Sudden Naps

“The blank page is the mirror image of my brain.” My friend said this and then went out in his orchard, looked for buds on his favorite Gravensteins, maybe for meaning in general, then went to the pump house and blew his brains out with the .357 Magnum he’d kept hidden there, wrapped in an oily rag. Next to the well, open like a man hole.

His wife had gone for a walk. When she got back, she ran the washing machine so she’d have some nice things to wear that evening for him—for them both. She couldn’t account for his absence till she drew hot water before starting the dishwasher. If you got the water hot, then the dishwasher didn’t have to run its electrical element to heat the water, thereby saving energy and money.

She noticed the reddish hew of rust in the water, then went through the house looking for him. He would be able to fix it. “Are you in here?” she asked, knocking once on his door, stepping into his room, expecting to see him bent over his computer, typing furiously with two fingers, focused intensely on some plot, some story that would make people laugh or cry or gasp. But he wasn’t there. She went to the stairs, said fairly softly, “Dear?”—then ascended, crossed the Delft blue wooden floor to the far end, bent to look through the finger hole in the simple door, looked through to see if he was sleeping.

This was a man who took sudden naps after asking, “Where will you be for the next half hour? Are you going to be telephoning? If so, could you do it away from the bedroom window?” He always said this with a wry smile, a look of incredulity, a look that said “I know it’s going to be hard for you to remember but I would sure love it if you’d try.”

But he wasn’t there either. The tractor was standing with its mower in the field, with no husband near it. She went around to the shop, looked in, chirped “Jim?” and kept going toward the pond. He wasn’t on the granit bench beside the pond, thinking, watching for the big bass.

She kept going up the hill. He wasn’t in the upper garden, wasn’t weeding his onions and garlic there. She went along the Cypress, checking the aluminum chaise-longue, but it was empty. She came down the hill through the field of North Coast Dry Pasture Mix he would mow again later in the summer when the grass was dry and the thistles were getting ready to give up their seeds to the wind.

He wasn’t in the orchard. She checked his car to see if he was lying with the seat back, listening to a book on tape. She crossed the road, picked her way down the path through the Eucalyptus, edging by strands of poison oak, to his writing cabin. The aluminum and green cloth cot was propped against the wall. He wasn’t there.

He must have gone for a walk—a walk that could last no longer than an hour. Back in the house, she checked the bikes. All three of them were in place. She drew drinking water from the swinging glass carboy, put the kettle on the gas flame, and looked out the kitchen window to see if she could see the blue birds—see whether they had decided to use the birdhouse Jim had put up.

She marveled at the places she had been to find him. He was a hard man to keep track of, so many interests, so many projects: writing, gardening, language learning, cabinet-making, dreaming, thinking, boats, musical instruments, and endless short stories.

She remembered the dishwasher and ran the water to get it hot. It grew warmer and warmer and, at the same time, redder and redder. Then she remembered why she had looked for him in the first place. She felt the warmth on her hands. She thought about the color. And as the water got hotter, a thought came to her and she turned the faucet to stop it, and watched until the last of the water swirled and disappeared clockwise into the drain—leaving the sink white again.

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