our village (59) — The Swallow

our village (59)

chapter 3, story #1



Did I ever tell you the story of the Swallow? You ought to know it. More officially we call it the Annual Lake Swallowing, cuz that’s what it is, and it happens ‘pert near once a year, but y’know how people are and how everything gets shortened over time, so folks just call it the Swallow now, not to be confused with the bird, but nobody confuses it around here. You’d be a fool—around the village, anyway—not knowing enough about the Swallow, cuz it has real-world consequences for us villagers. That’s why I’m telling you about it. Anyway ….


It happens at the lake, ’bout once a year, as I said, something—it’s different every year—gets swallowed by the lake. Now I don’t know how long it took ’em to figure out that this was a thing, the Annual Lake Swallowing, cuz maybe in the beginning they just thought, “well ain’t that something that George’s cow must have stumbled into the lake and sunk, because it’s plum disappeared and I can’t figure out what happened except maybe it drowned in the lake,” or, “I can’t believe Betty drove her new Ford into the lake,” or, “Did you hear that Sam lost his wedding ring while he was swimming in the middle of the lake?” ‘Course villagers knew enough about it then, when Sam lost his ring—must have been in the ’90s—to ask, “What in the world was Sam doin’ swimmin’ out there” when everyone knew the lake was about ready for a Swallow? Villagers would have considered Sam lucky to be alive at the time, to have only lost his wedding ring, and not more.


So what’s this about, you might ask. Why does the lake need to swallow something each year, and how do you really know it’s a thing, the Annual Lake Swallowing? Of course I hear you saying it, like doubters do, cuz people lose stuff all the time—in lakes as well as in their own houses, in their cars.


Sure. They do. But ….


May 1948—Louie Fitzgerald accidentally tips the tin with his wife’s ashes into the lake—says he was just takin’ her for a moonlight ride in the canoe, for old time’s sake—and the sealed tin sinks out of sight before he knows what’s happening. That was the real goodbye for Louie and his dead wife, frankly. They say he finally moved on, after that.


May 1949—No one knows what made her do it, and she certainly couldn’t explain it afterwards, when Mrs. Gene Cummings threw the entire set of dishware that she’d inherited from her mother-in-law, into the lake. One, two, three, four … they say she just tossed ’em in one at a time, like she didn’t have a care in the world, and only realized what she’d done the next day when forced to explain it to her husband, and when a neighbor hinted that she’d seen Mrs. Cummings do it.


I could go on—May 1950 was Jojo Frobisher’s cat, couldn’t swim, must have sunk, disappeared in any case; April 1951 some out-of-town kid lost all his clothes. And here’s the thing: the clothes disappeared, must have sunk; the cat and the cow must have sunk; the dishes were irretrievable; Betty’s Ford was never pulled out; and people … people have been known to disappear, too.


It’s as if the lake needs a sacrifice from the villagers each year, an offering, if you will. And y’know, maybe it’s good for the villagers, too. I don’t just mean a little “ol’ time religion” of making an offering to our gods—although maybe that’s good for us, too—no, I mean the loss of something every year, I mean, you could call it a loss, or a sacrifice or an offering, but you could also call it a good healthy purge.


Here’s what I mean. Twenty years ago the lake swallowed a fellow’s tool chest—the wife accidentally tipped the boat, and, like the other casualties of the Swallow, the tools were irretrievable—and the very next day—some say it was that same night—the fellow’s wife had her violin swallowed by the lake—this time I think it was because of a boating accident attributed to the husband. Now, would you believe it if I told you, that couple—that fellow and his wife who gave up prized possessions to the lake that year—that couple had been having some marital trouble, and, believe it or not, after they lost their stuff to the Annual Lake Swallowing, their relationship sparkled right up, like a loss of the stuff was a gift to their relationship. Soon enough they were pregnant, and they ended up selling their home here in the village so they could build themselves a bigger family home. Last I heard, they were happy. Anyway ….


My theory is the Swallow is generally good for the village because it’s like a purge each year, gettin’ rid of something that was weighing someone down, freeing them up, y’know, lightening their load. We’re all better off when that happens for any one of us, I suppose, most of the time, anyway.


Besides, the Swallow keeps the lake monster well-fed and satisfied so that we’re all a little safer.


our village (58)

our village (58)

May 28, 2017

Dear Roger,

Here’s another song from old-timers for you: have you ever heard this one? “C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.” C’est la vie, indeed, la vie mystérieuse. You never can tell what a day will bring, who will move to your village, who will explore your basement, what it will all lead to.

Before you—and I don’t mean to dwell on the metaphor of my basement, it’s just how thought leads to thought, and when I try to put them in words—before you, Roger, I’d get frogs in the basement, every spring and fall, sometimes summer. Then I got the basement sealed up, or I attempted to, anyway, make it a little less permeable to critters and to moisture. I wanted to protect myself and my house, sure, but I was looking out for the frogs, too—surely a frog doesn’t want to be trapped in a basement. But I guess I left the bulkhead door open one spring night—well, I leave it open often when I’m working in the yard, transporting pots from basement to patio, for example, and I try to remember to close it at night when I’m done for the day. But that night, after I’d gone to bed, I heard a crash down there in what I thought was a sealed basement, and I was scared out of my wits, and I literally sat up in bed for five hours until the sun rose, wondering if I’d left the bulkhead door open, wondering if there was a strange creature—or a stranger!—in my house. Then, when there was enough morning light in the world, and I hadn’t heard anything down there for five straight hours, it didn’t seem as scary anymore—still scary, but not as scary—and I figured something had just fallen off a shelf. When I looked out the window I could see that the bulkhead door was closed. Fine. Good. Just to be safe, I’d take a little jaunt outside, open up the bulkhead door as a way to start my day, and just see: maybe something had taken refuge in the basement during the day while I’d been working, and I’d inadvertently locked it down there when I was closing up for the night. Or maybe something had just fallen off the shelf.


I retreated back inside and waited. And eventually it turned out that something had been down there the night before. I was finally relieved to see a rabbit hop out the bulkhead door, a skitterish, long-legged hare, nervously hopping away from its last-night dungeon, hungry probably, definitely nervous, like it was afraid it would be pounced upon any minute, like it was afraid of being seen in the bright world, but like it was startled, too, too startled to move away immediately. I watched from inside, through the glass, so far away I was in a separate world. I was the one caged, and that rabbit had free reign of my yard, like it had had free reign of my basement the night before, but it couldn’t take advantage of that, no light down there, no food, and some crashed accident that I would have to clean up that day.




May 2036

Dear Sara,

I dictate these letters, mostly. The world we live in now, the technology is beyond what we could have imagined when we lived in the village together. Everything is documented now, stored, searchable, public, my thoughts edited depending on the quality of editing software I’m willing to pay for. I write these letters because I’m lonely, but the letters must be allowable, too, or valuable, or something, or I would not be able to see them in print, like this, for public consumption. It wouldn’t be allowed, otherwise; it wouldn’t make profit for somebody. So, I guess I never was a rebel—I’m just a regular guy, pretty much following the rules … but lonely, looking back 19 years to an unfulfilled relationship, and for what? For whose enjoyment do I dictate and publish these thoughts?




April 1, 2018

Dear Roger,

I am tired tired tired. Tired of acting. Tired of being unsatisfied. Tired of you being the only person I can write to, and tired of not even sharing these letters with you, letters that I started writing, pointlessly, about a year ago. I’m tired of the struggle.


Shifting Sympathy

Book Review

Sometimes a novel is almost too good—I’m thinking of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Süskind’s Perfume, Nabokov’s Lolita—“almost too good” because, do you really want to understand and empathize with murderers and with a pedophile? I’m also thinking of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, in which you are not only the reader but also The Reader, a character of sorts in the author’s deftly played game in which you’re seeking the perfect story—of course you are; the storyteller’s got you pegged there—and you are just on the point of finding it, time and time again, through a series of compelling story beginnings, each of which is its own distinct and well-executed genre, only to realize that your seeking the perfect story to fall in love with is only synecdoche: you are seeking the perfect love, more generally—of course you are; who isn’t?—and there you are, you realize as you read, just a character in a story, despite the depth of your feelings, despite how compelling was each story (whether on the page or in your own life, what’s the difference after reading Calvino’s novel?).

Olivia Sudjic’s debut novel, Sympathy, is one of those rare novels that is almost too good. It turns out that, yes, this reader for one wants to understand and empathize with murderers and pedophiles and all sorts of different persons—it is one of my primary reasons for reading fiction, in fact, as fiction provides one of my hopes for a world that is too often divided by persons who don’t understand each other: octogenarians and 18-year olds; Trump supporters and Trump resisters; violent religious extremists and quiet secular pacifists. If we could understand and empathize with each other than perhaps we wouldn’t hate each other and we wouldn’t hurt each other. Sudjic’s novel, to this end, has broadened my world and deepened my understanding by helping me empathize with new characters.

Of course it can be disturbing to read good insightful novels that help you empathize with murderers or pedophiles or other folks with whom you would rather not associate. For me, a late-30s late-adopter of technologies, one of those stereotyped demographics from whom I would prefer to keep a healthy morally-superior distance is the group referred to by Sudjic’s character Mizuko as “digital natives:” those who are addicted to their “smart” devices and who see the world through frames imposed by social media platforms.

Unlike If on a winter’s night, Sympathy is not written in second person, and thus as you read it you are not directly implicated or exposed. Instead, you are a voyeur, like in Crime and Punishment, Perfume, and Lolita. One primary difference in Sudjic’s novel is that you’re a voyeur in contemporary New York, a world in which there is the potential for a lot more of characters’ lives to be made public (via Internet and social media) than in the worlds of those other great novels. In Sympathy, you read the musings and confessions and logistical gymnastics of a recent college graduate (Alice), who, like her namesake in Wonderland, is a bit sleepy, a bit dreamy, and a bit lost. In a rabbit-hole journey of an attempt to understand and/or create her own life story, she becomes infatuated with a writer-professor-Instagrammer (Mizuko) with whom she shares some uncanny biographical details.   Alice’s infatuation leads her to engage with Mizuko disingenuously to an extreme level that has only been made possible in the last few years. In Alice’s contemporary obsession with Mizuko, all that Alice knows (or thinks she knows, and pretends she knows) about Mizuko is what has been shared about Mizuko online, all of which is immediately accessible and retrievable on “smart” devices, such that Alice can look up information on her phone in her lap at a restaurant in the middle of a conversation, then claim shared interests and familiar knowledge about data that has only been downloaded moments before.

Following Alice’s relationship with Mizuko as it is perpetually mediated through so-called “social media” platforms is like following hyper-links on an Internet search, and although readers immediately get information, they can’t immediately know which pages they can trust. Normally, readers would be inclined to empathize with their narrator, but even with lying, lost Alice? She behaves in troubling ways, as does the object of her obsession, and where does this leave us, the voyeuristic readers in this contemporary tale of self-discovery, self-creation, and self-erasure? That is where Sudjic has opened up a new window into World Wide Web-era fiction because, like other almost-too-good novels, readers will empathize with troubling characters, but, unlike other novels, that is not Sudjic’s main game. As the title reveals, this novel is more about sympathy than empathy. And perhaps this is Sudjic’s commentary on the contemporary world. Can you really understand someone to the point of empathizing with them by following their Instagram feed, or is this merely sympathy, a quick judgment, a separation between viewer and viewed? I see you have snapped and posted a photo of your napping cat, and the accompanying emoji suggests that you are crying and laughing about it; I think you’re amused, and although I don’t understand why, I can be amused with you (shared feeling with someone = sym-pathy) if that is what the moment calls for.

However, by manipulating readers’ changing sympathies through the course of this fantastic four-hundred-page novel, Sudjic achieves the same effect as empathy: broadening our worlds and deepening our understanding. When Alice lies to Mizuko I sympathize with Mizuko, but when Mizuko abandons Alice I sympathize with Alice. Likewise, in the mother-daughter relationships of the novel there are times when I sympathize with the daughters and times when I sympathize with the mothers. As readers, when we watch our sympathies shift, and when the author repeatedly reveals the frames of our mediated information, we can’t help but empathize: we are in the same position as the characters: looking for a good story that answers our questions; looking for love that makes us feel whole; looking to figure out who we are. Sudjic deftly reveals and conceals information, and compels us to follow the anxious rabbit (narrator Alice Hare is, interestingly, both Alice and the Hare of Wonderland) moment by moment in her troubling adventure. Like in If on a winter’s night, with each new piece of the narrative I think I might have found what I’m looking for, but Sudjic shows that, even in an era when we seem to have access to infinite information at our fingertips, we never get the full story, and we have to keep reading for better understanding.

our village (57)

May 27, 2017

Dear Roger,

For the record, whatever I’m recording this for, today was one of those days: unexpectedly beautiful. I anticipated gray skies and a cold spring drizzle, and I was rewarded, we were all rewarded, for whatever reason, with sunshine, cool temps, and still not enough bugs to be too bothersome. That’s why I live in our village, on this lake: to sink into days like this.

On days like this it doesn’t matter if it’s going to rain tomorrow. On days like this it’s enough to be here, right here, right now. On days like this the wrens get along with the robins, the robins get along with the ravens, and the ravens get along with the raptors. On days like this there’s a section of lake shoreline for the tadpoles, and the fish leave them alone to guard their own strings of eggs, and nobody bothers them. The heron flies in to roost, and croaks to no one in particular, for no reason in particular, just to be alive. The beaver patrols the lake, and doesn’t even bother to slap the water at me, because we’re all out enjoying this glorious day.

I ran into two neighbors on my rare walk along the lake today. Needless to tell you, you weren’t one of them. I didn’t know what to say to them, to Mr. Bellis—always so introspective yet so proper—and to Marquetta Mason—that crazy doddering old woman you’ve probably seen sticking her nose in other people’s business. Again, needless to say—although I’d never have the courage to actually say it—I’m more attracted to younger folks like you than I am to people a little older than I am.

And now you’ve come over: the perfect ending to the perfect day. Nearly perfect.

Dreamily yours,


our village (56)

May 2036

Dear Sara,

I was with my nephew today. You’d love this kid, I think. I guess I say that because I can’t see how anybody wouldn’t love this kid. He’s got fat cheeks and a toothy grin, and he’s so damn earnest it makes me want to cry. He says things like, “Uncle Roger, do you think kids are smarter now than they were when you were a kid?”

I never had kids of my own, Sara. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because you didn’t have kids. It’s not a secret to say that I looked up to you—I loved you, yes, but I also looked up to you, and that’s different. I respected your decision not to have children, trusted it, and probably adopted that decision for myself without thinking through it the way I trusted that you had thought through it. Now I’m 40, and maybe it’s too late for me to think about kids, although I can’t help but think about it a little bit when I hang out with Justin. He’s got an old man’s temperament, which suits me well; the two of us get along just fine, as he’s still too young to be caught up in too many of the entrapments of the modern age that I don’t particularly keep up with, yet he acts old enough for us to have conversations, like about whether or not today’s kids are smarter than we were when you and I were kids.

I wonder what you would say to a kid like Justin.

I told him it’s not a matter of smarter or stupider. I even told him—just to see if it made any sense to him—that I didn’t think it was a matter of more or less informed, or more or less ignorant. He asked me what “ignorant” meant—you gotta love a kid who asks questions, and that’s something I could have told him I thought was way too rare these days—and the concept of ignorance didn’t make immediate sense to him, given our access to limitless information, so I had to talk about it another way. So there we were, me and my 7-year old nephew, talking about common sense. And when I realized I was talking too much, and asked him if he knew what I was talking about, he said they had time at school every day when they let their personal devices “take a nap”—that’s what he said, so I guess it must be what the teachers say—and that was kind of like practicing common sense. I’m sure they don’t let the Eye take a nap, but I won’t bore you by getting on my soapbox, and I didn’t bring it up with Justin, either.

Oh my little Justin. If he could have seen the way kids played in our village, unplugged, untethered, untamed. I wanted to take the little boy back in time and wake him up out of a dreaming boy’s sleep in the middle of a moonless night for a walk around the lake to see what magic he could find in the real world. Imagine what we could have shared with a kid like Justin. That certainly would have changed things, Sara.

With love and with some regret,


our village (55)

May 23, 2017

Dear Roger,

I want to tell you about myself, but I’m not ready, so this is my practice.

When I was a child—you make me think of children, Roger, is that silly? It’s not that you make me want to have children, nothing as saccharine as that; it’s actually your childlike nature that makes me think about children, not that I’m saying you’re like a child—God! You see, Roger, this is why I could never say these things to you; this is why I don’t talk to many people at all: there are too many complications. Anyway, when I was a child my mom let me have one expensive toy. It was a Pound Puppy, this stupid floppy dog that was the central character of my play world. These dogs were supposed to be rescued from the pound, saved by loving little children. I think that’s the only reason my mom couldn’t refuse me one: because even though she claimed to be morally opposed to pet ownership—you know my mom; do you know my mom? I mean, do we know the same person? Did she teach the same way she mothered, with a pretend appreciation for questions but a real dogmatic certainty to her convictions, like the immorality of pet ownership, for example? Anyway, she couldn’t deny her daughter’s selfless savior sentiment—of course I was never selfless, nor ever very sentimental, and I’m sure I wasn’t so interested in rescuing a plush puppy as I was in capturing and, truthfully, caging that animal for myself. I caught my mom at a moment of weakness when she didn’t have the will to argue with me, to discuss capitalism and feminism and all of her brilliant ideas for which you probably loved her as a teacher, and for which I hated her as a mother. She was right, but I was a child, and I won that round.

My Pound Puppy came in its own dog kennel, and it stayed there most of the time, and that was only the beginning of its hardships.

I want to tell you that I see, now, that I have been the creator of hardships in my life, and in seeing it, finally, I want to be done with it. That’s why I came to our village in the first place, although I didn’t know it at the time: to get away from the difficulties I was imposing on my own life. Again, there were too many complications; there are too many complications, and I want things to be simpler, to be kinder. To be quieter.

I was maybe 7 years old when I got the Pound Puppy, “rescued” from the store and subsequently subsumed into my dark play world of toy stories: lost parents, dead siblings, broken bones, broken dreams. When my mom gave me a microscope—expensive educational tools were not prohibited—I promptly pricked the paw of that puppy to draw pretend blood and discover, with microscope-enhanced certainty, that my Pound Puppy had a horrible disease.

Why did I tell myself such tales? That is a harder question to answer than why I won’t tell you—or anyone—such tales from my past. I want to be done with them.

I started this letter wanting to practice telling you about myself, but I see now that it is best if I stay silent.

our village (54)

May 2036

Dear Sara,

Your mom told me, before you and I had met, that she thought we’d get along. I was never sure what she expected, so I can’t know if she got what she was expecting by introducing us to each other. These days, don’t ask me why, I wonder if it mattered more to me how your mom felt about us getting along than it mattered to you.

I remember when I first showed up in our village. I knew you lived here, thanks to your mom, so I introduced myself on one of my first days—I think I was the new guy with lots of energy and enthusiasm, open to the world and eager to embrace opportunities, less protective than I have become. I remember we got along fine, maybe better than fine, right from the beginning. Maybe you liked my young naïve energy. Maybe you felt like I expressed a kind of energy and openness that you felt missing in your own life. I should have asked, at some point before now, what you think makes us more open or more protective at different points in our lives. Is it simply our age, and the accumulated pain of years of unmet expectations that makes us, as we get older, build a protective shell around ourselves? Is it a natural response to being poked, wounded, scarred, after presenting our vulnerable selves to the world, so that over time, inevitably, we seal ourselves off a little bit, climb inside our shells, move to a small village where we think there will be community but where, after years of lived experience, we end up closing the shutters more and more often, turning the lights off so that others don’t look in, so that we ourselves don’t look in? Why didn’t we ever talk about this, Sara?

I wonder how you would describe those days when we first met.

It was just before that beautiful spring, my first spring in our village, that I started scroll-sawing in your basement (that’s a relic of the past, eh?). I expressed interest in your tools, you said they were going unused, you invited me to come use them anytime, and I think I thought, “yes, this is what living in a close-knit community is going to be like, sharing your life with your neighbors.” But I think we both knew even then that it wasn’t just that. Your kindness to me as a stranger, essentially, a new resident in our village, was proof to my naïve young mind that my life was on track, that somehow I had landed in my dream-world made real, and I nurtured that warm glowing ember of love and community, that small yet lovely burning truth of the goodness of life that you offered, by taking you up on your offer, by using the scroll saw in your basement almost every night, for months. I wanted that feeling of community and creativity to be my reality, so I embraced it somewhat obsessively. I think I convinced myself I was making something for my dad with your tools (does that match your memory?), but it was really your promise of selflessness, of communal sharing… it was your love, Sara, your honest and unassuming and undemanding love, and, I can now admit, your neediness, too, that brought me to your basement where our relationship was forged. I needed to be needed, too. We should not be ashamed of that. At the time I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I don’t know if that would have changed things. If I’d have known myself any better, would our story have been any different?




May 21, 2017

Dear Roger,

When the rain pours, like today, I try to remind myself of what my brother used to say: rain brings new life. My Pollyanna little brother and his faith in life-giving rain. I don’t think you’ve met him, but I do think you’d like him; most people do. He’s a lot more social than I am. He’s a lot more optimistic. He’s a lot more fun to be around than I am.

Oh, Roger, my thoughts often lean in this direction: toward the depressing. It is better that you know this sooner rather than later. There have been times in my life, Roger, believe me, when I have attempted to hide my personality for too long. Too long. Until it’s too late.

I am older than you are; I know you know that, but do you know what it means? Do you know that those extra years mean extra experiences and extra baggage?

Today is my birthday, Roger, and I am now 33 years old. I don’t know even know if that seems old to you, but it feels old to me. Other people don’t seem to experience life this way, but I’ve always felt a little different from other people. For others, old age is a constantly receding horizon, as if we’re sailing on open ocean, and it’s only the ships that set sail before us that are ever in the realm of “old.” Seems naïve to me. Most of us will reach the land of old age: broken bodies, regrets, death. “Old” only stays on the horizon if you lay anchor and stop sailing. But that’s death, too. So which way do they want it: old age, or an early death? I warned you that I tend toward depression.

I’m even depressed, or maybe anxious, or maybe just ponderous, today, on my 33rd birthday. After all, what do I have to show for my 33 years?

There’s a song by Peter Mulvey; I’m sure you’re too young to know it:

“Don’t the years go rolling
You’re thirty-three
It is time for the cross
Time for the Bodhi Tree
But still you’d like to cry
Every time you skin your knee
Because it’s hard.”

Life is hard. I guess that’s what I believe. I haven’t been crucified like Christ, and I certainly haven’t been enlightened like the Buddha, but I’ve had my time wandering in the desert, or the forest, whatever the case may be, even wandering around our village. Maybe I’m still there, wandering, and I don’t feel like I have much to show for it, and yet somehow I want to believe, today at least, that I’m on the cusp of something: something besides just decrepitude and death is on the horizon. I guess that’s what I want to say to you with this letter. I hear you in the basement, Roger. I listen between the moments the scroll saw is running. I listen for your movements around the basement, your coming and going. You enter my house quietly, gently. I imagine what you do down there. I imagine that we’re creating something.

I’m glad you’ve come to our village, Roger. I don’t know what my mother might have told you about me; I’m afraid to know; I’m afraid to ask.

Thirty-three years old, sitting at my window, watching the life-giving rain knock the fruit-tree blossoms to the ground. And there they lie, like tea leaves waiting to be interpreted. What are we to make of them? I can’t decide if this scene is beautiful or ugly, hopeful or depressing. Is this a scene of fertility, fecundity, the promise of spring? Or is it destructive destiny, the entropy of the universe as seen outside my window? Where do I fit in this world of gray skies and rain-battered fading blossoms? Where do you fit, Roger?

If I knew this was love then I’d say it, at least in a letter like this that I’ll never share with you, but in 33 years I cannot be sure that I have learned what love is,



May 2036

Dear Sara,

I miss you, and that, I think, is why I write these letters. I miss the casual familiarity we shared. It seems that we established, right from the beginning, an acceptance of each other. In the very beginning I simply let myself in. I remember the freedom with which I felt I could explore your basement and experiment with your tools while you, for the most part, were upstairs. As I approached your house I would often see you framed in the upstairs window, knitting, I remember, in a rocking chair, like an old maid. Maybe that’s how you thought of yourself, but I could see when we interacted, when you fidgeted with a tea cup or showed me where the paint supplies were, and I could see it in your eyes, too, your youthful energy, hiding just beneath the surface, beneath the quiet voice, beneath the propriety of New England hospitality toward your mother’s student, and beneath, I sometimes imagined in those early days, beneath the long skirts you wore, beneath the flannel pajamas and the corduroy shirts, I imagined your youthful energy and, I admit, your youthful body. I wonder if you knew what I was imagining…. But we didn’t ask things of each other then. Not then and not ever, really. We accepted each other. But there are so many things I should have asked when we had the time. Like what brought you to our village? Embarrassingly, I don’t know. I was too young, too selfish, perhaps not uniquely so, but selfish nonetheless. Twenty-one years old and fresh out of college. I spent far more time thinking about me than about you, of course. I don’t really blame myself for that, that characteristic of youth, or humanity, I don’t know. I was used to being the focus of attention, the recipient of good will, and I accepted your graciousness without question, and I even wanted more, as I think you saw eventually, if not immediately, I was greedy for more.

I remember, again, when you showed me your paint supplies. There was a casualness to your explanation, a feigned disinterest in the materials that you had so meticulously collected and organized even if, in the end, you ignored them in a corner of the basement. The gallons of unfinished house paints were displayed in a single row on a shallow shelf appropriate to their height, their labels facing forward and a dab of paint on the outside of each can to reveal the colors inside: cantaloupe, sea foam…. The brushes were standing up in tin cans on another shelf, perhaps a dozen cans, each with brushes of a particular size, the brushes clean and with trim edges, such that I couldn’t tell if they’d ever been used unless I saw some paint on their handles when I took them out to handle them, to pretend to be an artist. But you were the artist, Sara. Your long-fingered hands lingered on the drawers that you pulled out to display neat rows of oil paint tubes, rainbows and color wheels of tubes, organized by brand, I think, as pretty as a painting there in each drawer. I picture you showing me all of this nonchalantly, and I can’t remember what I would have been thinking at the time, but I must have sensed the conflict inside you: a passion for art and creativity, but the tubes of oil paint were capped, the painter’s palette hanging on its hook was bare, the easels were folded and tucked away, and all I could see of your inner artist was your collection of curated supplies waiting under your long-fingered lingering hands, and your eyes looking at mine, waiting for me to inquire, perhaps waiting for me to inspire.

Now I have missed the opportunity to ask you the questions you might have wanted me to ask. That ship has sailed, and I am looking back 19 years to that shoreline of our past, when the world seemed so full of promise, when I was new in our village, when we were new to each other, when it was spring-time and the colors of your curated paint collection couldn’t compete with the natural colors of spring blossoms, and that in turn could not compete with the fantastic colors of my imagination. We were painting the world anew, Sara, and I didn’t know how to process that. I’ve never been a painter. I’d never been a lover. And your palette was bare, your brushes clean, and you left me alone in the basement while you went upstairs alone, alone with your thoughts, which you must have knit back and forth with as much quiet determination as you knit those clothes for your niece and nephew. Perhaps because I already had enough colors in my imagination, I didn’t touch your paints. Instead I turned on the scroll saw and started cutting away, trying to get at something beneath the surface of the wood.

I wish I could see you now, to tell you goodnight, to tell you all sorts of things that I have since discovered.



our village (53)

What do you think of all this? You’re pretty new to our village, y’know, I’ve been here all my life, but you might still have the eyes of a newcomer … if you ever did at all. Is that your style, to look at things with fresh eyes, “the beginner’s mind” as the Buddhists say – is that you? Or do you come in with your years under your belt, solid conclusions about life based on solid experiences, lived and learned, right? Maybe that’s you. I can’t tell. I mean, I can talk and talk, y’know, spout my opinions and share my stories and, well, you know, but I can only guess at you, I can’t tell for sure.

So, what do you make of us here in our village? It’s your village now.

our village (52)

That’s when I started seeing things a little differently.

The moon was a gentle wash of light, showing the world with soft edges, muted colors, like a blue-tinted x-ray—a moon-ray—that showed the world of things beneath our sharp and painted stories about the things; naked things exposed by moonlight. How can I explain what I saw?

I saw the moon as microscope, magnifying the magnificent, the magical—and everything was magical, by its very existence, exposed by moonlight.

Lilly-Anne, I’m seeing things new. I’m waking up, like the world after winter, we are waking, and in this new dawn I am seeing the way I’ve never seen before. And this new sight, I think, this is real. Now I’m actually seeing what is.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing, Lilly-Anne? Do you always see this way?

Let me tell you about the moment because, I guess I don’t know if you were there or not. The spring frogs were singing with gusto—did you hear that?—overlapping choruses and ever-climaxing crescendos: the song, the sex, the spring scene! The whippoorwill was whippoorwilling and, God willing, he was gonna get laid tonight, too.

I don’t mean to just be talking about sex—I hope I haven’t offended you—no, that’s just a part of it, just a part of the whole, the whole of it. I mean, everything. EVERYTHING. That’s it, Lilly-Anne, that’s the thing…I mean, there is no thing…I mean, no single thing…I mean, no one thing is everything, but…but…everything is! Everything is!

And I could see it at that moment, that’s what I mean, I mean, that’s what I’m trying to say. Do you know what I mean? Somehow you’ve helped me see the world in a new light.

our village (51)

I think it was a dream, maybe, but you be the judge. I mean, it’s got to be a dream, logically speaking, a dream, a nightmare, a hallucination, an out-of-body experience, I don’t know, I just mean, it’s not real according to the normal expected experience of real … but what if we’re missing parts of the real, and they’re really real, we just don’t normally experience them? I mean, how many people hear the voice of God?

Am I crazy? Am I now officially the crazy lady of our village?

It doesn’t matter. What you can’t understand unless you’re at least a little bit crazy is that crazy is not crazy to the crazy person, and what I’m saying is that they’re not necessarily wrong – the so-called crazies, I mean – and maybe it’s the rest of us that are missing something, and it’s something we call crazy because we don’t understand it … or in this case, you don’t understand it – or do you? – because I, for one, think I now hear things I couldn’t hear before, see things I couldn’t see before. And they’re there.

This, for example, this vision I had, it’s such a part of a whole fantastic scene that I don’t know what to call it. A vision, I guess. That works.

I was telling you, I woke up after praying out on the lake. I woke up as a witness, and I saw Lilly-Anne there, at the shore. And out of the blue night sky a quick storm passed, that one crazy crack of lightning, and I looked up and saw Jerry Randy there, too, not, like, with Lilly-Anne, just there, kinda watching, I guess, like me. And when we see each other he bolts off, and I have this like out-of-body experience or vision where I’m following Jerry Randy, like floating along in easy silent pursuit as he is hoofing it through the pines, up the hill, and he stops. And the storm has passed, and there’s moonlight shining on the ground in front of him, a beam of moonlight, looks like it’s shining on a ticket or something, it’s a magical scene, and I don’t know how I’m there, but it feels as natural as anything. And Jerry Randy bends down, like he’s going to pick up this magical ticket in the moonlight, and Lilly-Anne shows up, again, out of the blue, but natural as anything, and she says, and I can hear it loud and clear, and I know it’s my job to hear it and remember it, to tell it; she says, “You’re alright just as you are.”

You’re alright just as you are….