Our neighbor asked why we have lights on in our house in the middle of the night and I told her it was because our dog, Swirl, has lost his mind. The incessant fireworks set him to pacing and then to pawing so that sometimes he is coming over the back of the sofa while someone is sitting there peacefully enjoying a British detective show. Swirl is very tall on his hing legs, easily five feet, and so his presence during an even moderately suspenseful story can be alarming.But about the lights – we don’t want him falling down the stairs in his midnight madness.
We are on the edge of the earth up here in the U.P. or at least on the edge of the United States. In front of us is the world’s largest inland lake and across that lake is Canada. We busy ourselves with walks on the beach and tiny chores, like finding wood screws to fix a birdhouse with a gaping floor. We vacuum and feed the cat, read on the porch, and pull knapweed. We check our phones to see what is happening but none of what is happening is good except seeing one son who works too hard sending pictures of kayaking on the Milwaukee River.
I am two paragraphs into what will be my third short story. The main character is a woman named Darla whose good ole boy husband leaves her for a much younger woman. I don’t know much about Darla yet except she’s a pretty tough cookie but we’ve started to be friends in my head. I think about Darla – what would Darla do, who would she call, would she lie to a police officer, does she know how to change a tire, where would she go if she could go anywhere? I’d not be working on this story if the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters hadn’t selected my second story – Snow Door – as one of twenty finalists for this year’s Wisconsin People & Ideas fiction contest. Old dog, new tricks here.
Yesterday, the cat leaped on the table where I was painting a bird house, put his paws squarely in the blue and yellow paint and ran off across the carpet. All of this felt oddly like a cartoon. When I saw his little paw prints on the carpet, I wished I could paint them on the side of a birdhouse (we have several), just for the irony of it. All of this makes me remember my dad telling me he’d trapped the neighbor’s cat because he was hectoring the finches. He didn’t kill the cat (thank God) but he did take it for a ride. This, from paws in the paint.
Many years ago at a youth development conference, a man ended his speech by saying, “People are hurting, It doesn’t have to be this way, We have to do something.” From that moment, that became my secret mantra although the things that I do or try to do are often insignificant in the larger scheme of things. Especially now, when the mountain to climb seems to have gotten higher by tens of thousands of feet, it is hard to see how my actions can make any difference. But I have to do more than just vote. One thing I’m doing is writing 500 Get Out the Vote postcards to new voters through Postcards to Swing States. Progressive candidates need help knocking doors, making phone calls, and getting folks to the polls. Voter registration efforts need extra hands and election officials need volunteers. There’s a place for everybody in this effort to right the country. I’m still looking for where I fit in but keeping busy with my postcards in the meantime.
I want to know why the neighbor was up in the night to notice that your lights were on.