I stepped outside to let Vince run around the yard and pee on something, thinking about, if not the exact same things as I'd been thinking about all Saturday, the same *kind* of things:

Job stuff, homeowner stuff, wondering if we had plans for the evening or not, etcetera. All afternoon I'd been picturing the workings of the average person's brain as a lot like those of an online chess player - sixteen games going at once, on different sites and with different opponents ... one perhaps a hard-fought nailbiter against an ingenious middle-aged Norwegian housewife, two moves away from a likely defeat ... another one just getting underway versus a seventh grader from Tallahassee, who's just picked up chess and should be dealt with gingerly so as not to discourage him. All these games, each with its own peculiar considerations and shifting status. One day you're winning them all, fluidly juggling your many screen names and online aliases as ultimate victory seems near, or at least a long career of enjoyable proficiency and increasing mastery, and the next morning some pissant from Kyoto blindsides your queen, shaking your confidence and plunging you into a day-or-weeklong funk of blundering maneuvers and staggering difficulty.

Bounding down the steps and into the grass with Vince is usually a convenient way to log off, but not this time. I peeked through the widest gap in the fence to check on the progress of my neighbor's back porch remodeling, noting with renewed disappointment that the long-neglected hot tub was finally gone, and I'd missed my chance to make Bill an offer to let me tote it over to my own back yard, fifty feet east, and get it in working order once more. The relief from concerns about the cost of replacement jets and 220-volt outdoor electrical service did little to reassure me, and I was reminded, again, that we'd waited to voice our interest in the spa until our finances were healthy enough to finish the project, a day which of course never came. My chess games, at least that one, seemed to have sped up beyond my playing ability.

As a plane flew overhead, invisible through the heavy cloud cover, I spotted Bill in his kitchen turning on the light, shuffling over to the sink and filling a glass with water, glancing downward out the window at the rocky ground where his hot tub used to sit. He was no doubt thinking about the same thing I was, but thinking different thoughts about it. With his heart condition and difficulty getting around, there had been no point in him having it repaired, or indeed even in keeping it. I thought I noticed a brief wince as he sipped his tap water, confirming for me my guess that his health commanded the majority of his attention.

Vince attacked a stick in the grass by the telephone pole. I'm sure he heard the jet, but ignored it, along with everything else outside the world of the stick and his jaws, and the pleasing crunching noises of teeth sinking through layers of bark.

I stood by the fence, looking around, feeling for a second like I was trapped in my own world, bigger than a stick but still tiny, and of my own construction. The pilot's heading, the passengers' arrival times and awaiting relatives, Bill's heart and Vince's stick, all lay within a few thousand yards of me... but totally separate from me. And though my impulse led me outside myself, toward the shared, common world we all so obviously live in, it was starting to get dark, and kind of cold, and there seemed to be no one else around, so I called to Vince and headed up toward the house, its warm yellow light glowing out of the windows.

No comments: