Nobody had asked me what my opinion had been. Nobody had been around to. Though I had snuggled up beside the nearest sandpile, and was reading a note left there by another stranger, before last summer it seemed, I couldn’t imagine ever talking. My boots had become unlaced, too, and filled with several tiny stones apiece, bits of blue I had stumbled upon four miles or so north of the Mexican border, ninety miles south of Tucson. Even there, when I had dined with people, I had been put to their side, served alone outside the purview of ties, dresses, and light but good morning laughter over sausages, eggs, and steaming muffins. Any words, like table crumbs, had been smoothed away and I was forgotten. Now that my heart had been emptied of blood, and my mind had become a near vacuum of human desire, I was as ready as the Rose of Sharon to bloom in Jehovah’s own desert somewhere in a land I had never seen, beside a boulder near the foot of mountain where nothing before had taken root.
I had been lying in bed blue and depressed. Even the pills did nothing. They didn’t make me sleep. Just even more immobilized. And that had made things even worse. The ruffled hawk feather from the dirt hills of Arizona. The bar of hand-poured silver from Eureka. The smooth Petoskey stone from the shore of Lake Michigan. Stashed away. In a shoebox. In another shoebox. All the other shoeboxes. I had had an entire row once that had been thrown away. Automatically. Even those. Hopeless. And even his colorful striped woolen blanket. Folded and dumped in the curbside dumpster. Even my notebooks. Dumped out in the same dumpster. Even there I could not bear witness to, bear to read my own testimonies. My self-deception. Amazing! The one! In love! At last! The same thing. Ad nauseam. Depressing. Even my own confidences with myself had been wistful inventions of the imagination mostly. Mostly like pretty, colorful decals a little girl had once pressed onto square glass bedroom windowpanes to make herself feel better about her grimly lived life—there’s a rainbow! there’s a unicorn! there’s a windmill! there’s a four leaf clover! there’s a smiling sun! Imagined. Made up. Pretty. Make believe. I had disconnected the landline, blocked my cell, same for any messages. I had lain in the lavender oil bathwater and had remembered how beastly he had been, crouching on his elbows lapping up water with his tongue by the lake, who had, it seemed, completely loved me from his ruined castle which love I had not I felt, dozing eventually into oblivion, nor had I accepted had been my own before I had completely slipped away myself.
She came by to see the bear in the tree. She lived across the street. It was gone when she did. “It was up there,” he said pointing to a crook in the tree, “trying to get to the bird feeder.” He had strung the feeder almost thirty feet high, far out on a limb. It was engineered with pulleys, and rope, and with a boat cleat at the bottom of the trunk to tie it off, to keep it hoisted out of bears’ reach. “Wow!” she said, when she saw the video clip of the black bear pulling the rope that raised the feeder. “Wow! That’s incredible!” she said when she saw the bear raising and lowering the bird feeder attached to the rope-and-pulley system as the bear tried to solve the bird feeder and rope dilemma, able to realize, eventually, that it couldn’t—which was the solution. “I had never imagined a bear would be able to do this,” the man, her neighbor, had said. He took her to his garden and cut her chard. He cut her kale. He cut her collards. She declined tomatoes as she had plenty of small red tomatoes herself.
The gnats had been flying about, and the woman kept trying to whisk them away from her eyes. The man came back from inside his house and handed her a straw hat. “A wide-brimmed straw hat, I’ve discovered, keeps the bugs away,” he said. “Is it the straw?” she asked. He didn’t know. “I don’t know, but if it works, you can borrow it for as long as you like until you get your own.” It had been friendly of the man to send his neighbor, who was a gentle and kind woman, a text message about the sunflower seed-sniffing black bear up in the tree. And it was kind of him himself to give her those vegetables from his garden. He had several straw hats in a stack from a big party. Long ago. Another time. Once he had said it, the man knew how strange it was, and how odd it sounded to himself to have told his neighbor that he was only lending her the hat, not giving it to her. He had two or three more. That would have been perfect.