Pandemic and all, I’m cutting my grown son’s hair—outside, late on an afternoon in August. He sits on a stool wearing the black trash bag he’s poked his arms through. On the table: electric clippers, 2 combs, new scissors—all the tools. The last time, he was maybe 10 or 11 years old, and very particular—liked his head buzzed to exact specifications. He’s about to start his first professional job online— no first apartment, not now. It hasn’t been intentional, the wild hair— but he sports curls as plump as any that grace the stone heads of Roman emperors. Even when he was a toddler, his hair grew like this—we called him Hadrian, as in the ancient wall in England, the country where he was born. My son wants the haircut for the photo on his employee badge, though he won’t be using one any time soon. Still, rules are rules. The breeze is huffing as I carefully—ever so carefully—nervously— trim around his tender ears. Then snip the furled-up curls on the very top. I would like to catch one or two, display them the way museums along the Roman wall display roof tiles and broken tools and such. But, agile as feral cats, the curls twist to the deck and skitter away— to wherever it is such minor beauty goes.
In the beginning, a loon is calling where loons rarely call. In the beginning, I’m looking for the loon—far shore looming, something swimming away, something like a black-headed duck. A June morning, lost and found—sun barely up, wind and glint, chill still in the air. Things that are far away seem near, like looking through binoculars into the past—here’s
my Aunt Peggy just yesterday—once such a natty dresser, but she’s come to the memorial for her brother dressed in a sweatshirt with a stain on it. Cheerful, though. Long the keeper of knowledge—family trees, the people in the old pictures (great uncles and aunts, my newborn father in his long-dead mother’s arms)—now she seems content to not remember.
The water holds its breath like a photographer trying to capture the moment—everything in it at once— sun, blue sky, pink-streaked clouds, far off hillocks and houses, a seagull in flight. Lacking binoculars, I squint at the receding duck. Is this the loon paddling away? My dear Aunt Peg. I follow the disappearing arrow of her wake.
God Thinks of Everything
She brings the comfy bed and favorite green blanket. She brings a few chicken treats, a clear plastic bag of tissues. She even remembers flowers—blue hydrangeas, fluffy as poodles. Actually—it is her son who thinks to bring all that. God’s mind is somewhere else, thinking of other things. The two of them sit on a blanket spread on the grass—isn’t everything safer in gardens these days? It’s July, but a chilly breeze blows. They are screened from the parking lot by a green privacy hedge. On the other side, a woman chats on her phone—straying, the stranger glimpses them, and also the dog covered with the green blanket. She scurries away. The tissues are put to good use. God holds the loved animal’s head in her lap, strokes and strokes. As does the son. There is a road, and cars passing—the woosh of time. Eventually, the two of them agree. She makes the call. First, she charges it to her credit card. They put their masks back on. A stranger wearing scrubs, mask, and face shield arrives, a trinity of needles in one hand. But she is kind. God at all times keeps her hand on the warm animal, the expanding universe of those ribs—the miracle of that. She understands that once you begin, you cannot stop until the end. God doesn’t believe in god. Nevertheless, she nods her head.
Late July—I wake to the rising sun caught in the horizon’s trees like a yolk trying to break from its white. Didn’t the ancients also bury their pets? A robin sips from the bird bath— tips its head back to swallow. Sips again. Slips into water fresh from the tap—splashes and splashes. The joy in that. A cold pond on a hot day, the cool, clean, breathing, playful body; years ago, my son rolling on the kitchen floor with his puppy. The robins usually are busy on the lawn by now. Is it too early for worms? 4 feet under, a few yards away, lies our dog— 10 days beneath the tamped-down dirt, a layer of protective stones, more dirt, armfuls of blue hydrangeas, thin walls of a white cardboard coffin. My grown son searched on his phone for the perfect depth. Dug much of it— was down so deep that when he hunched over, only the tip of the shovel’s handle moved. I don’t believe in the afterlife. Nor does he, I think. Still, we buried her with treats and kibble and our night clothes— their musky scent.