Marshall is a pirate. He has two teeth that I can see, and his bones jut out the back of his t-shirt and everywhere he walks, he walks uphill and I have to not stare too much, I have to try, because he has the leatheriest skin all grooven and brown and it makes me stare. I wonder how old he is. I know he can't read or write, and he pokes at hornet nests and calls them nasty little buggers, and he brings me outside to show me the papery remains, papery remains everywhere. Look. The torn-down houses of nasty little buggers alongside paint flecks in crabgrass, mounds of it, slivers of rotted wood with no bite left at all, the collateral damage of creeping meadow on hundred-year-old shingles. Marshall smiles wide and laughs. It's what he does when he says hello or goodbye. I'll be back tomorrow.
He did the first new patch today. Not so much buttery, like it looked on the stick. More like butter-coloured Crisco, the stuff my mom curses at when she buys it accidentally. Engineered with chemicals to look wholesome, as if shortening needs to be.
"That's Some Yellow!" said Marshall in that south shore way, emphasis on not one word but all three equally, going up at the end and then down again, amused.
My house will be the colour of butter-coloured Crisco.
I fell in love with a baby and I couldn't figure it.
It wasn't the highly practiced detached indifference of the past five years: yeah cute whatever. He could have been mine, you know those babies? The ones who look at you all still and goggle-eyed and they could have been yours. I held him under the guise of helping his mother but I wasn't helping his mother. I was helping myself. I looked over my shoulder and they were all busy so I put my nose to the top of his head for a sniff. Just to check. Yes. Ggrrrmph and I felt a string of drool ooze down across one knuckle, then another. Raaaaaaagh.
We swang lazy in the shade and looked at stuff. Things got really quiet and we swang some more, his little heft, weeble-wobble, sticky neck, slimy fist. Warmth.
I realized just then that I've been avoiding babies ever since I last had one. I stand ten feet back and put on the right face until I forgot something in the car or I'll do the dishes or Hey oh yeah that thing over there. I didn't know I'd been evading them, all of them, until that swing, when I realized I finally wasn't. Then, like flashcards:
I am finished.
I'd be finished even if I didn't want to be finished.
I don't not want to be finished.
Even if I wanted to not want to be finished, I'm old.
I'm separated. Literally come-apart. I'm back at beginnings and endings but I'm old. There are no more chances. I'm getting leathery. Everyone else is married and fifteen years younger than me and besides, I have an exploding uterus and I don't want a baby anyway yeah cute whatever.
Do you ever feel like you're actively trying to convince yourself of everything? Positive, negative, dubious, righteous. Impulsive, protective, reactive. Everything feels like a front designed to protect or conceal something that's fundamentally misguided. All of my selves are charlatans. Nothing feels like the truth.
An infuriatingly correct Buddhist says Exactly. Nothing Is The Truth and I throw a wet dishcloth at her head but she ducks because she's enquickened.
I used to run away from babies. Now, I run away from married people. They travel in packs of two, four, six. I'm always odd. I usually forget something in the car.
My dad's hammer, shingling, and Marshall scrapes and paints. Scrape-scrape-scrape. Knock-knock. I pull weeds and make what I can, and give it to them. It's a fixing-up of the only front that makes sense, and thanks to them, it will be yellow.