D is for...
In the morning I had a phone call from my mother. My hands were covered in egg whites so I didn’t answer right away. Instead I finished making breakfast and then listened to the voicemail that she had left. It was strangely brief.
“Hi, it’s mom. Call me back when you are not busy.”
Her tone was dark and I wondered whether something specific was bothering her or whether it was the same general note of depression her voice usually carried.
I went to open the garden gate to carry out some bags of garden waste and discovered numerous black widow webs. I could barely make out a dark form behind a panel of wood and knew at least one spider was hiding there. I shivered all over.
The day before I had turned over an inverted flower pot and moved some bags of stone unearthing five of the deadly arachnids. I killed them with my boot heel when possible and the shovel tip when my foot couldn’t reach. I had been fairly brave in the moment, but now, knowing that there were more sent chills rippling through my body.
While I brought the pickup truck around to the gate my friend started carrying out the bags of leaves and weeds. We drove over the mountain and I kept my window rolled down, breathing the ion charged air.
At the county dump we pulled up to the scale to weigh our load and I noticed a trio of plastic skeletons arranged in a bush. I admired their creative placement.
Our county dump is full of artistic talent. An enormous installation of fascinating rubbish has long graced the hill behind the chemical waste shed and there is always some fetching creation to greet us when we reach the main warehouse. I smiled. The installations were spreading.
After purging ourselves of leaves and dead grass we headed towards home. Paused at a traffic light we watched palm bearers struggle to unload a coffin from a hearse. I was enjoying the bright orange of the flowers atop the glossy casket, the picture perfect ensemble of men in dark suits struggling under the weight as they carried it awkwardly into the yawning doors of a church.
“That’s intense.” my friend said.
“Somebody died and those five guys are carrying the body in. I guess we don’t have a lot of opportunities to confront death in this culture. We’re not usually face to face with it.”
At home I called my mother back.
“I have sad news. Jimmy’s daughter died last night.”
“I didn’t know Jimmy had a daughter.” I said.
“Well you know, I think we told you that just before Shanna was born Jimmy had another baby with another woman, Pam... and when he told her Kelly was going to have Shanna she took her baby, D’Laney, to Oregon so her parents could help.”
I digested this. I had been thinking of my mother’s other cousin Jay. I wasn’t sure if he had any kids. I knew about Shanna. Shanna had been to our house a number of times while I was growing up. But I had never heard the name D’Laney. I had never met her or even seen a photo.
“It’s so sad. She was only 34.”
“How did she die?”
“A cat bite. Isn’t that weird? It was her own cat. Apparently if a cat bites you it can lead to an infection and cause systemic failure.”
After I hung up I found D’Laney Ford’s Facebook page. She liked Philip Glass. I also like Philip Glass. Some of her friends mentioned her tribe. I figured she must have been a groovy burner from Seattle.
I felt a little emotional and looked out the window. A neighbor I had never met was standing in his backyard which is directly behind mine. He was wearing only a white bathrobe. I tried to write something .
Why didn’t I know you? My mother called this morning to tell me that my second cousin D’Laney had passed away last night. D’Laney. Now I’ve seen your Facebook profile and I feel like we would have liked one another if we had ever had the chance to meet. I wonder if you ever knew I existed. I didn’t know about you. We never played together as children.”
I stopped. I really didn’t know what else to say. I looked at my neighbor in his bathrobe. He had something in his hand. What is that? I wondered.
I watched him for a few moment and felt a wash of surprise when he lifted his arm and started swinging a machete. What is he doing? I wondered. He was swinging it in a leisurely half hearted way, swinging it at nothing at all. Then he wandered a little and hacked briefly at a bush before meandering back into his house.