The sky last night was a bolt of dark wash denim, the selvage hugging one horizon, the fold the other. And the stars, oh, so many stars, did not twinkle so much as glow, did not shine so much as radiate, radiate like ice crystals with a kind of negative energy. I lay on my back on the deck, the boards like extra ribs pushing into me at regular intervals, and stared up into the darkness interrupted only occasionally by airplanes so small they could have been fireflies.
The Big Dipper was upside down, emptied of whatever it had held, and I felt the same way. The past few days had moved too fast, required too much, offered too little. The sounds of strident voices ricocheted through my head and the weight of impatience, uncertainty and misunderstanding shortened my breath. My eyes were constantly darting, never lighting, avoiding concentration. My heart had been rubbed sandpaper raw.
I know what to do when that happens - get very still and listen - and that's what I was doing. At least trying.
In the branch the frogs' voices sounded like an old screen door incessantly opening and closing, the rusty springs stretching and contracting in uneven cadence. Somewhere nearby a small animal moved in the brittle brush left where Daddy burned off the edges of the field. The petunias hanging from the shepherd's crooks swayed pendulously in the breeze, their flimsy petals fluttering in the moonlight like a coquette's eyelashes.
I forced my breaths to grow longer, deeper. I stared at the sky trying to make out constellations, wondered about the people who first saw the pictures, named them, made up their stories. And as I wondered, my thoughts wandered back a few days to a scene I'd meant to remember and had almost forgotten.
I'd been to town to pick up a few things for the yard - something to fill in the hole in the perennial bed, a basil plant (in anticipation of tomatoes), three azaleas for the spot in front of the chimney. The garden center was a busy place that afternoon, the parking lot crowded with SUVs, all being loaded with bags of mulch, stacks of landscape stones and pots of ornamental grasses.
Heading for the exit, I found myself behind an older model pick-up truck - no extra doors or wide tires or pin-stripes. The driver appeared to be in his late 60s. He leaned out of the window to glance at the cargo and I could see that his hair, though stippled with some gray, was still as dark as his skin. There was a woman in the truck with him and I safely assumed, I think, that she was his wife. The cargo bed was empty save for one item - a yellow rose bush. Pushed up against the cab for stability, its long canes danced with the movement of the truck over the asphalt.
I couldn't help thinking of them in comparison to the other people I'd encountered in the store, the ones who live in subdivisions with restrictive covenants, the ones who read Martha Stewart Living and sketch out garden plans on graph paper, the ones - like me - who use weed fabric and landscape pins.
Traffic on the highway was heavy, all four lanes pulsing with vehicles moving east and west. He would be careful, I knew. Careful because he remembered when this was a two-lane highway and wished it still was. Careful because he was transporting things of importance. Careful because he had reached an age at which he knew that care must be taken with everything.
When a break opened, the truck slowly moved forward over three lanes to turn left and, as it did, both of them - husband and wife - looked back to check on the rose. It was a moment of such tenderness I thought I would cry.
Stretched out on the deck in the darkness, I can see his strong hands dig the hole for the rose bush and gently place it in the ground and I can see her standing behind him, arms crossed and head tilted in a satisfied pose. I can hear him grunt as he rises and brushes the dirt from his hands on the legs of the pants she will wash and dry and fold. I can see them walk inside together as the sun dissolves into the selvage of the day.
And I look up and see two stars, equally bright and so close together it seems as though the Big Dipper must have emptied them into the sky in the same scoop.