Penny has two different color eyes. Brown and green. Everyone thinks it’s cool. Penny thinks: If you’re in a circus maybe. Penny is 24 and seeing a retired man who’s 52 named William – not Bill. He teaches her about life and has never brought up the subject of her eyes, but gets lost in them. Penny doesn’t want to be normal around William, and she isn’t. William believes she is “exceptional rhapsody.” When he picks her up where she teaches preschoolers, he asks, “What’d you learn today?” One day she said, “One sick child begets another sick child.” On a better day, she said, “Life is a finger painting: utter color.” Sometimes a child will ask if her eyes hurt, and she’ll say, “No. God was finger painting and ran out of green.”
They’re just in love. Everyone’s talking. Jim’s smitten with her. Says he’s never been happier. And Annie says she’s sixteen again. They were engaged for two months and woke the preacher asking, “Can we do this? Get married at 1am?” They were married in fifteen minutes. No frills, just love. Then they drove to the airport and Jim asked Annie, “Where do you want to wake up in the morning?” Turns out it was Austria. Spent a week there. Then traveled to England to catch a ship back to America. I shook my head, too. Middle-aged. Acting like irresponsible kids. But that’s just envy talkin’. Two free spirits. I heard they’re going to Bali for their furniture, but Jim said something funny about that. He said to me, “They say it’s hard to leave Bali.” He had wanderlust in his eyes. They’ve got the money between ’em to travel the world. One of these days, they’ll be gone. Gone.
Joslin is death on friendship. She won a photography contest in the sixth grade and everyone loves the pictures she takes of them. She works in “Photo” at Walgreen’s. She once made enlargements of an elderly lady’s grandchild and whispered, “Nope. This one is on the house.” No one knows this because Joslin didn’t buy orange juice or cereal that week to cover the cost. She married for love eight years ago when she was eighteen and Marcus was twenty. Their daughter Diana followed two years later. She knows her husband loves her because he takes her Honda to be serviced. It bothers her that she doesn’t know how to change a tire. No one ever taught her. Her husband promised “the next sunny Saturday.” In October, she was surprised when she became Star Employee. They gave her six red roses with baby’s breath, and she “about died.” Marcus left work that day to be with her during the announcement. He wore a suit and tie. Her picture is still up on the wall behind the main cash register.
Waves pooling on rocks, staying, staying like training rain – just as sea is rain is river is lake is pond is stream is brook in cloud. Today we woke with the sea’s dawn and tasted the salt on our lips, drew the scent of sea into our lungs, walked in mists as mists of water as water. But tomorrow will be something more – sleet and ice, snow and crust of snow, turning trees and land white within this season, this winter, this thrust of sky, of cloud that glistens, that moves through air like waves.
There is a softness to early mornings in the countryside as I look out the window before leaving for work at 2am. I stand watching deer slowly crossing my land. Tonight, it seems they are the same two I have seen since Thanksgiving – a buck and his doe. This morning we have orders for fifteen cran-apple pies, and twelve last-minute party trays of chocolate pecan fudge and iced brownies plus cookies to be ready in plenty of time for noon pick-up. I’ll be through with my tasks at the bakery by 8am and driving home to sleep. As I drive to work, I pass sleeping sheep farms rolling out before me in this white silk countryside amid a gathering of stars that only sleep once the pies have cooled.
She sat through the night beside his bed to make sure the oxygen was helping his breathing which was impaired by pneumonia. Around 1am, he whispered, “Sarah, don’t leave.” She answered softly, “I’m here for you.” But he never opened his eyes. Never heard her. He had spoken in his sleep she decided. Soon, she wiped his face with a cool washcloth. He asked, “Where have you been?” “By your side.” She talked him into some toast which she made, but when she returned from his kitchen, he was sleeping again. But his breathing was improving. She had been by his sickbed for one week when she was told by the extended family they no longer had the money for a nurse. Her agency assigned her to another home. But she quit her job and stayed by his side until the day he was well when he stood there helpless, watching her pack her things, and said, “Sarah, don’t leave.” And equally helpless she stopped packing and with tears she cried softly, “I’m here for you.”
The day after Christmas a little girl waiting for her father in a store at the mall told me she had wanted a special doll with shiny hair longer than her body, but she didn’t get it. Santa thought she’d been bad she told me. I asked how she broke her arm. Looking down, she said, “I fall sometimes.” I said that I used to fall too, but went to my teacher and told her I didn’t want to fall anymore. The girl looked at me and asked, “Then what?” I smiled and said, “Then I stopped falling and two special people taught me how to fly.” “Were they nice special?” she asked. I shook my head up and down. “Will you promise me you’ll tell your teacher?” She paused and stared at me searching for the answer. I said, “Here they are now,” as the two people who saved me walked toward me. I introduced my mother and my father to her explaining the cast on her arm. My father, the only father who would matter to me, asked if he could sign her cast? When she read what he wrote, I saw the smile on her face, and I asked him afterward what he’d written. He said, “Someday, you’ll fall up.”