The Rogue Voice


June 01, 2007

The choice

Motherhood has blessed her with a fecund roundness placed lovingly upon her lithe animal frame.

The absurd lure of a thin daytime moon hangs in the bright blue sky like an empty hook.

The Choice

By Steven Bird

A fired clay bowl on the sideboard catches the yellow light splashing through the jangling, jade firs outside the unpainted kitchen window. A pot on the stove sends a diaphanous wisp up into the raw dawn. She lifts the bowl and ladles in oatmeal from the steaming pot. It is a coming of summer morning, the high spring of her fruitful bloom, and she is instinctively attuned to it, flowing with it, harmonious, buoyant upon its promise. She is young, just twenty-two, and the quiet sweet mystery of the maiden still illuminates her, plays about her graceful neck, her cheekbones, the corners of her mouth.
An American beauty from an older era, not the deb with a name that sounds like a clothing label, no, more exotic, the cheekbones higher, forehead broader, her full lips more wise than sensuous. A freckled, heart-shaped face. A country face. Her long sorrel hair crests from a prominent cowlick above her temple to fall as a breaking wave around the one errant ear poking through the gold torrent. A thin girl, but motherhood has blessed her with a fecund roundness placed lovingly upon her lithe animal frame. Her hips sway with the morning routine swinging her India print skirt with a busy hustle-bustle. She stirs a little honey into the cereal, blows on it. Probably the kind of girl Vikings would have hit each other over the head for.
The baby chirps from his bassinette. At the child’s signal a surge comes to her breasts and she goes to him, gathers him. He cranks slightly, still waking up, when his eyes fully open he recognizes her and his cross expression flashes to the self-assured face that babies have, knowing they are the center of all affection. She opens her flannel blouse and puts him to her breast, enfolds him. He sucks hard for a few moments, stops, opens his eyes wide to look at her, closes his eyes again and resumes, easier, milk drunk, contented.

It is a particular day today. She is going to Eugene to shop. She doesn’t go to town often, maybe once a month. Eugene is an hour’s drive on one of those impossibly narrow Oregon country roads that follow the twisting, rain swollen rivers between the Coast Range and the Willamette Valley–winding precariously past small mossy farms with luxuriant green pastures fringed with blackberry and Queen Ann’s lace sloping to the coursing, canopied, alder corridors. She loves horses. She sings to the baby …all the pretty little horses… The baby senses more than hears the tune over the pickup’s engine noise. She rolls her window down half way–enough to let in the life-thick atmosphere, but not so far that there is too much breeze on the baby bundled like a prize pumpkin, strapped into his car seat beside her. He is already asleep. He is a good little baby, and a good traveler.
It is nice in Eugene that day, and the people are bright and beautiful in the stores and on the streets, assembled on the promenade benches and little parks scattered about the busy town. Eugene is a friendly walking city, and she likes to poke through the downtown notion shops, the baby riding high and tight on her purposeful back.
Some thread for a dress, here, some small things for the baby, there…. She stops in a cobbled square with a fountain. A stone rim surrounds the fountain to form a bench where people may sit, and it is pleasant, and she sits to take a rest and give the baby a little juice. The park-like square is festive, alive in the afternoon sun. A young man plays a guitar on the other side of the fountain, he is pretty good, and a group of kids have gathered to listen. The absurd lure of a thin daytime moon hangs in the bright blue sky like an empty hook. The baby is asleep on her lap while she cradles him, and she rests tranquil on the fountain bench with him. She thinks she will sit for a while, enjoying the sun before heading back to the pickup, plans to stop for some groceries on her way back home.
There is a photographer in the square by the fountain. The man fires at some rising pigeons with his camera.
She looks away for a moment, and when she looks ahead again, he is right there in front of her. He approaches with the sun in her face. She raises a hand to shield her eyes from the glaring sun and get a look at him.
He is a handsome young man with a halo of wavy brown hair, a slight impudence in his face. He comes very close, stands directly at her feet, smiles pointing to the camera hanging from his neck. “You are so pretty,” he says, “do you mind if I take your picture?”
She smiles at the man, then shy, drops her gaze to the baby as if the flattery was not meant for her. “I don’t mind…if you want to…” she says. He has a breath mint tucked between his tongue and cheek, and she can smell the mint.
“Well…” he says, “I think the light is better over there.” He points away from the crowded square toward a quiet side street where a few cars are parked. “Let’s go over there, it’s better.” He is handsome, and confident.
She is a very kind girl, and always willing to please. She is flattered of the attention and considers…Why not?…The pigeons, regrouped behind him, take to the air again as one, startled by something invisible. But…what is this thing embedded in his smooth voice…authority?…what?…something urgent, concealed and waiting…
She levels her heather eyes square on him. The corners of her mouth draw into sweet curlicues. The baby stirs on her lap. “I don’t think so. But if you still want to take my picture, you’re welcome to take it right here.”
The man crouches, rests his chin on a fist, a statue with a camera, his unblinking eyes trying to hold her, not quite able to let her go–his shadow hugely juxtaposes over her compact figure.
She sits motionless on the stone fountain bench, her hands clutch the baby, her eyelids lower, she detaches, travels inward. And she sits that way for a long time.
A hot blast of light tossles the air to shimmering. She looks up. And he is gone. He never took the picture.
She is glad to be back at her cabin in the still forest. The little creek sings to her from under the trees as she unloads her groceries and packages and brings them into the cabin. When she has everything put away, she sits in the rocker and nurses the baby for a while. She rocks gently. Then she puts the baby in his pack and they go for a long walk in the soft afternoon. She hikes up an old logging road. In the eternal woods, among the deep ferns, she comes close to a doe with a spotted fawn. She is quiet, and they are not alarmed. She watches until the deer disappear into the dappled green light. She’d had a good day, that day.
Quite a few years later. And so many young women, some with their babies, never again to stir the sweet yellow morning light. What justice?
I’m in the bathroom shaving, and she is watching television.
“O MY GOD!” I hear her exclaim. She calls my name. “COME QUICK!” (She is very excited, and I go to her with soap on my face.) “THAT’S HIM!” She says, pointing to the wavy-haired man brooding on the TV screen. “That’s the guy who wanted to take my picture…that day in Eugene!”
So. What justice?…Officious pronouncements? Prejudiced show? Righteous, enraged display? Justice is a fanciful concept. A thin line thrown to a humanity swept helpless in a fearful stream where we are all victims, fighting against the random currents of errant choice. Perhaps, in the broader universe, there really is such a thing as justice, and all events do fit a perfect plan, their true purpose manifested. I don’t know. Things work out somehow. And one thing is certain, Ted Bundy’s long, mad, killing run is finally over–he no longer makes the random choice, and there may be some justice in that. §

Steve Bird writes from his home in Morro Bay, © 2007 Steven Bird.
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