When the ropes outside my 11th floor New York City apartment window begin to jiggle, a giddy feeling comes over me. Something is about to happen. Someone is going to arrive! Will it be a message from the underworld? Or some really cute guys telling jokes? Will it be someone bringing dinner, on a silver tray, wearing a tuxedo? The fisherman's thrill of the tug on the line comes over me. What will emerge from the sea? Who will rise out of the depths? My president my ambassador? Or a thing that slips back into the opaque water, disappearing like the name of a past lover, just beyond grasp and then gone.
When the news arrives, it is but a man doing construction, of course, wearing a hard hat and standing on a platform. He gathers his tools and his buckets. He glances in the window and waves a little. The children and I wave back, a little. Well now I know that we are certainly here, I think. Sometimes it's all so familiar, I wonder if we exist at all.
But we are here. How fine. I pause and admire the scene---two children and me lying around on the Persian rug at 4 o'clock, doing numbers, reciting words, and debating the mystery of one Loch Ness Monster. "It does exist, my love," I promise my six-year-old son---a once firm believer now turned skeptic. "It does!" Don't listen to the kids on the school bus, ignore the scientists and the bureaucrats---I want to say---for to dismiss what eludes us means no Santa Claus, no God, and no love. Oh to open your heart to a gentle slippery beast, to open your heart to mystery! One must, or what is left but 2+2=4; dark tiled corridors; insurance forms; and stupid emails from landlords? But what is left of mystery in our world for my little boy? I wonder, and I pull myself up to go to the kitchen and start dinner. The children continue with their homework.
The man out the window has moved to the kitchen too. "You got that safety-line hooked up?" he shouts down to another guy who I can’t see. "Oh yes," I think as I turn on the oven, "you're going to want that safety line hooked up," when suddenly I am aware of the solid floor beneath me, and the smooth strong walls surrounding us. I touch a wall, it is white and cool. The windows are sealed very well. How cozy and protected we are in these rooms. How safe we feel so high above the city. Children, I want to say, Let's never leave. Let's skip school, friends, swimming lessons. Let's stop calling. The sky is foggy, and grey as a winter Normandy, and we are foxes in a den, nestled up together on a hillside high above the darkest valley. It's safe here. Let's stay.
I take the lettuce from the refrigerator and feel a small weight lift from my head; a vise releases its grip. Yes, we are safe. Hey man outside our window, I know why you're so serious. I've been up there on that platform for a while too. I've been exposed, trying to keep balanced and calm. I've been reaching all around for safety lines. I might still be out there on that platform when my husband leaves for Afghanistan for a year, and the pain of separation unleashes floods of loneliness, and strips the illusions of security, and drags the fear of death into my room.
Let's not leave, I say to the children. Let's not call anyone again or ever go out. I feel so tired anyway, just talking to people, smiling and going to the store. We can watch tv all day! They look at me but not for long. They know it's true and that it's not true. They know that 2+2=4 is a mystery; they know guys standing outside our 11th floor window is a mystery; and they know that Daddy going away for a year is normal because everything is a mystery. They can't see it; but they accept it all.
I turn back and wash the lettuce in the sink as the guy out the window does his work too, as the Loch Ness Monster lurks and slithers around behind me in the living room and the foxes curl up in their den, as the names of past lovers slip from my grasp and the waiters arrive to serve my dinner to us all, on silver trays.