Summer Gods

Midday finds her in front of the stove, frying two eggs in butter. Even with the windows open in the kitchen, it’s hot enough to justify idleness, not that she believes she requires any justification. She’s been reveling in childhood pleasures all morning: full glasses of milk, improvised calisthenics on the balcony, handfuls of chocolate-filled breakfast cereal, hours seated on a stool in front of the small television in the bedroom. Inspired, she removes the cushions from the sofa and discovers, with her characteristic, unpreocuppied joy, the web of copper rods that form the chassis. She’s enchanted by the idea that the things around her possess a structure and core she knows nothing about. Armed with this knowledge she marches about the grounds, collecting pocket radios, glamorous floral hair pieces, tubes of ancient lipstick, golden picture frames and other mysterious, valueless elements of her life. In the living room she plops down onto the floor and begins taking them apart, one by one, dumping the dissected remains in the brown paper bags she packs her husband’s lunch in. Occasionally she encounters something she likes – a soft, tactile on/off button, a cut-out from a food magazine behind her wedding photograph, several spring green circuit boards including the motherboard from a computer case found next to a dumpster outside. Lifting it up for closer inspection, she’d been shocked by its appearance. With its miniature saffron towers, thin silver lines and bright blue background, it had looked like an aerial view of a seaside town to her. She’s more overcome by this revelation than she had been, nearly half a year beforehand, by the two red marks on her pregnancy test.

The last item in her pile is a VHS tape she’d located at the bottom of her husband’s filing cabinet. It’s not labeled, so she assumes it’s useless. He has a habit of placing white stickers on important items and writing wordy, sometimes poetic (in a junior high school way), descriptions on them. Since childhood he’d nursed a great infatuation with the video camera, producing stack after stack of tapes, each with their own sticker. She often amuses herself by rearranging them into geometric forms, stopping to read what’s written on each one. “Neighborhood barbecue ’02, minute 2:46 features Tubby Theesfeld falling off the trampoline”, “High school prom, please excuse the awful tie”, “View from ambulance ’99 (broken ankle after slipping down the stairs of the gym)”, “The train that runs all night on New Year’s Eve”, “I can’t help but get excited by windy days”.

She’d initially picked up the nameless tape with the intention of dismembering it, but now she stops. She crawls on over to the television, popping the tape inside the VCR and pressing the buttons on the player experimentally in the dim light, until it clicks softly and begins to whirl. Sitting on her haunches, she watches curiously. There’s no sound, not even her husband’s playful cry of “Action!” The image appears one chunk at a time, letting her analyze one bit before slowly producing the next. There’s a column of data on the right hand side, small white numbers followed by units of measurement: centimeters, frames per second, decibels. A triangular shape with a cut-off top, like the skirt of a young girl, appears, and it is only when the white and gray contents of the triangle reveal themselves that she realizes what the tape is.

It’s a copy of the ultrasound. Undoubtedly it must be a copy, since she’d destroyed the original. She had ripped it to shreds and set it alight in a trash can, while he watched from the porch, arms crossed over his chest. The memory of the burning of the ultrasound is clearer in her mind than that of the ultrasound itself. All she can recall is that she’d been in a bad mood the day of the visit, furious with morning sickness and the strange new shape and texture of her body. Her husband had held her sweaty hand but not looked at her, cooing over the screen with a delight that was foreign to her. She couldn’t remember it doing anything of interest. Had it really squirmed like that, distorting the picture, rolling and slipping around in placental fluid, a solid mass deep in her gut, beating and bare? She feels heavier now than she ever did while pregnant.

She removes the tape and, flipping open the cover, puts two fingers on the black magnetic tape. She keeps them there briefly before changing her mind and reaching for the tube of dark lipstick. She considers writing “I’m sorry”, but there’s no one left who would accept her apology. “Baby” sounds too cutesy. In the end she writes nothing. She gets up, the tape under her arm, and washes her face in the sink. Then she picks up all the things she has taken apart and carefully puts them away.