by Randy Money
Randy Money currently lives in Syracuse, New York.
My real work starts after I leave my job, when I pick up my daughter, Devin.
My wife works nights, four to ten, so on leaving my office I drive to the babysitter's. I usually drive at a speed my wife would gripe about--faster than the speed limit, but slower than the Road Runner. On good days the drive unravels the knots of tension in mind and body, and I look forward to seeing Devin. On bad days I sit hunched over my steering wheel, muttering about the drivers ahead who sit in their cars hunched over their steering wheels, muttering. Those are the evenings I'm apprehensive: while most times the sight of Devin's sparkling smile rejuvenates me, her pleasure at seeing me communicating itself in waves of new-found energy, there are Other Times when my tiredness rises above barometric records, and I chant the mantra, damn-I-need-a-nap. That is, when I'm not reduced to snarling and snapping like a toothless mutt over my bone of weariness.
One night not long ago was an Other Time. After a long day on the job, I dragged myself from my office, trudged to my car, and drove slowly to the sitter's.
I was vaguely depressed. On the job, the documentation I was writing was coming slowly, painstakingly, when it progressed at all. Then over my lunch hour I'd worked on a poem knowing it wasn't right, wasn't finished, was still crippled by something I hadn't yet recognized and maybe never would since, as poets go, I'm a fair third baseman. But my mind refused to surrender the poem, reciting it repeatedly, like regurgitating something undigestible, then swallowing it whole, then spitting it up again. I tried listening to the radio and thinking about a story I haven't finished yet, but neither interrupted my mind's binging and purging. Actually, that isn't the right metaphor. My mind wasn't binging and purging; my mind was like a terrier with a rat, barking at it, pouncing on it, worrying it until he's sure it's dead. Or until the rat bites back and sends him yelping away.
With an effort, I ejected the poem from my mind when I pulled into the sitter's driveway. The poem's time was over; now was Devin's time.
As I entered the house, Devin ran into the room, hugged my knees and started jumping in place. I heard cartilage crackling and realized I was following her bouncing like the first head transplanted to a pogo stick. She had been playing with the sitter's kids for almost an hour: not long enough to evaporate her vigor, but plenty of time for to raise her enthusiasm to a boil. I couldn't reach her energy level without adrenalin injections.
Before I could say hello, she shouted that she wanted to play outside at home. I'd seen it coming. Every spring in Syracuse is allowed a day without rain. Sometimes it can even be sunny. This day was the worst possible combination, not only an Other Time, but a "sometimes", too. After a long, dark winter I'd feel guilty forcing her to stay inside so dinner, my one respite before bedtime, would be late.
On the way home, in what silences my daughter allows in any nine block ride, the poem pounced back into my thoughts, but I pushed it away. Maybe I'd worry it later, if I didn't doze on the couch.
Once home, we went inside so Daddy could 'hit the pot' and take his anti-histamine. On the shelf just below the anti- histamine was another bottle.
"Bubbles!" Devin exclaimed.
"Bubbles," Daddy groaned. I knew, by forgetting the bottle was there, I'd doomed myself to blowing bubbles until near dark, the interests of parent-child relations further delaying dinner. My shoulders felt twenty pounds heavier and my stomach rumbled like rumors of a coup. I popped a pill, attempted to suppress the coup with a graham cracker, and stumbled along behind Devin who, declining a cracker in the face of play, danced out the door with effervescent glee, shouting urgings for speed over her shoulder.
Our home is one of a row of houses, all from the '50s, most of them Cape Cods. Like most suburban homes, it sits too close to our neighbor's house: stretching as we exit through the east side door of the garage our fingernails almost scrape their siding. Our front lawn, like neighboring front lawns, is a postage stamp, though less well-tended than the postage stamps of the local retirees who renew themselves with gardening when they aren't pruning trees, clipping bushes, pulling weeds or precision mowing their butch-cut lawns three times a week, making sure the pattern of the cut runs in diagonal stripes of military regularity. I am not jealous. I am thankful that my neighbor whose siding I almost scrape with my fingernails has a large bush which each summer grows to resemble Don King, the fight promoter. It makes me feel I am not alone in battling suburban conformity; or at least, in ambivalence toward yard work. It makes me wonder if condos and apartment houses aren't a natural result of human evolution.
In spite of the sun, the day was windy and the wind was chilly. That didn't stop the bugs, though. In the shadow of the two pines that sit on the west border of our yard, mosquitoes executed maneuvers; there were no more than four or five thousand of them flying in hypodermic-needle formation. A scout buzzed by, palely reconnoitering my ear; he landed on the back of my hand and I swatted him in vein: la belle hand sans merci. Unlike Devin, I yearn for the great in-doors but I compromised and only stepped away from the pines and bushes, conceding the territory as I pulled her along.
Devin fished the wand from the bottle. She had last blown bubbles the previous fall. Not quite remembering how, she blew over the hoop, wiggling the skin of soap but not expanding it.
I took the wand and blew a flock of bubbles, some big, some small and some that Devin called babies. All things form families for Devin: big things are daddies, slightly smaller things are mommies and the smallest things are babies. Bubbles are as likely to form a family as the coincidental congregation of a German Shepard, a Siamese and a house mouse. She still expects to see her playmate from last summer every night when she gets home from the sitter's, though we've explained that he only visits his daddy occasionally now, mostly on weekends; he and his mommy moved a long ways away over the winter.
I don't know, Devin. That's just what his mommy and daddy have decided to do.
I don't know. I don't live there, so I don't know what happened between them. I guess they had troubles and they couldn't be friends anymore.
I don't know.
Because I can't read minds, that's why!
Want some ice cream?
I dipped the wand a few times, and each time blew streams of bubbles. They separated as the wind took them, drifting across the yard, catching the greens, blues and reds of bushes, trees and houses in their oily, shimmering spins and, lifting over my car, dropped as off a precipice to pop on my neighbor's lawn. A few, a very few, caught in updrafts, climbed, passing over my neighbor's house. Devin ran after the ones she could reach, following them, shouting to me--watch, Daddy!--scattering them in the wind of her passing or with a swing of her arm, laughing as they ducked or burst.
Bubbles are spheres of soap, glycerin and water containing air. As much as that sounds like the recipe for a politician, the only other resemblance I've noted is how bubbles are surprisingly thick-skinned. But they are finicky. For instance, bubbles disdain skin: rather than settle and sit, they pop on contact, leaving a sticky, even slimy patch. But they endure their wand which, permanently dilated, seems ready to hold them safely or to bear more bubbles. Sometimes a bubble will stick to the wand or you can catch one on the wand, but they perch uneasily, wavering as though unsure whether or not to let loose, especially in the wind which strikes them like a desire to wander or to fly or to crash. Once loose, the wand can poke them, spin them, nudge them up or down, left or right, and if it's done ever so gently, ever so carefully, they won't burst, the pressure from inside and the pressure from outside at equilibrium, the wand only offering guidance.
I looked at Devin and felt a tickle, a tingle between my shoulder blades like the current emitted by an approaching metaphor. I scratched my back, ignoring all metaphors, and focused on my daughter.
Devin wanted the wand. Before I gave it back, I showed her how to wave it and spew bubbles in a comet-tail arc. She tried and I acted like I was catching them, cupping a passing globe in my hands, bringing my hands down to her eyes and saying, "Look, here, I've caught one, let's see what it's like." When I opened my hands, I exclaimed, "Oh, it's gone, it got away. You try." She laughed and told me to catch another.
After a couple more tries, she pushed the wand at me and said it was my turn. As I blew bubbles she laughed and ran after them again, stomping some and trying to catch others. She finally cupped one in her hands and presented it to me but, oops!, it had gotten away. Now she knew--or maybe just remembered--bubbles burst when you try to catch them. And I thought, huh, we're sharing a moment. That's when the metaphor grabbed me and, though I struggled, would not let go:
Maybe childhood's a bubble, a bubble of ignorance that allows for innocence, for a temporary belief that all is right and well with the world, that no one values you less than your parents do, that you can't be hurt and you certainly won't be hurt by the people around you.
I felt good. Here was a shining new metaphor to bend my concentration to, to play with and expand. I was aware of the poem floating free of my consciousness, and I felt lighter for releasing it, for loosing that particular problem. I thought I'd received a valuable truth.
That lasted a minute or so.
Maybe I was asking too much of a bubble. Maybe this wasn't a truth, but a Hallmarkian truism. Maybe the real metaphor had to do with how quickly Devin's childhood would be over.
Or maybe I was confusing the subject of the metaphor. Maybe it had to do with writing and how insubstantial words on a page are, how quickly they come and go.
Or maybe it was about both, maybe her childhood and my writing are both so ephemeral that they will disappear upon too close inspection.
Or maybe, just maybe, I'd found another subject to terrier- ize myself with.
I shook my head and looked at Devin, trying to reconnect to the present.
I'm uncomfortable with these kinds of thoughts churning in my mind while I'm with Devin. Metaphors, poems, stories--all my writing and the habits of thought and observation that fuel my writing and the dazed inattention they result in--seem an intrusion on the fatherly self, an abrogation of my duty to attend solely to my daughter when we're together. Except I panic when I have nothing to write; I wonder if I've lost the ability, if I'll think of something tomorrow or the next day, or if I'll die still weighing subjects, debating with myself what to say and how best to say it. But when I'm caring for Devin I feel we should be blowing bubbles, shooting hoops, riding sleighs, reading, talking.
While I know separating my chosen obsession, writing, from my chosen occupation and preoccupation, Devin, is an impossible task rationally, it's still a definition of paternal duty emotionally. Knowing that doesn't always help, though, and I felt myself sliding toward confusion, indecision and crabbiness.
Looking away from her and around the yard, I pictured myself bald where I wasn't white-haired, paunchier than I already am, on hands and knees unraveling vines and plucking weeds with tweezers, some geriatric forensic lawn care specialist caught up in crab-grass and dandelions. For a moment it didn't seem so bad.
Not much later, Devin tired of bubbles. I felt slighted when she stepped away to follow her own interests. --How dare she do that when I'm at war with myself?-- So I tried to convince her that the moon, barely visible in the near daylight, was one of our bubbles, risen clear of the houses, the suburbs and our daily concerns.
She gave me an, oh, daddy, look, a look I expect to receive frequently in the future. I'll deserve them--I have a habit of making bad jokes--but I'll miss her sparkling laughter at my little conceits.
As she knelt, inspecting a bug with a platoon of legs on the underside of a rock, I continued blowing bubbles. I blew gently, steadily, making big, spinning bubble planets that, off the wand, sank, the wind not lifting them much at all. They splattered on the ground.
For a moment I wondered what my neighbors thought of a grown man whose daughter was scientifically examining the life of fauna while he blew bubbles; why, no doubt that man should be doing something suburbanly constructive, like wrenching out crabgrass or planting daisies, especially since none of the bubbles are rising high enough to float over the house.
I shrugged, resolving not to think about myself in terms of what my neighbors think about me or of what my family thinks about me or even what Devin thinks about me, doubting I'd remember the resolution tomorrow. Not that it mattered much. For the moment I was enjoying myself, busted metaphor or no busted metaphor, satisfied with breathing bubbles to life, with creating and offering them a chance for continuance and brief existence. So I kept blowing, hoping one more bubble would rise, lift up and float over the house, hoping that once caught in the wind its ride would be long and joyous before it landed.