“Spiegeleier,” Blinking Cursor, vol. 8 (Fall 2011).
How many times have I endured this scene? I stand there, watching the maple and beech leaves waft to the ground. September is on the wane. The hostas are new, I see, you must have planted them without telling me. But why plant them so late in the season? Weird. You say something to me and I nod, but the words sound as if they’ve come from under a pillow.
A black Buick drives down the lane and I realize I left the driver’s side door of our car open. I go to close it, floating, and leave you standing. I close the door, expecting the sound to be loud, but it’s muffled, hardly as loud as the blue jays and nuthatches echoing from the ravine. I stand at your side again and for some reason, perhaps because of the metallic sound of the car door, I remember how our daughter liked the word “spiegeleisen,” which referred to an iron alloy used in the steel industry. She thought it funny that it sounded like another word in German, spiegeleier, fried eggs.
Spiegeleisen. Spiegeleier. She thought words were great. From the very beginning, from when she first learned to talk, she played with words, rode them up and down a musical scale, made fun of them, twisted them into new shapes, then laughed that laugh that, I swear, I could still hear even when she was twenty, as if a little girl still hid somewhere under the Goth makeup and spiked green hair and distress. Her laughter came from her eyes, as big as spiegeleier yokes, and we feasted on them.
“I noticed Minnie was laying in her room again last night,” you say.
I nod and I say, “Animals work on instinct. They know better than we do.”
“Don’t talk like that,” you say in a pleading tone that sounds like zither music. “This is no time for philosophizing.”
I wasn’t aware I was philosophizing. I look around and say, “why is the weather always so beautiful when we come here? It doesn’t seem right.” You shrug.
We walk away from the headstone and I have the same urge I always have to put my arm around you. As always, you keep your distance.
Then I think about the Halloways. We’re due at their house in fifteen minutes. I want to ask why you insist on coming here, of all places, just before we go out. It takes me at least a day to recover every time I come here. But now, because you can’t say no, I will have to be sociable and talk about golf and the stock market and hear Robert Halloway’s unending stories about sailing on Puget Sound or down the Mississippi. And what will I have to offer in return?
“How’s the insurance business, Ulrich?” hale and hearty Robert says as he blows martini-breath in my face. The words come out in slow motion, making them almost impossible to understand. You look at me with your “be nice” expression, which I try to ignore. If I don’t ignore it I’ll want to slap your face. I’m alarmed at my anger, but I have no time to dwell on it.
“Five more years, and I’m out,” I think I say. “Thank goodness.”
And he lectures me on how it’s a mistake not to make the most of each day and that if I’m unhappy in my job I should look elsewhere. Every man is responsible for his own happiness, every man fends for himself, and that’s what’s great about this country. To each his own. I resist the urge to tell Robert that To Each his Own was the motto engraved in steel (made with spiegeleisen!) at the main entrance to the concentration camp Buchenwald in Nazi Germany. But what use would that be to Robert Halloway?
And you look warily at me, knowing I’m resisting. You continue to wear that damned “be nice” expression.
Finally it’s over.
“Janine, you know how much I hate the Halloways, especially after coming from the cemetery,” I say to you as we drive away. And you sigh. I notice there is a strange, shadowy frame around your face, as if someone has used the special effects feature from iPhoto. Again I have the urge to put my arm around you but my arm will not move.
When the alarm sounds it’s still dark outside and I remember that the days are getting shorter. My wrist aches and I think I must have slept on it at an odd angle. I get up to put on jeans and a sweatshirt and I stumble against the dresser. You say I should put the light on but I don’t.
Everything happens with a fearful precision now. I let Minnie out in the backyard to do her duty. I tell her “good girl” when she comes inside and I pour her a cup of dry food in her bowl. I re-fill her water bowl. I go out to the driveway in bare feet to pick up the newspaper. The concrete is cold. I put the newspaper on the kitchen counter but don’t open the plastic wrap. All I want is coffee. The idea of breakfast makes me nauseous.
In one hour we’re back in the car. We have an appointment at the psych unit at eight with our daughter’s team of therapists.
You say, “I’ve almost lost track how many times we’ve done this.”
“Four times,” I say. “Four attempts. Four times.”
In a few minutes we will see her spiegeleier-eyes. But they will be restive and dull at the same time. The words will come, but they will be stiff, unsmiling, chained. All will be found in the latest Webster’s. And together you and I will feel our hearts are packed in ice.