The sky is filled
with flannel gray clouds–
lumpy, lowering clouds,
raw and brooding
as a Brontë novel.
Large, expectant clouds
waiting for a storm to
rouse them into action.
The sky is filled
As I walked down the wide hallway of the 1920’s building in the Spanish quarter with it’s old-fashioned black and white square tiles, I saw, through an open door, gray heads bent over a table. I looked a little harder and saw what the heads were bent over. Dominoes.
I took the liberty of walking into the room, letting my excitement get the better of my manners as I rattled off some garbled Spanish to the players about my grandfather and his dominoes. The old heads nodded tolerantly, benevolently and went on playing.
It’s 1950 and I’m three years old again, wearing a little white slip thing that passed for a dress and my abuelo and I were walking through my grandparents’ backyard, past the chicken coop, past the pica-pica plant by the back gate with its fiery little peppers I was so afraid of. Never ever touch it, I was warned. I held his hand as we went through the wooden gate and into the back alley, tall with shade trees, and walked to the corner. To the bodegita, the little corner store. He must’ve been babysitting me.
My bristly-cheeked, easy-going abuelo plopped me up on the counter, asked the grocer to give me an orange soda pop, grabbed a beer, and joined his compadres at the table for some Dominoes, the familiar smell of cigars in the air.
I sat on my counter, watching, and drinking my orange pop, evidently spilling as much as I drank, because I remember how splotched with orange that little white slip thing was on the walk back home. I hope my feisty grandmother didn’t give my abuelo hell when she saw it. That part of the memory is missing. 🙂
The baby shampoo flows like honey onto his water-darkened hair as he stands plumply naked and gleaming in the tub. I massage it into his perfectly shaped little noggin, working up a good lather.
We have a ritual that he never forgets.
“Doo diss!” he commands, pointing to the top of his sudsy head.
I twist his hair into a long, gooey spike sticking straight up like the piked helmet of some ancient warrior, and he shrieks with delight at his silly reflection in the mirror across from the tub.
It looks exactly the same every time, but he always laughs as if he’d never, ever seen such a sight before!
The rain’s slacking off and the black is thinning to gray. Half an hour ago it was like midnight– at 4:30 in the afternoon. The water was coming down so hard into my carport, there were wavelets! Almost to the kitchen door.
Just a muffled patter on the roof now. But still the long, rolling, sheet-metal thunder of a summer storm in Florida — it’s letting go in stages. There goes another one. Softer still. Receding.
The ambulances don’t stop though. They’ve been wailing for ten minutes. Must be an accident, or maybe lightning hit something, started a fire.
The cat hurried away from his window-side snoozing spot, retreated to the interior hall to wait it out. Just sitting there, alert. He’s not taking any chances, nope.
My son lives in Texas now. Says he misses the storms of summer. Summers are dry in Texas. He used to be a storm chaser. He and his brother went after Katrina.
The ambulances have finally stopped their wailing, the rain’s even gentler. The cat’s gone back to his perch by the window. Guess it’s over. For now.
Here is the fourth excerpt from my collection of beautiful prose. I picked up this travel magazine in a doctor’s office and was mesmerized by the winter scene described by the writer, Peter Weller.
From Travel and Leisure Magazine, “Venice at Christmas,” by Peter Weller
“Venice at Christmas is the city as it exists for the locals: organic, serene, beautiful.
Canals twinkle with holiday sparkle; campo, calle, church and museum are empty save for Venetians grateful for the respite from the crowds.
The enchanting and exalted Venetian light, immortalized by the paintings of Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, is even more hypnotic in winter, when moisture from the sea hits the chilled air, creating a haze off the lagoon that filters the sun into pink or gold, depending upon the hour.
Approached from the airport in a water taxi, the distant skyline of Venice appears like a mirage under this pastel. One winter, with a friend from Paris, I arrived at night during a snowfall. As we stood in the boat’s open cockpit watching the city’s lights twinkle through the flurry, the boat, with its one headlamp interrupted a flock of gulls nesting on the whitecaps. In slow motion, white birds burst forth from a white sea into the white falling snow. The dizzying image left us speechless until the boatman whispered, ‘Dio Mio…’”
She’s already seated when I get there,
and dinner underway.
I take my place at the table
and the aide brings my plate.
The dining room is quiet today.
Her table mates are into their meals.
No chit chat. No scolding.
Mom complains she’s not hungry
as she steers the fork to her mouth. Continue reading
Every once in a while you’re going about business as usual and find yourself in the middle of something special. Yesterday was that kind of day. It was a warm August morning in my part of Florida and getting warmer by the minute. I was meeting up with some people from my Sierra Club at a local park for what they were calling a Q & A hiking info session, with a walk afterwards.
We found each other at our appointed meeting spot, just four of us, and said our hellos. A spunky little fashionista in striking shades of turquoise and emerald green who’d racked up hundreds and hundreds of miles on one trail after another; a pleasant white-haired lady who teaches art classes at a local Senior Center; and her mild-mannered, khaki-clad husband, the leader of this little gathering–with his clipboard, sign-in sheet and abundant good will. And me, a sporadic hiker with a mediocre track record but a love of the great outdoors.
Mr. Leader led us over to a shady picnic table facing a pond surrounded by cypress, oaks and other Florida trees and we got down to business. Exchanging information, asking questions, suggesting places to hike, commenting on the shore birds working the pond: a stork, a heron, some coots, a beautiful white egret, an osprey overhead. There was a soft breeze blowing towards us across the water and an easy feeling came over me. The pleasant conversation, the birds, the breeze, the shade. It was a little oasis in the blazing heat of summer, and everything seemed just as it should be.
I could’ve stayed in that tranquil space all day – the anxieties of living set aside for a while, my mind in low gear for a change, everything flowing naturally. But soon it was time to move on to our nature walk, and so we did – our leader pointing out little plants with big names I can’t remember, and shiny red bugs that he said earn their keep by eating their way through pesky invasive vines.
We chatted as we walked, learning things about each other along the way, and finally said good-bye, heading back into the real world. But I carried the oasis home with me, hoping to enjoy the afterglow, at least for a while.
My live-in, jobless-at-the-moment, son is returning home tonight. He’s been gone four days. Four days of freedom and solitude. Not that I resent having him here. We get along fine and who else would haul me to the ER if I need it. And I like filling him up with home-cooked meals.
But I can’t play my music loud or bop around in my underwear or relax with an R-rated movie without worrying he’ll walk in the room in the middle of a flagrant scene. Talk about awkward. So it’s been nice having the place to myself for a while. No constraints or compromises. I have no annoying habits when I’m by myself.
So a little while ago, after doing 300 twirls on my hula hoop, I put on my most uproarious Jewish music CD, cranked up the volume and started dancing my most liberated moves.
You should’ve seen me! My arms were waving like a belly dancer, my hips were twisting and turning, my feet were doing a Jewish, whirling dervish, Sufi, cha-cha tango! All I needed was bells around my ankles to make it legit. It was delicious and totally unself-conscious, in a way I can never be in real life.
But it’ll be good to see him again. Time to start making dinner.
When I’m pissed off or frustrated or depressed because my life isn’t going the way it should be going, I can sulk, or I can suck it up, or I can go outside and prune my big overgrown viburnum shrubs the way life seems to be pruning me.
So that’s exactly what I did this morning. Snap! Snap! Snap! went the branches. Some of the more muscular ones fought back, but I prevailed. They were the innocent stand-ins for certain other seemingly uncontrollable things, and when I’m on a mission – watch out.
I felt no guilt. They needed it. The sunlight will get into them better now, and with all the rain we’ve been getting they’ll fill out nice and bushy in no time. Stronger than ever.
I wonder if it’s the same with me. I wonder if someone’s looking down and saying, “Yep, get that branch over there–and this one that’s all gnarled up. Off with them. It’s for her own good.” That’s probably not how it works, but I love metaphors.
Anyway, when I was done, the piss-off was sweated out of me and the shrubs looked like a couple of naked, bony plant skeletons with a few leaves here and there. I’m sure they’re thankful these piss-offs of mine don’t happen very often.
The third excerpt from my collection of beautiful prose is from Beryl Markham’s The Splendid Outcast. Markham was a British-born Kenyan aviator, adventurer, racehorse trainer and author. She was the first woman to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west. She also wrote West with the Night, her best known work.
From The Splendid Outcast by Beryl Markham:
“He spat on his hands and
shouted an order, but it was too late,
thunder swallowed his voice,
and rain swallowed the forest.
It was a typical equatorial storm–
instantaneous, violent, and all-encompassing.
It made the world black,
then split the blackness with knives of light.”