It could be a witty insult. It could be the guy with anger issues tilting toward corruption, just looking for a reason to scratch that itch. It could be a barbeque technique. It could be the fate of all political endeavors, a trendy cookbook, the path to ecological destruction. Some wood burns long and slow. Some goes up like TNT; just ask the folks in Paradise. Candles on a birthday cake after a certain age. Gas lanterns in 1920s Paris. Forgotten love letters. The sting of fire ants. Revenge, like aspic, best served chilled. The toc of a clock on death row. Fallow dirt scorched by Monsanto. The torture of never knowing the truth about what happened to that girl. The longing of unrequited love. Offerings in the collection basket that won’t go nearly far enough. A rare sunset that melts into the horizon, preceding the green spark. Moon dogs. Snow haloes. Wandering half naked through longing and desertion. Betrayal. Makeshift camps wedged into the blasted grass between the freeway offramp and an asphalt parking lot. Hunger in the midst of plenty. The long road home.
My grandfather was blind, so there was a terrible fascination with those vacant orbs. Because of this marginalized sense, he was reserved and quiet, and frightening. It could be that it was his personality to not interact much with the family. (After all, we were a loud and boisterous tribe of hooligans.) As a young child, I mostly observed him, fascinated and terrified. There was a large walk-in coat closet at the front of the house, where he kept an electric shaver. My dad used one of those death defying straight edge razors, so the fact that my grandpa could shave without being able to see was beyond comprehension. This was at a time in the world when men wore hats, and so did my grandpa. His forehead was pale from the hat, giving him a “farmer’s tan”, and those pale blue eyes peered out from under the brim of that soft grey hat and saw…shadows? One day I was lying on the grass beneath a plum tree in the back yard. He shuffled by and paused, calling me by my sister’s name, scaring the hell out of me. He apparently had some sight, enough to make out the shape of a young girl, but to a silly child, it was horrifying to be identified by the blind man on a sunny Spokane summer day. Grandpa possesed habits that shaped my world. He make popcorn on the stovetop. Without seeing. How did he know not to burn the corn kernels? It was beyond comprehension. He used to sit in the kitchen at the yellow formica table, listening to baseball games on a transistor radio. He would sit for hours, listening to the play-by-play, announcers from cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. My grandpa’s blind eyes saw things that haunt me still.
“Get lost,” she said, closing the door with a dramatic flourish, something she’d harbored fantasies of but had never actually done. “Bye-bye,” she said, to the oak paneled door, bowing and backing away as if to attest to the gravity of the moment. She hadn’t thought about it. They had been talking, then hotly debating, which evolved into a rant, an argument, several accusations, and ultimately, a crossing of a line in a sea of sand she hadn’t known existed until now. She had tolerated the small crises when they arose, and met them with compassion. Still, when he tried to sneak something in: a package, a golf bag, a box of detritus, she called him on it. “Please remove it asap,” she wrote in dutiful, polite emails, paper trails of the millennium. There was always an excuse, high dudgeon. So much drama! For a lawyer, she expected something more. Something somewhat more dignified. The debris of one marriage, two marriages. It was too much. “Storage was never part of the deal,” she said, when she found a rental van backed up to the garage, discovering a deceit he had hoped to conceal until the deed was complete and then what could she do but protest inertly? “My brother in law moved,” he lamented. “It’s only temporary!” he cried. How did he manage to pass the bar? How had he survived this long in a liberal hotbed of assertive women and sensitive men? His mother had coddled him. His wives enabled him. “I told you. This is not your storage solution.” Then it came to her that all the times when she said no, he had feigned concern but had ultimately rejected her protests. In his head he muted her voice, her opinions dismissed as irrelevant. She didn’t want to be that gorgon, but now she craved to be heard, to bear the weight of relevance. “Go now,” she said gently, to herself, bowing and backing down the long hall toward the kitchen. Go. Now. To that place of lost treasure.
If she had known there were only three wishes, she would have chosen differently. Obviously. But there had been no instructions, no bullet points. It was another example of the inefficiency of the system. Some opined that the system had grown too big for its own britches, that the safety measure and stop gaps had gotten out of hand. Cynics said the lawyers were behind the crack down. Others insisted the problem was created from a complete lack of imagination. Governor Moonbeam was retiring after eight decades of public service. Some said he would be missed. He told his successor, young Kennedy, “don’t screw it up.” She presumed he meant the ten wishes stockpile of surplus gold. But there were no guarantees, if the three wish rule was enforced. So far, everyone operated on the honor system. She was down to one wish. The books said choose happiness. The ads said choose gluttony. She was pretty sure there was some middle ground. One wish. Puppy breath. Snow. Public nudity. Art. Music. Zero gravity. Invisibility. Hemingway in his Spanish Civil War days. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. The Columbia Gorge at sunrise in her living room every morning. Polar bears. Bumble bees. Tree toads. Wild salmon. Stories, stories, stories.
There are so many. But for today: my happy place is winter on the upper Bay, a ribbon of asphalt stitched between Sonoma and Marin. The morning drive may kill me one of these days as I become so distracted by the silver light falling out of a low gray sky, rays bouncing like liquid mercury off the tidal flats. To the east, the twin points of Mt. Diablo hover on the horizon. To the south, Mt. Tam, and west across a low stretch of water and the Richmond Bridge, partially obscured in gauzy clouds, the cityscape of SF. It’s nearly unbearably beautiful. All shades of silver, grey, blue. Some days a boa of fog snakes along the Napa or Petaluma rivers. The hills are emerald this time of year and dotted with black angus or with ewes and lambs. This scene is so far removed from the spectre of Sonoma on fire last year: skies brown with ash, the rubble of grass fires charred like a scar from hell. The air now is soft, full of water. The edges of the geography blurred with humidity. When I tell people my commute route, they TSK. “That road is terrible” they say. And I say nothing. I’m not interested in the road. There is a 180 degree carpet of awesomeness rolling beneath the wheels of my car. Let them think what they will. I treasure my vista of Oz in the distance, over the water and partially obscured by droplets of water suspended in air.
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