She's a talker. She can talk your ears off, glaze your eyes over, and dry out your throat. Time was, I didn’t know how she did it, or what she found to say.
She could answer the questions she asked before you got your mouth open; she laughed and talked at the same time, cried and talked too, tears running over her fat cheeks, little spurting waterfalls, while she told some sad story, usually about Rupert, or, if not about Rupert, her first husband, her beau, the love of her life, the first love of her life—I was the second—it if wasn’t about Rupert, he showed up somewhere toward the end, and the trickle of tears gushed in climax.
Then, last week, she stopped. I didn’t notice at first, not until I brought the paper in and looked at the front page. Earthquake in Oklahoma. I was shocked. Rosemary hadn’t said a word about an earthquake in Oklahoma—Japan, yes, but that was some time ago. Not Oklahoma. She would have given me all the details before it ever appeared in the morning paper. That’s when I noticed how quiet the house was. Maybe she’d run to the store for something, but she would have told me she was going—where, why, for how long.
I panicked. I raced through the house, as fast as a man my age can move, flung open the doors to every room and finally discovered her standing on the deck watching the robins who’d nested under the eave of the garage. She loved those robins, had narrated every detail of their lives to date: the building of the nest, the mating—she hadn’t actually witnessed these particular birds doing it, but she had explained in graphic detail how it was accomplished, then the egg laying, and now the baby birds.
Her body trembled when I spoke, so I knew she heard me, although I wondered if she knew it was I—she heard the sound of my voice so seldom.
The tremor again. I stepped out on the deck and put my arm around her. “Watching the birds?”
A shiver ran through her again, but still she kept silent. It was as if she were paralyzed or her motor had run down. There was a ruffle of activity in the nest, both adult birds jockeying for position.
In the minute it took them to get comfortable, Rosemary and I stood transfixed and silent. It was the first time I didn’t know what she was thinking. It made me think about marriage—theirs and ours—how things go along the same for years, everybody playing their part, mama bird and papa bird—and if you don’t push against each other, to make your space together, you end up alone. One of you doing all the talking, trying to fill up the space, the other doing all the hearing, letting the words float past without catching a one, without reflection, without giving back, both of you lonely.
I took a breath. It was my turn.
“Rosemary, did I ever tell you about the time I found a bird with a broken wing? I must have been 7 or 8 and we were living on Fairview Drive, 200 North Fairview, telephone number Fairview 8-3535. Isn’t it remarkable how, years later, you can remember something as insignificant as your childhood phone number? Must be lodged in a certain part of the brain for recording trivial details that were important once, recent brain research probably can pinpoint the exact location of Fairview 8-3535 in my brain. Incredible! Well, anyway, this bird’s wing . . . “
© 2011 Kathleen Coskran