Wednesday, March 7, 2012


You decide on the jade earrings, the ones you bought in Hong Kong last fall. They’re set in gold studs, and you seldom wear gold, but the earrings themselves are small ovals of a soft, creamy green, a spring green that echoes the pale green of your “dress” hoodie, appropriate for the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in an office on a college campus. You have put the hoodie on over your new white T-shirt and a pair of ancient, lightweight pants, dark green, witty pants patterned not with flowers but with tiny wooden chairs. 

You add your coffee, in its thermos, and your lunch, ready in the refrigerator, to the multi-striped tote bag you carry daily and you call to the dog, who is allowed to come to the office. The dog is tired of coming to the office and runs away, and for a second you think about leaving her home, but the house is still new to both of you, you moved here almost exactly two months ago, and the dog will be happy once she gets to the office, so you remind her, again, that it is Friday, the last day of work before a three-day weekend during which she will not have to get into the car if she doesn’t want to. You talk often to the dog, who has an intelligent, fox-like face, so that she, and you, will hear a voice in the house. 

You call a coworker and leave him a message that you are departing now, at 8:15, but you have a couple of necessary errands to do on the way to work and probably will not be in until 9:30. Then you relax. You take the dog on her brief morning walk, pack her and your gear into the car, and drive off. 

The first stop is the post office, where you buy 40 postcard stamps and put them on the last of the open house invitations that you’re mailing. This process pleases you: seeing once more the names of people you hope will come to your new home, and the invitation itself, which was designed by a friend, again a sample of the wit of your world, with photos that show you and the dog, the car and the house, everything you have, really, all of which fits onto one postcard. 

Next you go to the dry cleaner and discuss with the proprietor the black silk man’s robe, lined in midnight blue, that you want to donate to your church for its silent auction, which is tomorrow. You had meant to take care of this business earlier, but in moving two months ago you lost track of the robe, and before moving, you had not been able to give away the robe. You had given it to your husband for Christmas one year, and he wore it at dawn each day when he meditated. 

In your previous home, the one you and your husband had shared, the robe hung in a storage bag with a few other items of his clothing—the London Fog burnt-orange jacket that he wore when he went off to college in 1964, a wool pullover he bought in Mexico in 1992, another jacket he’d been awarded in 1987 for winning a footrace—clothing you had no use for but which you simply weren’t ready to give away. After you moved, you decided that you didn’t need to keep the robe anymore, that it would be perfect for the silent auction, displayed dramatically on a horizontal bar hung on the wall. 

Now the dry cleaner is concerned because the collar is frayed, and after a brief discussion the decision is just to press the robe. You promise to pick it up this evening or first thing tomorrow morning and you make a mental note to call the organizer of the silent auction when you get to work and tell her that this donation is in process.

Then you drive toward the office, pleased with the morning. Your coworkers know where you are and you will indeed be in by 9:30. You talk to the dog, listen to the car radio, and when the radio becomes boring, switch to a CD, solo guitar, that you bought yourself the weekend before.

As always, you know that by changing some mundane detail of your schedule, you may have altered your life. This is seldom active knowledge—you don’t tend to be a worrier, or fearful—rather, an awareness that behind the ordinary minutiae of yours or anyone’s day lies a potential caterwaul of tragedy. This haunting does not stem from the death of your husband, four years ago this summer; that bad luck was some combination of genetics and environment, not an SUV in the wrong lane. Rather, this awareness is part of your ongoing curiosity about the achingly ordinary, necessary details. 

You refuse to let yourself dwell on this kind of thing because you are equally aware that any change in your timing—the extra two minutes at the dry cleaner, or earlier, inspecting your eyeglasses and deciding that they absolutely must be washed today, not tomorrow—either one or both of these decisions, any seconds of alteration in your routine, could also save you, from the deer that chooses run across the road with the perfect, split-second timing required for you to strike it broadside. 

At the last four-way intersection just north of the college campus you see the black pickup truck at the stop sign to your left, and you are aware, again, as always, that every yard you drive is based on trust—that the other driver is awake and sober, that any hill you crest will present you with a clear lane, not the grille of a minivan. 

And you know that the dog should not ride loose in the car, but her crate fits awkwardly in the back and she hates it, and your philosophy, which you have actually said out loud, is that if you were in an accident, you would both wind up as sushi anyway. So you continue driving: the truck has already stopped at the intersection, you do not have a stop sign, and your white car is visible in broad daylight on the two-lane road. 

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