June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Eileen Vorbach Collins
The Adirondack chair, until late, nothing more than a quaint decoration, has become my observatory. It is from this vantage point that I first notice the crows in the commotion of their domestic duties. They nest, out of sight, in the top of a loblolly pine in my backyard.
A brown anole, a lizard indigenous to Cuba, fond of snacking on our now rare native green anoles, is trapped inside my screened lanai. He gets thinner every day. I’ve tried to catch him but he’s quick, escaping even my attempts to sweep him out. I consider leaving the door open but know that would just mean more starving anoles. Those crows will eat just about anything they can get their beaks on. The anole is relatively safe from predators here, but he’ll die a slow painful death instead of merciful asphyxiation in a snake’s glottis or the even quicker snap and swallow of a hungry egret.
The wind in the palms sounds like the white noise machine outside the door of my daughter’s therapist where I sat every Thursday at four o’clock, hopeful, relieved that finally there was someone she would talk to instead of glaring, silent and angry, for the full forty-five minutes. Acutely aware of the anole’s rib cage and sharp protrusion of his spine, I revisit the guilt of not realizing that my daughter’s total daily food intake sometimes consisted of four orange Tic-Tacs, having believed her claims of having eaten at a friend’s. Thinking that her workouts on the treadmill were a quest for a healthy lifestyle.
The baby crows squawk at the sound of wings, their cries becoming frantic, I envision mouths agape in anticipation as the branches dip and sway with parental weight. I remember my daughter, open-mouthed in her high chair, squawking if I wasn’t fast enough with the spoon; the pureed peas and carrots, the applesauce.
Just outside my screened lanai, there’s a Leprechaun, a hideous little man smoking a pipe, his green top-hat faded by years of the Florida sun, his face blistered with many little cancers. He sits, staring, a judgmental piece of kitsch. I should have lugged his plaster ass to the donation pile when we bought the house, but I’m a bit afraid of him. Like that Talky Tina Doll on The Twilight Zone, he could come back for revenge. I’m already haunted enough. That would send me over the edge.
The lizard’s cachectic presence elicits my sympathy and I consider trying to catch some bugs for him. His four limbs to the bug’s six add up to a closer kinship, making me want to nudge the odds in his favor.
The Adirondack chair is solid and heavy, weighted to its place on the earth. I never took the time to sit here before. There’s always been somewhere to hurry to; anywhere but here with my intrusive, jumbled thoughts. Now the evening news shows endless snaking lines of people waiting to get food while I sit with hungry birds and ravenous reptiles wondering how I can help. Weltschmerz, the world’s sorrow, comes in like a storm cloud, casting its dismal shadow over my garden. I bow to it, powerless in its magnitude, literally feeling the weight of it cause my shoulders to slump and my heart to ache.
A flash of red catches my eye. A cardinal drinking, then splashing with abandon in the birdbath. Oblivious to my sorrow, its beauty gives me hope. I turn back to the Leprechaun. He’s still looking at me. I return the stare. His eyes, from this distance, are cloudy, like pale blue chalk dust. There’s something about his expression—maybe he’s not judging me after all. He looks pensive, shy. He looks like he could use a friend.
I smile at the Leprechaun. This time, when I water the pentas, I won’t turn the hose on him. Despite our history, he doesn’t flinch at my approach. Returning to the lanai, I’m careful to fill the bromeliad cups. The incarcerated reptile will have fresh water. It’s horrifying to find them dehydrated, skeletal memories of their former selves.
Two years after my daughter’s suicide, I watched along with the rest of the world, engulfed in our shared grief, as people took flight from the falling towers. Sobbing, as the images repeated on the screen, I thought, “This is almost as bad as the day Lydia died.” My personal grief was still too heavy to bear. Adding this new horror, this collective sorrow, brought me to my knees. Alone, either of these events would change my life irrevocably. Now, in the face of both of them, I thought I might never stand upright again.
So many years have passed, and so many things that have made my heart ache. Senseless mass shootings, children taken from their parents, rain forests burned. I make a decision and I will not give up. It is within my power to alter the course of one tiny life. I stay very still until he’s within reach. My hand shoots out and, in a flash, I’ve got him. His toes cling to the screen with tenacity. How could such a tiny creature have so much strength? He makes a chirping noise, like a muffled scream. My own scream is not so quiet. When finally, I am able to pry him loose, he claws at my hand. The hair on the back of my neck bristles and I almost reflexively throw him. I manage to get to the screen door and open it with my elbow, now cupping the anole in both hands. I drop him on the grass and he takes off at the speed of light, heading straight for the Leprechaun who now sits in dappled shade, offering a cool refuge where the anole might shelter in place.
I cheer him on, applauding this small victory—his freedom to make his way in a world fraught with danger. “L’chaim,” I whisper.
“L’chaim,” shouts the Leprechaun.
Eileen Vorbach Collins is a Baltimore native living in Florida. Her work has been published in SFWP, Lunch Ticket, The Ocotillo Review, Reed Magazine and elsewhere. She has received the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction and the Gabriele Rico Challenge Award. You can read more of her work at www.eileenvorbachcollins.com and find her on Twitter @evorbachcollins
Eleen..you made me cry. Girl..you are a writer! This piece is an mazing tapestry of heart and soul and your juxtapostion of past and present is breathtaking. You have inspired me to return to my desk and to restart for the 25th time a book that I have been in labor with for 8 years. L’chaim!
Piercing, with a depth & beauty spun of unimaginable grief combined with strong desire to transcend, to use, that grief. So very moving. Thank you for communicating such poignancy & emotion via this memorable, poetic translation of it. Kudos, and yes, L’Chaim.