I sat on the edge of my bed, did the math. I’d been on Family and Medical Leave from my teaching position for the past four months, my third leave in six years. My body could not promise me another year of health required for teaching. I realized I could not sign the contract laid out in front of me. I knew I had to retire at 62, years before I’d planned.
My salary covered my house payment each month. If my income were to be cut by a third, I could not make those payments. The money I needed to continue living in Northern Virginia was not there. I had to make a drastic change, move somewhere more affordable. But where?
I’d met Nancy Solomon two weeks before at a Passover seder at the synagogue in nearby Sedona. I’d been vacationing there. I pulled out her business card. Nancy was peddling vitamins. She said her special formula might improve my health, gave me her card. Now I wondered, Could living in or near Sedona restore my health, maintain my budget?
I dialed her number. Her voice sounded warm, restorative. I explained my situation. I needed a place to retire to within about three months. Did she have connections to help me if I moved to Arizona?
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I was looking at my own budget. In order to make my house payments I need a roommate. Interested?”
I’d met Nancy once. I couldn’t picture her face. I only remembered how tall she seemed.
“I live in this gated community on a golf course fifteen miles from Sedona. Everyone here is over 55. I have two bedrooms. The second is on the other side of my house. You’d have privacy. Bring your furniture. We’ll figure out how your possessions fit in with mine. There’s plenty of room. Oh, and you have a dog? We’ll work him in, too.”
How did she know I had a dog? I knew I hadn’t mentioned him at the seder.
I had no other viable options. The rent Nancy wanted was 1/6th of the money I was paying for my Falls Church house. How bad could it be to live in the desert year-round?
“Oh. The summers? It doesn’t get above 100 very often. And we have these storms called monsoons. Whenever it gets hot, they cool everything off. You’ll be fine here.”
“I’ll get back to you.”
A few days later I called Nancy again. She had a delightful sense of humor. We both both loved wordplay. “I read two or three books a week. No television. I like it quiet.”
We started talking several times a week. She understood my health issues. “I work as a caregiver for the elderly. I know you aren’t elderly, but I have the skills to care for you, like bathing and shopping. And that’d be worked into your rent. No extra charge.”
I put my Falls Church house on the market. It would have to be a short sale. I staged my belongings.
“Take pictures of all your furniture. Then I can figure out how all your pieces fit with mine. You have a red velvet couch? It’ll go perfectly with my white leather lazy boy recliner. You have antique dolls? They’ll fit beautifully into my sun room. You own African artifacts? They’ll be right at home with my Egyptian gicles.” Not that I had ever heard of a gicle.
Nancy and I began to talk late into the evening. I shared my fears with her. Could I be happy miles from my family? Would I find health again? “Oh, I pray all the time,” she assured me. “Everything works out for me that way. My prayers will help you, too.”
What to do with Dubi, my 12 year old red tick hound? Would he fit in Northern Arizona? He loved the open space along the Potomac River. My friends took him there to run, off leash, three times a week. Nancy lived on a golf course. Would he find running space there?
“Don’t worry. I’ll advertise for someone to walk him. He’ll have to be on leash. Coyotes sometimes can be dangerous, you know. I’m praying. It’ll work out.”
Within a few weeks Nancy became a trusted confidante. Guarded, shy, I rarely shared my thoughts with family and friends. Here was a woman I’d met once, and she seemed to understand my fears even before I voiced them. I discussed plans with her. She murmured in agreement, assuring me frequently she prayed.
These plans moved along. My son made frequent trips to Falls Church, helped me pack. A friend’s son came over, showed me how to set up my computer, saved all my documents on discs. As a writer, I’d needed to get my files in order.
“You’ll be here in October,” Nancy announced during a phone call in July. How did she know? She and I’d been planning around a September 1 moving date. The night before I realized I still had too many loose ends to knit together in six weeks. The last time we talked we repeated to one another, “See you in September.” I hadn’t made this decision to move in October for myself, yet. And she seemed so sure. “I pray,” was her response.
One major issue remained, Dubi. He was elderly, and big, over 100 pounds. How could I move him? “It’ll work,” Nancy assured, “I pray.”
A week later, as I pet him, I felt a lump between his ribs. I took him to the vet, following one of his Potomac runs. The vet felt his growth. “That’s probably a cancerous tumor. I’ll do a simple biopsy.”
The vet was right. Within a couple of days Dubi’s health deteriorated rapidly. “He needs to be put down,” the vet said sadly. One less loose end.
“Oh, I know you’ll want a new dog. We’ll find one when you move here, name her Dodi. You like the name.” Nancy’s uncanny conversations continued. I’d never considered that name, hadn’t considered getting a female dog next.
I packed my final belongings, hugged my son good-bye. A moving van came. Everything I owned, even my car, moved onto the truck. I had my plane reservations. I’d arrive in Phoenix on a Tuesday evening. “Take the shuttle to Cottonwood. Stay at Best Western. I’ll pick you up Thursday. You won’t want to sleep in my recliner for too many days before your furniture comes.”
I didn’t hear from Nancy when I arrived in Cottonwood. She never answered her phone. She’d said, “See you Thursday,” so I waited. Thursday afternoon she walked into the motel office. “Hi Ann. Come on. We’ll go food shopping, then get dinner and go home.”
The warmth we shared on the phone did not translate as I expected. She stooped and gave me a formal, perfunctory hug. I noted her height, well over six feet, her stick-straight long brown hair drooping down to the center of her back, her severe bangs cut straight across her forehead.
“Oh, and this is our new little dog, ‘Dodi.’” She pushed a small stuffed dog with long red ears in my direction.
The grocery store we went to seemed small, dingy. I was used to large chains, not small health food stores like this. “I don’t allow food filled with chemicals in my house,” Nancy announced. “Find what you’ll eat here.”
Over the next few days Nancy laid out more and more rules for living in her house. “All garbage goes in the freezer until it goes out Thursdays. I don’t like that smell. I conserve energy. No overhead spotlights unless absolutely necessary. Prepare food with over-the-counter lights only. The others burn too much power. Oh, and I got bathroom granite counters for the kitchen. Water drops show up readily. Avoid them. I observe the Sabbath. No lights on after sunset Fridays, no phone calls.”
Friday morning Nancy took me to the library, the synagogue and the coffee shop where she had a muffin each morning. “Now you can find these places on your own. I work, and cannot be carting you around.”
My furniture and possessions arrived. They were too big, too chunky to fit into her home. I pored through my boxes to find my essentials, but noted I made no attempt to move my belongings into her house.
I spent days sitting on the side of my bed, fiddling with poems on my computer. Using Nancy’s phone was out. Her minutes were severely limited. I had no celI phone of my own. I couldn’t call my Falls Church friends.
Within a few weeks I surreptitiously began to look at ads for nearby rental homes. I was afraid to tell Nancy I didn’t feel comfortable in her house. When she returned home from work ten days later I scrambled to hide the house-rental flyers I’d been poring through “I think you’ll find your own rental house in another neighborhood on this golf course. You’ll move out next month. And that Dodi-dog we’ve talked about. She’s in Tucson. I’ll drive you down to retrieve her as soon as you move.”
I found my own house, where I lived for five years, a half-mile from Nancy, on her golf course. My belongings fit perfectly. I scanned the internet day after day, looking at shih-tzus, King Charles spaniels, and eventually doxies. I located a sweet looking mini dachshund with long red ears at a kennel in Tucson. The day after I moved in, Nancy picked me up and we drove to retrieve the little dog I’d named Dodi. She looked eerily like the stuffed dog Nancy had given me when I first arrived in Arizona, six weeks before.
I didn’t see Nancy again for over two years. I created my own life during that time, made new friends. One day I saw her at the health food store. Nancy towered over the carrots. I walked over, greeted her.
“Hello, Ann. I know you’ve done well here,” she remarked without looking up, “Remember. I pray.”
I was asked to speak at the re-opening of the Clark Memorial Library, as the Clarkdale author. I decided to write this poem to mark the occasion. October 19 is significant because it is also the 90th anniversary of the original opening of the library. With this in mind, I researched poetic forms which were popular 90 years ago. I discovered the Rondeau. This poem has fifteen lines. Twelve of them are 10 syllables long, with an alternating ABA rhyme. Then there are three repetitions of the five syllable refrain.
A Tribute to Clark Memorial Library, a Rondeau
(on its 90th Birthday and Grand Re-Opening)
More than a warehouse for storing old books,
a library’s a place for taking a look
at stuff that is in print or modern tech:
a documentary on someone’ trek:
an old recipe your grandma once cooked
with the trout granddaddy pulled out of the brook:
how to use Google to find the ways a crook
installs malware, makes your ‘puter a wreck.
More than a warehouse
for stale old words and dead thoughts, we come here to look
for our friends, or plan our ride on Amtrak,
or find a map to locate the vortex.
Just discover this Clarkdale book nook
is more than a warehouse.
Across the oceans, a seven-decade long battle, never finished, re-erupts with rumbles of ballistic missiles splashing into the North China sea. No appeasement. Bellicose rhetoric intensifies
Earthquakes topple buildings. Fifteen worshippers crushed during mass. Steeples litter churchyards.
Hurricanes bring days of drenching rain. Mangled metal and snapped wooden beams lie across trailer parks like a litter of matchsticks.
Weeks after devastating rain, electricity remains elusive. Clean drinking water unavailable. Bacterial infections lie in infested waters. Clear blue skies mock the seeming promise of tropical paradise.
Wine country lies in ruins. Smoldering ash coats purple grapes. Wisps of smoke disappear into thick layers of haze as a dull, red sun rises over the desolation.
Thousands of music-lovers gather for an outdoor concert. Lone gunman, weapons modified, fires randomly into the crowd, dozens killed, hundreds injured
Jeeps festooned with giant American flags, Trump signs. Honking their horns, young drivers weave through the street, fists raised.
Friday night worshippers pray in their synagogue as bands of demonstrators march outside, torches lit, slogans chanted.
Protestors set up their signs. Scream harangues at passersby. “Socialists, go back to California.”
Twitter spewed by an egotistic president. A man who will not accept criticism. A man with a single point for every view. Fake news. Little rocket man. Honor the flag. Let Puerto Rico fix itself.
And me? How can I react? What do I say? What must I do?
I will seek the Calm. I can breathe in Peace. I will fill my soul with Lovingkindnes. I must turn down the blare of news. I can meditate on serenity
And, not wanting to face this alone, I find others who eschew loneliness.
Together we will seek to unify with other like-minded individuals.
Together we will find the promise behind our fears.
Together we will create Calm-Unity.
We form Community.
Eve: “I Was Framed”
I am Eve, unique among women. I was born a woman, no babyhood for me, no growing into a role. Hashem breathed life into my nostrils, and there I was in all my glory with auburn hair, warm brown eyes and a patch of freckles thrown across my nose.
Hashem was busy all week. Our magnificent Creator had fashioned the most perfect jewel of an Earth. She created everything you can imagine: sunsets and sunrises, thunder, oceans with roaring waves, a thousand different kinds of fish, a million different insects including the majestic butterfly. She created stars, all sorts of animals, too, before She turned her attention to my husband, Adam and to me.
Now it was Friday afternoon, almost Shabbat. Hashem’s rest-day was coming and Hashem needed her handiwork done before She took her first rest. She realized She was lonely, so She decided to create a man. In the late afternoon She felt playful, so She gave this man, whom She named Adam, six-pack abs, dreamy blue eyes and blond curls. A hunk! She and Adam toured the garden, Adam calling out names for all he saw, “Salamander, dragonfly, elk, javelina...”
Hashem walked with Adam through Her lovely garden, pointing out her glorious fruits. As they talked Hashem realized She could never live with only men because She found them know-it-all and egocentric. She had to make a woman to counteract all of this. She completed her tour standing in front of her most voluptuous fruit in the center of the garden. “Never touch these fruits. They are not for you, in fact I forbid you to even taste them. Their effect on you could be fatal”
She put him back to sleep, and extracted me from a rib of his. Adam awoke from this short nap. I stood in front of him. “Wow!” he exclaimed. I felt pleased, myself. We connected with that first glimpse.
“Be fruitful and multiply,” Hashem instructed as She scurried off for her much-needed nap.
That wasn’t hard to do! After all it was Erev Shabbat, the evening when Shabbat begins. We found pleasure in one another. Couples still connect as Shabbat begins.
For a few days we wandered around the garden, sampling the delights awaiting us: strawberries as big as a fist with fragrant, juicy sweetness; pungent peppers in a variety of colors and flavors that tickled our tongues; tomatoes the flavor of sunrise.
Adam kept to the edge of the garden. There must have been something in the middle he wanted to avoid. He said something about dying if we went in there, something forbidden. So I didn’t choose to go in there, either.
One day Adam laid down for a nap. I went out walking alone. I saw this strange animal. His skin carried zigzags in rainbow colors. He walked on short, stumpy legs. “Hey, Evie,” he saluted me, “what’s going down, you little Clown?” I noted something unusual in his demeanor.
“Nothing,” I replied. “I am just going over for a snack of broccoli florets.”
“Oh, but that’s so boring, so green. Why not try the forbidden fruit in the center of the garden?”
I felt dread rise through my cheekbones. I remembered Adam’s mention of Hashem and something forbidden, but he never mentioned it directly. I honestly did not understand any restrictions there.
“I bet Adam told you it’s fatal, didn’t he, Evie? How would you know if you don’t try it?”
“Oh, but I don’t want to die. I have plenty to eat without trying it. Have you tasted these raspberries? Nothing could be more exquisite than these.”
“But compared to the forbidden fruit, those are mere mushrooms. Imagine tasting something so red, you expect to see it bleed, so sweet you’d think it was honey, so crunchy your ears hear a symphony with every bite.”
“I can’t. Adam told me not to.”
“But what did Hashem tell you?”
“Nothing. She must have told Adam.”
“Maybe Adam lied. Maybe Adam sneaks in here every night while you are sleeping just to eat them without having to share with you.”
“But he wouldn’t do that. He knows Hashem has forbidden him to eat it.”
“That’s what he tells you... Do you believe everything your husband says?”
This strange animal grinned, and I saw that inside his mouth he had a forked tongue. I knew he couldn’t be a safe friend for me.
He clambered into the center of the garden. I followed him with dread. I didn’t intend to eat that fruit, but I was enticed. I wanted to see what would happen next.
“And what did Adam say would happen if you bit into this juicy, sweet treat?” the beast asked.
“Adam said we would die.”
“So if I take a juicy bite and I survive, will you see the folly in Adam’s words?”
“But maybe it is different for beasts like you than us people!”
“Oh no. See that shiny green plant with three leaves? Have you tried it?”
“No. It’s poison.”
“Well it ‘s poison for me, too.”
“So, what’s poison for you, Evie, is poison for me as well. Let me take a bite, and if nothing happens to me, you can try.”
And with that the creature picked a luscius fruit dangling near the ground and took a huge bite. Juice gushed out everywhere. He got a look of sheer delight in his eyes.
“Am I dead, Evie?”
“You don’t look dead.”
“That was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I’d strongly suggest you try it too. Think of what you’re missing.”
I couldn’t hold back another moment. I had tried to do what Adam had instructed but clearly he was wrong. The creature before me was blissfully alive.
“I’ll take just a nibble.”
“Hurry up. Adam might come, and we don’t want to share it with him.”
The creature handed me a fruit. I took a small bite. It tasted like lavender and peonies blooming in the sun, like a snow-fed mountain waterfall and a quiet rain shower all at once. Surely the creature had not lied. And I was just as alive as I was before I sunk my teeth in.
“This is so wonderful, I’ll have to share it with Adam I know he believed the ban on this fruit was to save our lives. But I feel so much more alive, aware now. Surely he’ll want some.”
I ran and awoke Adam. He glanced up at me and gave me a strange look.
“What have you been up to, Eve? You somehow look different.”
“I ate some of this delicious fruit, and I wanted to share it with you.”
“What is that? It looks different from anything we’ve found in the garden.”
“Oh, it comes from the center of the garden.
“Eve! You haven’t tried the forbidden fruit, have you?
“Well, you said Hashem told you you’d die if you ate it. Do I look dead? I feel more alive than I ever have!”
“Well, She told me not to touch it.”
“But She didn’t tell me anything. She said you’d be dead if you ate it. Do we have to believe everything Hashem tells us?
“Well, She is our Creator.”
“But even Creators might get something wrong!”
“Well, I don’t know...”
“Here, try this. See what you think.” And I tossed Adam a chunk of the forbidden fruit.
Juices ran down his chin. He could hear a symphony inside his mouth. He stood there with a stupid grin and said nothing.
A moment or two later, he did speak. “Oh, Eve, let’s get down there. We’ve got to get more!”
And he tripped over the colorful creature as he dashed towards the tree.
Adam and I crammed the fruit into our mouths. We fed ourselves, then we fed one another. Soon our entire bodies were sticky with its juice.
We heard someone clearing a throat.
Adam spoke. “Hashem! She told us not to eat this. How can we pretend we didn’t?”
“Here. Hide behind this tree. Maybe She won’t see us”
“You know, I never had a conscience before. Could this be the gift from the forbidden fruit?”
Hashem found us behind the tree. She looked at our sticky faces.
She addressed us. “What have you two been up to?”
“Nothing Hashem!” we answered in unison.
“Hmmph. Somehow I cannot believe you!”
“Well, we did eat that delicious fruit sitting in the center of the garden,” I answered. “Thank you for putting it there.”
“I thought I told you not to taste that fruit!” Hashem roared.
“That was Adam. I don’t listen to everything my husband says,” I replied.
“That’s kind of too bad,” Hashem replied. “That would have kept you out of trouble.”
“What trouble?” Adam asked. He found himself blushing as he spoke to Hashem. He knew he was lying, and it didn’t feel right.
“See,” Hashem replied. “Now you have a conscience. You know when you have done something wrong. That was the gift of the fruit.”
“Hmmm,” I rolled these new ideas around in my mind. “ We did get this strange desire to hide from you, as if something about our nudity made us feel ashamed to see you. Is that what you’re talking about?”
“Exactly! Unfortunately I designed this garden for naive people. You are no longer naive. I’m going to have to throw you out. I will even make clothes out of skins for you so you do not have to hide your nakedness.”
“Oh don’t do that,” Adam pleaded. “What will become of us? How will we eat?”
“You know those broccoli florets and those raspberries?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“You’ll have to grow them yourselves! Now, Eve, did anyone put this whole idea into your head? Someone who told you not to trust your husband?”
“Well...” I started. I did not want to get anyone in trouble.
“Was it that creature who walks on short stumpy legs?”
When neither Adam nor I said anything, Hashem called out, “Creature, oh Creature, please come here.”
The creature waddled in, his face smeared with juice from the forbidden tree.
“Was it your idea to tempt Eve with this fruit?”
The once bouncy creature became truculent. “So what if I did? She has free will. She can make choices for herself. I merely encouraged her!”
Hashem stood for a few moments, rolling over ideas in Her mind. “OK. All three of you disobeyed me. Adam, you never really shared what you knew about this tree. For that, you will forever have to grow your own food, and live with a wife who can discern right from wrong.”
To me, She spoke. “Woman, for being enticed by the creature, and for not further inquiring of your husband, you will experience the worst kind of pain I know. It is called childbirth.”
And to the creature, Hashem said, “Because you cajoled Eve to do wrong, you too must be punished. You know those cute stumpy legs you have? They’re gone. You can slide around on your belly.”
All three of us appealed to Hashem to change Her mind.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"