The Middle Distance
8:00 am
Thu May 22, 2014

The Middle Distance 5.23.14: Dives Under

Credit Sean Cayton

She wakes up swimming. The ambient noise machine next to the bed is set on Rushing Stream. She surfaces to the sound of its loud electronic burble and, for a minute, can’t remember where she is.

It’s that kind of morning. The coffee maker sputters and spumes, the waiting pot barely askew on its fitted stand but just enough for a steady stream of brown liquid to miss its mouth and inch across the kitchen counter. She wipes the dark water and spilled grounds with a stained dishcloth that needs to be retired to the trash.

While it is still cool, she goes out back to water the garden. Everything has grown in a rush and tender stalks sway with heavy buds. In her eagerness to greet summer she has bought heat-loving plants for the vegetable garden — eggplants and peppers — before the bed is ready for planting. They’ve grown crusty and root-bound, baking in their little plastic containers, and the water rolls off them rather than soaking in. She has to jab the soil of each square cell with a pinky finger and gently pour water in to reach the plants’ parched roots. Tomorrow, she promises. Tomorrow I’ll make a home for you.

Inside, a trail of brown sticky spots adhere to her bare feet, leading across the wood floor from the kitchen to the front door. She pulls out the nasty kitchen rag and wipes them up one by one, guessing their origin. Beer maybe. If she didn’t know better she’d guess molasses. Surely not a bodily fluid that’s dripped from one of the dog’s orifices. This year there was no spring and thus, no spring cleaning, at least that is her story. Doggy nose smears cloud the glass of the front door.

The dog leads their morning walk down a dusty alley. She breaks off clusters of fat lilacs from bushes that spill over their fences. A few sprigs of spirea. A stem of honeysuckle. Drunk with their scents, she steps into a mucky sinkhole and mud leaks into the holes of her Crocs onto her toes. It’s barely 8 o’clock and she already needs a bath. She squishes her way back home.

She makes bouquets of the lilacs and stuffs their spindly stems into squat Ball jars. She tries to fill the jars with water, but spills it instead onto the tablecloth. The rag is really in the trash now so she sops up the overflow with the tails of her shirt.

Reaching for a pitcher with a spout that will work better at filling the small jars, she scrapes a bulging blister on the thumb side of her hand and watches it ooze, wondering ‘Where did that come from?’ Until the shriveled dead skin ripped open, she couldn’t feel it at all.

Her friend who believes such things would say, ‘The universe is trying to tell you something’ but she can’t imagine what this incontinence, this spilling of fluids all around her means. She is literal minded. She hopes it will rain today and make a puddle fresh and worth stepping in.

When her children were little, three of them toddlers at the same time, she described her life as a constant sopping up of puke, pee and apple juice. Her friends laughed when she said this, gazing adoringly at her gorgeous children and she laughed too knowing her assessment was true. Years later, the smell of apple juice or a whiff of pineapple juice could send her straight back to her knees, hovering over a sticky spill with a wet rag, to the memory of late afternoon and a rocking chair, her nose buried in the apple and sweat smelling curls of a baby boy’s round head.

Then, she kept a blue baby pool filled with fresh water on the front lawn and the babies rolled around in it like little wet seals. She wrapped them in towels to dry them but they were always damp and so was she.

Now she sleeps with a sound machine next to her bed that mimics a rushing stream. She lives in the high desert abutting granite mountains where every precious drop of water is a gift. She negotiates the borders of neighboring yards and the careful calculation of sprinkler systems at high altitude. She watches cumulus clouds mount to the west in mid-afternoon. She believes in lilacs because they thrive in drought and live to be old. She dreams of ponds and lakes and their murky bottoms. She paddles out, then dips her head and dives under.