Times Before Lockdown #1

We aren’t worth no more than the birds.

 

Saul, middle-manager, seventy-five years old, owner of a Ford Mustang and the coveted albums of Jobim, Gez, Mendes, and Bryd, has Mendes on in the background as he drives over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He has no reason to stop on his way home from work. Cafés, pitstops, and roadside bars roll on by through the downtown intersections, until only the invisible black cattle-fields press up against the windscreen.

Saul, nearly seventy-six years old it’s true, sits in his car for a while once he’s back home. Home is a detached single-story with an out-front and a sloping roof that guards against the freak winds. There’s no garage; just a sleepy patch of grass where the dogbane grows. Saul’s wife, Annie, worries about Saul when he sits out in his car too long listening to the ends of his music. Unbeknownst to Saul, who chews on his lip as he turns the engine off, Annie is watching him through the curtains.

The kitchen smells of waffle-maker, and Annie, a big bird, sixty-four herself, and wearing the plainest white shirts tucked into a long skirt, opens and closes the refrigerator door with speed to cool herself. “Where’s your cufflink gone?” she asks, once she’s seen him standing there looking at her.

“My cuff?” Saul looks down at his empty wrist holes, remembers they had been a gift from Coll’.

Annie walks up and straightens down the creases of her husband's shirt. “Remember you once told me when yous was little you went on out into the woods one night and took off all your clothes and laid down under a tree, and then a dog came and scared you up into it with you all naked?” Annie fiddles at his cuff and looked up at Saul with her old eyes bright and alive. “Do you feel naked now Saul Holmes?” Saul laughs. He scratches his neck not knowing what to say, and some skin comes away under his trowls for nails. “Don’t laugh like that Saul Holmes, it’s me that has to live with you, and I do but it’s not drinking coca-cola in a park on a sunny evening I can tell you that for free.”

“Fish place closed again.”

“No!”

“Fifth time this year.”

“You’ll want double food tonight. Like our Jay’ll’ve his. Feed him up while we can.”

“Jay’ll be so fat, yippies won’t even glance at him.” Saul thought, carefully, about what to say next. “I’ve finished his present by the way; I told you that, yes?” Jay had let slip a while ago that he was going to join the FBI when he grew up, and although that was as likely as the next black mayor, Saul had taken the dream to heart and had made him a spy-game. Bingo carboard, a shoebox, a metal plate with the necessary rivulets, some copper wire, some foil, five alkaline batteries, and a pair of tweezers – the idea was to hide a circuit in the shoebox, and for Jay to crack a code without setting off a buzzer.

“A polecat was hit by a car?”

“Oh, Saul.”

“Sorry, sorry.”

“A polecat was hit by a car. Rhoda’s car, Andrew told me. No – don’t – don’t get up. It’s your back? It’s bad from the cold. You mustn’t sit outside in the car like that, I tell you every time.”

She hadn’t ever told him this. Saul eyed Annie. Annie, without breaking eye-eye, took Saul by the hand and walked backwards with him into the next room. Stoopy Saul dropped into his chair. Annie sat opposite, and the TV came on over her shoulder – a hearty newsman mouthing something static in the bug-looking thing with its two long antennae. Annie started up again, in that way of hers, about some curiosity that had gotten hold of her recently; this time, a butterfly with orange leopard spots and white flint dots that landed on her lapel, back when the day was still barely born. Curious, Annie. Rucked-up sleeves, Annie. Fists on hips, Annie. Didn’t stop enough to ever know what she’d do if she was the last person on God’s green earth, Annie. Saul wanted to smile at the thought, and then he wanted to cry, so he fixed his attention at the crevice between Annie’s arm and side. She didn’t understand, and the thing was that most people didn’t, because most people dream at night and don’t have many daytime phantasies, and they don't come to see that you can’t botch a plan, not ever, no matter the type, because once you’ve gone and botched it you can’t pretend you never tried. Don’t want to obligate them. Don’t want to obligate yourself. Can’t confide in no one but yourself. And it doesn’t stop with the first legal drink either. Every year that passes makes it so there’s less you can say.

“You want some food, old Saul?” Annie’s voicebox abandoned her, left her words underdelivered.

“Where?” Saul found he could not speak properly either, nor move his eyes.

“Rubberneck.”

“Okay, go see.”

Silences can be cruel, can’t they?

“Not tonight, Saul?”

Saul’s looked into Annie's eyes, then down at her hands, clutched in the soft fabric of her lap, and then back up again, again to over her shoulder, to where the weatherman was talking in tomorrow's terms.

Saul wondered which musicassette he had left on in the car.

“Not tonight, Annie.”

Forty years together, and forty years will pass again.

“I’ll go up to bed now, Annie.”

She couldn’t bring herself to look at him.

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