Circle Round the Sun for web DSC_9208
If the mongrel Sir Barksalot had been himself, he would never have abided his companion Noah's fierce embrace. But he was far from himself. He had lost a fight, and almost his life, to a Rottweiler up the road. He had cuts and tears all over and was missing half an ear and seeing the world with only one eye, the other being swollen shut. From taking refuge in the salt marsh, his belly and legs were black with dried mud and the rest of his body constellated with burrs. And he was unfed. Extremely unfed. So though it hurt, he let the boy squeeze him all he wanted. And his whimpering was as much from relief and happiness as pain.
"Did you lose your mind, Barkie?" Noah said. "Do you even have a mind to lose? This is your home now! You should stay close! You don't need to go wandering! It's been days and days, and I've been looking for you everywhere! You could have died!"
His anger being born of great affection, it soon snuffed itself out. Whereupon he closed his eyes and held his pet more gently and rocked there on the porch as if it were the end of days, and also the beginning.
As soon as she had all her makeup out, Delilah talked to the woman.
"Happy Mother's Day," she said. "I know that you'd rather be home with your family. So would I. But things come up, you know. And anyway this won't take long."
It helped working with a photograph, she had found. Otherwise you might guess wrong from the start, and a base of the wrong colour could wreck everything.
"So," she said, "you go for that sort of golden girl look. That sort of olive skin, what a tan it gives. Lucky you. Me, I cover up completely. Big hat, gobs of sunscreen, long sleeves. Otherwise I turn red like a lobster. Feel boiled like one too."
She patted the woman's cheeks lightly and rhythmically with the foundation sponge.
"There, you're like a canvas ready for the paint. Sure and it's okay to rest and be quiet. Daddy Mac says what we call conversations is often just making acceptable noise to each other. 'A lot of work for nothing'. That's how he talks. And anyway, even the important stuff, that gets tiresome too, doesn't it? Except when you're saying I love you."
She was an actress, well-known locally and still active on stage though past her prime. The picture, her headshot, made it obvious that she was subtle with eyeshadow and lipstick and blush. To match the subtlety, Delilah herself became quiet. It wasn't till the styling of the hair was done, with the signature wave coming up from the forehead, that she felt she could share again.
"There," she said. "That should make them stretch their eyes. What a beauty you were."
Then she was out once again in the sun, in the glorious sun, and fresh air that had no hint of embalming fluid, and the tears came to her eyes for the woman. She had done all she could, the woman had, and Delilah had too.
Big Bertha was dozing at her sewing machine when a loud hammering at the door startled her awake.
It was Minnie, her cousin who had married a movie actor and moved to California and inherited the actor's estate after his death. She had on a white tee shirt and pink shorts and white tennis shoes that were all smeared with soot, her short blonde hair was lopsided from having been slept on and not rearranged, and she was shivering and crying and laughing all at the same time.
"I'm home, Bertie," she said. "Can I stay, please?"
It had all burned. The vineyard, the golden hills topped with fir and madrone and oak and bay laurel and manzanita, the valleys of towering redwoods, the million-dollar house with all its treasures of art and jewelry and artifacts, all had been reduced to smoking ruins.
"It was like a judgment, like, like ... like God took his eraser to us," said Minnie. They were out on the bolted-in chairs on the dock. It was early and, though bright and sunny, still chilly with the wind blowing in off the sea. Bertha had wanted to deal with her cousin's shivering by firing up the woodstove, but Minnie in a haunted voice had asked her not to. Her house had come down around her in flames. She had got out in what she was dressed in. And had driven the nearly four thousand miles between them without changing clothes. And did not want to change now. And did not want a fire anywhere near her. And did not want to be inside. So Bertha had sat her down outside and wrapped her in a blanket and a shawl and put a mug of hot tea well fortified with brandy between her shaking hands and wiped the soot off her face with a warm soapy washrag.
"And so I think ... I think it's all a message. Where I belong is here where I was born. In Nova Scotia. And especially on the Granite Coast. I know, you're saying to yourself, why stay here? She may be my cousin, but she's got lots of money. The fire didn't burn up her bank accounts, didn't incinerate her investments. Did it melt down her brain? She could stay at the Lord Nelson or a posh bed and breakfast while she finds a new home. Why beg for lodging in a cottage that's already full to the brim, where the troubles of really close family are already all you can handle? Why, why, why? Well, I'll tell you why, Bertie."
Bertha waited and Minnie gestured over and over with her hand as if she were trying to pull the words from her mouth, but nothing came out except tears from her eyes in more abundance than before.
Bertha took the undrunk tea away and grasped Minnie's gesturing hand and said, "Never you mind. We have room. We'll make room."
Little Mac was back in the classroom, still only as a substitute because his renewed full-time contract didn't start until September with the advent of a new school year and even then only if his renewed memory proved durable. He didn't care. He loved to teach, to be there where others had taught, to imagine himself in a lineage of teachers that stretched back through the misty centuries to where time's rusty anchor was buried.
"Our subject today is the sun," he said gleefully. "And particularly, why is there sometimes a circle around it?"
"Because," said a student in the back who sat sprawled in his seat with his legs in the aisle, "you put your arms around me, baby, like a circle round the sun."
Some near him laughed. Most reacted with stunned silence to his disrespect and looked back and forth from the teacher to him to see what trouble would result.
"What is your name, son?" said Little Mac to the boy.
"Terval," said the boy. "But you can call me Mr. Terval."
The hush now was more profound, the challenge even more direct.
"Very well," said Little Mac. "Well, class, we should applaud Mr. Terrible for calling our attention to the fact that the phenomenon of circles round the sun has been widely remarked and even employed in popular song lyrics. However, time is short and of the essence. Suffice it to say that we all, the best and worst of us, are capable of relating everything to love. Which is not a bad thing."
There was a smattering of applause anyway before Mac raised his hand and continued. "However, love is caused by the perception of beauty, and beauty, as we know, is in the eyes of the beholder. Which is to say, we don't all see the same thing that we seem to be looking at. Which leads us smoothly and succinctly into our lesson for today, thank you very much, Mr. Terrible."
With that he switched on the projector and an image of the sun with a circle around it appeared.
"What these circles are, are halos, which in themselves are signs of high thin cirrus clouds - very high, even higher than Mr. Terrible - drifting 20,000 feet or more above our heads. These clouds are actually armies on the march of millions of miniscule ice crystals. These crystals refract and reflect sunlight into the form of the halo. But the crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to our own eyes for the halo to appear.
"Thus these halos are very personal. The person next to you has a different orientation with the crystals, and so sees a different halo. Likewise, to return to the revelation of Mr. Terrible, we don't all want the same person's arms around us. The beauty that flicks on your love light might be the beast of darkness to another. Likewise, you may be found appealing by one and disgusting by the next.
"So the lesson today is to be kind to each other, no matter what, because you never know."
He let them study for the rest of the period. When the bell rang, he raised his head and called out, "So, Mr. Terrible, what is the lesson?"
The boy was at the head of the wave toward the door. He stopped, which stopped everyone, and with a sneer said, "What lesson? You're a substitute. You'll be gone tomorrow. Your crazy ideas, they don't matter."
It was the end of the day. In the empty classroom, Little Mac gathered his materials. He gave a last look at the image of the halo before switching the projector off.
Softly to himself as he left, he sang, "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley. Poor boy, you're bound to die."
15 May 2018
Prospect, Nova Scotia