There are no true endings—just the bends and twists we haven't yet seen.
He was making me nervous.
The website had endless galleries of tiny homes, ingeniously designed and aesthetically pleasing, with high-end features like rosewood floors, and gorgeous bay windows that formed entire walls that could be swung opened like garage doors and propped up with drop down legs, opening the house up to the outside world. Troy had been on the site an hour now. Every so often he’d chime out some of their features in his dreamer’s voice, “…this one uses rainwater for showers and compost toilets…completely off grid…can you imagine?"
Clearly, he could. But he was a minimalist. It was his dream to own just what he could pack in his bag, which, coincidentally, was one of my recurring nightmares.
"What if we did this—" he asked with glowing eyes turned to me.
There it was. I knew this would happen. "I don't know, Troy..." I broke in, trying to slow this crazy train down.
"—we could buy land in Sapphire, North Carolina and put a tiny house there,” he ended wistfully, chin in his hand.
I sighed. We were currently living in a historic, three-bedroom, brick, gingerbread house that we loved. It had been a good few years here—we'd gotten to know our neighbors, planted a garden, and made some good memories.
Then our housemate got a dog.
It was time to move on, soonish, while we still own some things without chew marks, so Troy's searching was not out of the blue, but a tiny home? I ran through our house mentally, the basement and attic packed with boxes, the many closets packed with clothes and shoes and god-knows what else, and protested. “What about all our stuff?”
He shrugged, “That’s the beauty of it, we don’t need all of this stuff…”
“Maybe you don’t…”
He laughed and walked around the kitchen, opening cupboards, scanning their contents. “Let’s see…” He pulled a large sealed box from the back and raised an eyebrow at me, “What about this? Are you ever going to use this?"
I rescued the box from him, surprised at its weight, “You don’t even know how expensive these are…”
“I don’t even know what it is. Do you?” He raised an eyebrow.
Shit. The large print on the box's side saved me, “It’s a…food processor.” He narrowed his eyes, “for all my food processing needs.”
He leaned against the counter, incredulous. “Your ‘food processing needs.’ What would those be?” A smile flashed in his eyes.
“Smooshing things…or grinding them tiny." I demonstrated with my hands and finished lamely, "Just anything, really,”
He grinned, trying not to laugh and I grinned back inadvertently, grasping how ridiculous the situation was. I’d toted this box around faithfully for three moves, just assuming I'd need it someday. “Ok, fine. You’re right." I slid it back on the shelf and closed the cupboard door firmly. "I don't know how to use it, and I don't know what it does. So?”
“So…Let’s live somewhere that forces us to change our packrat ways.”
The plural pronoun was unnecessary. I sighed. The idea seemed promising, but its execution seemed—what’s the word—impossible. How did one get rid of everything? “You were serious about wanting to buy one of those tiny homes, weren’t you?”
“Not unless we loved living like that.”
“But how could we know before we bought one?”
“Easy. We’ll rent a studio. Pair everything down, get rid of everything we haven’t used or worn in the last year..."—I began mentally cataloging everything I knew I would have to wear immediately if I wanted to keep it as he continued—“It's a win-win. Even if we don't end up buying a tiny house at the end of our lease, we’ll have saved tons of money for our traveling, and it will be easier to leave when the time comes if we aren’t toting around so much stuff." He looked at me earnestly, "just picture having the freedom to pick up and go, not being strapped down here by all this stuff, weighed down by these things we don’t need…” he stopped and waited.
Honestly, it did sound kind of nice. But still. "What if we got cabin fever and drove each other crazy?”
“I don’t think that'll happen, but if it does then we’ll be out in a year, or we could find someone to take over our lease. We could save so much money, Willa! Pay off our last pieces of debt before we travel. Picture it.”
I tried. The idea was intriguing, but I wasn’t sure how I’d get the gumption to make it happen.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, and meant it.
He grinned again, knowing he was halfway there. “Take all the time you need,” he said with a reasonable smile and went back to his computer. I walked down the hall and glanced back at his screen.
He was already browsing for studios.
The Final Straw
A huge, simple man sat cross-legged and whimpering at the rendezvous point. He was in trouble, and he knew it. A woman was dead—a woman with soft brown hair in a beautiful red dress. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, but no one else would see it that way.
They were already hunting for him, and the crashing and yells of the enraged search party led by the bereaved husband were circling ever nearer.
But his loyal friend found him first. The friend's face was drawn when he sat down beside the simple man; he’d grown attached him, in the way you did with people you traveled with and became accustomed to looking after.
The huge man gulped sadly. Tell me about it one more time, he pleaded. Tell me about the rabbits.
His friend swallowed hard and began. It had been their dream. One day we’ll have money laid up…live far away, raise a parcel of rabbits, have a little piece of land…he spoke in soothing tones as he raised the cold gun silently to the back of his friend’s head…No, don’t turn around, Lenny, just look out past over the hills there. We’ll have a garden and a white house…
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I was being watched. I lowered my book and found myself face to face with a massive possum, sitting atop the porch rail not four feet away, pure black eyes watching me calmly from its perch.
I’d never seen a possum in real life, not counting the unlucky ones who hadn't quite made it across the road. I looked back curiously from my lounge chair. It tipped its chin down a bit, and its eyes grew larger, sweet and innocent like Bambi’s. It softened my heart. I wondered if it was hungry.
“Hey there little guy. Do you live here too?” I swung my feet over and leaned closer—the Bambi expression disappeared, and hardened into the face of the devil, with lidless black eyes rimmed in red, and thin lips pulled back into mirthless, hissing laughter that displayed row upon row of needle-sharp teeth—
I screamed and dropped Steinbeck, scrambling out of my chair, wrenching the backdoor open in a blind panic, screaming for Troy. But when I peeked back out through the door, it had already vanished.
The creature came often after that with increasing boldness. Soon it refused to be startled away, and I began to fear its audacity might be rabies. I'd loved our home with its spacious, slanting backyard and the two-story porch that the pine trees wrapped around and shaded...
but now it belonged to the devil.
I Kill the Devil
A week later, we came home to find the monstrosity balancing in profile on the far rail of our porch.
It was a twenty-foot drop to the ground—this was my chance. I grabbed an empty bourbon bottle out of the recycles and creaked the door open slowly. The possum didn’t move. I grasped the heavy glass bottle tightly and slung it at the possum. My shot veered wide and bounced harmlessly off the rail, falling into the yard.
The possum didn’t even have the decency to turn its head. I watched the long skeletal, rat tail stiffened slowly in warning. The sight made the muscles around my spine convulse.
“How'd you miss that?!” An unhelpful person whispered at my shoulder. “Didn’t you play softball?”
“Not with whiskey bottles,” I huffed back, “Let see you do it.”
He aimed and knocked off the decorative corner cap near the possums head. The possum turned this time and hissed at us, and I ducked back behind the door and dug into the recycles to grab a heavy rectangular bottle of Gentleman Jack. I tossed it lightly first to get a better feel for its weight and balance, and wound up, chucking it at the possum as hard as I could. The possum turned its head to hiss just as the bottle struck it full in the middle and carried it straight out into the air where it suspended—jaws snapping, eyes flashing with malice—then gravity snatched it, and the creature plummeted out of sight.
Adrenaline surged through me, and I ran to peer over the rail— three bottles lay in the empty yard, but the possum was gone, spirited away to haunt a more poorly defended dwelling.
Troy put an arm around my shoulder, and we surveyed our reclaimed territory with satisfaction.
“So…does this make me a southern girl?” I asked, grinning up at him.
“Mmmm." He considered, "You just killed a possum with an empty whiskey bottle,” the pride in his voice made me laugh, “I’d say you’re halfway there.”
We paused and I looked around. I was ready to go. I sighed. “Hey Troy...”
“Let's do it. Let’s move to a tiny studio in the city.”
He pulled me close and kissed my head; I could hear his heart thudding in his chest, “Let’s do it.”
There would be an island, at least we knew that. Large windows were a certainty, and we’d been assured that the view was tremendous. The sink might be as tiny as a child’s plaything—some had been renovated, and some had not—and there was a chance of a waist-high wall running through the middle of the living room which would be truly unfortunate for such a small space, but...there would be a view. I held to that.
My imagination painted landscapes that I might be able to see from the top floor of this high rise I’d passed daily, unknowing that it would one day be our home. It cut sharp angles into the wispy blue sky as I passed below, rising and towering above from its proud perch on the valley wall.
Eleven windows up would be us. I counted up its face and traced the latitude with my finger, dreaming—if those windows were ours we’d face the city…or those might be ours, and we’d see the Vulcan statue and the fireworks at Barons field…and if those others were ours we’d see the city skyline for miles and miles and...
It had been a long, dusty week, full of strained nerves, second thoughts and the kind of longing nostalgia that always seemed to grip me before I jumped into a new life path, or got a new haircut.
At last, our possessions from the basement and attic and bedrooms were amassed to the front of the house and hallway. The dog was kenneled, and at Troy's insistence, we'd carefully sectioned off 544 square feet to represent the space in our new studio. The entire studio could have fit in our living, and it was obvious to me now that only a fraction of our things would be joinig us. It was daunting for me, and thrilling for him.
“Alright, everything that doesn’t fit here," —he gestured broadly to the makeshift borders— “has to go. We can make four piles on this side of the room.” His hand marked imaginary piles like a sergeant. "Sell. Donate. Take. Trash."
I scoffed at the idea of the fourth pile and threaded my way around the room, knocking over a box of Christmas decorations. A three-year-old tin of assorted popcorn rolled out, still sealed. He pounced on it triumphantly and set it in the far corner to represent the trash pile. The large tin was painted with scenes from the Charlie Brown Christmas Movie, and someone I'd loved had given it to me—though I couldn't remember who. The characters looked at me reproachfully, and I drooped like their sorry little tree with the single ornament and sighed heavily. It was going to be a long day.
I turned away and felt a bit better. Taking a deep breath, I walked to a different pile, picking up a shiny, unused fondue pot to place in the keep pile.
He stopped me patiently, "Hold on..."
My eyes raised to his.
“Will that fit, darling?”
I looked at it reluctantly, “Maybe not.”
“In the donate pile then.”
“But what if we need it someday?”
He looked from me to the pot, “We’ll buy another.”
“What if we're broke and can’t afford it?”
Shrug. “Then we’ll be fine without it.”
Another heavy sigh. The pot was placed in the donate tub next to the whirly-pop and the food processor. The donate pile grew to absorb a large reading chair, a papasan, a piano, boxes and boxes of books, a patio set, a table, an expensive lounge chair and all manner of decor and gifts with religious undertones from people we were vaguely connected to in our past lives and hadn't heard from in years.
Into the pile.
An emotional weight I hadn’t known I’d been carrying lifted as I spun about the room to survey our pruned possessions; begrudgingly, I admitted to myself that it’d been time to get rid of these things, and I felt good about it—light with relief.
He tossed another box in the donate pile, and scanned the room, “I just need to take one more thing…”
I looked up, curious, “What?”
He swung me into his arms and carried me to the ‘keep’ section, where he set me down with a grin.
The workers had their backs to me when I entered the tiny studio for the first time; they were making up for earlier procrastinations, busily caulking the sills and putting knobs on the cabinet doors. The space smelled of chemicals and was smaller than I'd pictured and I didn't need Troy to tell me that even the little we'd brought had been too much…
…but the view…
I dropped my load and approached the far wall; it was more window than wall, like the viewing car of a train, facing Northeast. I caught my breath and looked out. I could see everything. Everything. The tallest trees in the city were far below me, forming the leafy green canopy of the valley. I traced the rim in wonder, resting finally on the far northern border that faded into smoky grey hills that receded in soft hazy layers into the distance.
The sun was setting now, just there, in the west window behind me, painting pink swaths across the sky. Birds swooped across the panorama, shooting upwards with the drafts like something shot from a geyser. It was ineffably peaceful.
One of the men turned and saw me gazing out and began to apologize in unbothered tones, "Ma'am? Be keepin’ an eye out for thet wat paint thare. Sorry it weren’t ready yit…we still got a few more thangs teh do in the back with theh—"
He went on, detailing his to-do list. A cloud drew my attention as it drifted sleepily across the sky; it was pink, like spun sugar from a carnival. The evening breeze began to play with it, coaxing the spool of pink to unwind and melt away into the falling twilight—
"—an thar’s a yellerjacket nestin' on theh winder. I wasn shore if they’d bother you. I kin knock ‘em down if yah whon me to…"
He waited for my reply. "M’am?"
I pulled my eyes from the cloud towards the nest in the corner of the window outside, hardly the size of the quarter. I was allergic to bees, so they generally inspired panic, but today it comforted me that other beings were also beginning a life here today.
"It's alright, leave them there. Thank you."
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and a moment later, a familiar arm threaded around my waist. I sighed happily, and leaned my head on Troy's shoulder, "We should call it The Windowbox."
"The Windowbox," he repeated happily. "That's perfect."
We were home.
The sunrise appeared in the corner of the bay windows that took up the long wall and set in our smaller window in the west corner that faced the city. I don’t know that I’d ever seen more than half-a-dozen sunrises in my entire life, and certainly never from this kind of panorama. I was so captivated and moved by the sight of the day breaking that my whole clock shifted so I could watch them. I'd seen fifty now, yet each dawn had been as different from the one before as snowflakes are rumored to be from each other, and I found them impossibly beautiful.
5:30 AM would come, and some internal mystical pull would wake me. I'd make my coffee in the dark, careful not to disturb Troy and the Yellowjacket nest eight inches away, just outside the pane. The little nest had grown. Every day they labored hard at their nest, which was now the size of a softball, and every day their numbers increased. They were twenty-five strong now, slumbering quietly while I stirred in cream and sugar, wings folded close to their long, sleek bodies to retain their body heat.
I'd pull the barstool before the window and look out over the city as I took my first sips. It seemed as if I were always the first one to wake. The other houses were always motionless and dark inside, and the only lights were those that glittered and spread from downtown. I loved to watch the lamps flicker on one by one across the city in the apartment windows as people came slowly awake.
The first to wake was always a single apartment, a football field away, in a building that also rose high above the tops of the trees. I felt a strange kinship for this other early riser, as if we were both waking to watch the city slumber like a peaceful child, before the hustle or stresses of the day showed on its face, before the noise of traffic and emotional chaos from the night before could be recalled.
These mornings were ruled by a quiet repose I'd never experienced before. They were sacred, new and perfect, untainted by mistakes that could not be committed while we slept.
The dawn pulled at the edges of the night and the light filtered in, imperceptibly at first, but steadily. The street lights clicked off in unison. The sun crested the ridge, and the city changed and glowed. The clouds were aglow in vibrant colors, spread in a thin, irregular texture above the valley that could've only been achieved by pulling a piece of pink chalk with purpled edges lengthwise across the blue sky.
I heard him stir in bed. The day began.
"Hey, close the curtains."
I sighed. This was a conversation we often had. "The neighbors are going to see you," I reminded him, not so patiently.
He peered a moment through the west window. "No one can see us."
I laughed and pulled him away. "If we can see them they can see us."
He considered this and looked intently at the building across, scanning the windows for signs of life or eyes staring back at us. An artist lived four windows down and seven over in the building across the street. I had the gut feeling it was a woman, though I couldn’t tell you why. Her orange tabby cat was always pressed against the sun-warmed pane next to an easel that was always set up, ever at the ready, though the owner of both never appeared. The rest of the windows were also empty of people.
He raised his eyebrows doubtfully, "I don’t see anyone."
"There," I pointed in triumph to a man I’d seen before, emerging onto the rooftop patio, looking out over the city with his coffee.
"But, his back is to us," he pointed out with a grin.
"At the moment, yes."
"You know, in France—"
"—everyone is naked all the time and making love and nobody cares. I know, you've shown me the films."
He laughed and shrugged, "You worry too much."
As we went on with our lives, we rarely saw our neighbors. Still, I couldn't help wondering from time to time what pieces of our lives they witnessed. I wondered if they were as curious about us as we were about them...if they ever thought about whether we were happy, or in love.
I eventually forgot about opened blinds completely. Very few things in life seemed as honest and raw as those opened windows. Life behind them continued in an unselfconscious, messy way that it could because we believed ourselves to be unwatched. They framed our most unguarded moments, between those we might have wanted the world to see.
For better or worse, we never did close them.
"Ah wooden take thet elevatur if ah were you."
My hands were full of groceries. I paused, trying to hide my impatience. "Why is that?"
"Mah free-end was stuck on ih two ow-ers yisturday." The man looked apprehensively at the blinking red light as the elevator neared, and lowered his voice as if the elevator in question might overhear. "Bin too long since theh one on theh left god its lahst inspection. I’d wait fur theh one on theh righ if I were you."
This guy was one of our stranger neighbors. Harmless, but odd. One of those people who did a few too many drugs at one time when he was younger, and tended to forget exactly how long a person could stare at another person before it was considered off-putting.
The elevator reached the lobby and chimed, but, true to the man’s warning, it didn’t open. It just kind of whirred and whined pathetically and began to climb again.
The man tried to hide the blush of pleasure that rose on his cheeks at being right, and coughed lightly, casting his eyes to the ceiling and shaking his head.
The next day an out of order sign was plastered on the outside of the left elevator.
We didn’t really mind. It greatly expanded the elevator small talk in the remaining elevator. Before we only had, “What’s your dog’s name?” and subsequent dog breed small talk, and also, “Laundry day, huh?” which was hit or miss. Now, if a fellow resident entered without a laundry basket or a dog, then you could sigh and complain together—something to the tune of, "So, when do you think they’ll ever get that elevator fixed?"
That question became the subject of much speculation among our neighbors, and everyone was eager to add what bits and pieces they’d gleaned from the manager or so-and-so down their hall or their cousin who knew a guy who’d seen an elevator like this before who said…
Watching the Man Watching the Storm
I looked up from my writing and closed my laptop. It had been a long day of editing, and I needed a break. I stretched and moved to the window. The sky was a fuchsia that was growing more vibrant and intense by the second. A crow dove down from the roof and veered right, underbelly flashing pink in the dying light.
The man I'd seen once before was up there again on the rooftop of the apartment across the street. He leaned with elbows on the rail, facing west, a dark silhouette outlined by a glowing orange, motionless between the sun and I as we paused to watch its descent together. The strings of glass bulb lights swayed lightly above his head, glistening, taking on the warm colors and reflecting them to me, like the mirrored buildings downtown, washed in rosy hues.
A storm hovered just above the horizon—smooth, slate-colored clouds, nearly bursting with rain—and mingled in startling contrast with the strip of sky below, which grew more and more vibrant as the sun bent towards the earth. The wind blew against the edges of the storm, teasing feathers of blue-grey mist into the air. The sun’s final rays shot out in stunning colors above the top of the looming rainclouds and disappeared suddenly below the valley ridge.
The man remained, motionless as the storm drew near, lost in his reveries.
The Crew at Continental
The acorns crunched beneath my feet.
"There’s more today than yesterday," I tossed over my shoulder to Troy as I headed in briskly. Crunchcrunchcrunchcrunchcrunch. I shuffled through the patch with quick hard steps, feeling a lightness in my chest as they popped and crackled satisfactorily beneath my feet.
The vibrant tree on the corner was responsible for this pleasant cacophony. I attended to these acorns each time I came through, but the next morning it was as if all my work had been for nothing. I didn’t mind. I made it through the patch and stopped to admire the changing hues of the mother tree, each day different than before. I'd watched it go from green to yellow, to an orange that seemed now to be flirting with red, and I was curious now where it would land and wondered if perhaps it would choose instead to work its way back around the color wheel like my friend Rachel did with her hair.
It was pleasant, about mid-morning. A cool day, with a warm breeze that smelled of autumn. We were walking up the hill to Continental Bakery in English Village, a place we'd walked to every day since we'd discovered how close it was to our apartment. The bakery was a little French place that seemed to be a haven for artistic people, liberals, and travelers—at least after nine when the white, middle-aged, loud men in nice suits left for work.
The other coffee shop regulars were already basking in the sun when we arrived. Stan and Tommy waved hello, and we stopped and made small talk and checked out whatever stunning model of car Tommy was driving today. Stan was a nature lover, responsible for protecting the trees in Birmingham, so I naturally felt an instant connection with him. Besides that, he was a cyclist, adventurer, minimalist, and fellow wanderer. The conversations we had left me so excited that I'd be afraid I'd pack my bag as soon as I got home and be off to see the world. I met him here last month when Stan asked me in line where I got my backpack and I told him Peru. He'd gawked and invited us to the table of other friends that he'd met here, that were now melded into a little community of regulars that sat in the sun every morning under the large red umbrellas. It was all very Cheers.
There was Jay-Jay, Albert, Mary, and Mary Katherine, all smiling contentedly at us over their coffee mugs, conversing brightly. A French Conversation Group carried on animated conversations in the center of the room, and a Danish family conversed brightly in the window nook. It would have been easy to picture this place tucked away in some rural Provence in Europe, a place one might stumble into one day on accident and never leave because it smelled delightfully of cinnamon and freshly baked bread. I became a daily fixture by the alcove, soaking in the energies of the travelers and friends, a rhythm of life filled with laughter and stories over a bite and a cuppa…
Two coffees for here and a sugar cookie. Sorry? No, the owl…yes, perfect. Thank you.
Night had fallen, and work-weary souls had begun the long migration home.
I watched from my window high above as they made their way slowly back over the mountain in their cars, evenly packed and twinkling in the light rain, like diamonds on a tennis bracelet winding around Birmingham's slender, black wrist.
The sparkling lanes were paired with tight braids of red, reflected and mirrored on the wet highway, as they threaded their way in the opposite direction, back to the heart of the city, towards the beckoning lights that glittered and throbbed like a heartbeat.
There was a lightening making its way across the valley, far above the lights of the highway—iridescent webs exploding brilliantly across the sky in blinding threads. I watched for hours as it billowed and grew. A dark cover of cloud wrapped around the storm like a cloak, and the lightning within spread through its covering with bright purples, whites, and blues, like the hottest flames in a long-burning fire.
The nest had grown. There were over fifty bees now. It freaked our friends out a little when they came over. I’d gotten used to them and kept forgetting that most people hadn’t had the opportunity to study a live bee nest so intimately.
It was as large as a football now and full of little hollow pods that they'd been putting little white caps on. I wasn’t sure why until a few days later when I began to see movement from behind the white caps.
More little white caps disappeared, eaten I assumed, and tiny black larva emerged and began to sun themselves, attended to and fawned over by the adult bees. I couldn’t get Troy to look at them, but I thought they were amazing.
I loved the little guys. They were a perfect microcosm of the rhythms and seasons around us that had immersed our lives since coming here.
Conversations with Kelley
"How’s tiny living so far?" Kelley took a drag of her cigarette, and blew the smoke expertly away from us, flicking the ash off the glowing end.
"I love it. It really only feels tiny when we fight," I replied, honestly.
She laughed and shook her head, taking another drag. We were sitting on their front porch in Avondale, enjoying the temperate breeze, and the end of the warm winter. Shanti came out with coffee for us, and I leaned back in the rocking chair contentedly, savoring the evening.
"So our tiny house hasn’t given you cabin fever?" Troy asked teasingly.
I shook my head. "No—though I have noticed it makes me feel smaller…"
Kelley’s eyebrows rose in the center in question, forming the arch I knew so well, and the three of them laughed at my response.
"I meant metaphysically." I smiled, "Especially after watching the lightening storms…it just feels like the forces of the universe are so significant and powerful, so much out of my control, so far beyond me and so stunningly beautiful. I’ve witnessed a lot of things and seasons that have made me realize I'm smaller than I thought because the world is so much bigger. I feel very Buddhist these days."
Kelley chuckled and smiled indulgently at me. She finished the cigarette, and pressed its smoldering end into the ash tray. "Well, I think that’s great, y’all. You know Thomas Cromwell said…”
"Troy. You drank the last of the coffee. Again. Why didn’t you tell me we were out when I went to the store?"
He rolled over and smiled blurrily, croaking out in his morning voice, "Sorry, I forgot."
I can’t be mad at that sleepy face, but I can’t let him know that, or he’ll get away with everything. "Well, you’re gonna be sorry."
"Yeah?" He laughed.
I jumped him and tickled his sides until he promised to never to it again and convinced me with his most solemn face that he'd learned his lesson. I huffed a bit then grinned back at him so he would know I wasn’t really that mad and threw on my shoes, taking the single working elevator down.
The morning was glorious, and my slight irritation melted away. I crossed the street and walked in front of the Sheraton apartments across from ours, filled with the people who probably saw us naked through our open windows on a daily basis, passed Bodega, and crossed the street to Weston grocery store.
Donnie was there already, selling candy as usual, and I grinned and waved hello before going in, and he grinned back. I grabbed the coffee and paid quickly, stopping on my way back to say hello to Donnie. Everybody in town knew Donnie. He was a black man with a cap, who sat in a special wheelchair with a computer that read aloud what he typed for it to say. There were lots of long pauses while he typed responses to my questions, but that was OK, I wasn't in a hurry, and he was such a bright soul, with such a light, energizing presence, that it was always worth it. I bought a Reese’s from him that I knew I wouldn't eat, and checked the status of his new Candy Van venture which he assured me was going well.
I said goodbye, and after a moment he finished typing out his goodbye, and I tripped away home, breathing in the morning air deeply, strangely satisfied with the little interruption that had compelled me to take a morning stroll before the day got going, resolving to write about Donnie someday.
A Hundred Deaths
Another storm billowed across the city. It pounded on our windows furiously all night, like a giant fist.
When I woke the next morning, the nest was gone. I shook Troy awake, distraught, and we gazed at the remaining stub forlornly together.
Even the queen had disappeared.
We never found where the wind had taken them.
It had been a long week in Birmingham, and America. I was desperate for a change of scene, and eager to be anywhere but Birmingham. We were wanderers at heart, always had been, so maybe we felt the pull stronger than most. Who knows. The weekend found us in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Aretha Frankenstein—a strange, gothic, biscuit-centered, New Orleanian vibe restaurant that we adored.
A young man with a baseball cap and tattooed arms was energetically polishing the bar. He noted our entrance without looking up, "What can I get you?" he asked as he polished.
"Biscuits and Gravy, please." The cap bobbed up and down absently at me, and the cloth was tossed aside for a pen. I looked about the room, taking in the suspended skeleton skateboarding overhead, the faded green walls, and ceiling wallpapered with little picture frames with scenes and characters from monster movies and comics. Props like an iron scuba mask, with large shoulder bolts and a circular looking hole, sat heavily on the tall bar, and a Godzilla movie played on the large flat screen behind the bar. It was all so odd, and reminded me of my years in Portland.
We stepped outside to the large wraparound porch of the paradoxically charming turquoise house the restaurant inhabited and scraped our chairs to the rail. The warmth of the afternoon sun took the edge off the early spring breeze. I felt relief now that we were out of Birmingham, and began to unwind. This city held a bit of magic for me and was always the place we came to dream and plan our adventures. Something about the air here made me feel like anything was possible.
The tattooed man thrust the door opened, set our food down quickly, and spun back inside all before the door had time to swing shut.
As I ate hungrily, the world brightened. "You know," I said between bites, "I think we could do it now."
"I think so too," He replied, eyes flashing green.
My heart started racing with excitement. I grinned and brushed off my hands, "Ok then. Can I see your travel budget?" He pulled out his laptop, and I mine, and after a few moments we swapped computers and examined the other's excel sheet seriously. We'd been working very hard this past year to pay off debt, and we were tantalizingly close. Our lives had become very financially intentional and frugal, since our move to smaller living, often to the bewilderment of our peers—but it was all with this aim in mind.
When I looked back up, his eyes were shining. I was the careful one of the two of us. If I was ready, he was ready—that was a given, so it was incumbent on me to keep us from jumping if we weren't ready. I considered it carefully. "They want you in Memphis for movie prep in April, right?"
"A little sooner. They want me there on the twenty-seventh of this month." He waited.
"So we'd have housing and a food stipend for...?"
"Two months, probably. At least til June."
June. I followed the line on the excel sheet with my finger—the amount I needed per month was surprisingly small without the expenses of our monthly rent and utilities. "And after the movie we do Workaways?
He shrugged, "Yeah, until the next movie. Worse comes to worse we could camp in Colorado or stay with friends—"
"—and live off beans and rice?"
He smiled, "Sure. Or sell your book and make tons of money."
I laughed and shook my head at his half-joking optimism for my nearly finished manuscript.
He continued persuasively, "You could finish the final draft in Memphis. That's enough time, right? Especially if you weren't working at the music studio?"
"Yeah...I think so..." I nodded slowly. A familiar glow was swelling behind my ribcage—it was the energy of wanderlust that had only awakened and grown with each adventure we'd had together. It had been there, propelling us forward as we strolled the coastlines of Peru, tramped through the streets in snow-covered Quebec, rode the train through the mountainous West, hiked through the grizzly laden Glacier Park, and gone on safari in the Serengeti.
And there was so much more to see. To learn. To experience. The world was so big—and it beckoned. And just as he'd promised, our tiny living had made us freer than we'd ever been.
He continued, "We could get a 5x10 unit for what we have to keep and pack just what we can take in the car with us. Then we could go anywhere, here or overseas. It'd be so easy, we'd already be packed,"—the excitement in his voice was palpable—"so we could just...go."
We could just go.
Is there any sentence more enticing?
Three weeks after that conversation, there was a just bed, a single chair and two beers left in our entire apartment.
It was our final night.
I pulled the lone chair next to the window that faced west over the city and twisted the cap off a Good People beer, setting my tired feet up in the sill, soaking in one last sunset.
Everything that hadn’t fit in the storage unit or the car had been donated or sold, a process I'd actually enjoyed this time, I mused as I watched my toes turn pink in the light that washed in through the pane.
The city felt quiet tonight, and I felt a little sad. The Window Box had been the best home we'd ever had, after all.
Troy's hand rested on my shoulder. "Hey."
"Hey," I leaned my cheek against it as the sun continued to drop.
A song began to play through the speakers. A slow dragging bass, with a jazzy, sultry melody:
"A million little words
Go fizzing through the lines
Whispers of love and longing..."
"Darling, can we see Guy Garvey when we go to London?"
"Of course." He took my hand pulled me to my feet, into the middle of our tiny home, so big and empty now, and we began to dance.
"Wishing on a star
Or a spinning satellite
A kiss flies from twilight to dawning…"
The golden light flashed across his face as we turned slowly, lighting his hair, flaming across the patterns in his irises. He began to sing along softly, and I laid my head on his shoulder, holding the moment close with his voice in my ear.
"Disarming in its simplicity
It should be you and me
In all this world."
It was morning. In a few hours, the painters would arrive, and The Windowbox would be recoated, the holes from mounting my keyboard would be repaired, and someone else would live in this space. It was hard to grasp that when we stepped out the door, it would cease to be ours, except in these memories.
As I looked about the empty room, movement in the screen corner caught my eye—I moved close to see three hornets sleeping together, a queen and two workers, locking legs for balance, holding between them the beginnings of a new nest. It was half the size of a marble.
They would only get so far, of course, before a resident or another storm knocked them down, but they had chosen to make life here while they could, and grow and grow and grow.
No one survives an eleven story fall—perhaps a home dangling from the safe distance of a modest tree branch would've been a more judicious choice, but life is short anyway. The stillness of the pale mornings touched their wings, and moved me—it struck me, that the risk that came with this view must have been worth it in some way.
In a lifespan so short, as theirs and ours, a fantastic view is a necessary risk. I would have chosen to take that risk if I were them. In fact, I was taking that risk right now.
"Ready?" Troy prompted gently.
"Ok." I gave them one last look, and wished them luck, and turned to pick up my backpack. We walked down the hall one last time and got on the elevator.
I didn't know then, that in exactly half a year from now, Troy and I would fall, and it would break us, and all sense we carried of home. We would have lingered longer had we known. Maybe danced one last time. Maybe never left at all. But we didn't know, of course, and there were still unforgettable days and sights ahead of us, with new corners of the world to explore together, and more love to give before the risk we took would catch us, and we too would pay for the view.
But right now, neither of us were looking back, only forward, to the new life waiting on the other side of these doors.
The elevator stopped on the fourth floor to let in a middle-aged, barefoot man holding a detergent bucket in his hands. He bobbed his head at us and leaned against his side of the elevator stiffly.
There was a pause. Troy and I exchanged glances. "Laundry day?" I asked, finally.
"Yep," the man replied, glancing at us out of the corner of his eye. There was another awkward silence, then he looked sideways at us again, then at the ceiling and asked rhetorically, “Y’all think they’ll ever git thet other elevatur fixed?”
I smiled at him and shook my head, and watched the lights count backwards to one as he drawled earnestly on…"Mah free-end hurd theh part they needed fur it was all theh way in France…”
I was going to miss this.