Maybe We Are the Only Ones

I stood on the cold, ceramic tiles of my patio looking at the fading lapis sky and saw the faint outline of a half moon. Its crescent shape was ghostly, its surface pock-marked with craters.

I did not look at the moon often in spring. It was too chilly at night for my taste. But at this hour, with the sun sinking below the horizon, and its golden light washing my hair, it was warm enough to be outside with only a light jacket. I listened to the chickadees and gazed at the burgeoning moon.

I wondered if the wasps would return this summer. Last year, they’d built nests on the air conditioners on top of my roof. I killed them with Raid while they slept. The next day, I tore down their papery hives with a long screwdriver and tossed them over the side of the building.

There had been bats that fall too. They’d roosted on the candelabra that hung from the tin roof of my porch. I cleaned up their guano and replaced the broken votives with new ones to deter them from returning.

I leaned my elbows on the railing and watched as the moon deepened in the sky. Perhaps I should not have been so quick to kill the wasps and to chase away the bats. After all, we could be the only ones.

I understood our universe only abstractly. I’ve seen photos of goopy galaxies taken by the Hubble telescope. I’ve watched Nova and Intergalactic. I’ve looked at the panoramic images of dirt and desert taken by the Mars rover. It seemed incomprehensible that there was no other life other than our own, but it was a possibility. There was no evidence to the contrary.

I read once that a meteor crashed to Earth which contained evidence of fossilized bacteria. “LIFE ON MARS!” the headlines cried. It was retracted later as an error. In 1977, a strange signal had been picked up in space. The first contact with extraterrestrials? No. It was refuted as fraudulent. My mom once thought she saw a flying saucer over our horse pasture. She rushed out of the house, the screen door banging behind her. “I’m here! Take me!” she’d cried. It was just the Goodyear blimp passing overhead.

To be alone. It makes sense in a way. I am a creature of light, living amongst the bats and wasps, the sun and the chickadees. Gazing at the moon, I contemplated the galaxies and the solar systems, and the infinite nothingness hurts my head.

Yet, I still searched. I still believed.

From Madrid to Heaven

Up above, I am flying in a plane, through the clouds, engines roaring, the sun beating on my chest and glinting off my nail polish.

I am dry. My hands are cracked, my tongue wooden, my eyes tearless. I rub my skin with lotion, but it dissipates, and I am dry once more.

The plane is old and lacking the customary distractions. So, I listen to the woman behind who coughs. I watch the flight attendant clicking and turning the latches on the metal compartments. I glance at the balding man in a navy sweater leaning his head against the window, eyes closed, a magazine open to a photo of Madrid.

I traveled there once — to Madrid. I don’t remember liking it very much. The Madrilenos tossed paper napkins on the floor of the tapas restaurants, ankle high in some places. City workers swept up the jamon and chorizo-soaked litter in the morning, depositing bulging garbage bags onto half-sized trucks. On the flight back home, an old Spanish woman threw napkins onto the cabin floor.

I look out the window of the plane. Ice crystals gather along the plastic frame. Each crystal is shaped differently. Some are like gulls, others are inchworms and a few are dragonflies and fairies.

The view changes from fields of clouds to grided plots of land and snaking rivers that open into a lake that looks like a whale leaping out of the ocean.

My cuticles are dry. I add more hand lotion. It smells like oranges.

 

Ballet of Dust

At first, it seemed to be nothing special. Just a desk lamp with a bent arm glowing in a dull room of striped teal wallpaper. My mind was elsewhere. Sitting in the side chair with my arms crossed, I was thinking as the shadowy form in the hospital bed tossed, mumbled and grunted.

I’d had this memory of riding my horse in the paddock in early spring. I remembered the way my legs felt around her, how my hands guided her, the way she grunted and the earthy smell of her fur. I’d been a practiced rider then, but I had not ridden in a long time, and in fact I did not know what happened to that horse after I left the farm. It was a dumb memory — the kind that is like watching a movie with commercial breaks. I don’t know why I’d thought of it.

My eyes came back into focus, and I was in the hospital room again, staring at the lamp. I did not know how long I’d been there. I must have been transfixed.

There was nothing else to do, so I looked at the lamp light again. The incandescent shafts formed a triangle from the top of the shade to the surface of the wooden desk. Within the cone shape were particles of dust. I leaned closer.

The particles were moving. I could not say what color they were; I could only see tiny specks dancing, twirling and swaying under the lamp’s light, like a troupe of ballerinas with outstretched arms, leaping, bounding. With thin necks thrown back, faces locked in permanent smiles, their slippered feet were soundless. There was no stage for their toes to strike, just the light around them. They danced to music I could not hear, but imagined to be Gnoissiennes peckings, strange and echoey. It was the kind of music that hardly believed its own notes. One hung on the other, then shifted into a related melody with stickiness, like a cotton dress in August.

As the ballet of dust floated in this universe of orderly beauty, I reached my hand out to touch the particles. No. I could not. I drew my hand back. I would only disturb the dance. How horrible they might feel — if they had feelings at all — to have their rhythm disrupted and not know why. I folded my hand back into my lap and continued to watch the dance unfold.

Hinterland

I touch down in a country lost in time. Evergreens shiver with the last remnants of winter, brown hills burst with sleeping seedlings. Squat homes stand papered in vinyl siding and stone chimneys are darkened with charred poplars.

As I drive even further north, I see the lakes shiver in the clawing wind, and the narrow roads twist through the gently inhabited countryside.

The bar has the same squishy carpet, the restaurant the familiar Natchez mural with black and white vinyl booths. The fries are canola fishy, the water glass has fingerprints. The music clings to me, tubes of ecstatic reverie in the gauzy light.

All of these things are floating, turning, tumbling, like a washing machine in my mind.