Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Musings, 24 May 2014

Good morning,

I've made my way through a sudden downpour and now sit in a Brookside coffee shop, an Americano on one side, a dish of fruit on the other, and the paper, unread, in front of me.   My neighbor's houseguest dashed into the place a few minutes behind me.  We traded smiles; then I retreated to the keyboard.  I'm  hiding from the day, hiding from the machinations of my life and even though he's a perfectly nice fellow, I'm not up to small talk.

The rain soothes me.

On a porch far away from here, a lifetime ago, I sat in a rocking chair and listened to the rain hammer on a flat roof.  Springtime on the Buffalo River, Arkansas, 1988.  I was alone: my husband of the time on tour, summer visitors not yet arrived.  Below me, the river swelled and rushed.  Trees hung down to its dangerous waters, dancing, teasing.  The wind rose and the water fell and I sat, in my rocker, watching it all.

I had nothing to do but watch.

In those days, I could still pretend that I might possibly succeed as a small-town lawyer.  I had survived the brutal mountain winter, with its stark sky and its frozen pipes.  I had wangled my way to a contract with the county. In a town with four lawyers and as many government law jobs, each of us had one.  As the newest arrival I got the worst by default but I didn't care; it paid enough to cover our rent.  I sat once a week in the county council meetings and tried to keep them from doing anything criminal.  They had much to fear; the last county judge now sat in a federal penitentiary,  victim of a zealous attorney general.  The word from Little Rock:  Don't use county equipment to grade private roads.  His wife ran for the balance of his term and lost, only one of two elections, ever, in which I voted for a Republican -- her opponent.

On this day, this spring storm morning, I isolated myself with bleak deliberation.  I could have gone somewhere.  I could have driven to the mountains and sat in any one of a dozen kitchens where the tea would be freshly-brewed from broad leaves and the pastries rolled on a board just hours before my arrival.  I sat, instead, and watched the water pour from the side of our house and run down the hill, to the river, to its swollen banks.  A notebook lay idle on a small metal table beside me, my pen resting cross-wise on a blank page.

A small brown critter scurried along the ground below the house.  I leaned towards it, wondering why it had ventured from whatever hole would shelter it.  At the same time, someone knocked on the door and I jumped.  I wasn't used to visitors.  I hesitated.  I was far enough back in the house that my presence wouldn't be obvious.  But in a moment, for unclear reasons, I rose from the chair and made my way back into the house, listening to see if the knock came again, trying to determine whether to go to the front door or the side entrance which led to the room we used as an office.

I opened the front door and saw a man standing a few feet away, about to rap for a second time on the other door.  I cleared my throat, warning him, gently signalling my presence.  Still, his shoulders tensed; he hadn't expected me to appear behind him.

"Can I help you," I asked, in my quiet Northern voice.

He turned and I got my first look at him.  He wore a clean, pressed, but thread-bare shirt; unshaven, nonetheless his hair had been slicked back with the purposeful sweep of a wet comb.  His rough workpants looked washed but terminably filthy, with engine oil and grime that even the most diligent  housewife could never remove.  But he smelled clean.  Behind him, beyond the metal roof on which the rain pounded, the town of Jasper sat silently outside the hedge which rimmed our yard.

"I'm looking for that lady lawyer, the one from Missouri." He met my cadence with his Southern drawl, hitting the end of Missouri with a broadened "a".  I smiled.  I couldn't help but smile; and his face relaxed just the smallest bit when I did.

I stepped back, beckoning him to my living room even though my husband and I had agreed that clients would come only through the separate entrance.  I couldn't bring myself to force this man to wait while I came around to the door on which he had knocked.  I couldn't bring city manners to this country encounter.  "I'm the lawyer," I told him, and invited him to sit.

He perched on the edge of a chair and folded his hands, gnarled hands, a working  man's hands.  I offered him a cup of coffee and watched as he wrapped those hands around it and took a long sip of its warmth.  When I saw the set of his jaw ease with the pleasure of the coffee's taste, I said, softly, "What can I do for you?"

He carefully placed the coffee cup on the table beside his chair.  He raised his eyes then, to look at me, and I suddenly felt that I had never been studied with such unassuming  clarity.  A moment passed; two; more.  And then he spoke, and began to tell me a long, complicated story about his land and the ownership of it, of a debt he owed and had not paid, and the impending futility of his spring planting with a bank hovering nearby waiting to take it all from him.

I raised my hand and he stopped speaking, abruptly.  His eyes tensed and he put his hand up to match mine.  "No, no," I hastened.  "I just want to get a pad to take notes."  I stood, walked back out onto the porch, and snatched up my notebook and pen.  I returned to the living room.  He had also risen and stood by his chair.  I gestured but he wouldn't sit down again until I had done so.  When we both had settled, I said to him, in the gentlest of tones, "Start over, from the beginning, and let's see what we can figure out together."  And so, he did.

The rain outside the coffee shop window has slowed.  Pools of clear water stand on the empty patio.  Cars pass and now and then, a tiny bird makes its way to a nest in the eaves of the building.  My cup is empty.  My fruit dish, likewise.  The tables of people have shifted over the hour, and I don't see my neighbor's houseguest though he might be in one of the easy chairs beyond my view.  It's cold.  I wonder, idly, if I'm entitled to a refill.  I glance at the headline but it could be any headline, on any day, in any of the last twenty years.    Outside, a group of runners pass in their drenched T-shirts and their squishing shoes.  I smile, and let my hands fall idle.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.