The Words (Right Out of My Mouth) Page 2
A large shadow fell over her, and right away she felt the slightest degree cooler. She looked up to see the sun blocked by black clouds, edged in white and gray, that were moving in. This came as no surprise. The weather report said thunderstorms were likely. Rain. How nice the rain would be. She couldn’t remember the last time it rained. But then again, time had become distorted since the virus. The days were paradoxically lengthy but passed by speedily. One moment, she was wondering when Monday would end, the next she looked at the calendar, certain it was going to reveal itself to be Thursday, only it was actually Friday, and she wondered how she lost track of a whole day. She moved soil into the pit for the cockscomb. Then leaned back on her heels and looked to the street.
There was an elderly couple taking a stroll. It was so hot outside, she was surprised they’d chosen this time to walk. Usually, the older walkers were seen early in the morning or in the cool of the evening. Both wore masks. But it wasn’t the masks that prompted her to think about the virus, it popped into her head as soon as she saw they were old. You can’t not think about it, she marveled. It was recommended now that everyone who ventured out use a cloth mask and Page always complied, although she wasn’t wearing one now. She figured she wasn’t going to be close to anyone, so why put up with the nuisance? Still, even though the couple were well beyond six feet from her, Page briefly wondered if she should pull up the bandana tied around her neck over her mouth and nose, just to show she was compliant. Or respectful. Or polite? God, what’s the protocol? But she didn’t want to look reactionary, either. By the time this tiny debate ended, they had already moved around the curve.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a brilliant blue coming toward her. It was a distinct hue, and one she recognized. It was the shorts of a jogger, neon blue with equally electric light blue piping. She’d seen those shorts before. Twice in fact. The first time was just as she was beginning her project. She set out all the plants, the soil, retrieved the necessary tools, but had forgotten the kneepad and trudged back to the garage to get it. As she was returning, she couldn’t help but notice the runner going by. I bet you can see those things at night, she even thought at the time. The second occasion she saw them, they were bouncing by as she moved from the finished bed on the left to the virgin ground of the bed on the right. Now for some reason, Neon Blue (she shorthanded him after the second pass) was jogging right up to her. Page didn’t think she reacted, it’s not like she recoiled or anything, but as he slowed down coming toward her, he reversed his momentum and backed up several feet away. If she knew anything about him, she knew he was polite.
“I gotta ask,” the jogger panted. “Does he approve?”
The man was moderately handsome with a runner’s physique—lean, sinewy, muscular. Although there was a little padding at the waist. And he was either an ethnicity she couldn’t place or simply big on tanning because his skin was the color of expensive leather. She had no idea what he was talking about.
“I’m sorry?” Page asked. The brim of her hat felt tight, so she took it off.
“Does he approve?” the man repeated, still panting. He was drenched. His white sleeveless shirt had zero wicking quality. The fabric clung to him as if he’d just come out of a pool. He put out his hand and waved it, like he was erasing something. “I’m sorry, I interrupted your zen.”
She allowed this change of subject and countered with one of her own.
“I saw you run by earlier. Then again…oh, about an hour later?”
“That’d be about right,” his breathing was returning to normal.
“And now you’re back.” She gave him a wary look. “Should I be nervous? Should I have been timing you? Or maybe placing a bet?”
The only person she could successfully crack a joke with was her husband. But Neon thought this was hilarious and he laughed for several seconds.
“No, no reason to be nervous. And I have this.” He held up his wrist wrapped in the black band of a Fitbit. “So no need to time me. And no, you shouldn’t gamble on me. I’m a dark horse. Most definitely.”
“I thought dark horses made the most money,” Page replied. Am I flirting with him? Stop it.
“That they do. In the movies anyway. But this is real life.”
“Real life feels like a movie.”
She was referring to the unreal, strangely cinematic quality the world had assumed. And while it amazed her that, once again and so quickly, covid had come up again so easily, that didn’t disturb her. She sounded concerned and felt like she revealed she was afraid, or disturbed. She was almost embarrassed. He sensed none of this.
“It does,” he nodded. “Like a scary movie.” He splayed upturned hands innocently. “See? Six feet away.”
She felt exposed. “You live in the neighborhood?” she asked, hoping to distract him. “I haven’t seen you before. But there’ve been a lot of new people coming through the circle recently.”
“Yeah. I discovered it, oh, about a week and a half ago? From Barclay,” he thumbed behind him.
“Barclay’s miles from here.”
“Two, actually. I live at Barclay and Harmond. From Barclay to here, through your circle and back, is five miles. The circle’s about the midpoint and it’s a nice marker. How the trees hang over the street kinda? How it’s shaded? It’s a cool you can feel, believe me. Refreshes me for the next leg.”
Page ran rough calculations in her head. “What are you running? Fifteen miles? Because this would be your…” I sound impressed. I am flirting with him. Oh, I am not!
“Third lap,” he answered. “Third time around. I usually only run ten. I’m pushing it today. When I saw you working on your garden, I told myself I wouldn’t quit until you were finished.” He and patted his slight paunch. “I’m not an avid jogger. So I need to motivate myself. Or challenge myself, I guess. Otherwise I’ll quit and just continue to add onto this corona weight.”
He can’t avoid mentioning it either.
“You did it,” she smiled. “I’m finished.”
“I still have a couple miles to go when I loop out of here. I could still drop dead. The flowers look nice.”
“Thank you. I’m really happy with them,” she said. No, she told herself. She wasn’t flirting. This man was swarthy and slightly exotic, but he was only blandly handsome. His features were too symmetrical, everything was so even. Michael had a few dramatic features that drove Page crazy. His hair, for one. It unbelievably thick, so blond it was almost yellow, and he had a head full of it. She couldn’t help but envy him, griping that for every follicle “the rest of us have,” he had twenty. Sometimes when they made love, Page would grab a handful of golden locks and pull hard, which made him thrust harder as his head pulled back showcasing his jaw, his second exaggerated feature. He had this incredible lantern jaw. It was like God didn’t design him, the artist who drew Superman did. But it was his lips that did her in. When they first met, she looked him in the eyes, of course, but then she locked three inches lower on his mouth. She couldn’t explain it, but his lips were manly and feminine at the same time, unbelievably sexy. The whole night of their first date, she kept wondering if he was a good kisser, told herself she was going to be crushed if he wasn’t. Neon Blue? Lips so thin it was almost skin, followed immediately by teeth. We would have dated once maybe. That’s as far as that would have gone.
“Well, they made my run prettier.”
“That’s what I was hoping for. I mean, I’ll enjoy them too. I usually have a glass of wine on the porch before sundown.”
“Maybe I’ll see you after this is all over and I go back to work. Usually I run right after I get home. But I’m working from home now, so I run whenever I feel like it. And I like this run. See no reason to give it up once this covid business is over. Maybe I can join you and your husband for a glass then. When it’s safe.”
Husband? He’s trying to figure out if I have a husband. He’s flirting with me!
Neon started off. He got about three feet before it hit her.
“Hey!” she called quickly. “What did you mean before?”
The man stopped in his tracks and turned around.
“I’m sorry. I forgot the whole reason I stopped in the first place. Your husband. I hope he approves.”
Again with the husband. Down, boy. But wait…
“How did you know I have a husband?”
“I assume that’s who it is. Either that or your boss,” he laughed.
Page stared at the man. He must have read her confusion.
“In the window,” he said, motioning toward the house. “I’m surprised I saw him. But you know how your tree branches out in two directions at the top? There’s that split in the middle of it?”
She didn’t have to turn around, she knew what he was talking about.
“When I first ran by here, I happened to look up and through that split that I saw him in your window. Then, of course, I looked up again on my second lap. Still there. And I made a joke. Boy, I hope she doesn’t screw up that garden. Then when I saw him the third time, I had to make fun of it. You know, that someone was monitoring your progress?” As soon as he finished talking, the man looked stricken. “Wow. That sounds weird now that I’m saying it out loud. I’m sorry! I should mind my own business.”
What is Michael doing watching me plant flowers? She turned back toward the house.
Like the bay window downstairs, the upstairs window of Cain’s room also had a window seat, though not as generous or comfortable as the one downstairs. And, just like the jogger told her, someone was sitting in the window. But it wasn’t her husband. It was Cain. Quickly, she clocked the time: the jogger said he saw Cain in the window over an hour ago; then an hour later; and now again? Surely this was coincidence, that Cain had gone and done something else and the jogger just happened to catch him when he returned to the window. Surely he wasn’t sitting in the window for three hours?
“That’s my son,” she told the man, distracted, slightly confused.
No response. Cain wasn’t looking at her. What was he staring at? The tree?
Page walked into her son’s room, disturbed to find the six-year-old, just as he’d been the previous two nights, sitting in the window seat, his eyes staring. This was his third night at this nocturnal post. His guard station.
“Cain,” she said tenderly as she walked toward him. He was kneeling on the bench’s far right, so there was room for her to cuddle up beside him on the left. “Cain, are you looking at the tree again?”
His head nodded emphatically but his gaze never shifted.
Page didn’t know why or how it started. There was no recent event that caused it. Not one that she or Michael knew of. But the other night, after Cain had taken a bath and was dressed in his pajamas, Page came into his bedroom to tuck him in and found him at the window, staring at, she would soon find out, the tree outside. It took a little coercing, but in bits and pieces, Page found out that Cain didn’t like the tree. Not dislike really, more that he didn’t trust it, from what she could gather. Cain was convinced that the tree was waiting for him to go to sleep and, as soon as he was, the tree was then going to reach into his bedroom and…what he wouldn’t or couldn’t tell them. But he had somehow got it in his head that the only way he could prevent the tree from enacting its plan was to keep his eyes on it. While Cain watched the tree, it would keep up its stationary pretense. But if he turned his back on the tree for a second, that was when the tree would make its move. Cain’s bedtime was 8:00. But that night they didn’t get him to sleep until 8:45. They couldn’t talk him out of the window seat until almost 8:30 and even then, he reverse-walked his way to his bed, keeping his eyes toward the window even as he climbed into his bed backward.
“Honey, from this angle, you can’t even see the tree,” she told him, stroking his hair. Michael sat on the other side of the bed rubbing his back.