November 8, 2019
“Night Watch On Valencia Mesa”
By Paul Saevig
The housewife lay on the fresh sheets she’d changed early the day before, fresh from the clothesline because that dried clothes more truly, sunned them, prepared them for active human bodies who would run and jump through the hills, crunch pepper tree seeds under their shoes, sit in silence to read and watch television in a blue glare visible from the street. Her sheets were no longer cool, not after her vain effort at slumber that warmed them like a toaster set on “Light”. Her husband slept silent beside her, slumped flat on his side, crew cut and unworried, untroubled. The night sounds were crisp, a lisping chirp, a coyote’s howl tentative with no resolving note, and closer by, a bush tree commotion that ended before it completely began, squirrels or opossums, a cat chase skid and acceleration. The housewife heard without listening, and the tiny eternal impartial radium clock radio dial face indicated quarter past three, as if in quiet silent apology for intrusion so mild and benign, showed her when she glanced. For an instant the remembered and considered the tens of thousands of times the clock radio face told her the time, only the time, when a son had measles, a daughter chicken pox, husband turned ankle gardening, family illness and phone ring, when news was bad, when atomic bombs made a mushroom cloud, Russian tanks rolled into a city, when a neighbor’s dog came up lame, rattlesnake bitten, limping and crying. The clock radio face was never upset, didn’t have much of a life, never complained, never slept.
The housewife rose to feel the hardwood coolness under her feet, pulled on a house robe, and walked down the hall without concern for waking children awakening from dreams deep and distant. The smell of her tidy clean house greeted her, there was polite lack of recognition, not without gratitude, and when she passed the living room on her left, her chairs, couches, coffee table, even her magazines and vases all watched Valencia Mesa Road as if they were in Egyptian Theater loge seats on Hollywood Boulevard, without even once looking away from the picture window, content if not entertained, in good company, expecting nothing, as much or as little as ninety year olds in a rest home after lunch before a doze, although without anyone to adjust blankets on their knees and thighs. They waited in the housewife’s living room, this furniture and carpet, these paintings and tchotchkes on the wall and in alcoves, and waited in darkness turning slowly to light, first dimmest yellow, then pale glowing orange, and they knew the rest. With a glance she passed by.
She reached the kitchen, her favorite room, the friendliest room, least likely to blame or even care if she goofed or spilled something, say, the room that always laughed at her silent jokes. She loved the darkness in the kitchen, never complete pitch black because of the street outside, where it stood like a big policemen on the beat, too shy to flirt with the pretty pepper tree, who found him handsome and nice, as if one day they might walk down for an ice cream cone while nobody saw them, and maybe, maybe a kiss on the bridge, maybe .. but the kitchen was agreeably dim, the housewife’s kitchen, with the linoleum that felt just right, everything in its place, no food out to attract insects or ants who would march in to make themselves home, industrious little guys, as she might say, hard working but unwelcome and she would send them packing and disinfect afterwards, no hard feelings.
She had a spot in her kitchen where she always sat, and it was at a table across from a window on the one street, where she could also turn to one side and see out the back porch and door to the other street. The position and view seemed, although she’d never tell anyone or say so, — the position seemed commanding, and also funny enough smile at how grandiose the word “commanding” seemed, like some of those big houses up in Sunny Hills that seemed to have twenty bedrooms each.
She had a pair of clay salt and pepper shakers in the form of rather happy lime green elephants with jaunty trunks uplifted and odd Asian eyes of robin’s egg blue with epicanthal folds. The housewife loved these little shakers more than almost anything in the world because her son made them himself at school in the fourth grade, fashioned and shaped the clay in his own boy’s hands, painted them with care, and when they came back from the kiln, they were lumpy and misshapen, although clearly elephants still. Yes, the housewife loved those little shakers.
She sat in the dark and stillness, in her house robe, also lime green, faded, and she folded her hands loosely on the table. Her shoulders relaxed, she gazed outside in the darkness, and she decided she had nothing in this world to worry about. She drank three cups of coffee the day before instead of her usual two,
No, she was not someone who’d “try to figure out” why she didn’t fall asleep that night or that morning. She would not think of factors and analyze them.
BFD, as she’d overheard her son’s little buddies cry out in their pipsqueak voices, and she knew what they meant, the insolent pups, she liked them. “BFD!” said their chapped pink lips painted white with ointment, and their noses the same, the little tanned rascals who parked their bikes in the dirt so fast they fell roughly while the boys themselves leaped off to run forward. The housewife got a kick out of them, and they were always hungry, too, as if famine raked across Valencia Mesa and left pitiful kids on the road shoulders begging for cookies and hot dogs and hamburgers and potato chips.
“BFD!” she’d say to herself and chuckle. It had a ring to it.
Her daughters were two doors down at a their first slumber party, and she swished she check on them Make sure they were tucked in. She’d pick their little white socks up from the floor, and kiss their smooth warm foreheads before she stepped out of the room.
She’d buy groceries at Model Market. Maybe a pot roast, or no, meat loaf because she could knead the meat and squish her fingers around inside it, it was easy and her family always liked it. With scalloped potatoes that were delicious. Green beans, dinner rolls, fresh butter, and no one evoked cake or pie enough to bother with them. Maybe peanut brickle for a change. Bathroom tissue, Tide, boxes of Kleenex, lemons, apples, a carton of Chesterfields, Ivory soap, Clairol, Q-tips, Lysol, Saltine crackers, Chicken Noodle, Tomato, Split Pea, Cream of Celery, Beef Noodles, flour, Maxwell House (can), tomato juice, bottle of Olympia beer, ginger ale, Squirt, cotton pads, pork chops, lamb chops, ground round, Heinz ketchup, sourdough, boysenberry jam, turkey of sandwiches, cheddar, scrub pads, Lava soap, plastic drinking straws, cantaloupe, Romaine lettuce, baby calves river, a chicken for roasting, three tubes of Ipana ..
She thought about her grocery list in a musing, reflective way, with resignation, because a shopper always forgets something. She had a written list and another in her mind, more extensive, comprehensive, and she sat at her picture window by her other porch window for long time, time unmarked, relaxed, purposive. She saw a squirrel run from a pepper tree to the west bushes, a darting figure in the dark. Someone turned a bedroom light on up two or maybe four doors up on Valencia Mesa, and turned it right off again. A shovel fell on a garage floor behind her and to the southwest. For minutes at a time nothing happened at all. If she listened hard she could hear the clock tick in the living room.
She heard a sudden urgent yowling with throat growls and brush of paws, plants, bushes and claws, a frenzied culmination and silence as cats mated.
Sometimes the hum of her refrigerator dropped a quartet octave for two bars, three, and then returned, as if competing for her attention, to throw up her other own chilled refrigerator hands in resignation, give up and go on cooling.
A ball point pen, a new packet of three pens, red green blue black. It would be nice to have them. Her daughter Cindy might like the green one, or the red. The housewife added them to her lists.
She’d see the dentist next Monday morning at 8 M, regular checkup. He talked too much. BFD.
Order new checks at the bank, plain. See about a new garden hose at Sears Roebuck. Maybe a new garden rake with more width. Get the back door key duplicated again. Stop by the library. Ask her daughter if typewriter keys needed replacement or repair. Stop by at insurance office, ask about discounts. Pick up a new Green Stamps catalogue. See if the new National Geographic is in, get a form to renew subscription that son allowed to lapse, denies it. Phone it? Drop off garden shears for sharpening, all seven scissors. Pinking shears. Browse patterns. Cute jumper maybe?
She would play golf, her pink tee would spin at her knees after a solid driver draw on her favorite par 5 dog leg with a sloping fairway to burn in her calf muscles and a Chesterfield cigarette tasted before her second shot seven iron whistled low for the lap of the green, pale against the Whittier foothills where oil wells cranked and jackrabbits bounded fast as stones skipped over a lake.
She felt no sleepier. She might get a tiny glass of orange juice. Maybe French toast? Supposed to be hot today low 80s. Santa Anas? Husband suits ready at dry cleaners. Good bag of avocados if that family offered some on their front yard, $2 BAG!! Cashews, walnuts. Medal dates?
She’d be forty in April. They’d stay at the Royal Hawaiian, probably. Anniversary, too. They’d drive up to the point where it was so windy you could throw a coin as hard as you could and it would still blow back at you. Her husband tried three times. It was funny. They’d dance cheek to cheek. The new James Jones was even better than From Here To Eternity, better than Leon Uris, a million times better than Peyton Place.
Stop to see Betty Kurland whose bursitis just seems to get worse all the time, poor thing. Could she sit through a movie? Her husband is a saint. She used to be club champ, Betty. Phone first. Not like the old days.
There might be a recession, another recession, looked like maybe, probably when she read Barron’s at the library. BFD. The doctor’s daughter works in circulation now, before she starts
Mills College. She looks like her mom, her dad through the eyes. A good kid. Pretty auburn hair. Wants to each third grade. Why third?
The housewife thought of nothing at all. Moments passed. Birds awakened, dogs, too.