Mostly we saw her like this — through the crepe myrtles tending the pool that no one swam in. It shone blue past the fence, a filter occasionally spraying a jet into the air. Come over any time, she said when we moved in. We never did. But we waved through the trees, talked in driveways, rolled down car windows when passing by. Then a neighbor banged on the door, Mrs. Duckworth has died. Emergency vehicles swarmed the corner. Her son found her by the pool. She fell last night. I keep thinking of her lying there while our a/c unit clicked on and off all night, while the traffic on Riverside roared and we fed the cats and checked the doors and cleared the last crumbs from the fudgy chocolate hearts I bought for a friend’s birthday. We didn’t know. Don’t think about it, says the neighbor. After we finished talking on the porch, we went back to our days. Chris to his nap, me to my crossword, the neighbor to whatever was waiting for her at home. What else should we have done? I thought of the time I came back after a month away and she called over the fence, I missed you! I thought you had left. It was sweet. It was nosy. I got up and stood by the back door. Gloved men paced around her pool, collecting evidence. Then they pulled away, cars filing down the street. The water was the same blue as ever. On Riverside, people got on or off the bus. I sliced some potatoes into a bowl. Someday it will be me without whom the world goes on.
August 23, 2015
On Saturday night we sat in folding chairs beneath the trees while Strings Attached adapted the Beatles to South Austin. A little Texas Swing. A bit of Latin. A full complement of voice and instrument and heart, so much heart. We gathered in the front yard, all around us camp chairs and bug spray and tank tops, regulars settling in and kicking off their sandals. A woman in a head wrap offered massages on a portable table. People danced in the margins in their long skirts. Once there was a way / to get back homeward, they sang. Once their was a way / to get back home. Everything scruffy and overgrown, the barefoot child swept up into so many arms. This is a place I once knew. This is where Austin went when we weren’t looking.
July 11, 2015
It’s one of the gifts of summer: late strolls after dinner, the air still warm but not seething with heat, the smattering of joggers and unicycle riders and Latino families with children leaning to look for fish in the water. It stays light far past when we expect it to, and downtown looks impressive, shiny and aglow. We live here. So often we complain: the traffic, the prices, the scruffy city we fell in love with transformed into something else. But didn’t we fall for each other when we both lived in tiny apartments and mouthed off about simplicity, paring down, though for a decade we have had 2200 square feet and squabbles over the lawn? We can’t spend forever on the sagging deck of a coffeehouse listening to Guy Forsyth strum his guitar. Sometimes we turn and are struck anew with delight for our midlife selves dressed in the better clothes that midlife allows. And so our city too, offering a different kind of impressive while we saunter along, the day mostly behind us, rail lights illuminating the way toward home.
July 5, 2015
Instead, a smattering of what life has brought my way. An old friend in front of an old painting. A wedding, a message, and century plants towering against a stormy sky.
Meanwhile, back home, the daily continues. We shave and brush and swab and spread. We read Nora Ephron’s prescriptions of marriage, shared by a friend in a wedding card. We fail to sit on the living room furniture and fail to sell it on Craigslist. (Vintage rattan could be yours.) And the CSA basket keeps coming and cornichons go into vinegar and pickling spices and we can’t stop eating them.
In Austin the rents still rise and a few places, against the odds, keep the faith.
And, finally, a spin through Waco on the way home. A wedding ring store leaves me with far too much to say.
It’s been a decade or more since the house next door was sold, then demolished. The lot was left fallow and empty, then a gigantic new duplex framed and built and landscaped and polished. This cat belonged to the old house, a blue ranch we’ve mostly forgotten. We didn’t know the neighbors, but their dog would climb stairs to the roof and bark at us from on high. The cat, though, the cat stayed behind and began prowling the neighborhood. It grew wild and mangey. It grew skinny and fierce. For years it showed up on our back porch and Chris put out food, water. It wouldn’t come close. One time Chris thought he saw it dead on the side of the road. He picked it up, put it amid the wild plants, grieved. A few weeks later it was back on the porch, peering at us through the window. This cat keeps going, through ice storms and flood warnings and the hottest summer in Texas history. Through construction projects and police helicopters and the dense traffic of Riverside Drive. It hasn’t come around our house for years, but we still see it down by the Bazaar, another place that has survived despite its unlikelihood. Here it is again, with its off-kilter gait and tuft of white and fur growing back in patches. This cat, so long a source of sadness, has now earned our respect. In fact, you might even call it awe.
June 4, 2015
First of all, we walk there. From our house along the boardwalk across the Pfluger pedestrian bridge then that odd wooden extension, then on broad pathways to the door. None of this was there when we chose Austin. Then the smokestacks, now architecturally interesting, and the grid works, and the sleek new buildings. It’s a plaza, of sorts. It’s Austin, and it isn’t. This is how it will be from now on. No returning to scruffy, no matter how you long for it. We sat at the bar of a downtown restaurant and ate sauteed squid. We wandered back out. Here the site of the future tallest building in town. There another glossy bar where the polished and well-coifed drink cocktails. Then through the lobby of the new J.W. Marriott. A little L.A., a little Las Vegas. Standing there I realized] what it really is, all this nattering about the Austin that once was. It a grief. Grief and–eyes agape–a bit of wonder.
May 6, 2015
We know the numbers: 150 people arrive each day, 70,000 last year, Austin straining at the seams. We read rankings for traffic, for construction, for percentage rise in rental rates. But it’s on Saturday night that we can’t deny it. We walk to dinner and find a line spilling out the door and onto the sidewalk for the sausage and beer spot with picnic tables under the trees. We head over to the bistro and sit in view of the doorway where one well-heeled pair after another come through, surveying the scene. When we see the former guitar prodigy, his hair gone gray, we smile at something familiar. Then to the Broken Spoke, where the sign is the same, the ceiling a patchwork of stained tiles and plywood. The wagon wheel is still wheeled across the floor, this time by two unsuspecting tourists from Vermont. But when we try to dance, the floor is so crowded all of our moves are in avoidance, protection. We leave early, once again wondering where our city went. Outside, the five lanes of South Lamar open up for a moment. We race across and find our way home.
February 21, 2015