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Fireflies


 

My  mother calls the four umbrellas that mark the perimeter of the pool – “the monks.” In fact, when they are closed and belted, they look exactly like tall, thin monks in hooded habits, facing east across the rolling hills. Instead of going to mass in the Duomo, I spent the morning “summering” the garden. I hauled out the lounge chair mattresses, the dozens of cushions, rolled the towels and put them in the large straw basket, folded lap robes and arranged the napping chaises for my mother and sister. Each of the umbrellas got a thorough shakedown to exile any insects that might have taken up residence since last fall.   There were only a few  dessicated corpses of wasps and spiders, nothing capable of producing terror. But the last umbrella had a surprise tucked away in one of the folds. When I gave it a shake, a small furry knob dropped out and,  landing on the pebbles poolside, spread silken wings for a split second.  I knew instantly that this was the same little bat — the flying mouse — that I had surprised last year at this time in the garden. It was just the same shade of walnut brown with a sheen to its short thick fur and a patent leather effect on its limbs. I picked it up with a paper towel and carefully carried it to the  cypress whose  trunk forks high enough above ground to keep the bat out of trouble. I gently laid the bat in the crotch. It hesitated for a moment, long enough to get its bearings and, I suspect, to rouse itself from deep sleep. Then it stretched out forearms, from which the wings unfold, and started hauling itself up the bark, one hand at a time,  grabbing the rough texture of the tree with finely articulated claws. Amazing how much it looked like a little human in a fur “chubby” with patent leather gloves and tight breeches!

One more swallow came into the world! I found the halves of a tiny egg beneath one of the seven nests under the eaves above the terrace. Last week’s courting couple finished its new nest – a McMansion sized construction of clay and twigs that makes the others look shabby by comparison.

The hoopie is back in the garden, utterly oblivious of the dogs and of me circling the magnificent roses with a squirt bottle of soapy water to forestall the onslaught of white flies. Such glorious roses this May: fat, petticoated blossoms in pink and white and yellow and orange and red, releasing waves of perfume to compete with the orange I’ve stationed at the foot of the stairs going up to my apartment so that coming and going I get a nosefull of pleasure! I recognize the hoopie by his arrogant strut, all about his handsome carriage and his elegant suit of feathers. Welcome back, hoopie!

And, once again, I have to eat my words. “No, there are no fireflies. It’s too early for them. The nights are still too cold.” “She’s right,” chimes in my mother.” We won’t see them for another two weeks, at least.” But we are both wrong and my sister’s right, darn it: the night sky is full of their dotted dashing and pulsing their desparate mating signals, and once again I have trouble telling where the earth ends and the star studded sky begins. Fireflies: fugitive photons on the make!

On our afternoon walk, we find ample evidence of boars in Maurizio’s and Giovanni’s vineyard. Large patches of grass dug up into deep trenches, surrounded by deep footprints and, here and there, a tidy construction of scat. My mother navigates boldly with her cane, ecstatic over the wind riffling the hills of wheat and wild oats and the meadows choked with poppies and daisies, artichokes and wild fennel, sweet pea, alfalfa, safflower, clover and dozens of plant species, each greedily snapping up photons in its particular chromatic window.

Night is an odd experience. I sleep in the room across the hall from my mother’s, keeping our doors open so that I can keep an ear out for what is going on with her. I hate it when the leg cramps come on and she moans in pain and I go to her to massage a special cream into her legs. I listen carefully when, two or three times in the course of a night, she struggles to sit up in bed and turns on the light and shuffles to the bathroom, and then wait anxiously, along with her  dog, until she comes back to bed, and her breathing returns to the slow, sonorous pace of deep sleep. I hear her moan in her sleep, and the dog bark in irritation as she turns. I am put back in mind to the months of my daughter’s infancy when I learned to sleep while awake, in that peculiarly oxymoronic form of sleep familiar to the mothers of young children and of teenagers.

The cuckoo’s call. The robin’s chatter. Turtle dove warbling. So much avian music in the air, and now, at night, a timid trill from the nightingale.

Today I cooked polenta with bolognese sauce, zucchini trifolatti, macedonia di frutta over datti di dama…

And I still puzzle about a friend’s remark, in response to my recent posts about my freshest strategies for dealing with my ex’s treatment of me, that I am “winning the war.” I hadn’t realized it was about “winning” or even that this is a “war.” And it’s neither, in fact, because it’s really not at all about one or the other of us “winning” and the other “losing,” since each of us does both. Nor is what goes on between us anything remotely resembling a war. Rather, it is one round after other of tedious negotiations carried on in the interest of eventual harmony and serenity.

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