The Last Night in the House
The evening is gold, the branches still bare against a glowing western sky. The daffodils and crocuses splash colors against new green grass. The tree is gone from the corner of the yard – it was dying, and so cut down, reduced to a stump, then a pile of sawdust. The compost heap is neglected. The vines are green against the back fence, and starting to bloom. The mint is dry and long. “It comes back every year,” my sister says. The butterfly bush grows wild, not trimmed back this season, a tangle. My sister knows its name. I didn’t know it would grow that tall, that fast.
The children watch ants make their busy ways across the deck. “He’s running all over the place!” my nephew exclaims. My niece shrieks, amazed, follows the ants on her own feet and hands, until they disappear into the cracks in the rock wall.
My brother-in-law comes home; Jan, the neighbor next door, comes over with two beers, one for her and one for my sister, Starr Hill, from Charlottesville. The children run back and forth across the grass, back and forth among us, stopping suddenly in front of where we sit cross-legged on the cool grass, waiting to be caught up into hugs. An airplane draws a straight line across the blue sky. Peter looks up and tries to catch it. “Is it my ship?” he asks. I ask where it’s going. If I had a ship that sailed the sky, I’d like it to take me to the top of the Alps, or to Angel Falls, or a iceberg off Newfoundland. “Maybe to the train museum,” he says.
It’s getting late. Bath times, bedtimes. “Thanks for being such a good neighbor,” my brother-in-law says to Jan. She’s been around through pregnancies, childbirths, flu, the end of a medical residency, afternoon walks, neighbors’ marriages, neighbors’ deaths – none of those events mine. Her dogs rouse the dogs cater-cornered, and they bark in a four-dog chorus, making Ruthie wail. “You are tired,” my sister tells her.
Inside, after baths, kids in pajamas, Meg and Paul take apart Ruthie’s crib. “Stand in the doorway,” Meg says, firmly, not wanting the children to be hurt. Ruthie stands and watches her bed disappear, cries. I pick her up and take her into her brother’s room, singing verse after verse of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” By the time we have gotten to ducks, kitty cats and owls on the bus, the crib is gone, a temporary bed is made, and the world is righted again. She goes to sleep. I go home.
The next day, the house is nearly empty, sun making shadows on the bright hard-wood floors, that joyful brightness of new, empty house, ready for someone’s furniture, snacks, bedtimes, dinner parties, neighbors, pregnancies, flu, afternoon walks..