In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Church is over and you are standing on the lawn after shaking the preacher’s hand, standing there in the sun with the cicadas going, and you remember this house. A house with all the paint worn off and a rusty tin roof. The noon sun beat down on the bare, gray dirt where you stood, and the cicadas droned, and you heard growls coming from the shadows of the house and knew the house was full of mad dogs, and you stood there, the sun beating everything down, the cicadas making that screaming silence that goes on and on.
Then she is walking across the lawn toward you in her silky blue dress. An old woman now, but more handsome than ever with her pure white hair up in a bun, her smile, the little blue vein in her forehead. And you smile because she has blessed your life, and you want to tell her that you were just feeling like you used to feel sometimes when you were a boy — sort of overwhelmed by being alive, stopped cold by the sun, the cicadas calling you, suddenly aware of your existence.
She comes up to you, some of the loose strands of her hair curly at her ears, the little blue vein standing out, and says, “Matt, don’t you have sense enough to get out of the sun on a day like this?”
She takes your hand and you walk to the car, smiling and saying things to people.
A middle-aged woman leans in the car window and says, “Daddy, you and Mama are coming to eat with me today. Joe’s gonna grill two big T-bones for ya.”
You start to say something, but, before you do, the women start to chatter across you. You stare out the windshield at the sky and the white marble tombstones in the sun.
It never happened. You never really stood in the front yard of that particular house on a hot summer day. It was a childhood dream about being dazzled by life and about something just out of reach. A dream that sometimes comes back when you stand in the sun on a summer day and are overcome by the stillness.
Both your big-knuckled old hands grip the steering wheel as you drive through air that puddles on the asphalt, shimmers and rises up in waves.
“My goodness, Matt, you’re driving so slow. I could walk home quicker.”
The house is cool from being shut up all morning. You go into the bedroom and sit down in a cane-bottom chair and take off your shoes, and it feels good to get out of them, and you stare down at your feet and wiggle your toes and remember that when you were a kid, you only wore shoes four months out of the year, and you ran barefoot through briar-filled woods.
She comes in talking about how hot it already is and how much hotter it will get and starts changing clothes. Then she stops and looks at you and asks if you’re feeling OK, and you assure her that you feel fine, just fine.
You want to sit there and let your feet air out, but she will ask if you are sure you are OK, so you take off your suit and say, “That was a nice sermon the preacher preached.”
Sitting at the dresser, in her slip, taking the pins out of her hair and combing it, she comments on the sermon and what happened in her Sunday-school class.
You remember the first house the two of you lived in, put a hundred dollars down on it instead of going on a honeymoon. Sort of like the mad-dog house only with pretty yellow curtains in the windows and flowers in the yard and in pots on the porch, and you are lying on the bed next to the window and the sundown has turned the room red and near that window is a whippoorwill calling, and you are there in bed with your hands behind your head, and she walks in, naked and blushing at her own audacity and unbelievably beautiful, with a bowl of strawberries, and walks slowly toward the bed, and you’re young and busting at the seams with life, and your hands are behind your head, and the whippoorwill is loud, and the room is red from the sundown.