Wednesday, June 30, 2010

POEM: To Yeats/Witness/Agnostic

             TO YEATS

William Butler, don't you see?
God sent Christ to die for me.
Those conundrums you'd have solved,
Conflicts, tensions which involved
Your brilliance, that great Void
Which left you agonized, annoyed,
You claimed unreconciled--but see!
God sent Christ to die for me!


      Did I say I'd speak for Him?
    Was there confidence in logic?
   Ah, the praise and careful thrust
        Of argument I felt I must
Deliver, locked when conscience smote
Still huddled quiv'ring in my throat.
 Locked within my throat the gold--
  Precious words, themselves a bold
        Doxology to given truth,
    Bottled beneath a glottal roof.


What words of faith can set the doubter free
Whose skepticism is reality?
To whom can answers mean release from tensions
When his world will only recognize the questions?

(Written July 3, 1966)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

POEM: Ten Little Theologs

Ten little theologs, eager to be blessed,
Lined up to put their systems to the test.

Ten little theologs all in a row
One called God "Mother," so he had to go.

One little theolog, discussing poles and fate
Bored the others--and then there were eight.

One little theolog got carried away--
Said the Sermon on the Mount wasn't for today.

One little theolog, intent upon precision,
Drowned in vowel points and lost his vision.

Five little theologs looking pretty glum;
One said the rapture had already come.

Four little theologs fervent as could be,
One went liberal and then there were three.

Three little theologs, wond'ring what to do,
One tried adultery and then there were two.

Two little theologs; in a TV sermon,
One claimed the Antichrist was Peewee Herman.

Last little theolog, perched like a scholar,
Saw himself an opportunity to make himself a dollar:

Called his colleagues' views perverse
And shot them all down in metered verse.

(Alternate ending, no longer applicable since The Door went out of business:
"Pointed out his colleagues' flaws galore.
And shot them down gleefully in The Door.")

Monday, June 28, 2010

POEM: Parodies of Robert Herrick

Here we are all, by day; by night, we're hurled
By dreams, each one, into a sev'ral world.
                           --Robert Herrick

Here we are all, yet do not share a world.
For each around a sev'ral book is curled.
                           --Jessica Reynolds Shaver

              FAMILY HISTORIAN
All we are here, or do, in J's notes squirrel'd
Away, will share us with a later world.
                           --Ted Reynolds

(Parodies written October, 1991)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

POEMS: Haiku (Miscellaneous, unpublished)

                                                         I open my hand
                                            For the rain's soft nose to touch:
                                                       Getting acquainted.

                                                      They hand me a box:
                                             "Here is your mother."
                                                                        Coarse sand?
                                                       It's nothing like her!

                                                        In my idle hands
                                             Wet sand molds itself. That's it!
                                                      My dead father's face.


                                                       Lavender blossoms
                                                        color the sidewalk.
                                                      It's raining jacaranda.

                                                            URBAN WALKER

                                                        Elbowing back smog,
                                                    filtering exhaust, she strides
                                                         the concrete treadmill.

                                                         Green fingers apart,
                                                        leafy hands gesticulate
                                                      from narrow stem wrists.

                                                            LIVING WATER

                                                           Being salt, if I
                                                    do my job right, you will
                                                 long for the Thirst-Quencher.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

POEMS: Haiku (Miscellaneous, unpublished, humorous)

                                                                MAKES ME HUNGRY

                                                                  Dozing on driveways,
                                                           two kinds of cats: teakettles
                                                                   and cinnamon rolls.


                                                                   Kitten, imprinted
                                                            on his beard, nestles in her
                                                                  surrogate mother.

                                                                CHANNEL ROAD INN

                                                                  In the Victorian parlor
                                                                      we watch USC
                                                                 pluck the Oregon Ducks.

                                                                  Headline misreading:
                                                           "Famous rock star greeted by
                                                                     wild ovulation!"

                                                              REQUIESCAT IN PACE
                                                                   Reclining husband,
                                                           eyes closed, clutching like lilies
                                                                  the channel changer

Friday, June 25, 2010


Nights like hot biscuits in a plastic bag
I lie in my own perspiring,
by the ceiling fan's quick ticking
and willing it to struggle harder,
to lift the house
and me to anywhere else
Outside, muffled screams of fire engine
and resonant thumps of police chopper
whipping air like cream.
I try and fail to convince myself
the traffic's static
is Victoria Falls.
Can any good poet come out of the city?

Streams and fields and log-fed stoves--
that's what makes a poet.
Berry and Luci Shaw,
Wordsworth and Frost,
all products of natue,
although perhaps country alone
is no guarantee of purity--
I heard from a neighbor of Wendell's
that he is now raising tobacco.



When you have given birth,
the uterus must be kneaded firmly
or there can be serious consequences.
Sometimes it takes a nurse
plunging her hand into your tired stomach
and squeezing for all she's worth
to do the job right.

When a nurse did this to me,
I grabbed her arms with both hands
and tried ineffectively to force her away.
As I did, recognizing that
the pain was necessary,
I gasped, "I'm sorry!"

O God, who will not let me fall
--although I try--now hold me fast.
I hear the charming siren's call:
Lord, chain me to the mast.

O God, I struggle raw--
I rave--
against Your love, and gnaw
the hand which keeps me
from the one I crave.

Lord, make me true to You
although it bring me to my grave.

O God who steers me opposite
my heart
until the rules of heaven change,
keep us apart.


God stood at the border
and in His hand
His flaming word
turned every which way
to keep me out of Eden.

(craning my neck
to see around Him),
was the only tree I wanted.

But it was God Himself
who blocked me--
not cherubim
or jackasses--
so I had to listen.

And turn back.


You broke the spell,
my figment prince.
The fantasies are in fragments.
How could illusions survive
your bursting out your door,
young with panic,
lobbing stones at California:
"Don't come any closer!"

I get the picture.

Stirring within the glass coffin,
I heard you say
you would not have slept with me.
Don't flatter yourself:
who said I wanted you to?
I wanted you to take me sledding
with your children,
let me sit with you and talk,
sipping hot chocolate.
I wanted to read poetry aloud with you
and fall asleep together
watching old movies.
Who said I wanted you
to sleep with me?

I feel cheated.
You slept with other women.
Why not me?

I am bad
because I want my Daddy
in the only way he taught me
I could have him.
I am bad
because I want you--
at the breast--

I will go down to the bus stop
on Anaheim Street
and the first man
who propositions me,
I'm going to take him up on it.

I am not altogether
you know.

POEMS OF THE ROUGH TIMES: This is what love looks like

This is what love looks like
on its back,
formaldehyde drying the gray fur stiff.
Paws sprawled,
head back,
eyes shut,
gray tongue caught
between gray lips.

I'd rather curl up in your lap
and purr.

POEMS OF THE ROUGH TIMES: When with goodbye

When with goodbye
I laid you by
and quietly
prepared to die.

I would not let
myself forget
how much I owed
and owe him yet.

Though others may
explain away
their vows exchanged
their wedding day,

indulge wtih ease
their fantasies,
and with deceit,
brief pleasure seize,

quite clear of eye,
I choose to die--
I lie because
I will not lie.


The box is gold
and satin-lined,
its limits wide
its contours kind.
Within its walls
I lie confined.

It doesn't mean
to be a cell
How wicked I
to see it hell.

I know my role--
to keep control!
I'll lose my self
but save my soul.


I came alive
when all around
was dead and proper,
rigid, bound.

When round about
they lay asleep,
I felt released
to laugh and leap.

Asleep, they lay
while I, on toe,
could hardly keep
my heartbeat so.

On toe, aflame
with rare delight,
I poised for
instant, giddy flight.

Delight from staid--
between, a wedge--
I fluttered on
my coffin's edge.

A wedge placed all
I had against
all that was me--
or so I sensed.

Immensely grieved,
they hurt to know
my readiness
to lift and go.

Though hurt, they
generously gave
good reasons to
stay in my grave.

And so I laid
myself to rest.
Life isn't safe--
they know what's best.

POEMS OF THE ROUGH TIMES: I live on wind and tears

I live on wind and tears,
I walk the pleasant shore,
Content with what appears
And restless to my core.

Too late for me to sing;
My life in good array,
I wouldn't change a thing--
But give it all away.

I've reached by way of prayer
The harmony I'd sought
But such a wan compare,
I'd leave without a thought.

POEMS OF THE ROUGH TIMES: To Walk the Silent Forest Floor

To walk the silent
forest floor,
pine needles
damp beneath my tread,
to let the first
meandering flakes
dissolve unfelt on
hand and head,

To gaze, until I'm
full at last,
on cloud-capped
peaks and ferny caves,
to wade in
cooling streams and watch
the seasons and the
pulsing waves--

Ungrateful heir
to deeds and cars
to wish instead
for stars.


                                   For safety I hop
                         pretending a wounded wing,
                                 away from my self.

                        (Written November 26, 1991)



Watch me play possum:

Reynolds women,
my brother calls us with amusement.
Not intellectual
(although I have as many degrees
as he has),
not interested in serous study
of the Bible
(although I'm the one
with a degree in theology;
I got the A in Greek.)

Watch me play possum:

my husband says fondly.
Not much good at technical stuff,
are you?
Though I got an A in electronics,
I am the one with the ham license,
I am the one with awards
for photographs I took and processed
and he cannot run the computer
without me.

They think they know me
and what they know is not threatening
so they leave me to myself.
I hunker
in the corners of life,
overhearing it
and am content.

(Written November 26, 1991)


When I nose down
into myself
to map my pain,
my mind locks
and I cannot pull out.

How many times have I died this way?

POEMS OF THE ROUGH TIMES: It's harder being an adult

It isn't that kids don't suffer
but that the pain each ouch brings
is not one more in forty years of stings.

To wince once, recoil and recover
is easier than springing back
from blows so many we've lost track.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

POEMS: More Haiku (published)

                                  ALABASTER FRIEND

                                  You broke. All you can
                             see is shards and emptiness--
                                    But I smell perfume.

                                    POET'S MARKET

                                         Better than
                                   A restaurant guide:
                                      Free samples!

                                 (Note: No longer true.)

                                 THE GARDEN ROOM

                                    Lavender and lace,
                              antiques and faded roses--
                                  but indoor plumbing!

(Published in The Christian Communicator, June, 1995)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

POEMS: Haiku (published)

                                   Omnipresent God
                             contained in all His fullness
                                    within this zygote.

Haiku (hah'-ee-koo) n., singular and plural. Thirteenth century Japanese poems which create a sharp, simple, rich image in 17 syllables, arranged in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. Haiku traditionally are untitled and have a seasonal reference.

A haiku series is haiku grouped together for combined impact or to cover a sequence. Each haiku should be able to stand alone.

The haiku which follow are not a series. They are miscellaneous:

                                    Gusts of swirling birds,
                                  skittering of brittle leaves:
                                     Which the reflection?

                                    Autumn maple, spring
                              crocus--Christmas in Southern

                                     Dim crescent statues
                                    turn to playful sea lions
                                      with the paling sky.

(Published in Pebbles, January 1991)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

POEM: Letting Tom Go

he smiled at me
as I cradled his head.
he smiled at me.
As my open lips met his,
with my tears wet on his face,
as I said goodbye,
he smiled.

our students watched
as they gathered for class.
our students watched.
As the bicycle was freed
from beneath the semi's wheels,
sharing silent grief,
they watched.

he winked at me
as the sirens approached.
he winked at me.
As I blew into his mouth,
with the blood wet on his face,
as he looked goodbye,
he winked.

(Published in Time of Singing, May 1989)

Monday, June 21, 2010

POEM: The Chastening

She hurt my feelings, I offered
her a gift she didn't appreciate
and she turned on me cruelly,
scourging me with words until I
broke into tears.

Days went by. I still hurt but I
knew I needed reconciliation with
this friend who didn't yet know
Christ. Reconciliation means
saying "I'm sorry." But what had
I done? For what could I
apologize? For being hurt?

Weeks went by. At last I
recognized my bad feelings
toward my friend, my desire to
avoid her. Go to her, God urged.
I resolved to ask her forgiveness
the very next time we met.

Months went by--a year,
perhaps--and then, at the
market, there she was on the
other side of the oranges. I
rushed to her, conscious of my
vow, poured out my apology and

hugged her. Then I stood back
and asked, "How have you been?"
"My husband died." Appalled, I
heard her add, "He killed himself.
Seven months ago."

Now I saw for the first time how
thin she had become, how
streaked with white and how
lifeless the long black hair, how
gaunt and lined the face.

She was speaking, bitterly: "I'm
seeing a counselor. . . must go on
for the sake of the children. .
don't talk to me about God. I
don't want to hear it."

What did I say in return? It can't
have been much. I was seeing
myself nursing bruised feelings
while the police were telling
Bobbie they had found her
husband dead. I was
remembering how I had avoided
her as a source of pain to me--
while she was watching the man
she loved being lowered into his
grave. I had so casually put off
"getting things right" month after
month as she struggled alone with
grief and fear and anger. "I'm
moving," she was saying. "I'm
trying to shop in different stores,
cut all ties with the past."

I was part of that past. I had lost
the right to be part of her present
because I wasn't there when she
needed me.

She pushed her cart away.

Again I stood in pain, again in
tears. Oh, Lord, when You said,
Go to her, I didn't know! I
didn't know it mattered when.

      --Jessica Reynolds Shaver

(Published in Moody, January 1983)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

POEM: I Told God I was Angry


First published in Time of Singing, May, 1989, this poem has been reprinted widely. You are welcome to reprint it if you include my name (Jessica Shaver at that time).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

POEM: Methods

Council of church members, seeking accord
In picking their new ecumenical board,
Said "Some Presbyterians, Catholics, Jews
and laymen from each walk of life we should choose.
We need a Chicano, a woman, a black.
A gay would be good. Now then, what do we lack?
It's fair and it's balanced. By all means, elect 'em.
Together they cover a very broad spectrum."

Alone, Jesus went to the mountains and prayed
All night long before the decision He made.
The following day, of the Twelve He would choose
All would be local and all would be Jews.
All twelve would be men and four of them brothers.
One tax-man, four fishermen--as for the others,
Who knew their professions? Not even elected?
What an unrepresentative choice God directed!

(Published in Theology Today, April, 1989)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

POEM: Can a poem be a Porsche?

       For Rick

If you want to say it,
say it--
don't rhyme it or sing it
or play it
straightforward, clean
say what you mean.
No waste, no excess
no gingerbread or mess.
Just power and speed,
form fitting need.

But if the need is not
brain to brain but heart to heart?
Does beauty have to be
leather upholstery,
steel, aluminum and chro-em?
Can't the form be a poem?

HUMOROUS POEM: Sleeping Beauty: Silver anniversary

What happened to my Prince Charming
Who swept me up on his horse?
He's middle-aged, overweight, balding,
He has bad breath and he snorse.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SONG: The Banana Slug Song


The banana slug
is the slug for me.
He's what every mollusk
wishes he could be.
I love him.
I can hardly stand
to touch the creature
with my hand.
Nothing's quite as ug-
ly as banana slug.

     In March, 1988 the boys and girls of a Campfire club in Redwood City, mostly 8-year-olds, were studying government and natural resources. California already had an official reptile (desert tortoise), an official insect (California dog-face butterfly), and an official rock (serpentine). They wanted to sponsor legislation declaring the banana slug official state mollusk.
     The children did not choose the slug lightly. They argued that the banana slug is a protector of vulnerable seedlings in coastal redwood forests, a hungry consumer of poison oak and decaying leaves Its droppings help fertilize the forest.
     Assemblyman Byron Sher sponsored AB3007 and the state legislature passed the bill 42-30. But the Senate shot it down 18-3. "Banana Slug Squashed as State Mollusk," read the Los Angeles Times on May 30.
     Some senators complained that such bills trivialize the legislative process. One of them said, "This is one of those items that makes you wonder why we are here. It's embarrassing." Others argued for the red abalone instead. Another called the slug "repulsive." He added, "Those things are not only not edible, but they are horrible. I understand they are so salty they can't be used for anything."
     Googling banana slug just now, 22 years later, I found sites that say the bill passed Assembly and Senate only to be vetoed by the governor and I found sites that claim it is the state mollusk. But as far as I know, the only time it reached the Senate, the bill failed and to date, the position of official mollusk for the state of California has not been filled.
     I say if we can have an official rock, we can have an official mollusk. And I don't see what tasting horrible has to do with it. Since when do we determine our state flower, reptile, insect or rock on the basis of taste? Since when do we eat our state bird? Why would we eat our state mollusk?

Photo by Greg Bodi via Wikimedia Commons.
Song by Jessica Shaver, to be sung to theme song from The Pajama Game

Monday, June 14, 2010

POEM: Sonnet Boom

("Nuns fret not" meets "The Windhover")

The mighty Wordsworth, like Prometheus bound
Who mortal man with fire did illume
Served time so long within his narrow room--
His sonnet's scant, tho' fecund, plot of ground--
That in its very narrowness he found
The tranquil recollection of the womb
Nor ventured out, conditioned to assume
Its walls his rhyme and rhythm must surround.
Thus, surely at his window he'd have stood
In disapproving wonder at the whim-
blown Hopkins, who had gall enough to skim
toward reaches Wordsworth wouldn't if he could:
wrestling wind, loving the freedom, finding it good
and teasing staid stanzas out to soar with him.

(Published in Inklings, Summer, 1994)

POEM: Post-Enlightenment Enlightenment

from the edge I cringed,
back from the abyss to which
the existentialists
inexorably led--

unsteadily instead
into Christ's sense
to catch my breath
and balance
and be fed.

I ventured forth to view
how far we've come
since Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus
only to find
semesters out of mind

They're still waiting for Godot.

(Published in Inklings, Summer, 1994)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My early Christian poems (rhymed)

POEMS: The Trembling

No words, no thoughts, no sonnets come.
My heart a hummingbird in flight
Does quiver, hesitate and hum
Between the pains of past, grown numb,
And distant yearnings out of sight.

Let down your wings, O heart, and cease
Your trembling fear to trust His vow.
Your Lord has promised to increase
Your joy, supply His precious peace
Not sometime, future tense, but now.

(Published in Time of Singing, February, 1990)

POEM: The Loan

While I was young and foolish yet,
My Lord, in His compassion let
Me hold one, precious to His heart,
Through whom he wanted to impart
His truths, His depths of love to me,
And I, in awkward infancy
Received His gift as just a toy,
A thing to please me, give me joy
And with my plenty store away,
Assured that since my Lord delay
He surely would not come to claim
What I possessed--but oh! He came
To ask of me the cherished prize,
The one beloved in His eyes
And now in mine as well; and I
In anguished vanity did cry
Aloud, and pull away to clutch
The treasure close; my jealous touch
Compressed to shattered fragments more
Than human hands can e'er restore.
Yet what forgiveness mingled in
My Lord's sad gaze upon my sin.


POEM: The Love of God

There is no fear but love will someday conquer,
There is no fear love cannot cast away
For God is love and if we truly trust Him,
He leads us safely in His chosen way.

Love can forgive what nothing else can pardon,
Embrace what seems impossible to bear;
Love's joyful task is trust and patient waiting
With open hearts to suffer, give, and care.

Herein is love: not that we loved our Maker
But that we sinners were of Him beloved
So perfectly that He for us submitted
To die our death and saving, rise above.

Shall persecution, human will or peril
Divide us from the precious love of Christ?
In Him we live and move and have our being--
How can we from His side e're be enticed?

For us, completely undeserving,
Our Lord gave all to bear the cross of shame.
Beloved, let us love as Christ has loved us;
Let us rejoice and glorify His name.

(Unpublished, written about March, 1964)

POEM: Psalm 139

Jesus, how can words describe You?
Now can poems sing Your praise?
What can love do but surrender
To Your gentle, knowing gaze.

Though I flee from earth to heaven,
Though to depths of hell descend,
Even there Your presence waits me
and Your Spirit mine does tend.

Borne on tinted wings of morning,
Dwelling far on life's vast sea--
Surely there Your love shall beckon
And Your hands encompass me.

Neither eyes nor ears imagine
Nor can human hearts enfold
All the good things You have promised
To your saints; nor one withhold.

One by one You've taken from us
All on earth we've cherished dear,
Yet we are complete in Jesus
Now and when He shall appear.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

POEM: The Footwashing

Older woman, Titus 2 woman,
You taught me to feed little ones
God's Word
in bites their size.
You showed me how to lead them
to their Father's arms.

I look up to you, wise friend, godly friend.
So why, looking down, do I see you
kneeling before me
washing my feet?
There must be some mistake!
This isn't right.
I should be serving you.

In my own embarrassment
I hear echoes of Peter's protest
as his Lord knelt before him.
And the Lord is saying to us both,
"Even the Son of Man did not come
to be served but to serve
and to give His life a ransom for many."

Jesus Christ, before Whom every knee will bow,
bowed before me?
He, Whom I have pierced and wounded,
tenderly touching my feet?
How far down He is willing to stoop
as He kneels to offer me His love!

(Published in Time of Singing, July, 1990)

POEM: His song

Mum, I love you dearly
but you can't carry a tune.
We stand side by side in church,
both loving God,
both making a joyful noise to Him.
Piano and choir director lead the way.
I hear their clear notes, right on pitch
and I also hear your heartfelt approximation.
Though we sing together
I choose to follow the director's voice,
not yours,
lest in following you
we both go astray.
So, too, you must not pattern yourself after me.
With all good intentions,
I could derail us both.
If we respond only to our Director,
though our voices wander and waver,
we will each produce His melody for us.

(Published in Time of Singing, July, 1990)

Friday, June 11, 2010

POEM: A Skeptic at Communion


I saw a fly within a bead
Of amber cleanly buried;
The urn was little, but the room
More rich than Cleopatra's tomb.
                      --Robert Herrick

after Robert Herrick's "The Amber Bead"

I saw a fly within a dose
Of grape juice, clearly comatose;
The host was Welch's, but the sense
The mystery of immanence.

I saw him floating in the cup
As soon as I had picked it up--
And smiled: thus God prevented me
From drinking Him unworthily.
                       --Jessica Shaver

(Published in South Coast Poetry Journal,
January 1995)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

POEM: Tomb break

                         (First published in Purpose, April 15, 1990)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

POEM: But Mary Pondered


(First published in The Uplook, Multnomah School of the Bible, December 11, 1964)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

POEM: To a Chameleon

chameleon picture
(Based on a Zambian proverb)

than the
fang or
claw or sting,

toward you
while you
watch more
poor de-
you are
God's mistake.

for an
girls to
tease and
bets to win,
in a
dark as
lint your
matching skin,

joke a-
like of
kid and
If you're
learn to

(Written 1990)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

POEM: Missionary Kid

Rhodesian rain stings the earth.
Early drops ricochet from panting ground
in puffs,
settling the dust,
as high as a little boy's knee--
if it rains hard.

Five is too young to send away!
Small legs,
quivering from
the schoolmaster's fanbelt,
can't come close to touching
where the alien sheets tuck in.

Your mind
has not had time to store
your mother's face in memory.
Tears blur
what won't come.

If I lean down and put
wet cheek to yours
and take you in my arms,
your tears may blind you to my face.
Perhaps you will not see
I'm just a substitute.

Now steady, drops no longer bounce
but burrow,
turning dust to mud.
Inside, on starved ground,
the rain still stings.

(Written 1990)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

STORY: Howard

     "Come on, Howard!" urged Helen, pausing to look back at the small, stooped man with the vacant smile. She glanced at her son and sighed.
     Todd shook his head with amusement. "I can't walk that slow even if I try." His eyes were on his father as he spoke to her. Erin said nothing. The three watched Howard approach, passing a bank. When he was still several yards from them, they turned away and began walking again, resuming the conversation they had interrupted. After a few minutes, Erin glanced back. Howard had stopped completely in the middle of the sidewalk, his head down as if listening to or waiting for something.
     Helen glanced back too and again they all stopped walking. "I've taken him to doctor after doctor," she said. "He keeps saying he doesn't feel well, but they never find anything wrong. There's no reason why he can't walk this far."
     This time they waited interminably until he caught up with them, although he seemed to walk even slower when they waited than when they walked ahead of him.
     "Where are we going?" he asked in a small voice.
     "Down to the shops. It's just a couple more blocks."
     "I don't think--" His voice barely carried over the sound of a passing car. Todd cupped his ear and leaned toward him to hear better, but Howard had stopped talking.
     "Would you like to go back to the hotel?" asked Helen.
     He smiled apologetically, his kind eyes catching Erin's. She thought he said, "--that would be better." She wasn't sure.
     "Here's the key, if you need it," Helen said matter-of-factly. "Remember to push it all the way in and turn the doorknob to the right at the same time. Why don't you just buy a newspaper and wait for us in the lobby-- Do you know how to get back?"
     It was hard to tell from his vague gesture and inaudible response whether he had said yes or no.
     "Just go straight back along this street," she told him. "It'll be on your right. The Surf and Sand."
    He took little steps, revolving in a tight, stiff circle, until he was facing the way they'd come. The hotel was not in sight.
     "Wait for us in the lobby. Don't have your lunch until we get back. We'll eat when we get back."
     He held the room key up and looked at her inquiringly.
     "You won't need the key. Just keep it in your pocket." She had already taken it from him and dropped it into his shirt pocket. Then she turned. They were standing beside a bakery.
     "Don't those cinnamon rolls smell good!" she said. "You'll be all right, Howard," she told him and started walking away. Todd and Erin fell into place beside her.
     Erin's eyes sought him out when they reached the corner. Howard was standing where they had left him, feeling his pocket uncertainly and gazing down the sidewalk toward the unseen goal.  By the time they reached the next corner, where the road bent, Howard was taking an experimental step in the direction they'd come from.
     Helen glanced back at her. "I have to make him do things for himself or he'd let himself become totally helpless," she explained, though no one had asked.
     "Dad," Todd said after lunch, drawing his father aside, "we found something Mom would like for her birthday. It's a painting." He paused but there was no answer. "A painting," he repeated. "She really wants it."
     Erin watched for her father-in-law's reaction, but the pale face was impassive.
     Then, "How would I--" The man struggled to birth his thoughts in words. "How--?"
     Howard seemed to be searching mentally. His hands fluttered, then drifted to his sides. He smiled humbly and shrugged. "I forgot what I was going to say."
     "You can just write on the card that that's what you're giving her, okay?"
     Howard didn't say anything.
     "Okay, Dad?" Todd's voice was louder, more insistent.
     "Okay," said Howard.
     "Well, it's all set," Todd told Erin, as they let themselves into their room. "He'll tell her on the card at the party tonight."
     "Does he even have a card?"   
     "I didn't think of that. He has to have a card!"
     "I could take him to buy one. I wouldn't mind."
     As the two of them started out, the aged, shrunken man and the daughter-in-law half his age, she matched her pace to his. She didn't know what to say to him. He has always been so self-assured, the classic self-made millionaire. She hadn't know what to say then and she still didn't, but she felt closer to him now, protective. Besides, now he wasn't any bigger than she was.
     They inched from the elevator, across the hall, through the lobby.
     "This way," she said, indicating. "Down these stairs."
     They were wide stairs and there was no railing. He teetered unsteadily as he placed all his weight on one foot so he could lower the other to the top step.
     She reached out and slipped her hand into his. This is the first time I've touched him, she thought, in the 20 years I've known him, unless you count the hug I gave him after Todd announced we wanted to get married.
     "You mean you want to get engaged," Todd's mother had clarified firmly. Erin had hugged her, too, after Helen had dabbed her eyes and Howard had said, with genuine pleasure, "Welcome to the family!" Erin hadn't known back then that Todd's family never hugged except on certain very set occasions. At the airport, after long separations. At funerals, maybe. On Christmas morning.
     The hand was dry and cool, like a leaf on some shady tree in summer. Erin took the steps slowly, pausing as her father-in-law extended a cautious shoe from one to the next, his free hand still feeling vaguely for the railing that wasn't there.
     At the bottom she released his hand a little self-consciously and they resumed walking. Across the sidewalk, around the lamppost, to the curb. Should she point out that the light was red and they couldn't cross yet or would that be patronizing? Instead of speaking, she tried to herd him with the merest touch on his sleeve, then, when the light changed, on the small of his back. The light was red again before they got across.
     He stepped up onto the curb without help and she said again, "It's this way." They walked past a dentist's office and a yogurt place; seagulls mewed overhead. Erin smiled at a little boy going the other way with his mother; the boy's shirt read, "I get chocolate and nobody gets hurt." She started to point it out to Howard and changed her mind. He hadn't noticed the boy, the shirt, or the fact that she had opened her mouth to speak. Should she speak--about something else? About anything? It seemed up to her to make conversation.
     She tried to steer him with her presence, to will him around people in their path. Groups parted and flowed around them. They passed a restaurant, a toy store. The town seemed endless and there were endless blocks still ahead of them. Two, maybe even three, she couldn't remember.
     Still they trudged together without speaking and though Howard did not seem to feel awkward in the silence, she burst out, "So, you're going to buy Helen that painting for her birthday!"
     His answer confused her. "She'd just take it back." Or is that what he had said? Had she heard wrong?
     "I'm sure she'll like it," she ventured. She had never disagreed with him before and she did so now obsequiously. "She seems to like it a lot."
     They were passing a pizza parlor. From inside came the aroma of warm dough, the clinking of glasses. In the middle of the sidewalk a young girl on a high stool, like a lifeguard's chair, reached down to hand them a discount coupon for a large cheese pizza.
     Howard hadn't answered her. From his silence, Erin found herself thinking, He doesn't want to buy her the painting. Aloud she said, "Was there something else you'd rather get her?"
     "I usually get her clothes," he said. His voice trailed off. "She likes clothes."
     "Would you like me to help you pick out some clothes?"
     "Yes," he said. He sounded relieved. "She likes clothes." 
     There was a store on the corner with casual women's suits in the window. White suits with gold braid outlining the blazer, navy suits with gold braid. Docilely, Howard let Erin steer him to a rack.
     "How about this?"
     He didn't respond as she held up the white suit, and she sensed the same something, a hesitation, that said no. She understood. His wife's birthday wasn't broadcloth and buttons with anchors on them. it was femininity and elegance. She led him to another rack.
     "Or this?" She held up a pink silk blouse.
     "I think--" He reached out jerkily as if to touch it and his head bobbed imperceptibly.
     "With a skirt? Or pants? A jacket?"
     It was too many choices at once. She backed off.
     "Would you like to buy something else with it?"
     He nodded mutely.
     "A skirt?" She held one up. His hands fluttered, indicating, she thought, that she should hold the outfit against herself so he could evaluate it. That's how he always shopped for Helen, Erin remembered now. The family joked about how Howard would always pick out a salesgirl who seemed about Helen's size to hold up the clothes and let him consider them.
     As the clerk rang up the purchase, Howard reached behind him--so slowly Erin found herself holding her breath and had to let it out several times--and drew a fat wallet from his pocket. He opened it with both hands and stared at its contents.
     "Two hundred twenty-three dollars and thirty-nine cents," the clerk said, for the second time.
     Howard's fingers hovered over the bills, trembling.
     "Two hundred," repeated Erin. "You can give her four fifties."
     He began to extract the bills one at a time with little tugs, examining each one as he drew it out and again as he laid it on the counter. The clerk didn't seem impatient; Erin threw her a grateful glance.
     When there were four fifties on the counter Erin prodded, "A twenty and three ones-- Make it four ones," she amended hastily. "She'll give you change." She resisted the desire to reach into his wallet and help him.
     He's a little child, she thought. A lost, bewildered child, losing his sight, his hearing, his memory--everything familiar. The thick wallet made him seem all the more vulnerable.
     The clerk rang up the order and handed Erin the change, which she passed on to Howard, and the box, in a paper bag with handles. She handed that to Howard, too.
     "Shall we buy a card?"
     "Where?" His voice faltered a little.
     "It's about a block from here," she said, thinking that a block seemed an incredible distance away and might take the rest of the day to reach. If only she could plant him somewhere and run on ahead to get it for him!
     "We can go slowly."
     He didn't have to stop in the middle of the street to rest when she let him set the pace. Todd was right; Howard didn't pick up his feet when he walked. "He slides his feet along," Todd had complained to her privately. "He shuffles--like an old man!"
     At the stationers, she moved through the kaleidoscope of stationery and calendars and stuffed toys to the cards and through the cards to the birthday cards. She picked out one inscribed, "To my wife," glanced inside and handed it to Howard. He took it from her and studied it silently, first the picture on the front, then the sentiment inside.
     "That might do," he said. But he looked at the rack. Erin handed him another. "This has a nice verse," she offered. But when he had worked his way through it, he said, "I don't think-- it isn't--" She had to tip her head to hear him.
     "How about this one?" He was already holding a card in each hand. Gently she took from him the second one and replaced it with a third. She pretended to be absorbed in something else as he read the front and the inside and then the front again. His lips moved as he concentrated over and over on the sentiment inside.
     "I think this one--" he said.
     When they got back to the hotel, she took him to his door across the hall from hers and just before she unlocked it for him, she said, "It must be scary to be forgetting things." She squeezed the dry, cool hand.
     "WHAT!" Todd burst out. "A skirt and blouse? But she wants the painting!"   
     "He didn't want to get her the painting," said Erin, her stomach contracting.
     "Why did you even bring the subject up? We had it all arranged. He told me he'd get her the painting."
     Erin didn't speak. Why had she brought it up? She tried to remember. Because she had to say something. Because it was taking them so long to get to the card shop and they had been side by side and she had to say something.
     Todd was still speaking. "He just doesn't want to spend the money, that's all. It's selfishness, plain and simple."
     "He wanted to buy her clothes," said Erin. It was all vanishing, the delight she had felt, being in sync with Howard. Her defense sounded weak in her own ears. "He chose them." There was no way Todd could understand, not in this mood.
     "You should never have brought the subject up," he said. "We had it all arranged."
     "We had a good time together." She knew he wouldn't consider that relevant, but somehow it mattered to her. "He-- He made his own decisions. I only gave him two things at a time and he knew what he wanted." But it was spoiled.
     He sighed then. "It's not your fault."
  They walked to dinner, all four of them. Erin dropped behind to walk with Howard, pausing when he paused. Couples in jeans surged around them, happy, their arms around each other. Young men called to each other over their heads.
     At the restaurant, their server slid large menus down in front of each of them, cutting them off from each other.
     "I'll have tortellini," Todd said after a minute.
     "What do you want, Howard?" asked Helen from behind her menu.
     Beyond her, Howard lowered his menu and looked at her meekly. "Do you understand what this says?" he asked her.
     "How about lasagna?" said Helen. "You like lasagna."
     Howard didn't respond. After a minute, he closed the menu and offered it to a passing busboy.
     "The server will come get it," said Helen.
     Erin thought about the present Helen would be opening later. She hoped Helen wouldn't be disappointed. I guess I ruined everything, she thought. I should have kept my mouth shut. But she didn't feel sorry. Helen could buy herself any painting she wanted.
     The server was there, pencil poised.
     "Tell her what you want, Howard."
     "What are you getting?"
     "You don't have to get what I'm getting. What do you want?"
     "What do I want?" he echoed. He held the menu, still open.
     "He'll have the lasagna," she told the server briskly. "You want wine, Howard?"
     "You mean to drink?"
     "Yes. Or do you want a soft drink?"
     "A Coke." His voice was faint.
     "You don't want caffeine this late in the day," Helen said. "How about a 7-Up?"
     Howard didn't answer.
     When they had all ordered, Todd held up his wine. "To your birthday, Mom!" Erin lifted her glass and waited until Howard realized something was expected of him and raised his 7-Up. They clinked glasses with Helen and drank.
     "Tomorrow," Helen said to Todd and Erin, "we should try to visit the art festival. If we get there early, it won't be so hot."
     "Or crowded," put in Todd.
     Howard didn't look at them. He stared blankly at the floor beside their booth.
     "We'll have to get around early. Where do you want to have breakfast?"
     "We could eat at the hotel again," said Todd. "They're having that special buffet tomorrow."
     "How about that little bakery we saw?" Helen asked them.
     Howard roused himself and his head swiveled toward them. "What are you talking about?"
     "Breakfast, Howard. We're talking about where to have breakfast." Howard's "Oh" was lost as Helen went on to the others, "They had those big cinnamon rolls that smelled so good, remember?"
     "Where were they?" asked Howard.
     "At that bakery we passed this morning, Howard. Don't you remember? Great big ones." She stretched the manicured fingers of both hands into a circle.
     He gazed at her. "Not exactly," he said with a sheepish smile. He let his gaze sink to the floor again until the food came. Then he concentrated on carefully cutting his pasta, his broccoli, even his roll, spearing each piece with deliberation and raising it mechanically to his mouth. When Helen turned to speak to her son, Erin saw Howard over Helen's shoulder. He had paused, butter knife raised in one hand, fork in the other. He was looking at his glass. She wanted to reach across Helen and help him; instead she watched painfully, losing track of Helen's words.
     At last Howard looked at the fork, started to put it down, looked at the knife, did put it down. Then he put down the fork, too, and reached for the 7-Up with both hands. His shoulders slumped and his head tilted so the edges of his mouth could feel tremblingly for the top of the straw.
     They had paid the bill and were starting out the door when they realized he was not with them. He was consulting the maitre d', who showed him to the restroom door. They waited out on the sidewalk, occasionally glancing back through the window. Three minutes, five, eight, ten--
     "Is he lost?" his son asked irritably.
     His wife said with amusement, "The other day he got up to go to the bathroom at home--and couldn't find it."
     "That's sad," said his daughter-in-law. "There must be some Alzheimer's association that could help--"
     "It's not Alzheimer's," said Helen, straightening up as Howard finally emerged from the restroom and began looking around for them. "He doesn't have Alzheimer's."

Friday, June 4, 2010

STORY: The Swordfish

     I remember them distinctly. A party of five: four barbecued swordfish and a scampi. A middle-aged couple, the man immaculately tailored, graying hair, conservatively cut. The woman, undoubtedly his wife, attractive in a worn, overstuffed way. She might have been pretty once and perhaps in a softer color still would be, but she wore black and its severity emphasized a kind of resignation about the eyes and jaw.
     With them, three young people in their early to mid-twenties: a gentleman and two young ladies. One of the young ladies was especially striking. Blonde hair drawn back and secured somehow to the top of her head with a few loose tendrils escaping, as if artlessly--and yet the effect was one which other women might spend hours before the mirror or at their hairdresser's attempting vainly to copy.
     From her features and her behavior with the somewhat nervous young gentleman to her left, I believe that they were sister and brother and that the other young lady, less stylish but suggesting more depth of character and perhaps a latent sense of puckish humor, was the young man's wife. I recall this party in particular because of the barbecued swordfish, our special that evening--not so much because they ordered it but because there was some difficulty among them regarding it.
     The tip was not remarkable.

     I am J. Stuart Taylor. I took my wife Evelyn out for her birthday. She wore the outfit I gave her. They were out of the mahimahi, so I had the swordfish.

     You took us all out, Dad. You need to tell them you took us all out to dinner--Mom, Stacy, Beth and me. I'm Stuart's son Tom. Dad ordered the special: barbecued swordfish for four. I said that sounded good to me. I love swordfish.
     See, the thing was, Beth--that's my wife--tried to do something good for Mom but the timing was bad, that's all. Mom should have stood up for herself. She's always sacrificing herself for everyone else. What a mess.

     I'm Stacy Taylor. I don't know why this is such a big deal. Dad took us to this expensive seafood restaurant in San Diego for Mom's birthday. Dad wanted three of us to go in with him on the swordfish but I wasn't in the mood for swordfish. I ordered scampi.
     Tom's sticking up for Beth but nobody made her order swordfish. Beth said she wanted swordfish and waited until Dad gave the server the order--and then she said she didn't want it, after everyone had agreed! She's been my sister-in-law for three years now and I still don't understand her at all.

     My name is Evie Taylor and I'm Stuart's wife. I'm sure Beth didn't mean anything. You see, it was my birthday and Stuart said we could go out to dinner at Pierre's, down in San Diego--you know, the one right on the shore? I wore the black dress he bought me. Black isn't really my color but I wore my silver necklace and earrings with it and the kids said it looked real nice.
     I was going to order the Dover sole--I never get Dover sole, hardly any restaurant has it on the menu anymore--but Stuart wanted the swordfish and he couldn't order it unless three of us had it, too, so I said I'd have the swordfish. It was his second choice, you know. He really wanted the mahimahi, but when the server came to take our order, he said they were out of the mahimahi. I couldn't see having Stuart disappointed twice.

     Okay, I'm Beth. I'm the troublemaker. It's like everyone has already said: we went to the fish place for dinner. I don't really like fish but it was Evelyn's birthday and that's what she wanted. She was really pleased to find Dover sole on the menu. She said she loves Dover sole. She hadn't had it for a long time.
      Stuart ordered first, but they were out of whatever it was. He looked taken aback. He said there wasn't anything else on the menu he wanted. The server suggested the special--the now infamous barbecued swordfish--if Stuart could find three others who wanted to order it with him. Stuart said all right, he'd have that and my husband said right away that he would too. He and his dad didn't have a problem with it because they both like swordfish.
     That made two. There were three of us left. I knew Evelyn wanted the sole, and it was her birthday, so that meant Stacy and I had to order the swordfish.
     It wasn't that Stacy didn't know what was expected of her. She's lived in this family all 23 years of her life; I've only been in it for three. Well, it's true, Stacy, it was expected of you.
     Anyway, Stacy ordered scampi.
     That left Evelyn and me. Evelyn said she'd have swordfish. It shouldn't have surprised me. The family always jokes about Evelyn being the one who volunteers to sit behind the post supporting the grandstand at sporting events.
     Three down, one to go--and I was the only person left. I didn't want swordfish, barbecued or any other way. I don't even like fish. As I hesitated, I felt everyone waiting.
     "I guess I'll have the swordfish," I said. They all relaxed and closed their menus. The server wrote it down. Just as he turned away, I burst out, "No, wait! I don't want swordfish, I want the steak!"
     You would have thought I'd just announced I was a transvestite. All four faces turned toward me, not accusingly, just incredulous. No one in the family had ever done this before. I felt like a deer caught in four pairs of headlights.
     I don't remember if anyone said anything or not. It seemed like the place broke into pandemonium, that people were telling me, "But you can't do that! Stuart can't get the swordfish without four people!"
     Maybe all the accusations were in my own head but they were deafening. Stuart's eyes were blank with bewilderment, Stacy's rolled in disgust, Tom's darted back and forth from face to face. Evelyn busied herself rearranging the cloth napkin in her lap.
     I didn't feel any of the satisfaction or relief, if not triumph, I expected to feel. What I felt was something very different, something more unpleasant even than the conflict I'd known a minute before. I felt as if I'd been caught urinating on the oriental carpet in the foyer.
     "Evelyn doesn't want the swordfish either," I found myself saying desperately, "and it's her birthday. I think she should be able to have what she wants on her birthday."
     I don't know what I expected; maybe I thought Evelyn would smile and say, "She's right. To be honest, I'd really rather have the sole."
     But she didn't. She said hastily, placing a small, manicured hand on mine, "That's all right, Beth. I don't really care what kind of fish I have. All the fish is good here."
     So there I was, hanging out to dry. I suppose Stuart could have said, "Oh, I didn't realize you didn't really want the swordfish, Evelyn. Don't just order it on my account. I'll get something else." Or Stacy could have said, "If three of you are willing to order the swordfish, I'll be the fourth. I can get the scampi some other time." Or Tom could have said, "It's Mom's birthday, Dad. Let her get what she wants."
     But none of them did.
     I looked at all those stunned faces and I said, "Never mind. I'll have the swordfish." Tom asked, "Are you sure it's what you want?" I looked at my lap, my face burning, and said, "Yes."
     I'm sure the painful silence until our food came was in my head, too. The server brought our orders and after a minute Tom said it first. "How's your swordfish, Mom? My piece is kind of dry." Stuart and Evelyn agreed. "It's awfully dry."
     I didn't say a word.

(First published in Inklings, Summer, 1994)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

STORY: When I Named the Kangaroo

     "The woman took of its fruit and ate and tried to give some to her husband also but he would not eat. . ."

     "Adam?" The soft voice came again, a little less confidently.
     Before his eyes the purple fruit trembled, its surface slick with dew as she held it out to him. Shiny trails of juice ran down her hand to her elbow and purple pulp was under her fingernails.
     "It's all right," she urged. "I ate some. It was good." Her wide, earnest expression contrasted with the absurd goatee dripping from her chin to the ground.
     With an effort, he raised his stunned eyes from the fruit in her extended hand, pulling hers into focus. "But God said--"
     "He said it was good. And it is."
     "Everything He made is good," he agreed, seeing behind her the great leafed dome, weighed down with purple spheres. He became aware of the breeze softly riffling its branches, bees purring among its white blossoms. "But the fruit is not for us, Eve."
     "It tastes good," she insisted. "If it tastes good, He would want us to eat it, wouldn't He?"
     He reached out to touch her sticky hand. "Why, Eve? Why would you want it, when we have so much?"
     She drew her hand from his and took another bite without speaking.
     "He gives us mangoes and papaya and pineapple. We have aspens that tremble in the lightest air and sunlight through maple leaves. We have the smell of the moist earth after a rain and of jasmine at twilight and a thousand shades of color reflected in the sea at sunset. Only this tree, only this fruit, He has forbidden us. Is that so much to ask?"
     "But knowledge is good," she persisted. "What is wrong with knowing good and evil and deciding for ourselves?" She turned and jerked more fruit from the tree, leaving the pits, coated with shredded fruit, dangling from their stems. "Have some!"
     "We don't need that knowledge," he reasoned. "If something is good, He will tell us. Why would we want to decide for ourselves when the One who is wise can decide for us? You have done what He said brings death and I am afraid for you."
     "You are stupid," she said, making up the word. "Maybe death is good, how do you know? Besides, we won't die. Look at me! I didn't."
     The implications of this were too much for him.
     "The Lord said--"
     Her eyes, her outstretched hand, waited. In the silence, she could not say, "He was wrong," and Adam would not think it. He turned away.
     Then she was angry.
     "Don't you believe me?" she argued. "I tell you, I ate some and nothing happened."
     "I believe you," he said uncomfortably.
     Because he didn't know what else to do, he covered his ears and ran away.
     Then she pouted. She would not speak to him and when he brought her the choicest of the sugar cane and the artichoke, as he always did, she flipped her head away and gave her attention instead to a lamb, crooning over it and scratching its back through its thick wool.
     For the first time, he couldn't understand her.
     When he heard the rustle of day settling into dusk, he was relived to see the Lord coming toward him as He did every evening.
     "Where is she?" asked the Lord.
     Adam looked around. Eve had crouched behind a sleeping emu, trying to pull some of its feathers up around her neck.
     "Leave me alone!" she shouted defensively. "I don't like You anymore!"
     "Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat?" The Lord's words were thunder but His look was rain.
     "The serpent told me to," she said, her voice loud and tense. She avoided His gaze. "He said my eyes would be opened and I would be wise, like You." She stood up abruptly, looked the Lord in the face and hurled her words at Him.
     "The serpent was right! You said I'd die--but I didn't die! I am wise! I'm like You! I can decide for myself what is good and what is evil. You wanted to keep me from knowing, didn't You? But I have the right to know!" Her eyes narrowed. "Yes, I ate the fruit--and I'm glad I did!"
     The Lord turned to Adam. And you? He asked with His eyes.
     Adam gazed into the Lord's face. "You told us not to," he said simply.
     Turning back to Eve, the Lord said, "Because you have disobeyed, I will put alienation between you and your husband. You will hunger for his love and never be filled by it. You will long for his touch and never permit it."
     The woman looked at the ground as He spoke, her arms crossed in front of her body. Now her voice was barely audible but edged with resentment. "Why didn't You tell me I was naked?"
     Without answering, the Lord took the lamb Eve had been petting and with a motion wrung its neck. He severed the woolly pelt from its warm body and held it out. She shoved it away. He waited a moment but she kept a guarded distance. The Lord gently laid the skin on the grass. Then He was gone.
     Night was falling and Adam felt an unaccustomed chill. He saw Eve reach out slowly, shivering, and pull the skin to her. She wrapped herself in it and hunkered down in misery. Adam went toward his wife and started to squat beside her but she jerked away, tightening her hold on the sheepskin.
     "Cover yourself!" she said accusingly. "You are naked, too!"
     "I am just as the Lord made me," he said, trying to reassure her, "and He called it good."
     She covered her ears, as he had earlier. With the love and closeness he always felt toward her, something new was stirring inside him, a sadness. He wanted to take her into his arms and hold her against him but when he reached out, she knocked his arm aside. His bewilderment increased.
     He sat silent for a few minutes, darting glances at her now and then as she continued to squeze herself tight and motionless. Then, not knowing exactly why, he said, "When I named the kangaroo, it wasn't you."
     She didn't respond. He tried again. "None of the animals was right for me. The Lord put me to sleep and formed you and you were right." Again he stretched out a hand toward her.
     Instantly she seized it and bit him hard on the thumb, then scrambled to her feet holding the sheepskin to her and ran from him.
     In the darkness he could not see the blood but the bite hurt. When she was gone, his confusion gradually subsided. The donkey had bitten him once, when he offered it grain, but it didn't mean to. The breeze in the tops of the palms was familiar and comforting. The lion was rounding up its family with little approving grunts and from across the lake a parrot screeched a last goodnight.
     Despite the heaviness in his heart, these things soothed Adam. Surely she would come back tomorrow and everything would be all right
    It was good, it had to be good. That was how the Lord had made it. He curled up in a shallow indentation he had scraped in the dirt but it was a long time before he fell asleep.
     The next morning he did not see the woman at all. She did not eat with him. They did not laugh together over the coyote cubs tumbling with their mother. They did not collect dewdrops from the giant pandanus leaves and let them slide into each other's mouths. They did not rub each other's backs or comb each other's hair with sticks or watch the shadows make patterns across each other's bodies as they rested lazily after making love. Adam was restless and the garden seemed lonely again, as it had before she was created.
     In the late afternoon he saw her by the river. She had fastened the lamb's skin to her body somehow and she was washing her hands. When she saw him she threw stones at him.
     When the Lord came that evening, Adam was glad to see Him. He tried to tell the Lord how he felt. "Feeling like this can't be good, can it, Lord?"
     "It is what has happened that is not good," said the Lord.
     "I don't like feeling like this," said Adam bluntly.
     "I know," the Lord told him. "I hurt too, Adam."
     Adam burst out, "Isn't there anything we can do?"
     "Only if she lets us."
     For several days and nights Eve avoided them but sometimes he caught her watching him. Whenever she realized he was looking at her, she would throw stones at him. Her hair was no longer beautiful. She had let it become tangled and matted.
     One night he found part of a vine tied to a branch that overhung the ravine. Looking down, he saw her body, pale in the moonlight, lying crumpled at the base of the cliff.
     He climbed down to her and removed the piece of vine that was wrapped tightly around her neck. He held her and sang to her and rocked her all night and all the next day until the Lord came again.
     Then he looked up and asked in distress, "And this, Lord--surely this can't be good?"
     "No," said the Lord with great sorrow. "This is not good. It is what I told you about, Adam. This is death."
     "When will it be over?"
     The Lord did not answer. Adam found the Lord's face blurring before him. He shook the water from his eyes and looked up again. The Lord was stooping down and there was moisture in His eyes, too. He took Adam, still holding Eve, into His strong arms and held them both tightly without speaking and the two wept together for a long time.
     And so Adam lived forever in the garden alone and the Lord God walked with him in the cool of the day. But no helper was ever found for him.


(First published in Inklings, Fall, 1995)