I hear it all from the basement where I’ve been sent to get more seltzer. Voices like crumpled linen tumble down the laundry chute to where I stand, all ears, eyes on nothing. This is my sister-in-law’s house, emptier now that my brother-in-law has died, far from where he started, in this city where snow falls early on a white Thanksgiving. This will be one of those holidays. Three women upstairs talking, only one of them still with a husband, one of them married to me: my wife, her sister, their mother. What I hear is mostly rhythm and pitch, but the music of their speaking carries meaning enough to know who loves who, and how much. Mom wants to help; I hear that clearly, but she has terms. She’s looking for an ally to help her defend her own uncertain future, to not be dragged down by misfortune. What she says next does more to drive two sisters together than either of them closer to her. Some of this I don’t hear at all; most of it I know before they start talking. My wife has fled the upstairs scene and come to the only place in the house she thought nobody would be. She looks stricken. She looks pursued. From where we stand together we can hear two voices rising and crashing, one pleading, one flat. She wonders what I know. I don’t know where to start. A moment later we show up on radar, and now Mom’s in the basement with us, vivid, still debating. I married a woman who turns into a girl who leaves home over and over again at moments like these and takes back her life the best she can. She’s in the back yard now, without a coat, staring at snow.

Copyright © March 12, 2007 David Hodges