It was one of those country farmhouse mornings where the chores I’d been doing half-assed caught up with me. There have been houseflies buzzing around, and I’ve been after them with a vacuum cleaner when they land on the windowsill, but you can’t get them all and you can’t even swat them out of the air with the hose when you lose patience trying to suck them up. That morning the trash was filled with wriggling maggots when I opened it, and, yes, I did scream. Maybe it was just like 5 or 6 maggots, but the one I crushed with my fingers when I lifted the liner out of the can? That’s the last maggot I ever hope to touch. Certainly the last maggot I ever hope to squish. So while the dogs were out doing their business and the water was on for my tea, I took the trashcan out to the yard to rinse it with the hose.
After hosing out the can and trying to think about anything but maggots (at which point I could think of nothing but maggots), I did a little watering. And thought about maggots. I hate growing vegetables and especially dislike weeding and watering, so I do the watering only in the event of an emergency. Sometimes the emergency is noticing that something is dying, like The Graduate’s jalapeño plants that he transplanted from our over-planted garden plot. The poor jalapeños are not doing well in their pots, and are always thirsty and sad.
Anyway, I was also baking bread that morning, the sourdough having spent the night in the fridge. I’ve done enough loaves now that I no longer need the book or the recipe at all. I have been having good results doing the dough the afternoon before, shaping it before I go to bed and having it accomplish the final rise overnight in the fridge. It’s a small, compact, gooey dough mass that goes in the oven, but then it rises in the oven, and gets the big holes I’ve been working for. I’m fussy about the oven settings now, too, preheating to 505F, baking in my biggest heavy enamel pan with the lid on for 5 minutes (because this is supposed to create a humid environment), lowering it to 475F for another 15 minutes, removing the lids then and finishing at 470F for 25-30 minutes. Maybe I’m fussing too much with the temperature adjustments. I will keep experimenting.
While the bread baked, I fed the dogs, and stopped thinking about maggots. The kitchen warmed up and I noticed it was quiet and this meant the AC was off. Did the circuit breaker blow again? What the hell? I went down into the basement and there discovered that the circuit breaker was fine, actually. I guess I turned off the AC last night before I went to bed; which made sense.
Down in this basement are the boxes of Xmas stuff and out-of-season sporting gear and empty suitcases and dusty exercise equipment and boxes of books and boxes of CDs that were stored in the basement of our Seattle house. I had forgotten the maggots, and headed back up the stairs to turn the AC back on and wait for the oven to beep, but there was a chair down there and the sight of it stopped me on the stairs. The chair in the basement is dark, and wood, and used to have a woven cane back. It came from my mother’s house, when she died and we split up her things and took them to our homes, my brothers and stepfather and I. The chair in the basement had been in my middle child’s room in Seattle and certainly spent more time having things like shiny capes for dress-ups and sand-filled dragons from the Pike Place Market and sparkle gel pens without their caps and empty salt-water taffy wrappers piled on it than it did having a kid sit quietly in it and do homework. The chair in the basement’s legs are strong and intact, but its back is now broken. The chair was broken in the move.
I set its value at like $200, and made a claim to the company that provided the insurance for our move. I do not recall if they paid for it in full. Since the chair sits idly in the basement it’s obvious I don’t need the chair. The chair would not be mine if my mother were not dead. The chair would not be broken if we had not moved. The chair could probably be fixed, but certainly would cost more to fix than it was worth. It needs to stay in the basement, out of everyday view. It’s mildly upsetting to see it. I neither want to fix it nor throw it away. Chairs like this are why we need basements.
Later, it became the hottest day of summer so far. I stepped outside and the heat hit me from all sides, stronger than normal, wetter than expected. It was the kind of roasting heat that seems impossible, unreal, temporary, like how hot it is when you first get in a car that’s been parked in the sun, only more damp. It was heat that seemed manipulated for optimal cooking conditions, so the bread will achieve a perfect crust. It was applied heat, not of us but on us. It was heat less like what happened in today’s weather and more like the arrival of a temporary, oppressive condition, but something that was being done to us, by a large, powerful, unnatural force, so great that it could obliterate me and the porch and the kitchen and the house with the swipe of a big, impatient hand, ready to throw us away and start over.
I stood on the porch marveling at the heat. When was the rain going to come? I could see no clouds at all from where I stood. The day before, we had been threatened by thunder all afternoon, but when it came down to it all the rain we got amounted to a few, brief, noisy, celebrated drops–drops that I found disappointing in their small number.
And then I heard the slightest “pip!” and the layer of sky above me up to the height of the roof and a bit beyond was alive with birds, mostly swallows, their unusual tail points briefly visible as they darted and rose through the air. It was a number of birds more than I could count, and though I couldn’t even see what they were eating, they must have been eating a lot of it. Then they all rested for a few seconds on the roof, and went at it again.
I went inside.
On the shady side of the house the roof was liberally peppered with resting swallows and the old dog Cherry stood at the bank of windows up at the top of stairs, her tags jingling with excitement, her ears pricked, her tip-toed stance lively and shifting with the slightest movement of the birds outside. There were so many of them, blue with rust-colored chests, and those funny little u-shaped tails, with two points. They seemed to do a lot of resting, and then a lot of flying about, diving and dashing into the air. Cherry whined just a bit, under her breath, like she was whispering a secret to me, knowing as a good hunting dog does that being quiet would prolong her delight in watching. Schwartz joined her, his uncanny cat sense telling him when there’s something good to do. But he hung back, having been scolded all summer by the loud squeaks of titmice. He had learned to stay where he could see and watch but not alarm the performers.