Blog: Point No Point

Summer Solstice

Today in the northern hemisphere we experience the most hours of daylight for this year. In my valley, we are also gifted with blue skies, mild temperatures, and 25-30 mph winds. We’ll batten down the hatches, and enjoy stealing moments outdoors in sheltered areas, because we know that in about six months, on the shortest day of our year, we’ll have forgotten the “breeze” and will be longing for the light and warmth.

May the cycles of the seasons bring joy, as they remind us that nothing is permanent: not wind, rain, or sun; not sadness or grief; not pleasure or comfort; everything changes, including us.

 

Pine Street Episode 37

Marilyn and Douglas claim their wedding is not a “love match,” although in Franny’s eyes their love is unmistakeable.

As it turned out, Franny and Leo waited nearly twenty minutes for Marilyn to arrive. When she did, it was on Douglas’s arm. Their friend appeared nearly herself, unless they looked closely, in which case they would realize that her skin had a grayish cast, her step had an unusual hesitation, and her shoulders sagged just a millimeter lower than they should.

But neither Franny nor Leo wanted to look that closely, or at least to register what their observations meant, so they smiled and rose to embrace Marilyn and Douglas, awkwardly, around the table, trying not to knock anything or anyone over.

“My apologies for being so dreadfully late,” Marilyn said as Douglas helped her into the chair.

“Only about twenty minutes,” Leo said, “that’s nothing. You are here now, and that’s all that matters.” Franny wondered at her own urge to disagree. Twenty minutes late was substantial, so unlike Marilyn, but she focused on maintaining a cheerful smile.

“I won’t have you apologizing for me, Marilyn,” Douglas said. “It was all my fault. Marilyn would have been here spot on time if she hadn’t been forced to wait while I searched for my keys.”

Something about his tone, and Marilyn’s expression, made Franny speculate about his veracity.

“The reason is less important than the result,” Marilyn said. “We kept you waiting, and for that I am sorry. Now, dears, let’s get down to the business at hand.” She paused, perhaps for drama, or perhaps to catch her breath, Franny wasn’t sure. “Douglas and I would be honored to have you at our wedding. It’s coming up quickly, I’m afraid, about three weeks from today, but we very much hope you can both be there to stand up for us. Such a charming old-fashioned idea, isn’t it – friends standing up for a couple. But there it is. We are old-fashioned people, in some ways.”

“We wouldn’t miss it,” Leo said.

“Of course not,” added Franny. “How can we help with preparations?”

“Before you make a final commitment, dears, we feel the need to be completely honest about our situation,” Marilyn went on. “No false pretenses. This is not exactly a love match.”

Douglas’s smile skewed a bit as he picked up the story. “Marilyn, this is a love match entirely. But perhaps not the way most people think about romantic love. The truth is, I love this woman with all my heart and soul. She is the best friend I’ve ever had, and her intelligence, artistic spirit, and kindness are balms to my wounds. It’s only that the legal part, transforming this friendship into a legal marriage – well, the reason for that is not the usual. We do not plan to start a family, for instance.” His eyes crinkled with the humor of it.

“Nor do we seek legitimacy for our physical passion,” Marilyn added with her own twinkle. “I leave it to you to decipher whether that means we don’t have passion, or we simply do not need any external body to legitimize it.” Franny felt a warm blush touch her cheeks. “In this uncertain world,” Marilyn continued, “there is only one thing we need that marriage license for: health insurance. I am facing some health issues that I prefer not to describe in excruciating detail. Suffice to say that since I have no children or siblings, I need a designated caregiver. And Douglas has agreed to extend his coverage to me, and to step in to help in my hour of need.”

As usual, Leo knew what to say first. “You are a true gentleman, sir, and a romantic at heart, I can tell. You are lucky to have one another. I love you both. Just tell me what I can do for you.”

Franny could only manage to nod agreement as she grasped Marilyn’s hand in her own, eyes moist, at the realization that her friend was facing something altogether dreadful, and transforming it into something lovely.

“There, Douglas, you see. I knew they wouldn’t balk, two such intrepid friends.” Marilyn beamed.

Pine Street Episode 36

Franny and Leo speculate about Marilyn’s upcoming wedding, and whether love (especially the married kind) has anything to do with intelligence.

“Your wedding?” Franny tried not to sound shocked, but felt sure she hadn’t pulled it off. “I mean, congratulations!”

“Don’t worry, dear, I know it comes as a surprise to all and sundry.” Marilyn sighed. “Even myself, in a way. It’s a long story that I’d rather share in person. If you two haven’t had dessert yet, can I meet you at the coffee shop in about fifteen minutes?”

Franny made eye contact with Leo, who nodded. “Of course. We’ll see you there.” She tapped off and dropped onto the love seat. “Wow.”

“A day full of good news,” Leo said. “See what I mean about the wind? It keeps things fresh, and brings us all kinds of surprises.”

Franny was not at all certain that the wind could take credit for this turn of events, but she smiled back at Leo. Her own reaction to the news of Marilyn’s wedding puzzled her. She did not feel unmitigated joy, but rather a wary sense of happiness mixed over and around something uneasy.

“Well,” she said. “I am curious to hear the full story. Knowing Marilyn, it will be worth the price of a pastry.”

Leo nodded. “I’ve known Marilyn for a long time, and I always thought she’s a catch. I figured she had multiple suitors and enjoyed going from one to the other. Not one to settle into a domestic arrangement. Or maybe her interests were more toward other women.”

Franny raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you never know,” Leo went on. “Marilyn seems too intelligent to only love men.” That made them both laugh.

“I’m not sure love has anything to do with intelligence anyway,” Franny said, with some bitterness in her voice. “In fact I’ve always thought the opposite. Love chases all intelligence right out the window.”

“Oh no, you’re mistaking lust for love. Lust, definitely. Overwhelms the brain, substitutes stupidity for discernment. Love? Just the opposite. The ability to love well is really the only intelligence that matters.”

Franny fought the urge to argue. “We’d better head over,” she said. “Marilyn’s never late.”

As it turned out, that was one of several mistaken assumptions Franny made about her new friend.

Pine Street Episode 35

Alison visits the coffee shop, where she manages to surprise her friendly barista Kassandra. Not with her order, but with her choice of reading material…

Kassandra turned from the espresso machine at the sound of the bell that hung over the door, and saw Alison enter. Although they were in different departments at the university, the two had a nodding acquaintance on campus, and were friendly at the coffee shop. “Hiya,” Kassandra said, relieved to have a customer. She didn’t loathe cleaning the grinders and machines, but she didn’t love those tasks, either. Not the way she loved interacting with her regulars. “Need a caffeine fix for that thesis?”

Alison nodded. “Um, sure. Caffeine, definitely, anyway. The thesis? Maybe not.”

“It is an awfully nice day. Hard to focus on something that requires a lot of reading.” Kassandra rarely challenged her customers to feel or think in ways other than they appeared to want to feel or think. This ability to harmonize with their desires was one of her secrets to keeping them as regulars. No one wants a dose of judgement with their coffee and pastry, Kassandra thought. “What can I make for you?”

Alison’s eyes flicked to the menu, as if to check the options, though she ordered one of the two or three drinks in her regular repertoire. “Chai tea, I think.”

“Spicy or sweet?” Kassandra smiled, knowing the answer.

“Spicy, please.” Alison returned the smile.

Most of Kassandra’s regulars were like Alison: they ordered the same things, came in around the same times, wore the same winter boots or spring scarves. Kassandra loved their predictability. She knew their attitudes were predictable, too. One would be grumpy in the morning, sweet in the afternoon. Another would never be satisfied with the first drink, always returning it as “not quite right.” Most would be distracted with their thoughts or their smart phones, rarely making eye contact with their barista. A few would hold long conversations, ostensibly with her, but in reality, with themselves, while she listened and smiled.

Occasionally, a regular would surprise her. Kassandra loved this, too. In her eyes, human beings were infinite in the ways they could entertain her.

She felt this surprise now, as Alison walked to the stand holding free publications, and picked up a glossy local real estate magazine to peruse while she sipped her spicy Chai tea.

I never would have guessed that, Kassandra thought, I had her pegged for getting out of town as soon as she graduates and that boyfriend of hers finally pops the question.

Pine Street Episode 34

Meanwhile, Alison explores one of the older neighborhoods in town. Something – the brisk wind, the shabby old houses, or the notion of coffee – lifts the weight of dread, just a little.

Bending into the brisk spring wind, nose running and eyes watering, Alison walked straight north on Pine Street, toward the university. Her mind played with the thought that she was heading for the library to continue her literature review, but at the intersection before campus, she turned right. She meandered through the neighborhood, noticing the houses that she’d never paid much attention to before.

Some were in the kind of rough condition that spoke of years of student rentals – “lawns” filled with patchy weeds that were mown down before the winter snows came, now starting to come to life again; peeling paint on the siding; old couches on the front porch beside tin cans filled to overflowing with cigarette butts. (Did young people still smoke? Alison wondered at this, having grown up on a steady diet of warnings of the health dangers of tobacco.)

A few houses appeared historically old, with details from the early part of the twentieth century, set far back from the street, facing broad lawns of real grass. Fewer of these were lovingly restored with brightly colored paint picking out details of porch railings, window sills, soffits, eaves, and doors. Some were “modernized” into sedate colors and styles that would appeal to nearly anyone.

Alison liked those the least. Her favorites were the shabby old houses waiting for restoration, as if waiting for a lover to come back from the romanticized adventures of war. As she walked she saw one with a For Sale sign leaning on a low front hedge. The sign looked faded but farther up the walk, a post held a plexiglass box with flyers. Alison took one and saw the photos of the inside of the house, a large living room, fireplace, four bedrooms, a smallish kitchen, all equally shabby and equally intriguing as the exterior.

Without knowing why, she folded the flyer and stuffed it in the pocket of her windbreaker. Alison turned toward her apartment and put the chilly breeze at her back. Her pace slowed and her mind wandered. She was surprised to realize the feeling of dread that usually made its home in the pit of her stomach was nearly gone, just a small pressure instead of a cement-block-like weight.

Coffee. That’s what I need, she mused, and headed toward the coffee shop in no particular hurry at all.

Pine Street Episode 33

There’s a wedding in Franny’s future.

“What’s that?” Leo asked, head cocked like a collie trying to hone in on the voice of his master calling him home. Franny listened and heard a deep buzz pulsing from the pocket of her coat, hung on the rack by the door.

“Oh, my phone.” She dug it out and looked at the caller ID. “It’s Marilyn. Do you mind?” Marilyn’s health was still a bit of a mystery, and Franny had continued to take on sporadic dog walking duty with Precious. Marilyn’s friend Doug had stayed in town, and Marilyn had confided to Franny some of their history, their affair and deep friendship. She often encountered Doug on the days she went to walk Precious, as he came or went from visiting Marilyn. If Doug was arriving, his arms would be full of groceries or books and movies from the library. If he was leaving, his face would hold a secretive, inward smile.

Franny wondered, but dared not ask Marilyn, if his motive was friendship or romance. Was he there to be a stand-by nurse, or a would-be lover?

“Go ahead – I’ll just dish up another bowl of this amazing soup.” Leo smiled and stood, drinking the last dregs of his first serving. “If that’s okay?”

“Of course.” Marilyn had rung off, so Franny pushed redial and stepped into the bedroom.

“Franny? Oh, thank you for calling right back, dear. I hope I’m not interrupting your day too much.”

“Not at all. Just Leo over here, having some lunch, taking a break from the wind.”

“Leo’s there? Good! I can kill two birds with one stone, as they say, although I’ve always hated the violence implied in that old saying.” Franny imagined Marilyn’s wry smile on the other end of the line. (Or signal? There are no lines with cell phones, so that was another old phrase that needed to be retired. But does a signal have more than one “end,” or is it just a blur of particles? Franny shook her head, trying to refocus on the conversation.) “Let me revise that.” Marilyn continued. “I can invite both of you at the same time.”

“Invite us?” Franny walked back into the room where Leo had started on his second helping. “Wait, I’ll put you on speaker.”

“Leo dear, how are you?” Marilyn’s voice sounded odd on the speaker, as if somehow she’d become older, or more serious. “I’m glad you’re there,” she went on without waiting for his answer. “It’s been such a busy day already, and there is so much more to do. A blessed life, isn’t it, when we always have more to do? In any case, I’d better get right to the point. I want to invite you and Franny to – well, as a matter of fact, I’m inviting you to be at my wedding.”

Pine Street Episode 32

While Franny and Leo enjoy a lunchtime refuge from the wind, Alison ventures right into the face of it.

Spring meant only one thing to Alison, Franny’s elfin neighbor: the deadline for finishing her master’s thesis was one quarter closer. This filled Alison with a sense of dread for which she had no rational explanation. Her data set was complete, her analysis was straightforward, and her conclusions were not likely to irritate any of her committee members, at least not enough to provoke them into blocking her completion.

The dread seemed to emanate from the large blank space on Alison’s mental calendar that loomed after what all involved presumed would be a successful thesis defense. Alison’s boyfriend wanted to fill it, at least a week of it, with a trip somewhere together to celebrate her accomplishment. This, too, seemed angst-ridden. Alison strongly suspected he would propose during such a trip, and although she loved her boyfriend very much, she kept telling herself, she could not imagine the word “wife” following her name.

Yet she had not been able to motivate herself to apply for more than a single PhD program. Staying in school seemed the answer to all her worries, but now most deadlines had long passed and Alison was stuck waiting to hear from that program as her only hope. She could not understand herself at all. Normally, when she had a goal in mind, she moved heaven and earth to achieve it. But this whole grown-up life thing, with all its monumental decisions, seemed to slip through her fingers like sand.

Or like being in a dream, she thought, one of those dreams where as soon as you think something, you are there. You think “I’m tired” and you’re in bed. You think “I’m hungry” and you’re at a fancy restaurant. You think “I want to go home” and you’re on the road in an old jalopy. But nothing really works – your bed turns to water, the food at the restaurant tastes of salt and mold, the jalopy breaks down and you can’t dial your cell phone for help. Your fingers simply won’t go to the right numbers.

That’s how grown-up life feels – I can’t get my fingers on the right numbers, and in the meantime, everything is passing by so fast.

Alison’s cell phone rang then, in a kind of poetic gesture from the universe, and the sound prompted her into an immediate, if small, decision.

She left the phone on her desk, ignoring the call from her boyfriend, put on her windbreaker and ski cap, and headed outside for a walk in the brisk spring wind. Only twenty-eight miles per hour today, barely enough to lean into! She smiled to herself as her eyes began to water.

Pine Street Episode 31

Franny finds the joy of cooking, for herself and for others.

It surprised Franny, her newfound love of cooking. In her previous, busy life, her kitchen had been a place to heat food prepared by someone else. She did her best to choose boxes of frozen meals that were marked “organic” and “natural” but who really knew what the conditions were like in the giant commercial kitchens where those ingredients were combined. Who really knew what the people in those food factories were thinking or feeling as they cooked macaroni or turned on the machine that vacuum-sealed a portion into a plastic, micro-wave-safe pouch.

All Franny had wanted from food then was quickness, easiness, convenience. Good taste was a nice bonus. Healthiness was somewhere down the list.

Now, ever since that first dinner party in her apartment, with the pasta and sauce triumph (she still thought of it that way), Franny could not wait for the chance to cook. She eagerly awaited the farmer’s market opening, a week or so away. Meanwhile, she experimented with vegetables, tofu, spices, and herbs. She learned to cook rice perfectly although she couldn’t really explain how. She reveled in the discovery of homemade peanut sauce, made with spicy chili paste, all-natural peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, and her secret ingredient – a liberal dash of cumin. Mixed in with her perfect rice (chewy, with a bit of tooth to it, and a few hard grains were okay with Franny) and black beans and any veggies on hand, she’d feast for days.

Mostly, though, Franny discovered she loved cooking food to be shared. What a gift to see a friend enjoy something she’d made, to see how good food could make others happy. Divorce rends into tiny pieces the perception of oneself as capable of making another human being happy.

Cooking brought that perception back to Franny, and sometimes she would weep with joy for it.

She felt on the verge of weeping as she watched Leo inhale the curry-infused carrot and sweet potato soup that had been simmering for most of the morning in the crock pot he’d given her when she moved in. He was a sloppy but grateful eater, and the dribble of bright-orange liquid on his chin proved her saving grace. It turned Franny’s tears to giggles as she allowed them to bubble out of her.

Pine Street Episode 30

Wind, soup, and lamps = the recipe for mid-life love?

“So how do people here deal with it? The wind, I mean,” Franny asked as she put her groceries away, leaving the bread out for slicing.

“It never really bothers me.” Leo sat on the love seat Franny had added to her motley collection of living room furniture. “So I don’t know. Does it bother you?”

The expression on Leo’s face struck Franny as comical – halfway between serious concern and disdain for a person so wimpy as to let a little thirty-mile-an-hour breeze bother them. Over the top he layered an eager gaze at the crock pot behind her.

A small but genuine laugh burst out of her. “What’s funny?” Leo asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. You. Life. Wind. Are you hungry? I’m famished.” She ladled two mugs full of soup and arranged bread slices on a plate. “Let’s eat and talk about something other than the weather.”

“Deal.” Leo broke a piece of bread and took a bite. After some thoughtful chewing he asked, “How are you liking this apartment? Is there anything that needs fixing?”

Again his expression made Franny laugh. “No. I mean, I love it. It’s great. Everything works fine.”

“How about lamps? Do you have enough mood lighting?”

It struck Franny as a bit absurd, but also sweet, a question that no one else would think to ask. “As a matter of fact, I kind of hate the overhead light fixtures. But lamps are awfully expensive.”

“I’ve got some. What do you like?” Leo’s eagerness touched her. Franny felt tears threaten to reveal themselves and she sniffed them back, grabbing a napkin.

“You okay?”

“Oh, sure. Just the hot soup causing my nose to run.” Franny hoped Leo hadn’t noticed she hadn’t actually sipped the soup yet, and to cover her little white lie, she lifted her mug and slurped. “I don’t want to put you out. I mean, I’m already using your table and camp chairs.”

“Hey, I’ve got table lamps I’m not using. It’d be great to see them here.”

“How about floor lamps? I don’t have a lot of tables yet.”

“That’s okay. I’ve got tables, too.”

Something else shone through Leo’s expression at that moment. A sort of light, or glow. In response to it, Franny felt a throb of longing. Since her divorce she couldn’t remember anyone being so interested in the minutiae of her living situation, so eager to offer her stuff. The attention was intoxicating.

Franny wondered if this is what falling in love in mid-life felt like, if it often happened over soup and through conversations about used lamps.

Pine Street Episode 29

Spring finds Franny – with lilac blossoms, sunshine, and of course, that diabolical wind.

Spring brought sunshine, lilac blossoms, and wind.

Franny had anticipated the cold of winter, the snow and slush. She’d grown up in a place that had those kinds of winters and she knew to buy waterproof boots, she knew the feeling of the fine hairs inside her nose freezing when she stepped outside.

She understood the glory of early spring, when afternoons warmed up slightly, the sky took on a Delft blue hue, and the newest leaves on the trees sprung in bright lime green.

But the wind was new, and for the first month or so of spring, it nearly defeated Franny. She’d wake up, see the blue sky, toss on a light jacket, and head out to walk to the grocery or just stroll the alleys smelling the lilacs. She’d return to her apartment twenty or thirty minutes later feeling battered, nose running, skin stinging.

Her parka, ski cap, and gloves kept her warm in the snow. It didn’t seem any clothing or gear in the world would shut out that wind.

One of those beautiful sunny and diabolically windy days, Franny made her way down Pine Street with an overstuffed bag of groceries, leaning into what locals called a breeze, pausing when she lucked into a sheltered spot to blow her nose. During one of those pauses, as she returned her handkerchief to her pocket, she heard her name.

“Franny! Hi!” Leo dashed across the street toward her, wearing a sweatshirt and baseball cap. “How are you? It’s been a while.”

“Fine, but this wind!”

“I know, isn’t it great? I love it!” he beamed. “It keeps the air so clean, and look.” He pointed toward the southeast. “It pushes all the clouds over that way, so we get to bask in the sun.”

Franny’s sniff seemed to remind Leo that not everyone enjoyed a brisk thirty-mile an hour wind as he did. “Oh. I know, it can be tough,” he said. “Where’s your hat?”

“I couldn’t keep one on my head in this wind. How do you do it?”

Leo laughed. “My pointed head, I guess. Can I help you home with those?” He took one bag of groceries from Franny. “Then maybe buy you some lunch? We could catch up.”

Franny felt warm for the first time since she’d ventured out into the windy day. “Sure. But I have some soup in the crock pot, and in that bag is some really good bread. Would you be okay with eating in?”

Leo’s answer was in his smile and as they walked the last few blocks to Franny’s apartment, it seemed the wind calmed down and the only thing left in the air was the intense perfume of lilacs.