“No, watch me again. I think you’re putting the second one in the wrong side. Look.”
I looked his direction and did not find his body; I saw green grass, the line of an asphalt road as it met the neighbor’s cement driveway, bushes in various shades of green, and a chipped white-painted mailbox.
A breeze blew over my cheeks and I closed my eyes to breathe, when I opened them again I saw him there suddenly, his hands holding up the thin wooden strips as he modeled for me how to weave them together. “Start this way,” his eyes met mine and I saw what I’d seen my entire life: a safe place, a mind that knew mine like I did, a warm and soothing sight. He pushed a thin strip of wood through a space in the weave he’d already completed and kept moving it as I watched.
I looked down at my own project and untangled my last move. “Ok.” I said, inclining my head toward him but not meeting his gaze, “I go in here.” I moved the strip into a loop made by the finished portion of my basket, “Then, this way–”
He nodded, I felt it as sunlight in my soul; he leaned toward me, I felt it as the swing beneath us moved.
“I go that way– then, around this way?” The wood felt soft, it bent and resisted simultaneously between my fingertips as I pushed it along.
“Yeah, yes! Exactly that.” His cello-toned voice said over my shoulder.
My body relaxed. I leaned forward so that my elbows rested on my knees, I stared at the partially completed basket in my hands and saw past it. A brownish stain on the painted cement beneath my feet stood out to me and I wondered: had it been there the whole time? Was it there before? And did it now remain after?
When I turned to face him, he wasn’t there. The porch swing was empty beside me, a faded navy pillow smooshed in the corner and the free end of the swing wagging awkwardly as I anchored the other end to the ground with my feet.
Oblivious to the risk of disrupting the swing’s balance, he’d leaned back and crossed his legs. He reached over to the ledge of the balustrade and took his coffee mug off to have a sip before letting his eyes return to his work. I liked his shoulders, the way they looked under the black, long-sleeved shirt, and I liked the freckle on his left hand right above his thumb. It was peaceful just to sit beside him.
Birds chirped and sang nearby, they sounded happy to me, though they could have been arguing with one another or complaining about something: the weather, the sudden stop of the rain, the distance between sweets spots to find worms. If they were complaining, it was no better than I had done. Enjoying only casually what would eventually be erased from my choice of pleasures.
It was a colorful early September morning. In just a few hours, my childhood companion would be twenty and Mother had let us make a cake together in her precious kitchen. In typical childhood buddy fashion, one of us was better at executing detailed directions, reading and following a recipe, the other at getting the direct work done quickly. I had been the measurer and mixer, the one to wait for it to finish and cool, but he had been the pan-flour-er and the decorator, deftly piling frosting and spreading it over the circular layers of chocolate sponge as if the first try were the thousandth.
We made a perfect team.
“This is cool.” I said as we swung there together in the morning light. “It reminds me of when we make bracelets at the beach– except you’re better at this and I’m better at the tiny knots stuff.” I threw him a smile.
He swallowed another sip of coffee, “Yeah.” He said in a voice so much like my own, I knew the feeling it held without having to read his body language or his face.
I thought of all the long car rides, how we never had to look at one another – it was easy for the driver to keep an eye on the road – because of that oneness of mind. How many hours had we spent working side by side on anything and everything we could think of? Simple pleasures like this weaving business, challenges of all sorts like puzzles and reading books aloud.
I let my eyes wander back to the empty swing seat beside me. The navy pillow smooshed in the corner was severely weather damaged and neglected. I reached out and pressed it with my fingertips just enough to find it wet with dew. That sad, wet pillow sat smooshed into the seat counting each sunrise it endured without him.
I leaned over the pillow suddenly and said in hushed tones, “Understanding can either be a knife or a sheath. If I figure it out, I’m not sure I’ll tell you. It might be worse to know.”
With another glance out over the familiar yard, I saw a red bird sitting in a bush and remembered that the birds would continue to perch there and the sun would continue come touch the earth every morning. I jumped up, turned around to the door and went in that I might put my hands to the things I could change.