My dream from a few mornings ago.
I am in my office with an old friend and his young son. We are looking out the window at the metal gate in our deer fence and my friend’s son asks wistfully, “Can I go out that gate and go all the way around the house and come in through the gate of ten thousand things?” And I know he means our front gate with the two old bells.
Then the alarm went off and I woke up.
The gate of ten thousand things reminds me of my short story Ten Thousand Things, one of the forty-two stories in Buddha In A Teacup.
Ten Thousand Things
Esme watches herself in the mirror putting on lipstick. She frowns at her myriad wrinkles and snorts at the absurdity of the thought that she has grown old. She is eighty-six.
Esme is standing in front of her house when her son Bill arrives. He is fifty-eight. Before he can get out of his big blue pickup truck, Esme barks at him. “Move the garbage can out to the curb. Sweep up these pine needles. They’re unsightly.”
“Ma,” he says, working hard to stay calm. “How about saying hello?”
She flounces around the nose of his truck to the passenger door as if nothing has been said by either of them.
She climbs in and puts on her seatbelt. “I don’t know why I bother,” she complains bitterly. “They haven’t had a decent fair in twenty years.”
“We don’t have to go,” he says, gripping the steering wheel. “This is supposed to be for fun, Ma.”
“Of course we have to go,” she says, sneering imperiously. “It’s a tradition.”
Inching toward the fairgrounds, traffic snarled, Esme shakes her head and says, “I told you so.”
Bill turns to her. “Ma. How old am I?”
“Horrendous heat,” she says, fanning herself and making a spluttering sound. The day is mild, the truck air-conditioned. “Why do they always have the fair when the weather is so awful?” She sighs. “Worse now, of course. We never had smog like this.”
Bill resists the temptation to point out that she is part of the current We. He closes his eyes, wondering again why he bothers to do anything for his mother.
They come to a dead stop. Esme sighs—an audible moan—exactly as she has sighed ten thousand times before, but this time, this ten thousandth time, something gives way inside of Bill, something in his heart. He touches his sternum with the middle three fingers of his right hand and for one stunning moment he feels such overwhelming pain that his vision abandons him in a flash of light—and the pain is gone.
He turns to look at his mother. She is glaring at the road ahead as she always does, but he sees something in her face he has not been aware of before—nobility and strength.
“What could it possibly be?” she asks, her voice no longer grating but musical—a viola taken to the edge of sharpness. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
“It’s the Grand Coulee Dam, Ma,” he says, feeling a gush of love for her. “They brought it in last night with sixty-five thousand blimps.”
“Don’t be absurd!” she cries, trying to contain her mirth, but the word blimps unglues her and she bursts into laughter.
In line to buy tickets, Esme scowls at the list of admission prices. “This is an outrage,” she hisses. “This is robbery. Why… when I was a girl it was practically free.”
“Free love,” says Bill, stepping up to the ticket window and beaming at the sweaty young woman glued to her stool. “One outraged old woman and her suddenly euphoric son.”
“She your mom?” asks the young woman—two tickets emerging from two slots in the metal counter.
“From her womb I came,” says Bill, feeling downright reverent.
“Then she’s in free. It’s moms in free this afternoon.”
“You here that, Ma? Free.”
“Don’t believe it,” says Esme, her eyes narrowing. “They’re just trying to sell us something.”
In the beer garden, Bill sipping stout, Esme having lemonade, three knobby-kneed men in faded lederhosen play a peppy little polka.
“Shall we dance, Ma?” asks Bill, nodding. “I think we shall.”
“Don’t be absurd,” she says, frowning at him. “With my hip? Are you drunk?”
“I’ve had a conversion,” he says, seeing everything as if for the first time. “I stepped over a line or my heart broke or I forgave you or I forgave myself. I don’t know. But I’m not mad at you anymore. I actually love you.”
She shrugs. “Well la dee da.”
“Shoe bop shoe wah,” he says, bouncing his eyebrows.
She looks at her watch. “It’s late. We haven’t seen the quilts yet.”
Making their way through a flood of humanity, they are momentarily separated—Esme crying, “Bill! Don’t leave me!”
Bill makes his way to her and says, “Here I am, Ma.”
She clutches his arm and stamps her feet. “This is awful. I hate this. They ruined everything. It used to be so nice and now look at it. Garbage everywhere. No place to sit. The restrooms are filthy.”
“Do you want to leave or do you want to see the quilts?”
“I want to see the quilts,” she groans. “But how will we ever get there?”
“We will sing songs,” he says, taking her hand. “From all our favorite musicals.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, allowing him to lead her along.
“We’re off to see the wizard,” he begins. “The wonderful wizard of Oz.”
“Judy Garland was a drug addict,” says Esme, nodding emphatically. “I could never forgive her for that.”
“Why not?” says Bill, giving his mother’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Let’s forgive her.”
“Oh, look,” says Esme, pointing at the sign above the pavilion. “We’re here.”
“I never gave a hoot about quilts,” says Bill, sitting beside his mother on a cushioned bench to take a long look at the grand prizewinner. “Now I’m in love.”
“These are nothing,” says Esme, dismissing everything in the vast room with a wave of her hand. “When I was a girl, we really knew how to make quilts.”
“This is phantasmagoric,” says Bill, gesturing at the giant blue field dotted with stars and sheep and bubbles and clouds. “I believe in this.”
“It’s big,” says Esme, nodding. “I’ll give it that.”
“You’re just you,” he says, looking at her. “And I’m just me.”
“I’m out of gas,” she says, leaning against him. “Take me home?”
He walks her to her front door. “Shall I come in? Cook you dinner? Rub your feet?”
She turns away and fits her key into the lock. “Not like it used to be,” she sighs, opening the door. “Don’t come in. Place is a mess.”
“Ma?” he says, deftly sending the word into her heart.
“Yes, dear,” she says, turning to gaze at him. “That’s me.”