and I felt really bad about it because I heard it might have eaten something plastic that got lodged in its esophagus. It made me feel depressed for a few days. I felt responsible, indirectly, by dint of using plastic. Then I found out I was invited to preview some new Xbox video games, and I haven’t thought of that turtle until now, for which I blame that fucking bird.
I toss into the rubbish can the empty box that the thing was in. The dairy is up and down. It doesn’t carry club soda all the time. It doesn’t sell peanut butter cups. I stand there looking for something else. Jacquie still won’t be home for an hour. A three-hour class. At least an hour of that has to be for announcements and toilet breaks. I mean, they use sewing machines in this class. You’d think with a machine, you wouldn’t need any more than 20 minutes. There’s nothing I want to eat here. Behind the cashier is the cigarette case on top and below the cabinet where they used to keep the legal marijuana. It was banned a couple of months ago, but there’s always something coming out to market under a new name and I guess just have to know where to buy it.
I get a new box of the thing and say thanks. Back on the street by the rubbish can, I unravel the plastic and tap the box open and look around with the lighter poised. Nobody coming. The clouds are that almost electrified blue that tears my eyes. I can’t believe I’m the only one who experiences this. But it has never come up in conversation with anyone. Outside the light from the dairy, there whooshes a passing bus. It is always a comfort to smell diesel exhaust. It gives a certain kind of license, as if demonstrating to the odd, sanctimonious passerby that one passively inhales fumes just as toxic as my second-hand smoke. Even with nobody around on the sidewalk, I’m still self-conscious about blowing cigarettes into the face of a pedestrian that might appear out of the blue. The plastic wrapper goes into the rubbish for the sea turtles to eat.
The walk home is unremarkable. That smoke stinks. Jacquie must smell it on me, in my clothes and hair, despite the washing, flossing, rinsing. The bird is still dead, not squashed. The door opens, and the new thing replaces the old thing under the USB cable and jewel cases. I watch Star Trek until Jacquie comes back, saying the teacher is nice, nothing like they said she would be. She loves the class, and the people are nice, and there is this one student that uses a very old, large pair of scissors with tape wrapped around in places as if it to keep it all from falling apart. They used to belong to the student’s grandfather, who was a tailor back in India, and again in New Zealand when he emigrated. They’re learning how to sew an apron. Jacquie wants to make a barbecue apron for her dad, out of the polyester material she bought to practice on. The teacher said it was flammable, but Jacquie asks if I think it would still be ok to make the barbecue apron. I think she’s joking.