By Kristen Gleason
This is the season—swelling—for the garden. Take advantage. The jacaranda has bloomed and dropped—the grass wears purple well—beneath the tree the sitting is silk—I sat there often—on flowers—letting flowers fall. The season bulges—what is in the soil bursts—the white berries burst underfoot—all is full—read this letter under the jacaranda tree.
Excuse me—here I am. First of all—can I explain? You have—perhaps—relegated me to the past and this letter might spook you arriving—as it will—in the present. Consider me a friend—won’t you? Consider this letter a firm and pleasant handshake. Surely you are generous—the garage opened—and the yellow refrigerator—it was full of beer—you must expect celebration.
Please reconsider me. When we met—I was an insect—I am aware you thought me green and spindly. Rightly so! How I froze in the garden imitating prayer—I was not praying—you knew right away—any authentic would—how you moved on in your inspection—though I was a waiting mantis—as if no insect posed in the garden—my garden—your garden. What must I call it?
You and your generous face—so like a dinner plate—inspecting the root systems—the cracks in the patio—completing the work of a father—on the weekend. I saw you test the redwood fence. You are measured and thorough—I must ask you to excuse a woman like me—a real shaker. When I was young my father put me to bed with firmness—sheets so tight I could barely breathe—to stop the shaking.
(My father played the trumpet—in a big band—and often played at night—which divided the blackness in half—the first was of waiting—holding a stopwatch in my closet—fearing doorways—the second of welcoming him home—resting—finally resting—beneath the sounds of his sleeping—stone sounds—grinding—my heavy comfort.)
You see I did not want to leave the house. We’d been renting—me, a renter!—the whole time and Paul had not told me so. He might have told me—his wife. One lives in a rented house in a different way—one avoids enduring—one avoids moments in a rented house. Surely—had I known—we might have avoided a death in the house—in the master bedroom—Paul dragged himself to the balcony—face down with his nose between the slats—last breath of wood. He’d been watching that nest grow—in the jacaranda—an elegant choice for those fat little birds—in the weeks leading up to his death. He’d been watching for something— keeping his eye on the middle bird. Your balcony now.
And then I was faced with packing! Alone—you have seen that I’m a small woman—a real newt. The movers came and I could not provide boxes—I sat in the rocking chair—I offered orange juice. I was unmoving—truly sepulchrule—I’m sure I’ve spelled it wrong—and they just began piling things in the truck. I froze in the chair—just as I did in the garden—I’ve made you all endure such ugliness. I would not lift a finger to leave.
Midnight came—the house was still half full—and I let them pull the truck away without my things. I didn’t half care but—I’d forgotten the refrigerator—the yellow—dear yellow—given to me on the occasion of my marriage by my father. My father—a man like a tree—on which insects such as myself perch—trying to gleen reason from height—another word I’m sure is wrong.
Understand why I came back—after your young—strawberries in a patch—family established itself—to lurk in the garden. I wanted a glimpse of the refrigerator—but you had no occasion to open the garage door—and the garden—glimpsed over the fence—seemed an arborretum—I know I’ve gone wrong again—so orderly—for touring. For an insect like me—a joy—I could not bear that I’d been cast out. You were kind—to ignore me then—but I came again—didn’t I?
I might have slipped inside the house—turned sideways—sideways I am invisible—the width of a piece of paper—I might have come right through the front door. Out of courtesy, I stayed on the outside—toured the garden—until you caught me and I froze ugly. Not so ugly as your new neighbor—Ugly Mary I call her—have you seen her chewing oats in her kitchen window—don’t look for her—you can see her from the balcony. I’ve gone off track.
This letter is going badly—what I mean to ask—what I hope you’ll understand me asking—is a favor. For 100 dollars, I would like to retrieve the yellow refrigerator—which you have methodically stocked with beer—but which is not your primary means of cooling—there is the black one inside. Full of meat and cheese and milk—I’m sure.
(Milk was forced upon me—though I hated the taste—for health reasons. Father in the hallway with a glass of milk—father in my bedroom with a glass of milk—awake to a cool tumbler of milk—sweating on my bedstand. Drink—he’d say—before the wood stains—and I would—anything for him. And—now—consider my skin—what I’ve gained—an evenness—a creamy tone—pleasing to men—who favor dairy—my father chief among them.)
Why do I need this particular refrigerator? You’re young—you do not understand attachment—which was taught to me by my father too—who gave me the gift of the yellow refrigerator. To that machine—I am attached. You know—at night—when you are lying down alone—how you imagine you’ll die—go undiscovered—there is a tallisman against the feeling—spelling—and it is a man like my father—rare now. Rare as a certain landscape—permanent winter—whale-pots glowing—that rareness. He was the hum of a special machine—and now there is only the machine—these are important facts.
Have I watched my tone? I want it loving—easily relating my love—I’d like you to read this letter and retrieve a beer—drink it thinking of my father—and your duties as a father—the protection of your little family. Think of the shrinking of my family—which accounts for my slithering state. Think of the shrinking of the world! The halving of the world! It’s coming, take pity! There was a time when our garden crawled with caterpillars—black and fuzzy—but the earth was not generous for long– you’re left with pill bugs. There is a lesson somewhere.
Be generous. I’ll be generous to start—let me consider raising the sum—I might pay more for that simple yellow box—a small price to pay considering—I am exiled from comfort. Don’t imagine you can keep it closed against me—my father had a sword and a mountaintop—he’ll swing the door wide open. Again—I’m buzzing. Forgive me—I’m frozen. You—being the right type of man—will help me?
I’ll relate this story—against my better judgment—don’t perceive threat where there is none. One evening I could not sleep—the mourning doves went on past dark—unusual. These days—I walk a great deal—needing a cycle—having no other means of motion. Without a husband I am poor—he did not prepare for me a life after—in any case—I am not bitter—only humming—simply humming. I walked to your house—my house—so recently it wore the smell of us still—this was weeks ago—as I mentioned—in the past.
Aren’t your children lovely puppets—not of nightmares—of play and poise—Elspeth and Sally. Lovely girls—may they love their father as I loved mine—for his generosity. Walking—I came to the front of the house—through the front window—your ebony piano—your carefully arranged art—metal heads with metal hair—the modern age—I watched your family. You were gathered to discuss—or pray? Every neck in attendance bowed—a circle—a ring of bursting blossoms—a garden inside.
Let me soften this—I might pay more—let me enter bowing—you must accept me. I stood in the driveway—straddling the dip in concrete—the dip left by the rolling boulder—displaced by teenagers playing a prank—before your time—lowered the value of the home—to your advantage—you lucky man. I stood there and willed the garage door to open—just a glimpse. I thought of the origins of power—height—tools—the door moved—I thought of machinery—quarries—it opened.
(A game we used to play in the quarry—foolishly—as foolish children—left my leg pinned beneath a block of stone—granite. Father would not retrieve me right away—seeking to teach me a lesson—about caution—left me there overnight. He came—with the sun—to free me. He cried as he came toward me—as he must have done all night—as I had—and such was his love—teaching.)
When I was married my husband gave me a plain gold ring—only that—a heavy thing—and over time it took my hand’s mobility. Remember—better lightness—in every case! Like when the garage door became light for me—sprung up—but it’s a loud thing—isn’t it? You heard it—your sharp ears—your pricking up—I saw through the window. You came to investigate—only this time I did not freeze—I hid—the large shrub—white berries—behind it.
Now this I did not like—that you emerged into the garage—flipped on the light—then thought better of it—flipped it off. In darkness—the two us were free to suspect each other—weren’t we? You could not meet the darkness. Though the light was off you were clearly visible—as an outline—suspicious soldier—wrongly bristling—and so I bristled too. I thought—userper—I’ve spelled it wrong—but—I thought—sick defender—fearful—fallow—less a man than I’d imagined. An ungenerous situation—you created—with your fear. Fear that you would be entered—your house—mine.
Our neighborhood is outerspace—late at night—into that space you opened the yellow refrigerator—and its light—warm—vintage light—unmatched—irreplaceable—perhaps you agree—I need it—give it back—good god—will 500 dollars do? Remember I am poor—but not so poor as to toss away memory—or forsake the light of nostalgia—relieve me of my begging. Your face hovered in the light of the open machine—round—lunar—you got yourself a beer—I assume the events of the night had upset you—you closed the garage door to keep me out—you returned to your family—and I to no one.
You are a tough general—aren’t you—different than the man you were in the garden—look where we are now! I’m a teardrop—a roach—a slithering bargainer—please. What will it take—500—500—500—have that sum—from a widow—have it. The coolness—you crave—the cool pale sparkle of your beer—is it worth more to you than generosity? Take that sum—but give me what is mine—the refrigerator—you must—or else—your garage door will raise—nightly—letting in the night—the men and women hiding in your shrubs—white berries.
(He didn’t trust a school—I was a curious child—learning from books—inside mostly—except at the quarry. There are gaps—I know—he wished it so—that I might be more blank than occupied—not full up—not bursting over—not naming in the garden but kneeling on the grass. I never had a classmate.)
Have 500 dollars—you’ve swollen the figure—silent guzzler—only give me back my what is mine—not a glimpse of a family circle—not a praying circle—to taunt me—not a garage door to sever me from comfort. Listen to me—pay attention to signs—symbols—yellow or otherwise—watch for machines where the souls of your loved ones live—cooling machines that hum like insects—without which you are turned to an insect—turned out into the world—freezing—alone—wearing only a gold ring—plain—bearing only that sorry weight—not the other—not the good—fatherly—weight—the perfect gift.
(An aunt gave me a birthday card—pictured—a monkey riding a stoat—an unnatural coupling. I threw it away. I awoke to the card tucked into my mirror—looking at me as I looked past it. I crumpled it up—I threw it away again. The next day—there it was—in the mirror—which seemed to darken—showing me older. I ripped the card in pieces—I threw the pieces away. The next day the card was there—it had been taped together—there on the mirror. I had a vision of my father—at the kitchen table—under a dome of light—piecing together the artifacts of living—our only proof.)
Where is the proof now? Where the important items? You’ve proven yourself nothing but a husband—I pity your girls—I yearn for the purple blossoms of the jacaranda—so recently a silken place just for me—and the balcony—the eye—the high seeing place. Where are the machines that keep the good men alive? Nowhere but in your garage—take my money—raise the door—the whole of my life is whirring inside.
Kristen Gleason’s work has appeared, or will, in A Public Space, Fence, Gettysburg Review, Slice, Fairy Tale Review, and elsewhere. She was born in California.