This Florida landscape inspires Vashti
to do something I’ve never seen her do.
She’s on the breakwater at the end of Coquina Beach,
facing Longboat Key across the strait,
painting a small watercolor of shore and palms.
I’m trying to keep Rusty away from her.
She doesn’t want to be watched at work.
We’re looking at pizza sized jellyfish
stranded on the beach, fewer than yesterday,
and stalking the Great Blue Heron
who hangs out under the bridge to Longboat Key.
Rusty watches me take the heron’s portrait
in front of parked cars with the big lens.
Tamed by handouts of fish guts,
the heron lets us get about half as close
as the pelicans usually allow.
Vashti’s waving, calling us
to come look at her painting.
On the isle of Anna Maria
is a playground on the bayshore beach
that’s become Rusty’s favorite place.
One platform has two slides,
a corkscrew slide that spins you around,
and a straight slide with ripples
that makes you go bumpity bumpity.
A swinging bridge takes you
to the other platform, which has
two tube slides, one straight,
one turning left toward the bottom.
Once in a while Rusty slides down,
but for some reason he’d rather
climb up each slide, which is easy
on the bumpity bumpity slide,
but much harder on the others.
Of course this isn’t okay
if someone else wants to go down,
but the playground usually isn’t busy.
Rusty would even try to climb
the outside of the tube slides
if I let him, but no way.
On a bridge over the Myakka River,
Vashti, Rusty, and I are watching
alligators swimming in the twilight,
rough scales breaking the surface.
I’m making chirping sucking noises
like the alligator scientist made
on a National Geographic show,
like a baby alligator’s call for help.
Two alligators swim toward the bridge.
When I stop, they circle away.
Vashti and Rusty are both excited,
and ask me to do it again.
Their own attempts at making the sound
break up in laughter. Again I stop
when the alligators swim near the bridge.
I don’t want them climbing out of the water.
I slip out of her bed while she’s asleep,
locate my clothes, shoes, and socks by feel
and put them on, go downstairs to Rusty,
snoring in a sleeping bag on a piece of foam.
Now that my damaged belly dancer’s able
to get up and around some, she’s complaining
I wasn’t attentive when I danced with her,
and saying she wants to check out other men.
She knows who I am. She knows I love her.
For that matter, I know she loves me,
from the look in her eyes, whatever she says.
At dawn, Rusty and I straighten things up,
carry our stuff to the car and drive away.
I don’t know whether we’ll be coming back.
I laid out the foundation for
a two story dodecagon tower
twelve years ago when I thought
Shayla might move in with me.
We broke up. I didn’t need it.
I began building the tower
because Nancy thought
her other two daughters
would move in to live with us.
We broke up. I didn’t need it.
I built the tower casually
after turning in my third novel,
figuring probably someday
I’d need it for something.
I finished framing, roof, floors,
outside and inside walls,
built shelves upstairs and filled them
with old issues of Natural History.
Then I got a call from Ella,
crying because her boyfriend, Troy,
broke up with her and made her
move out, with their baby, T.J.
She needs somewhere to live, right now.
I told her she can’t have her old room
because it’s Rusty’s room now,
but that tower’s almost done.
After a few drives back and forth
to Piercy to get all their stuff,
Ella and T.J. move into the tower.
Nancy called me from a hospital,
could I pick her up and take her home?
That black Harley-Davidson T-shirt
with a pink rose over the label
made her look like a biker chick.
I wondered what she was into now.
She said she’d had a hemorrhage
from the miscarriage of a tubal pregnancy,
and really wanted to talk to
the Harley-riding man who got her pregnant,
but he didn’t want to relate to her.
Nancy was living in an upstairs room
of her home health care client’s home.
He was in a wheelchair,
his beautiful teenage daughters going wild,
Nancy not sure how much to tell him.
While unconscious in the hospital,
Nancy had a near-death experience,
with beings of light in a glowing stairway
who made her examine why she wanted to live.
She wanted to come back for Rusty,
and somewhat to her surprise,
she wanted to come back for me.
Nancy and I sit on the couch, watching
virgin ladies wearing white dresses
in rooms and gardens of an Italian villa,
a prince and his nobles returning from war,
a benevolent plot to unite a couple
who love each other but cannot admit this,
a bastard brother’s scheme to spoil a wedding,
two buffoons as guards— typical Shakespeare.
“Sigh no more, turn your woe to hey, nonny, nonny!”
All the misunderstandings are forgiven.
All applaud the sharp-witted couple’s kiss.
Nancy says, “Too bad real life’s not like that,”
a heart-stopping cue that sounds like destiny.
I touch her hand and say, “Sometimes it is.”
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller