Photo by Danny de Jong on Unsplash

Summer Sunday Night

Christiana White

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Miraculously, it is early June. Whereas just yesterday, it seems, I was shivering in my house, drawing daily baths in an effort to stay warm, I now have the front door open all the day long, the screen door securely hooked. The back door open too, for the cross current. I have the bathroom window open, the kitchen window too, both windows in my bedroom, the windows in my daughter’s room at the top of the house.

With all these windows open, it’s easy to hear the train hooting in the flatlands below, down by the bay. Easy to hear the comforting hum and rustle of the city below. There it is again, the persistent whistle — short, long, short, and l-o-o-o-n-g. The train whistle is loud tonight, transported on the warm air. So are the tires of a car passing a block away. Mosquitoes are biting. I swat one away from my ear and sigh, knowing momentarily I will have to rise up and search the creature out to avoid being plagued the night through.

We grilled on the electric grill tonight. That shiny red grill I picked up at Goodwill a couple of years ago. I had Ryan plug it in and test it the other day. It still worked, and tonight, we grilled swordfish, asparagus, and oyster mushrooms. I made new red potatoes with butter, salt, pepper, and parsley on the stove and a couple of gin and tonics. I played Richard Hadlock’s The Annals of Jazz show on 91.1, and then the soul show immediately after. We listened to a song recorded live in Milan in 1952. We heard one recorded in 1937. It’s like seeing a ghost.

I was uneasy in the garden. Looking around, I could see only what was wrong. The poorly pruned olive trees. I assailed myself. How could I let bad gardeners hack away at those trees for years, ruining them entirely? Why had I not trusted myself? I was a better pruner — a much better pruner. But, I ceded my authority, assuming others could do it better. The plantings felt paltry, chaotic. I looked around with a kind of dread, desperation mounting. What was needed? Why did it look wrong? Was it just because it was mine that it looked bad? If I was in someone else’s garden, would it look just fine?

If today was a microcosm of my life, what would it mean? What would it say?

I took my time waking up. I was up with the sun’s first rays, as always. And, as usual, I dove under the covers for more shut-eye, ignoring my internal clock. These days, it feels good to be horizontal, to fade in and out of sleep. I didn’t want to stand up straight yet. I just didn’t. I went back to sleep and dreamed crazily, about a neon kitten, for one thing. Some kind of abandoned neon-green kitten.

I tore myself out of bed and got to my scheduled massage with Rachel a few minutes late. She walked on my back and rubbed cannabis cream on my wonky ankle for 90 minutes. She played spacey music, then sad music. I preferred the spacey. The massage gave me some relief; it felt great. It gave me hope.

When I got home, though, anxiety crept in. I didn’t know what to do with my perfect Sunday. The air was delicious. A soft, moist, ideal temperature, scented of summer. I wanted to be on the mountain, at the seaside, beneath the trees, picnicking! Or something. Some way to mark the specialness of the day, not cooped up inside the house. But, my daughter was studying. I told myself, that is good. Be grateful. Follow her example. She is disciplined. I wanted to say, to shout, Let’s go see RBG! I wanted to take myself to see the new Juliette Binoche movie. I wanted breakfast, but then I didn’t. Did I? Or didn’t I?

I made myself coffee, hoping it would taste good today, eternally mystified by how sometimes my coffee is shockingly good and other times I can barely drink it, and I’m still trying to figure out if it’s actually the coffee that’s changing or something about my palate or my body. Is my body somehow sometimes rejecting coffee? Or the sugar in the coffee? I know I’m not supposed to be putting sugar in my coffee, but I still am, and it’s not that much, less than half a teaspoon. I tell myself that’s okay.

I had a cup and a half of coffee. It tasted pretty good, and then I began making myself an omelette. The kids had both had breakfast which should have made me happy, of course, and which instead made me feel at loose ends. I like to have to cook for them. I like to know what it is I have to do. I like to be depended upon. I prefer to be cooking for others than for myself.

I got over the hurdle, however, and made myself a nice, two-egg omelette with shallot, broccolini, and red bell pepper, and aged gouda and creme fraiche and parsley and pepper. And a piece of Ciabatta with butter and marmalade.

I sat with my daughter at the table as she studied. Enjoyed my breakfast, did some summer planning. Deposited more dry laundry on my bed (now there are at least five dried loads of laundry awaiting folding). After brunch, my daughter gave me a makeover in the bathroom. She dragged a dining room chair into the bathroom, had me take a seat. She washed my face, applied foundation and lotion, “brightening” cream, eye shadow. She drew in my eyebrows, applied mascara and liquid eyeliner. She pinned my bangs with a bobby pin and declared I looked much cuter than usual.

I watered plants in the driveway, poor peaked tomatoes whose flowers are falling off. The lime tree too — flowers that should become limes are shriveling and falling off because we’re all too lazy to water the poor things. That made me agitated.

I left to see my dad. Parked a mile or so away to force myself to walk. Came upon the remnants of a yard sale and rescued a box of dollhouse furniture and a watercolor of Lake Merrit. Also, an Arabic picture frame. Carted them back to the car. Then set off again for my dad.

When I entered the dining room on the second floor, Skilled Nursing, my dad was in the rolling chaise lounge he lives in these days (as he lacks the musculature even to sit in a wheelchair now), dozing in a turquoise- and white-striped polo shirt. I greeted him, he responded, murmuring, his eyes closed. I rolled him out to the deck, an aide held the door for us.

I had brought Shogun, one of my dad’s favorite books from the old days. I positioned him half in the sun and half out and myself in a teak chair beneath an umbrella and began reading. My dad reacted in mock shock to a ribald part, which amazed and heartened me. He seems to have some kind of locked-in syndrome. He can’t communicate, can’t even utter sound anymore when he tries to speak, but he clearly understands when he’s read to. I noticed this when we read the incredible Playboy of the Western World, an unusual Irish play written largely in vernacular a couple of months ago — he clearly enjoyed and understood it and laughed at the ridiculous Irish brogue which I’m sure reminded him of my mother. Today, in Shogun, he laughed ruefully at the word “papacy.” That’s something the old him would, indeed, have laughed ruefully at.

I stayed two hours. I fed him something unrecognizable. The soup seemed okay though. When I’m feeding him, he makes a motion with his hand as if he’s feeding himself which helps me know when he’s ready for the next bite. It’s like he delivers it himself, guiding me with his movements.

At 6:00, I got up, smoothed his hair, kissed his forehead, and said I was going home to make Magda dinner. He looked sad. He was quiet. He cast his eyes down. I went to his room to put Shogun on the bookshelf. Afterwards, I went back to the dining room. I cradled his head against my belly. I said I’d be back tomorrow. “What time?” he managed to croak. “Noon,” I said.

That was my Sunday, and now it’s 11, and it’s time to sleep to be ready for a hard work week. Time to sleep and be ready, to work on the memoir, to fold this mountain of laundry, to cook good food, to be productive at work, to care for my home, my dog, my kids, my father, my body. My bank account. To do well in the world, to do a little better every day. Get off Facebook. Read more. Water the tomatoes, and the lime tree. Sit in the garden and focus on what I’ve done right. Not what’s gone wrong. Give myself a break, give myself some credit, give myself some love. And enjoy the sound of the train whistle as it blasts again, reliable and strong, riding through the summer night.

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