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The Appreciable Quiet

fridaMy cat Frida is going on her sixteenth year and—as with any centenarian—is hard of hearing. Frida’s eyes are still clear and without blemish, her teeth intact, so she’s otherwise winning in the age game despite the fact of her world now monasterial in its quiet. Maybe she’s winning because her eardrums have retired their vibrations. I don’t know—I just wonder if she feels we’ve inexplicably stopped talking to her.

I’m only guessing, but I don’t think felines have an idea of what deafness is. Frida just yowls louder now when entering a room, the way people raise their voices when speaking to out-of-country visitors. But volume rarely equals comprehension despite the instinct to raise a voice when feeling misunderstood. I’ve learned to make eye contact with her until her whiskers point antennae-like recognition. Every night she visits me where I sit on the couch writing; she announces her presence, then curls up on the backrest of the sofa, legs wrapped around my neck like a living stole, head next to my ear. She’s replaced our usual conversation with more tactile communication, and purrs something she herself probably can’t hear.

Finn appears in the living room at night, too. Like clockwork, even. At midnight, there is the click of a bedroom door, then the sound of little feet trundling their way through the kitchen.

“Daddy—‘wahr’,” and Finn will tap his chin with the ASL ‘W’ before sidling next to me on the sofa, thumb resolutely in mouth. ‘Water.’ Then Finn will tap at the screen of my laptop, not understanding the magic, yet, of the keyboard. I’ll retrieve him a cup of water, our ritual, and then lift him from his perch and replace him in bed. These are the ways you communicate in the appreciable quiet, when the mockingbirds have given up their late night din in exchange for crickets and paraques and when we could all be deaf yet still hear everything.

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Crow&Camel

crowposeSometimes, you don’t even bat an eye.

I’m walking down to the store just before ten, hoping to make it before the owner pulls the accordion gate shut, and—in front of the local brewhouse—there are two college-age guys standing in the middle of the street. Camo shorts, Old Navy t-shirts. One guy, the taller and lankier of the two, wears a Camel-Pak on his back. The shorter one taps Camel on the shoulder.

“Listen, listen—all you gotta do is do this, ok? Watch.” And he falls to the asphalt on all fours and tucks his head in between his elbows. With a drunken heave, he lifts his feet off the pavement in a shaky approximation of a yoga inversion, a tipsy crow executed with shaky forearms and crossed sneakers.

“Just like that, Bro.”

Camel drops to all fours in response, looks over to Crow and tries to mimic Crow’s particular placement of hands and feet. Failing that, he inexplicably starts doing push-ups in the middle of the road. Luckily the only cars present are parked to either side of the street. His Camel-Pak jogs up and down sloshily.

I walk on, collect my coffee from the store and return back the way I came. Outside the brewhouse, Camel and Crow—the C&C Yoga Factory—are gone, and too bad. I was hoping to see more of their Venyasan revue. In their stead, however, is the keening scent of cologne, as if both disappeared into the ether in a withering cloud of Axe body spray. I follow the effluvium up the street where I eventually catch up to them.

Crow and Camel are in a huddle, this time with a third person dressed in a cape. I espy the red light of a ready camera, and I figure—correctly—that they’re taking selfies. They’re still in the middle of the street, and the thought crosses my mind that these are out-of-country tourists, else practitioners of Performance Art 101 working on some beer-fueled midterm project.

The figure in the cape—I think she’s female. It’s hard to tell in the dark. As I round the corner toward home, the huddle breaks, and the cowled figure moves deeper into the street while Crow and Camel stand back with their camera on point. Nope—Cape is a guy, and the cape is actually a capelet, like a grade school Dracula costume, all cheap silk, awkwardly torso-length. Cape adopts a few poses, and because no one is taking pictures anymore despite there being a camera, I am infinitely confused. Cape turns his head in the streetlight, throws back the capelet to Crow and Camel’s amusement, and reveals a sparkling undergarment.

“It IS Halloween soon,” I think to myself, the rational part of my brain nonplussed while C-cubed continue their surreal theater. I then realize Cape’s bling is rhinestone trim on a gossamer bralette; even in the dark, I can see Cape’s pelt of chest hair through the triangular cups. Is Dov Charney lurking in the bushes? I neither slow nor quicken my pace, just take a sip of coffee.

Sometimes you don’t bat an eye, which is part of the daily theater in and of itself.

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The New Math

euclidI lean against the doorframe until Cayden acknowledges I’m there. He dislodges an iPad bug from his ear and looks up at me. He’s finished the AT-AT model he’d been working on, is now working on a math problem and Spanish homework simultaneously.

“Yes, Daddy?”

“Didn’t get the job, Kid.”

“I know.” He glances down. “I heard you and Mom talking.”

I brush away the air between us.

“It’s alright, Dude.”

Cayde is working on a math problem. He hates the new algorithms he’s been taught, tackles the problems always with practiced logic instead. Why use shortcuts when numbers can be broken down to what’s normative and manageable? He’ll spend three times as long on an answer, but he’ll get it correct every time. His brain is one and immeasurable right lobe.

“Daddy…?”

“Yeah, Kid.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

“I am happy, Kid. You make me happy.”

Somewhere, in plotting numbers, Cayde has also come across the logistical words to say, the expected words, words like geometric properties. I see right through the mathematical lines, right to the underlying curves.

“I am happy, Kid,” I repeat, speaking to Cayden’s unspoken self.

Cayde is unsure if this is a new norm, a new math—me without a job.

“I don’t want you to be a Stay-at-Home-Dad. I want you doing what makes you happy.”

“…”

I’m phenomenal at not crying these days. I take a deep breath.

“Cayde—sure I’m disappointed about the job, but I love being a Stay-at-Home-Dad right now. To you and Finn. “

“Really?”

“Really.” I’m not lying. We lock eyes for a second; he looks down and smiles, one ear bug still in place.

I was the first to hold Cayden in the hospital, the first to look him deep in the eyes when he was born with a shock of dark hair and darker purvey of his NICU holdings. It was a new math back then, a new math now.

He replaces the ear bug while I gentle the door shut, but he’s smiling at least.

This is all a word problem, math and language and ‘how many apples are left’, but despite complication, despite how we borrow for simplicity’s sake, the right answer is always and always there.

 

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On Defeating Bulls and Black Holes

blackThe neighbor boys bounce up the curb and slow onto the flagstone path that cuts across our yard and into theirs. From my perch on the living room couch, I hear bicycle spokes slow as they pass the gable, then smell the tarragon scent of the Mexican daisy, its leaves bruised by the boys’ tires and flowers crushed under treads. The sudden perfume means less the boys are reckless in their crossing of the lawn, and more that I’ve been delinquent in my gardening duties. The daisy is once again overgrown.

It’s currently unseasonably unreasonably hot, and in response the daisy has been extending a few exploratory flowers across the garden path looking, it seems, to transplant itself down and past the terrace. The street is twenty feet distant from the gable and the blacktop seems perfect? imperfect? for the basking. Who knows what flowers think. They have their proclivities though, plants with their determinations and sun-bent recklessness.

The boys trundle through the garden gate next door, handlebars and wheel pegs clattering against the pergola as they lug their bikes into the backyard. Spokes have slowed to a few metronomic clicks. Were I a more accomplished gardener, I’d go check on the plants—better yet scold the daisy with a set of clippers, menace it back into its corner—but I don’t get up from the couch. The funereal perfume of tarragon lingers.

I can feel a relapse coming from a mile away.

I can feel the depression returning; it’s anise-scented.

Depression is innately quiet, but though it may creep about on cat’s feet or otherwise silent stockings, it’s also naturedly inelegant; it tries to tiptoe, yet—like a thief bereft of stealth—always manages to upset discordant wind chimes upon its approach. It’s reckless that way. There are bulls in china shops, but depression is more like a black hole that opens up on the display room floor, upending chinoiseries and sending porcelain crashing to the ground: same destructivity, same ramshackle result, different tactic. Still—whether bulls or black holes—there’s the sound of breaking glass before there is the quiet of annihilation. Depression may have slippered feet, but it noisily cocks up the place first before settling in.

My tell is easy; if the garden is failing, so am I. If a leaf crisps too severely, or if a garden pot recoils from its spot in too hot a sun, I’m throwing plates into the black hole, else holding serving platters for the bulls to ravage in half like a toreador’s cape. When I take care of things, l am well.

I get up—it takes monumental effort—but the boys have now disappeared and the daisy bears a split neck and two petals for a crown.

I water, I deep-fertilize, I cut out the dead parts. The scent of tarragon fades and in exchange there’s the smell of watered porch. Depression has done me a favor by manifesting in droop leaves, and the trick is to answer in turn, irrigating the lot until flowers stand on their own again.

This is the trick, tired as it is, the chronic battle against evaporation, the sometime need for plants to rebel and require transplant; but know the trick, and you win. Know the sound of wind chimes upon depression’s clumsy entrance, else the smell of overgrowned-ness in its lingering lease; know the power of assessing a dying flower; know how to reverse its droop.

The gate closes behind the boys and I retrieve my watering can, the smell of tarragon fading, the couch cushion resuming its shape. There’s the sound of wind chimes, but it’s in the distance and, hopefully, as the heat continues its glaring echo off the pavement, the wind chimes, too, will echo away and somewhere, the sound of them in respectful and feline-footed retreat.

 

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Unfelled Crow

crow.jpg“Daddy!—he’s by the car again!”

“The crow?”

And I walk out for the second time, but this go-round, the ‘crow’ is a black polyurethane bag stuck beneath a wheel, flapping like a crow, still just a wayward grocery sack.

“Oh—I thought it was a crow,” Cayden says.

A crow landed in our street today, beak down, and there was a raucous confederacy of black birds bouncing in the street in afterward pursuit, a red-tailed hawk screaming overhead. Crow language is hard to figure out, and I couldn’t tell if the felled bird was in trouble or not; I took a towel out anyways.

“Daddy—he’s hurt!”

“I don’t think so.”

The crows scattered up into the sycamore; I threw a towel over the felled bird’s back, folded it under tight, and stationed the bird’s head while inspecting its feet. Instinct had me feel the bird’s keel, then examine the eyes, which I did by holding the bird’s beak and threatening the pupils into dilation. The crow blinked slow. I pulled one wing out into full extension, then the other: nothing broken. His feet were fine. I re-wrapped the crow into a swaddle.

I know what to do; I miss this.

The crow’s beak was as black as its feathers, his eyes glaucous in slow-blink.

“Where are you taking him?”

“Away from the other birds.”

I deposited the crow in the back-yard, the other crows still sentry in the front, and he dipped slightly, caught himself with his bill. He shook out his feathers.

“What’s he gonna do?”

“Fly away, Cayde. He’s not hurt. He’s just stunned. “

On cue, the crow flew away.

“You see, Cayde? He’s not hurt at all.”

The other crows still made noise, but the crow had left.

“Is he ok, Daddy?”

“Go be lookout. He’s fine; pretty sure he’s fine, I think.”

And he was.

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‘Fore the Rain Starts a-Fallin’

I do this joke. Now that Cayden has free reign of the neighborhood and I watch him celebrate on his bike, where each successive day he gets bolder and repositions himself on his bike-seat when flying past, hopefully on the sidewalk, legs out or lying down on the handlebars, I say: ‘Cayde—where have you been my [brown] eyed Son? Where have you been, my darling young one?”

I quote Dylan. ‘Did you see twelve misty mountains?’ He takes my lead, and responds. He uses Heathcliffe’s voice, “Fahtuh, Fathuh—I have seen these things.” (We use bad accents—it’s part of the joke).

“Did you see the highway of diamonds with nobody on it?”

“I saw it Fathuh.”

It’s a joke, just not when he hugs me.

He’ll get the punchline eventually, hopefully not too soon; in the meantime, when he takes off with his helmet, zoom-zooming, I like his momentum and let him go.