I’m calling my new husband from a pay phone not far from Pescadero State Beach on a wind-blown summer afternoon. It’s 1985 and the clouds are drifting in. Dunes and cliffs and wildflowers and cattails and buckwheat and pebbles. Driftwood logs and kelp and oh sweet Jesus lots and lots of rocks. I lean into the phone booth as the raucous wind pulls at my lady reporter clothes. His voice on the phone, melodic, sensible, sane, full of good will and kind humor, keeps me from falling off the edge of the continent. I’m sad for some reason—maybe it’s the wine I had for lunch or the feeling of being lost I feel whenever I come to the end of the world.
We don’t know yet about the baby to come or the houses we’ll inhabit or basil we’ll plant in the high, unforgiving soil. We’re innocent about the dogs we’ll leave behind, buried under the lilac and rose bushes. Still ahead, wrapped like fragile Christmas ornaments in tissue paper, wait our grown up, complicated lives: endless drives through Kansas cornfields, Colorado’s sudden snow days, camping trips in the rain, marathon salsa making sessions in the fall. All I know is what’s before me: the salt-tang smell of anchovies, the raucous gulls, the battering wind.
Pescadero in Spanish means “the place to fish.” I’m thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, someone with a notebook and a job and a car, fishing for stories on this stretch of fickle coast. All the days in the world break against the shore, one after another, dissolving and regathering in a long tidal sweep.
Decades later, becalmed in Ohio, a fish hook in my heart, disconnected, unmoored, I will swim untethered. But for now, I look down at the waves and the birds that run at the water’s edge, car keys in hand, hoping to beat the traffic home.
Thirty-two years later, it’s ledges and edges again. The papers have been filed. In a month, we’ll be divorced. All summer it has rained. Thunder rumbles through this wet valley. The swimming pool has barely been used. What had we been thinking when we built an in-ground pool? The house smells close and moist, doggy. I will leave this domicile and he will stay—until it sells. I try not to take it personally that we haven’t been flooded with offers. In fact, we haven’t even received one. The dogs know something is up. We aren’t really talking, except in telegraphic barks. Doors open, slam shut. Boxes multiply.
What happened to July? It’s gone, baby, spent, wasted, done, over. I order books for next semester’s classes, he trolls through the want ads. We’re both trying to start over. What’s mine? What’s his? The dog-eared geology books belong to him, everything by John McPhee and Stephen Jay Gould. I get custody of the fragile hand blown vase that survived a three-day train trip on the California Zephyr. What else will we take into the future? Wind chimes, crock pots, ski poles, salad bowls? All these possessions tell stories. They want to plead their case. Morning glories tumble hungry and wild over the front fence, twisted tendrils seeking anything to grab on to and live.
The wedding quilt my husband’s mother made is the soft baby green of fresh grass, Easter bonnets, tiny seedlings nodding on narrow stalks. I remember Johanna’s big bethimbled fingers working the voile cotton, stitching in and out, lamplight glancing off her glasses. She was taciturn, with an ample bosom and Midwestern reserve, a woman who raised six kids by herself. One year I gave her a sign for her kitchen that said: “Got more time for misbehavin’ since I started microwaving.” The joke was on me. Johanna made everything from scratch.
Who could she count on? What did she know to be true? She sewed as she watched her daytime soaps, piecing paisley to geometrics, or broadcloth to calico, always her hands busy. I was a coastal girl unused to inland ways. Baptisms, wakes, deer hunting, homemade wine. I was grafted onto the tribal tree, stitched into the family by default, simply for showing up. Oh Johanna, your wedding gift, that quilt, is folded in the linen closet, smothered beneath the heavy Indian blankets, crocheted tea towels and cool pillowcases. I never understood you. You had so much give, so much selvage and stretch in your hands. You sat in your Barcalounger and rocked and sewed as the familiar stories unfolded. All My Children. Days of Our Lives. As the World Turns. Your quilt meant family, acceptance, you’re one of us, in for the long haul, even if you seem a little strange.
I see your face before me now: head bent, mouth pursed, sewing basket on the shag rug. I see your steady hands, those working fingers, calmly keeping the thread taut at all costs. There was tension in those stitches, knowing just how hard to tug, plumping cotton into shape, knowing when to give. Quilt, guilt. You are long dead, but I still think of your shiny silver scissors, tiny in your white hands, flashing like wing beats, sure as Guiding Light, knowing when to make the final cut.
About the Author: D’Arcy Fallon was born in Monterey, California. She was a journalist for nearly twenty years, working for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Colorado Springs Gazette. She now teaches journalism, English, and creative writing at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Her memoir, So Late, So Soon, about living in a remote Northern California Christian commune, was published by Hawthorne Books in 2004. Her essays have appeared in The Sun, North Dakota Quarterly, and other publications.
Artwork: Paul Ebenkamp is author of The Louder the Room the Darker the Screen (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2015), “Four Colors for the Based God” (The Equalizer: Second Series, 2014), “Seizured in the Ease” (Mondo Bummer, 2013), and everything at afterundisclosedrecipients.blogspot.com, and is editor of a few books including Modernist Women Poets: An Anthology (Counterpoint, 2014) and Particulars of Place by Richard O. Moore (Omnidawn, 2015). With Andrew Kenower he curates the Woolsey Heights reading series, and with strings and devices makes music as Position.