Carmela explained to me, hesitant, fingers pressed against the plastic tablecloth at her kitchen table, that she had a problem. The problem is Thursday.

I never realized how odd the word Thursday sounds; how hard it is to say: the smushing of /th/ and /ur/ then with a side of /z/, flipping to the afterthought “day”.

We practiced, of course, earning a bright, toothy grin from her youngest child whose name I, ironically, can’t pronounce at all.

He gave me Halloween mini-M&Ms, giggled, and disappeared into the living room, leaving Carmela and I to Chapter Two, “Tomas is from Mexico.”

Mostly I listen, in between explaining and defining, to her pronunciation, to the rich Spanish thrill sneaking blind kisses on the consonants. I listen and I try not to get lost in linguistic theory because somewhere right across the table from me there is a person who wants to Learn Something.

I’m not as good at teaching as I thought, although the slow progress we made this week thrilled me. I need help. I need a lesson plan. One mention of the phrase “lesson plan” sends Chad into apoplectic fits, so I’m on my own, armed with the xeroxes of second-language texts, several hundred index cards, and a black marker. Fear me and my office supplies.

ï ï ï

Brisk walk to store. Good. I’ll try it again. This time, I swear I won’t run into anything.

Haven’t the nerve to try the stairs this way yet, so I’ll wait till the trail. Smoothest pavement in the world, nearly slippery under bootsoles. Corduroy whisks, a sound comforting as night, everything so soft this close to midnight. Crunching means I’ve lost the trail: veer a bit left … there we go. But it’d be nice to get so good at this I can cut across the exquisite grass. Hm, when I do this I forget what color the grass is at night. Green? A bit bluish? Just another gray? Doesn’t matter; it sounds green, the green of the cotton boy’s sweater my dad bought for me last year, muted and huddling, clean even when it’s not.

Dammit! damndamndamn I always hit the damn stone thing. There’s no warning! Why isn’t there a divot in the trail, something to remember it by? Next time I’ll count paces to pain. No I won’t. Who am I kidding? I’m too busy making sure I don’t fall into the moat …

Moat’s off. No burbling after 10 p.m., don’t you know, quiet hours and all. No wind-chimes, no birdhouses, no burbling. If I’m not hearing the moat, then I’m about to curve a little more leftwards and – yep. Stop sign. Good thing I caught the post with my hand this time and not my face.

And then I give up, because my miles-away mother whispers in my ear, “Stop look and listen, before you cross the street; use your eyes, use your ears, and then you use your feet.”

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Punctuating my workday: the birds nestled in the honeysuckle at my window, the “uh-oh” of ICQ, scurrrches of Zen’s litterbox, the somewhere-anywhere children who scream in perfect pitch, significant “I’m shutting myself off” beeps from the coffeemaker, far-off ferry horns, neat snicks of keystrokes. Chad’s voice, resonant, smiling, as he paces from study to living room and back. An occasional impertinence from Zen, meowing to be petted, then collapsing on her back just out of hand’s reach.

Tones of simulated maiming and lifelike death waft in from the other study as worktime ends, increasing amounts of “uh-ohs”, chatty status-reports of certain food-dishes, the inevitable “what are we doing for dinner?”, messier keystrokes, cabinets and doors and windows adjusting to evening, muffled yelps of the somewhere-anywhere children, the “Star Trek Voyager” theme, steady cruck-crick of frog news, my own yawns and creaks.

Even the thick blankets sing to my flannel pajamas as I crawl into bed, lightless, and listening.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.