Alive

I was looking for someone with whom to share the rest of my life, and on Sunday evening I privately decided it would not be you. On Monday morning, however, I accompanied you to the hospital where you would collect the results of your recent echocardiogram. I waited out front on a bench. Mulch and potted trees. Sunshine. Spring in Seattle. I read a book. It was, maybe, a biography of someone famous, maybe dead, maybe never properly understood. When you emerged from the automatic doors I looked up, heart in my mouth. I wanted to know. "I'm gonna live!" you announced triumphantly, and you were so happy, and I was so happy for you, and I rose from the bench, and every one us was so very alive that I couldn't help but change my mind.

On Thursday, however, I changed it back again.

           The Big Hurricane

There was going to be a big hurricane. It was supposed to hit North Carolina, I think, and maybe New Jersey too. The reports changed constantly. My mother was in a tizzy, trying to keep up.

"They've evacuated parts of Manhattan!" she called from the porch.

My young son splashed leisurely in his blow-up pool. I sat next to him, cross-legged on the grass of my parents' wide green lawn.

I turned my head, pushed my sunglasses up and took a deliberate breath.

"What?" I called to my mother.

My mother shielded her eyes. She stepped forward on the porch.

"They've evacuated parts of Manhattan!" she called.

In the blow-up pool, my son dunked his sailboat and then burst it into the air. He laughed triumphantly and my mother went back inside.

I pushed my sunglasses back down.

We live in upstate New York. We have snow, of course, in the winter, sometimes lots of it, and ice storms now and then, where people lose power for days, even weeks, and I remember that a few years ago an older gentleman died because he hadn't paid his power bill and his heat got cut off during a terrible cold. A neighbor found him, I think, or someone. He was huddled in blankets on his floor. I remember that winter in particular because my son was just about to be born. At that time I watched a lot of TV.

I put my son down for a nap at my mother's house, then I went to the hardware store to buy flashlights.

"Can I help you?" said the man behind the counter.

"I need flashlights, please" I said.

The man directed me to a display they had set up right there in the front, special for the big hurricane.

They only had a few left, and they were the heavy expensive kind, the kind my dad owned.

"Do you have any others?" I said to the man.

He looked up again and shook his head. "Nope," he said. "Sold out."

I held a flashlight in each hand. I could afford only one of them, so I chose blue. It was a nice shade, I thought, saturated and metallic, like the shell of an exotic beetle.

I collected my son from my mother and we went back to our own house. I tried to remember what one is supposed to do in the event of a hurricane, whether one is supposed to leave one's windows open or closed. I thought closed but when my husband got home from work he said no, open. So we went around opening windows. I stuck my head out of one of the windows that had no screen, and looked up. The sky was gathering heavy clouds and the light was kind of an eerie yellow. Our house doesn't have a basement, only a crawl space, so my husband and I decided that if all hell broke loose we would huddle beneath the landing of the stairs where there is a small area that could be used for huddling. But neither of us thought that all hell would break loose because it rarely does.

It occurred to me that just in case I should have picked up some bottled water, but my husband said that that would have been overkill and a waste of money.

The rain started with a few hefty splats, then more splats, then more, until finally it was coming down hard. The wind was whipping pretty good too. My husband, our son and I watched the yard out the kitchen window. The willow tree, which was old, and, we thought, maybe a little sick, was bending crazily, its usually limp branches terrifically animated.

"I'm gonna get the camera," my husband said. While he was gone, the tree's biggest limb – the sickest looking one – snapped off and fell to the ground.

"You missed it," I told my husband when he returned. "Damn," he said. He recorded a little anyway, but when we watched the footage later it wasn't very exciting.

Eventually we gave up on the hurricane and went about our business. We had dinner, then I did the dishes while my husband gave our son a bath and put him to bed. I shut a bunch of windows because the air was chilly and some water had collected on the sills. My husband and I settled down to watch a movie about youth gangs in L.A., but I had trouble concentrating.

During a particularly climactic scene my mother called.

"Did you lose power?" she asked me. "The Petersons did," she said. "And Mrs. Riggy."

I looked across the room at my husband, who was sitting on the couch, legs up, enjoying the film. A teenaged boy, in a panicked case of mistaken identity, had been shot by his own brother and was bleeding to death on the sidewalk.

I turned back to the phone. "No," I told my mother. "Everything's fine."

           Our Neighbors in July

We returned late from the party. As we approached our front door, you carrying our sleeping son, me fumbling for the keys, I heard a strange noise, and then I heard it again, and then I realized that the noise was sex, that our neighbors were having sex.

I stood on my tiptoes and looked just over the top of the fence and there they were, our neighbors, having sex right there on their porch furniture.

"Oh my God," I whispered theatrically.

You paid me no mind. Our son was beginning to shift and to whimper.

"Keys, keys," you said.

I found the keys, opened the door, and you went inside with our son. You took him straight back to the bedroom. I dropped the bags on the kitchen floor, then shut the porch light and peeked through the window. I could barely make it out, but what was happening on our neighbors' porch was unmistakable. A leg, a back, a leg, that special sort of fleshy confusion.

After a moment I went about my business, unpacking our things, fixing a couple drinks. I could hear our son crying lightly and you speaking softly, but I could also still hear our neighbors, whose goings-on came right through our summer screens.

I went back to the window, hid beneath the Venetian blind. Knees, knees, the back of a head. It is not every day you get to see such a thing. I sipped my drink and bit my ice cubes, feeling awestruck, invigorated.

Our son settled down, fell back to sleep, and you emerged from the bedroom.

I motioned hurriedly for you to join me, as if there was a horse and buggy outside, or a rainbow, as if I had just discovered a new species of frog.

You leaned forward at the waist and peered skeptically. A few seconds went by, then some more seconds, and then you shrugged, ready already to give up.

I, myself, was not ready to give up.

"Wait, just listen," I pleaded, tugging at your shirttail.

I had been tugging at your shirttail for years and years and years and years and years and years and years.





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