I bow before the short talk I’m about to give for the three people listening, two on zoom, and one sitting beside me. I read upside down the inscription on the back of my rakasu, the hand sewed fabric sort-of bib that hangs over my head like a prayer flag. “Flexible mind is the way,” it says.
“You are like a swinging door, I say, quoting Suzuki Roshi. “The breath comes in, the door swings open. The breath goes out, the door swings shut.”
My neighbor’s dog, Daisy and I walk together. We walk to the alley with the apple trees behind Bross and 11th. I used to glance around like I was stealing, and I’d stuff apples in my pockets, from the yard and street. Most partly rotten, tire marks or half-eaten by squirrels. But now there’s a sign on a tree that says, “Please take as many apples as you like. Here’s some bags” and then paper bags there and an apple picker! All these years I was guilty, gleaning and now they are completely offered. Please, the sign said. Reach up and pluck an apple.
I look online for a raised bed platform. The slats aren’t wood, but canvas strips, strong enough to hold a futon. A few thousand dollars. Enough to buy a tooth or this bed or I could go to Switzerland.
Gina, the dental hygienist, calls “Katharine” and I go with her through the glass door she holds open. The hall is long with small rooms on either sides and reclining chairs with people in them or chairs covered with plastic. There are no hinges and doors for these rooms, open to the hallway. I lie in a chair with aqua bib and flimsy sunglasses, lights in my eyes and close my eyes. “Let’s try with no novocain, I feel stronger today.” Then, the zing up into my head.
“Dull or sharp?” Gina says.
They always ask that question.
“Should we try the short-term numbing?” Gina says.
“I guess so.”
I thought it would be a short visit. She only needed to clean the bottom teeth. The rest were done last week, and I had to stop. Just as I think we’re almost done she says,
That’s what Kevin said last week when my staples came out of my leg.
They all say that. I wonder what halfway through means.
Even Acharya, a teacher of mine, when I asked about enlightenment said, “You’re halfway there.”
Even with novocain, sharp zings go from my teeth.
“More novocain or a few scrapes without?” Gina asks. “No Novocain and no scraping,” I say.
The divorce and then virus and then broken leg. Cavities in my teeth are growing faster than my once-a-month visit that Medicaid allows. Half of one came out with a bite of an almond last week.
Gina walks with her head tipped forward as if she’s still looking down her patient’s mouth. She was huge and looming when I was lying back. She walks in small quick steps back down the long hall. I am taller so I look down when we talk.
“We’re here for you,” she says. “We try to make it gentle for you. We believe you. We care about you. I care about you.
In case I don’t run into you in the hall, next week when you see Dr. Davis, Happy Holidays.”
Even though it’s barely October, I accept that. She’s cheerful. She thinks about the most likely time I’ll run into her and figures it may not be before the holidays and she thinks about the holidays.
In the car I put my head in my hands and sob like a heroine in a movie. We care about you. We believe you. A tiny apple from the crab apple tree falls on my roof and makes a small sound, and two more fall near my windshield wiper. They stay there as I drive home.
In the dream I am wheeled back from surgery with my soft aqua gown with the back ties slightly broken, and ports and things sticking out from under my gown. There has been a large surgery in my torso and the thing is they have to get me up into space so I can properly heal. I don’t seem to be able to go into space the conventional way and that’s already been tried. There is a really kind nurse, and she has the idea. “In the old days women used to knit and sew long sturdy fabric strips. The women stand all around holding them and you lie on them. They thrust you up in one or two or three tries and you can make it to space. Would you like to try that way?” she says.
“I guess so.”
I wake and the kind of happiness comes that you get when you realize the dream is not real and that here, this is real. Chloe paws my leg for pats and Jake arches his head back and over his shoulder. What a flexible dog, I think, with such a beautiful long spine.
At Roger’s Grove I stand under the apple trees with my bag and bodies of apples all over the ground in various states. Most on the ground have the wide bruise. From flower to the tiny apple to the large apple and then the fall. On the ground they rot with bees going into them. The smell of apples everywhere in my head as I stand under these trees. It’s all about my head, the trees touching one another, and the feeling had been I was too tired and was it worth it to go gather the apples and then there I was—filled with myself being there and the exhilaration and love. The trees themselves, this way.
~ o ~