The air is so still, this early afternoon before the sea breezes rise and sweep inland. The warmth of the sun blankets my eyes in comfort as I close them and drift toward a nap. I feel more and more drawn to the quiet of sleep these days. My ailing old body seems more and more inclined to an effortless meditation of listening as I slow dance to dreams and oblivion. It is so easy to do in the outside, in the magic garden. The fragrances of honeysuckle, roses, and jasmine float the boat of consciousness.
I use ‘I’ more often these days. Most likely the third person of reflective humility and solipsistic good manners has retired as I think of myself these days as the soft layer of pine needles, which give rise to morels in the Spring with its wonders of happening, or even those scatterings of red bay leaves in the Fall that decorate dark-wet asphalt like those descriptions of Heian ladies wearing kimonos so exquisite in their nuances of presentation that poems are written about them and floated downstream in delicate lacquer cups for lovers to receive. There are times like these when old is a treasure to hold and release.
Andie and I lie on a chaise tucked into a corner of the small brick terrace. A burgeoning canopy of tall bending Butterfly bushes and red-orange trumpet vines cast dappled light over us. Essays by Mary Oliver lay on the table keeping company with a Minion sippy- thermos filled with iced coffee. Sounds of the far off freeways, village busyness, and the hum of purposeful life rushing here and there form a white-noise, comforting once familiar. Hummingbirds, and bees are absent. It always seems that way when the sun is high at noon. Crescendo, decrescendo. Waves lapping in, sweeping out, the stillness is so rich and I cannot but think that these end times are so textured by exquisite, simple moments.
In the heat roses explode. Their petals by the hundreds cover the garden paths as if to honor the passage of an invisible divine. Andie and I travel those paths everyday. Could it be we who are honored by the magnificent end of beauty? Will we vibrate in all colors of the rainbow as the moon shines upon our nocturnal jaunts. Will some shaman recognize our light and call us brother and sister?
Andie makes our usual life a moveable feast. Still, the hallway is filled with discovered debris. She likes bark bits and small green plums this time of year and is so busy in the pursuit of her delighted game. I still step on these treasures in the depth of the night on my old man’s journeys in the dark.
Along the side of the house all things useful for transit and moving lie in storage beneath fading, desiccated tarps. Their contents disassembling with the years of heat and damp that undo their once purposeful utility. Once a year I dive into it and dig out the thorny blackberry bushes that demand a presence there and provide sanctuary to creatures that offend bourgeois order and security from the rough edges of Mother Nature. In front of the tall bamboo gate that contains our anarchy of storage Andie experienced, I believe, her first sense of death. There lay a plump dead mouse. She sniffed about it and backed away. She is growing up. She has found the shades.
It could be that two feral tomcats left behind by the Cat Lady roam the neighborhood in pursuit of living food. Her cottage now empty is overgrown with shoulder-high green weeds and her once beloved roses planted alongside the street are tumbled over the pile of fox-tail grass in a jumble of sweet pink. The house was all open the other day. Andie and I peeked in. It was as dark inside as the outside and all the carpeting had been pulled up and piled in a cat pee heap. A neighbor says she still drives by now and then. She says Cat Lady took five cats with her, but these two stealthy ninja felines refused to go.
A dear neighbor gifted Andie with some doggy play-day coupons. It takes place where she gets her monthly bath and clipping, so she is familiar with it and seemed happy to go when I first deposited her there. I returned home to an empty cottage and it struck me with such poignancy that the life we have here is due to her life force. The place seemed lifeless without her. I was experiencing separation anxiety. How substantial seem the passing days we live together and how fragile is our actual truth. I think for me now grief has become an art form.
We two have no existential urgency except to abide against the odds in the creation of our special world, putting future shock in abeyance day by day, living in the moment, putting pain in its managed perspective and exploring adventures of the most mundane sort.
Well, I guess birthday cakes aren’t really mundane, rather special in fact. I made my first practice birthday cake for a friend’s celebration coming up soon. Initially, it turned out rather well. After nearly an hour in the baking, it’s devil’s food glory looked like a princess cake on a sturdy plinth. Extrapolating from an article I was writing I thought, ‘Hum, a matriarchal tumultuous on a patriarchal base.” I like that! The next thought was, ‘Oh my gawd, maybe I have the beginning of dementia. My sad old professor has come back to haunt me.” I then found comfort in the following thought that this is perfectly natural for an old mind to roam in the jungles of its past complexities. It’s just a f’ing cake for gawd’s sake!
Part two of the cake found it cooling on a wire rack and ready for frosting. I cut it in three pieces and found that the top center wasn’t cooked through and looked and tasted like chocolate pudding. Worse there appeared in the top of the dome a sinkhole several inches deep. My matriarchy had collapsed. It was too late to put it back in the oven so I prepared to frost it. Sigh….
I put a layer of French raspberry jam on the first layer, only to discover that my slicing of the cake produced an elliptical plane that sloped up on one end and was lower on the other end, so the layer of raspberry jam was twice as thick on one end as the other to balance out the cake. Even the patriarchal layer of the cake was betraying my machinations of cuisine.
Next, I made a caramel frosting for the second layer. It was a disaster, because it burnt crystallized sugar and made my sad caramel frosting look like bad pudding and tasted like….well, you know. So, I started over with a simpler caramel frosting recipe that was so sweet that my teeth hurt just looking at it. But, ever determined to make my first cake a success I piled on the second layer and topped it with the dome with the sinkhole in its top. I filled the sink hole with the remaining frosting. All that remained was the outer layer of birthday frosting.
Fearing the technical challenges of making a chocolate ganache and lacking the proper thermometer, I bought a pot of Betty Crocker’s Hershey’s chocolate frosting. I opened the pot a took a taste. Whoa, it was so sweet it tasted like a hundred cotton candy cones powerful enough to bring on an enlightenment barf. I persisted and covered the entire cake with BC’s chocolate frosting. By that time the sinkhole had devoured a good bit of the caramel frosting so I filled the remaining void with all that was left of the chocolate frosting.
The cake looked fabulous….a bit like an English Bowler hat. I cut a slice to taste and almost had a diabetic collapse. It was so sweet, no words can describe what a disaster it was. I dumped the whole effort into the garbage can. If any of those plump mice find it I’m sure there will be more corpses for Andie to discover.
When all was said and done I looked down at Andie, who had as usual been under foot at the food counter and saw that her head, ears, and back were streaked with caramel and chocolate frosting. Bath Time! Nap Time!
THE ANDIE CHRONICLES HERE!