Summer House: Ch. 16

this

“This!” Sonya shouted, fist to sky. “This!” She yelled out over the cove, over the waves. The willets rose in a flock, circled, and as the echoes died down and the shorebirds settled, Sonya lowered her arms and sighed. I watched the tension flow out of her shoulders.

“He can’t take this from me,” she said, gesturing over the bay.  “He can’t take this.” She opened her arms to the edge of the forest along the bluff. “He can cut off our money. He can sell our house. He can rip apart my life. He can break our boy’s heart. But he can’t take this. He can’t stop me from loving this earth.”

I felt the dirt beneath my feet. We breathed in the smell of kelp and salt and the distant dust of the agricultural fields on the mainland.

“This earth,” she said. “I may be homeless. I may not know where me and my kids will be staying, six weeks from now, but I know this earth is my container. No one can keep me from loving this earth.”

We sat on the edge of the bluff, listening the waves roll over the pebbles, and the willets call back and forth to each other.

“I haven’t asked questions,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. It just means I respect you and your need to work things out. I am here to listen to whatever you want to share.”

“I appreciate that,” Sonya said. “I can feel your caring. So, I knew why you were quiet.”

We were alone on the bluff. Elise was babysitting the Delgado kids at the other end of the bay. Shingo was teaching Bernard how to paint ducks, back at the house, and the three anachronisms stayed back with them.

Sonya and I had headed out to pick thimbleberries and huckleberries. The thimbleberries were for us, not for selling. They’re too dry to make a decent pie, and too scarce to cook up for jam or jelly, but a handful tossed over granola made one of the best breakfasts we could think of.

We had taken the long way back, through the north woods, for I had wanted to see if the pileated woodpecker still nested in the old Doug fir. When we emerged through the woods, and the sun caught our eyes, and the light danced off the bay, that’s when Sonya set down her basket of berries and cried out to the sky.

“It was nothing dramatic,” she said. “It was the opposite of fire and ice. You ever watch a houseplant wither? It was like that. No matter how much you water. How tender your care. It drops leaf by leaf. You don’t throw it out. You keep it, holding out hope. You think that it’s OK if it sheds its leaves. It will grow new ones, right? You keep vigil over the crooks in the branches, those intersects where the new leaves form, and sometimes, you even imagine that you see glimmers of new green.”

We lay on our backs under the late summer sun. I closed my eyes and the warmth descended. It’s impossible to feel a broken heart when the summer shines like this, so I let Sonya talk.

“I kept hoping, like Bernard, that he’d join us,” Sonya said. “But Elise knew better. He’s not her father, you know. She was two when I met him. Her dad passed. It was…” she waved her hand against a stray cloud. “Anyway, he’s not her dad. I kept holding out hope. You know, a break would do us good, right?”

I turned on my side to watch Sonya’s face. She tried to smile, but as she continued to speak, the light faded from her eyes. “It was when he closed the Verizon account that I knew he was done. For good. And we were on our own. We are on our own. And do you know why?”

Of course I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine what might make a man who’d had a child with this beautiful strong woman leave her, especially when that child was a bright and funny boy like Bernard.

“It must have happened years ago,” she said, “when those leaves started withering. Yes, I think it was after Bernard was born. You know, he told me a few nights before the kids and I left to come here that he couldn’t live without love. ‘You don’t have to,’ I said. ‘I love you. We love you.’ ‘Not like that,’ he said.”

I heard the pileated woodpecker drumming against the Douglas fir deep in the woods. “Listen!”

We listened for a moment, and Sonya smiled at me. “Your bird is still here!” she said.

We heard its laugh-like call.

Sonya turned on her side to face me. “So, you know what he said? He said he felt like he was dying inside. He couldn’t live without that spark. He wanted to be in love again, and he couldn’t live without it. For me, being a family was always enough. Even once it started fading, I could look at him and say to myself, ‘This is my family,’ and I would feel a rush of warmth that filled me with strength and patience to carry on. For me, that’s enough in life. That’s all I need. But for him, he told me he felt that he was dying. He needed that rush, like what we had in the beginning, and he couldn’t see a way to get that with me.”

I saw the pain in Sonya’s face, and my mind went intellectual all of a sudden. Analytical. I started thinking of the powerful chemicals of romance and infatuation. They’re addictive. I thought of the sociobiological reasons for a man to feel like that, to get hooked on that neurochemical, hormonal high. Sonya’s eyes were large and moist. I didn’t think she’d find comfort in my analysis.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I am, too,” she replied. “I always thought that family was enough to keep us together.”

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Summer House: Ch. 14

porch

Sonya and I sat at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and the ledgers, going over the figures from the first week’s sales, while the rain from a summer storm rolled down the windows.

“I think we’ve covered the expenses,” I said.

“Seriously?”

We added the columns again.

“All except the cost of sugar,” Sonya said.

“Mom!” cried Elise. “My phone’s dead!”

“Maybe it’s the storm?” I suggested.

Sonya pulled out her phone. “Crap. That’s not it.”

She switched it off as Elise stomped in.

“Mom?”

“Can I use your computer?” Sonya asked me.

A few minutes later she was back.

“Well, that’s that. He’s closed our mobile accounts. I can’t afford this right now. Honey, what do you need a phone for? I haven’t noticed you calling kids back home.”

“Duh, Mom. My clients? How do I know if I’m supposed to babysit if they can’t call me?”

“You can use my landline,” I volunteered.

“But you never answer your phone,” Elise said.

It was true. I had an aversion to talking on the phone. Anyone who lived on the island who needed to talk to me could drop by, and anyone on the mainland who needed to get in touch could email.

“But I would answer if I knew you were expecting a call,” I said. “And you could answer, anytime you heard it ring.”

“But what if it was for you?”

“Then you could take a message.”

“And tell them you’ll never call them back, right?”

“Well, yes. That goes without saying.”

“Thank you, Cathy,” said Sonya. “Again.”

We had a deal. One crisis averted.

Later that afternoon, during a break in the rain, Sonya and I put on our boots and slogged down the puddled paths to harvest mesclun greens for the market. Sonya thanked me again.

“Seriously, it’s nothing,” I said. “Might as well get some use out of  the phone.”

“You don’t know what your help means,” Sonya said. “But you might one day. You see, this is significant, what he did.”

I looked at her with my questions in my eyes.

“It means something,” she said. “It means he’s cutting us off financially.”

“Oh, that’s rough.”

“Elise suspected he’d do this all along. I was holding out hope, I guess. But this pretty much spells it out. We’re on our own now.”

She picked up her harvesting basket and headed inside to rinse and package the greens. Some people find relief when they talk, but I’d learned that Sonya didn’t. When she spoke of their troubles, the wounds opened up. Maybe in the long run, that would be the way to healing. But I could see that she felt she had to stay strong for her two kids and for herself. I guessed she feared that once she opened up, it would be a while, maybe a good long while, before she could find her way back to strength.

I finished the harvesting, mulched a few beds to keep the rainwater from evaporating, and joined her in the kitchen. She kept her eyes on the greens she was layering into the plastic bags.

“Bernard asked if he could do some painting, like you offered. You think maybe you could help him find the paints and such? He’s up on the porch.”

I passed Elise sprawled on the couch, Tiger and Crystal lounging on either side of her, an old Jean Arthur movie on the TV.

“Is that Arizona?” I asked.

“Yeah,” replied Elise. “She’s tough. She’s not taking it from anybody.”

Bernard leaned against the railing of the porch looking out over the puddles. He raised his finger to his lips when I approached.

“There’s a nest,” he whispered.

He pointed to the rafters where a pair of mourning doves had built their nest of pine needles and marsh grass.

“I know!” I said. “This is their third batch of the summer!”

His eyes widened. “How come there’s only the mom?” he asked.

“I’m not sure that is the mom,” I said. It looked like the male to me. “They both take turns.”

“Really?”

“Sure enough. They take shifts.”

We sat and leaned against the wall, looking up at the dove, who cocked his head and looked back at us.

“He’s not afraid,” said Bernard.

“Nope. He and his wife know me,” I said. “His wife grew up here, in that very nest, and so did her mom, so they know me from way back.”

We heard the whistle of wings, and the female flew up to the porch, landing on the railing.

“Hello, mama,” I said.

Bernard smiled.

The female tilted her head to see us better, took a few steps along the porch rail, then flew up to the nest. Just as she landed, the male flew out, and we felt the rush of wind from his wings.

“They take turns,” Bernard said. “I wonder maybe. The babies stay there, right? I wonder maybe, could my mom and dad do that?”

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