But tonight we danced with the drowned. And they were us.
There is a man in India who is every morning attacked by crows. I heard this on the radio not long ago. This man, he once rescued a crow that had become disoriented in his garden. And since then when the man emerges from his house, crows descend from the trees nearby to swoop at him and to peck. The birds have been attacking him for three years.
These are the genetics of unkindness.
Somewhere Michael Schumacher can still drive a racecar.
I was with my son. We were shopping for groceries in the village where we live. My son was walking ahead of me, as he often does, or rather as I often let him while I fall back and watch—there’s a pleasant sort of sadness to this—and up ahead he turned a corner at the end of the aisle, and he stopped. He turned to me. “Papa,” he said, “there’s a man praying.”
I approached the end of the aisle, turned to look for this man. In front of the dairy, the man held his cell phone up close to his mouth. It was clear he was not talking on the phone. The man appeared reverent. He nodded his head slightly and rocked on his heels. There was something intimate, almost embarrassing in our witness.
I took a step closer and listened. What seemed at first prayer was only business. He was recording a voice memo for himself. “After the 11 a.m.,” the man said, “remind Brian about Q3 numbers prior to end of fiscal.”
My son, respectfully, passed the man so that we could continue our grocery shopping.
Once I was in Miami and had my tarot read. The reading was remarkably accurate, but I didn’t believe any of it. I’m inclined toward disbelief. Once I was in New York and read an alarmingly specific astrological chart in the newspaper. This I also disbelieved.
When we were finished with the grocery shopping, my son and I went home. He’s fifteen now, and he almost has his learner’s permit. I let him drive. I did my best not to instruct. My son is a very careful and patient driver. I’m proud of this, though I likewise do not believe that the fact of it has very much of anything to do with me.
We live on a mountain. We live at the end of a winding and narrow gravel road. Somewhere Michael Schumacher drives this road in a red Ferrari.
Once I fell in love with a woman I met on the internet. I directed my prayers to her through my telephone. For this reason, I am kindred with the man from the grocery store. I wonder, will my son perceive me with esteem and regard? Will he walk around me at a respectable distance?
Crows are intelligent birds. They are playful. They fashion tools from sticks. The man in India proves that they also share stories between them.
“Papa,” my son said as we were putting away the groceries, “you’re a Pisces, right?” I had poured a glass of wine for myself. I took a sip. Outside it was still very warm, even though it was late September and each day of the previous week had suggested cooler temperatures.
“I am,” I said. In Miami I had been sleeping with the woman who read my tarot. We were not in love, though what we shared was pleasant and enjoyable and full of precisely enough hope that until the end we never quite managed to let the other go.
Michael Schumacher owns an Australian Shepard named Ed. I thought about telling my son this fact but declined.
“Why do you ask?”
“Only curious,” he said.
There are times I send my prayers of gratitude not only to the telephones of people I love but also to what is more immediate to my presence.
This wine, for example, was from Portugal. I said to my son, “Did you know Magellan was Portuguese but that he sailed for Spain?” My son did know this because it was a fact that I enjoyed. When he was a young boy, he loved stories about exploration.
I bought the wine at the grocery store. It was inexpensive.
Will my son remember those who wronged me, those who saved me but whom I resent despite my salvation. Will his memory be as practiced as a crow.
Once I was in Virginia, walking along the James River in Richmond. It had been a rainy summer and the water was high. Later that afternoon, I watched a documentary about poverty in Appalachia. It made me weep.
For weeks I have been thinking of this man in India.
My father remembers where he was when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. My mother claims she watched 9/11 live on television. When Michael Schumacher had his skiing accident I was also skiing. Rather, I was asleep. But I went skiing that day. I was in the bar at the mountain when I saw the news report that Michael Schumacher had had an accident.
This is the mystery of time zones.
Once in Krakow I saw Copernicus’s heliocentric model. I also saw a woman urinate in the bushes outside the museum. Both excited me.
What do we remember? What will my son remember? What constitutes prayer, exactly?
I’m old enough to remember camera film. I’ve moved so much I have six library cards. A plaster cast of my teeth rests on my desk at home.
After dinner my son again returned to astrology.
He wanted to know what astrological signs were compatible with one another. I do not believe that things in the world work this way, but I understand the impulse to associate freely between objects or time.
There has lately been confusion regarding Michael Schumacher’s health.
Once I took my son to a minor-league baseball game in Burlington, near our home. The team we supported hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning. Prior to this, I had suggested we leave an inning early. The weather was starting to turn and though it was not raining, the air was damp and cold. My son protested. “We’ll miss the homerun,” he said. And then, indeed, there was a homerun, not ten minutes later.
This too constitutes prayer.
I am irreligious. Still, when I was a young man, I fell in love with the last line of the “Ave Maria.”
Once I was in Portugal for work. I rented a car in Lisbon. On the recommendation of a friend, I exited the freeway and made my way south along the coast. I passed wide rocky fields full of cork trees. I passed small villages with pastel buildings and tidy squares. I passed signs advertising surf schools, campgrounds, a ceramics studio. At the westernmost point of the continent, I stood at the edge of a cliff and watched the sunset. Behind me, a crowd cheered. Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The woman I loved once asked me to give her a sentence to start a story. I said, “The Baroness grieves her dog.” I don’t know anything about baronesses or dogs, but the sentence feels to me like breathing. She wrote a story about a sad woman in a park. The woman was grieving her dog, expectedly. It was a gorgeous story but unfinished. She promised me it would be a love story, and the Baroness would soon forget her grief and once again find meaning and wonder.
My son helped me with the dishes. There was a girl at school, he told me, and he liked this girl, and this girl was interested in astrology.
While he dried the dishes, I poured another glass of wine. I wished I was able to share even the simplest knowledge of astrology with my son. I felt this pull so distinctly. But there are rooms within our own hearts that our fathers cannot enter.
The woman I loved was once in New Orleans. She traveled there for work. We spoke on the phone from the banks of the Mississippi River. When I was a child, my father once took me to visit family in the Midwest. We dipped our hands in the headwaters of the Mississippi. We straddled the river, the two of us, one foot on either side.
It takes a single drop of water ninety days to travel the length of the Mississippi River.
This is a fact I had to look up online. I was curious about this silly notion I had that perhaps water I once held in my hand was passing the woman I once loved as she stood thirty years in the future telling me about her job.
My son finished the dishes and excused himself to read. We said goodnight. He did not hug me, and I did not hug him. My own father had a heart attack not very long ago, and I wish, often desperately, that I’d hugged him more often.
Michael Schumacher owns a horse ranch in Texas. His son is also a racecar driver.
When my son was younger we would often go to the animal shelter and volunteer to walk dogs. This we did in between sports seasons. It always felt like a nice thing to do, but we never adopted a dog. For this reason, we also have never grieved one.
When I think of the man in India, I wonder if those birds find beauty in irony or if such cruelty belongs only to us.
We have a dream, my son and I, to travel to another country to go skiing. This is a simple dream, easily reached with a little money and some planning, the former of which I lack, and the latter: well, maybe one day. But I fantasize about this, about me and my son, sharing a smile, first thing in the morning, that says, “Hey, look at us, look where we are.”
Michael Schumacher was in another country skiing when he had his accident. He hit his head on a rock. Still, I’d risk it. For all the echoes and mirrors and parallels of life, I’d risk it.
My son is a shy and anxious boy, but he’s smart. I’m certain he knows better than to follow my path into his future.
Last summer my son admitted to me that he once wanted to die. He had a knife, a knife I gave him, I should admit, for a camping trip he once took. In any event, my son had a knife, and he no longer wanted to live, and as he told me tearfully one night, he enjoyed moving the knife up and down his arms, tracing the possibilities of his own death.
At the height of his career, Michael Schumacher was given the nickname The Red Baron after the German fighter pilot from the first World War.
In one corner of our yard, I once had to take a tree out. I cut it down with a chainsaw. It wasn’t a large tree. For the first couple years, the stump of the tree sat there, exposed, maybe a little immodest if such an idea is possible. But quickly as the third or fourth spring turned to summer, the grasses and the wildflowers along the edge of our yard concealed the stump from view.
I took the knife from my son after he told me about his plan. I kept it for a couple of weeks in the glove compartment of my car. On the way to work one morning, I stopped beside the horse pasture at the bottom of our hill and threw the knife as far as I could into the field.
In Portugal, after the sunset, I sat with a German couple and drank beer in the dark. They were very drunk and got into an argument, the nature of which I believe to have been a train ticket one or the other of them had forgotten to purchase. They shouted at each other loudly and with great passion. When the young man started to cry, wiping tears from his cheeks and apologizing to his girlfriend over and over, I excused myself. I walked into the village, where for a moment I looked into the open window of a loud nightclub, and considered going inside. But the young man and the sunset and the missing train tickets had all begun to make me very tired. So I went back to the guest room I had rented and slept.
The Red Baron was shot, historians believe, in the heart by a gun fired from the ground as he pursued a Canadian plane in France. Even as he was dying, The Red Baron managed to land his plane in a field. He probably died while the plane was landing. The other Red Baron was injured in a skiing accident. Michael Schumacher is in a hospital in Switzerland. I often wonder if he wishes he were dead. The crows continue to attack the man in India. Someday the roots of the tree will wither and the stump will rot beneath the grass.
Every night after he has fallen asleep, I go to my son’s room and place my hand on his chest lightly to make sure that he is breathing. I understand, without words, and for infinitely possible reasons, that this is a luxury I will not always have.
Once I fell in love with a woman who could not love me back. We spoke on the telephone when she was in New Orleans. The water that passed her was not the water I’d touched.
I finished my wine and sat down to write about some of the things I’d been thinking about that day. I watched a video online of Michael Schumacher racing in Austria. I read a little bit about the history of World War One. I searched for an answer to a question I had about water. I thought about the woman I once loved. I read a story she wrote for me. The man in India, he now carries a stick to protect himself from the crows. I looked at pictures I had taken of a sunset in Portugal. I sent a link to my son’s email regarding astrology. Before I got in bed, I poured a final glass of wine and sat beside the large window in my kitchen and listened to the wind.
And afterward I slept.
The next day was the next day. Soon, it grew colder, the days shorter. My son told me over dinner about the compatibility of one astrological sign with another, and I was happy he’d found his answer, but after he mentioned this, he never brought it up again.
Every night, he breathed.
I set an alert on my phone for information regarding Michael Schumacher’s health. So far it has remained silent.
In no time, Fall arrived. With it the tourists in their rental cars, none of them Michael Schumacher, but all of them eager to take photographs of leaves. Who can blame them? It’s gorgeous here. We pray into our telephones.