Blue pastel and Kodachrome clouds. Sunlight streams from the shoebox. Empty and cracked, Nikon and Kodak, plastic canisters rattle on the ground, bouncing off the hardwood. The photographs are neatly stacked. Dust fills the spaces in between. Martin looks at himself in dynamic Polaroid light. He wonders how many flashbulbs were wasted trying to get this shot. How many white-hot snaps, burst and liquidated filament, how many empty shells? The specks are just light catching small particles of dust you can’t see with the naked eye.
It was a jeep. Green tint. US army star painted on the hood. Buddy was riding shotgun. The cigarettes were hand-rolled, mostly tobacco. Tropical trees hung overhead. Bananas sat low, drooping, hoping to fall and catch a serviceman unaware. Not even the fruit flies wanted us there. Helicopters misted the jungle with less than potable rain. Smoke tumbled upward in the distance, choking the horizon. Martin puts the photograph back in the box.
He dips his paintbrush in turpentine. The roller drags cool blue paint across the white, scratched-up wall. Martin always liked painting, the ebb and flow, the applying and reapplying. It’s a good way to forget oneself. Sharp, pinching notes flutter from outside the window. A hummingbird picks at the lupines, one by one, stem by stem, looking for food. A bite here. A bite there. Martin pays no attention. The guest room has to be blue in time for Diane and Jake’s visit next weekend. Martin loves Jake, not for his innocence but for the glint in his eye, the way he swings a wiffleball bat with nothing left in reserve, the frenzied scribbles in his coloring book. Martin rarely sees his daughter and grandson. Cimarron is a long way from Chicago.
Mary died last spring. The house exhales in creaks and echoes. The beech trees by the front porch never bloomed this year. Martin clasps his hands together and looks at the room. A queen-sized mattress sits heavy on an old bed frame, the legs bending from the weight. There’s a rickety old cradle in the corner of the room. The white paint is chipping and the wood is beginning to show.
Better move the crib to the garage. Martin thinks to himself. Jake’s almost seven. No use in having it up here anymore.
Mary loved to garden. The fenced in patch of once-tilled soil sits in the backyard, starved for attention. Martin watched as week-by-week and month-by-month, Coriander and Thyme were replaced by weeds. Now he only looked from the corner of his eye, sideways glances at the past. Every now and then he thinks he sees her standing there. A white dress. Long pink rubber gardening gloves. A pair of shears in her hand. That ridiculous sun hat with the bouquet of daisies on the brim.
Martin places the crib in a corner of the garage near some old paint cans and a red plastic box. Martin opens the box–he knows what’s inside– and stares at the old baseball mitts and deflated footballs. The worn and cracked leather is rough on his hands as he turns the ball over. The laces are fraying. The Wilson logo is missing the “W”.
The radio in the kitchen blares a storm warning and the wind chimes on the porch begin dancing to their own music. Martin turns on the TV and the weatherman tries in vain to project over the static. Martin grabs a can of lemonade and pours it over ice. He takes his glass and walks to the front door while the weatherman shouts a vague tornado warning. From his rocking chair, Martin looks at the sky, black with clouds. Thunder snaps and recoils in the distance. He can smell the smoke of hastily doused charcoal, steam and soot rising from a neighbor’s grill, a summer barbeque cut short. The wind whips through the short grass, kicking up dust. Martin takes a sip of his lemonade, gently gliding, forward, backward, forward, backward. The squeaking wood a familiar tune. He hears the faint tapping of cellar doors closing in the distance. The clouds begin to swirl overhead, slowly at first, then faster. They seem to be moving closer. Tensing up. Ready to attack. But just as they’re about to touchdown, they dissipate and make way for the sun. Gold rays cut through the billowing dark as the storm passes over Martin’s house, traveling south down 287 toward Amarillo, maybe as far as Lubbock. The glass of lemonade sits on a little table, perspiring on the porch, looking at the beech trees, searching for flowers. Martin looks as well.
Not today. He thinks. And walks back in the house.