By Danielle Dutton
When Haywood gets home I show him my neck, how it rises out of my dress, and how even my new necklace bumps against it. He has to stop and think about that. He says, “Dear,” and fingers the beads without looking at them. I serve him from the left-hand side. I serve steak with mashed potatoes and salad, and then I serve several prepackaged puddings. When I remove the plates I do it from the right; I shake myself when this is done. I shake from head to foot like a duck. I shake in lavender ruffles that frame my face. It’s important to realize that I shake like a piper-grass in the woods. I shake near the kitchen and then I shake by the bathroom door. When I shake I am dainty and tranquil. I shake without sentiment or doubt. I shake and am somewhat disconcerting when I shake because I shake for ten or fifteen years. Then I scent myself with leftover lemon slices. I stand in the kitchen and look out at the yard. Giant blackbirds take over the front yard. They take over the backyard and exist like obvious symbols on the picnic table. They situate themselves for purposes of leisure, or for purposes of establishing positions and seats of power. Haywood says “Wake up” as a glass plate of pickles tumbles from the table to the floor. Then a letter arrives, which indicates that Mrs. Nelson will host a party where members of her family will perform their talents, but on the way there Haywood and I get sidetracked from street to street. We are eager to. We stop the car and move to a bench in the park. We carry on. After this I acquire a faint blush, like a cunning sportsman. I pile flowers on my head. Haywood touches me to indicate he admires and is entertained by my pleasing form. It’s true he is entertained by it. So I travel around in the fragrance of a very hazy day. I walk the sidewalk passing garbage cans and dogs and fresh plots of dirt. Then I return home to toasted oats on the kitchen counter, a crystal vase with dirty water and fading flower stems, fallen petals, fallen pistils, a blue and white plate, a blue and white creamer, two yellow cherry tomatoes, and a glass pitcher of juice. I stand up. I say, “Pluck!” I yell at the cat through an open window as he tears across the yard chasing squirrels. My affection for the squirrels was born years ago in a grove of elms on the edge of town. The smallest squirrel in the world followed me down a short section of path then stood on my shoe. Today Haywood carries several dried cereals in prepackaged individual servings—an indicator of the vast machinery of breakfast. Each box is lined with waterproof waxed paper so he can eat breakfast right out of the box on the way to work. Meanwhile, through elaborate codes and verbal specifications, I articulate as precisely as possible that the fruit I have bought is eternally ripe and high in other benefits for the eater (purple grapes, green apples, red apples). One kid says, “Add more water.” Another kid says, “Bombs away.” The next day, I carry a sleeping child and a piece of fruit to a woman on a bench beside a dog. We eat macaroni salad and remember all the things we’ve ever said. We talk about what other people have said, and then we talk about particular people, and other people, and people we remember and what they do. Haywood is laughing. He never rises so high as when neighborhood ladies worship his passionless form of beauty (cocktail onions, three glasses, ice cubes, etc.). In the late afternoon, men present or absent themselves. The circumstances vary to fit different customs or hours. One man might be in a house, while one might not be there for fifty years. One man might look at two women in one house, and another man might walk into a room and explode. We apologize to each other and affirm it with something that resembles dancing. Then the smells in the neighborhood reach a peak of perfection: meat and sauces, fresh cut grasses, hotdogs and stacks of pancakes. The book says, “They did not look like conquerors.” Simultaneously, there are other enhancements for domestic weekends, for male and female adults, for predominately male experiences, for homey environments and moments involving mirrors and track lighting and glances that “flirt,” or glances that “convey anger” or a “spatial sense of time.” Seen from above, there’s an attractive pattern to our expansion. The streets form a kind of social meditation, with cul-de-sacs for emphasis, for music and drama. We have a distinctive ecology involving cows, furniture, farms, real estate, azaleas, fires, corn, curtains, dust, passion, malefactors, milk, meat, cherries, wasps, mayors, pipefitters, fences. Still, the city resists and defines us. It’s like one of the last legends, a ritual casting off, a sloughing. A highway connects us to the northwestern edge-towns—forcefully and swiftly it turns out. So we sit on the couch and drink cocktails with umbrellas and are strongly on this one side of taxation, with an emphasis on judges, unpleasant violent crime, serenity, the good life, biographies of famous leaders, science fiction, and marijuana. I say, “Thanks for coming.” Then I say, “Sakes alive!” then “Mendicant!” Meanwhile, the cat tolerates my presence in his tiny sphere of physicality and the microwave disturbs all convention. I live dangerously; I stand in front of the microwave and stare at food revolving. It’s harder to stand still than to tell a story. But by effacing all other operations I may come to something important, standing here. Haywood passes me on his way to the garage. I hear the door close and watch his car move down the street. A lot of these dilemmas aren’t ever solved. They’re like rotting fruit concealed beneath their own sweet smell.