The first thing I see in morning is the awful stillness — the way the air sits shallow, the way it hangs there, laying flat against the walls as if it was stale skin, as if everything around me plans on being old and staying that way for a long time. I don’t need a calendar because the air is always the same, nothing ever changes — the air sees to that — it just sits there so heavy I don’t even get dust on the books anymore. I haven’t cleaned for years. There’s no reason to.
And then the sunlight filters through thin curtains at the kitchen window, like old chrome table legs thrown into a muddy pond. It sits on the cheap furniture the same way. It doesn’t matter where you go, it comes in just to dull things, to steal color, not from envy but to say that color doesn’t belong here.
I dreamed of a house like this once, a long time ago, and it wasn’t a nice dream.
I won’t try to sound like a wise man; you’d laugh to see me now and think such a thing. I’m just an old dog in the ditch, slouching on a stump near a highway in the hills, sunk inside a flat red flannel shirt (and probably not buttoned right); I’ve lost most all my teeth, my hair is bent gray and lifeless, my skin hangs in pockets on my wrung wrinkled body. I’m not sure if my shoes are tied. I don’t remember if I’m wearing any underwear.
The children avoid me, the young people laugh at me, the elders look at me and wonder why I look so broken. I speak to no one, I see a neighbor here and there but I don’t even try to remember who they are. My land does what it wants, the green things grow where they find the room. My house is tarred and feathered — without the feathers — I’m not even sure how many rooms I have or where they all are. I shave when my beard starts to turn color, I bathe when I’m cold. I haven’t bought more than $20 worth of anything in years (at least I don’t think I have, but the money does go somewhere). I have cars and trucks scattered everywhere — and each one has a story — but I don’t remember what those stories might be. I wander over my land, and here and there I see a fast-moving tail, a quickly hid hoof, perhaps a slither in the grass. I thank them each for their movement, because I know then that the world is still alive.
And in the morning, I stagger wearily from my house all alone, upon a weathered plank that builds a pathway over the mud, and in the morning I make it to the road. And there by the stumbling fence against the mailbox, near the big rock that guards my little house from loose cars shooting down around the crook legged turn — shaped like an old man’s mind — there I make my sitting place, my chair upon the earth. And the young cannons find me — from time to time — they jeer and say “the old man is sleeping,” and I’m not sleeping. I am waiting.
I force open my eyes. I stand, I shake the tired bones within me. The ducks scatter, they haven’t seen such movement in ages. I’m actually smiling! Maybe the old house could use some pant, maybe some flowers in springtime, red would be nice. Maybe I’ll do something with the yard, maybe I’ll get my teeth fixed, find something to wear, it wouldn’t hurt to say good morning to someone.
I’m warm again, the sun doesn’t punish me when I think what I can do.
I’m walking across the plank to my house. By God, I’m going to clean something! I don’t care what’s dirty, what stinks, what shines like the face of the devil, I’m going inside and make something look different.
In a muddled moment I notice a dangling lace slipping under my shoe. Damn those things (and curse their pointed tails!). My toe digs into the plank, my body carries on forward. I stick a hand out to catch myself but all I get is mud, and I’m starting to slide.
I tumble off the plank and land in wet, soggy clay. I lift my head slowly. The ducks watch curiously but won’t come close. I think of calling out, but I know that no one would come to help. My leg aches, my empty foot fails, my arm has been bruised.
But I get up, because it’s always been me, I’ve always taken care of myself, and besides, there’s really no choice. I roll back over onto the plank and prop myself up on my elbows. Then I begin to laugh, a loud laugh, not proud at all, and a humbling laugh, meant to make me feel small.