Photo by Felicia Birloi

The most beautiful time of day

Or, still-life with martini

It’s that time of day, that utterly precious time of day, when time seems to stand still, or hang suspended anyway, between bars of light. That time of day when the wind dies, and it’s undeniable that the sun is on her way over the edge of the earth once more. The dog at the neighbor’s stops barking. The sound of the drier drying the clothes seems louder. The sound of the children playing in the yard two doors over crystalizes. The notes of their voices, their laughter, their play, also hang suspended, crystallized, eternal.

Or, is it just the martini?

It’s true. I allowed myself the one martini. Being the child of two alcoholics, it’s always a bit of a dare, a bit of a risk, a bit of a foolish escapade, a bit of courting disaster, tempting fate, what-have-you, to enjoy a single cocktail during this beautiful time of day. Yet, it’s a … pleasure (I’ll say it) I allow myself from time to time.

So. So, here I am, in the yard. The breeze now tender, intimate. My best-dog-ever Daisy places the tennis ball again at my hip. Again and again she nudges it onto the seat of the director’s chair I sit in and waits with eyes alert and beloved.

Now, the last rays of the sun finger lovingly the liquid in my half-full martini glass. A green olive peers up at me from the bottom. The pink (don’t know why it’s pink; it’s the last one Daisy found on one of our walks) tennis ball is lodged between the wood frame and my left hip, suspended above the faded canvas seat of the director’s chair that used to be cherry red. It was cherry red and astonishing when I picked it up in the Goodwill down the street one day one or two summers ago. Now, it’s nearly white, with obdurate red thread hanging on, proclaiming its heritage.

It’s the time of day when the sun turns the most innocent and innocuous of leaves to brilliant stained glass masterpieces. The fig leaves, shot through with gold light, reveal the intricate pattern of veins that proclaim God’s artistry.

The fragile, tender new leaves of my ailing orange tree too… they are spangled with the light of the sun sent in long rays over the edge of the earth, each one picked out in its particular coat and color — yellow, mottled yellow, tentative green, old green, hopeful green, baby green. While the trunk of the weak tree I finally fertilized after a decade of demise is limned by the sweet touch of the sun — masculine, strong, capable, hot, passionate — the sun that sustains us all.

Now the breeze brings on its wings the scent of bar-b-que from I know not where, somewhere in our divine little neighborhood in Oakland, California. The scent of meat grilling, coated with dazzling sweet sauce that has bite — sweet with pepper, sweet with chile. Sweet and summer, end of summer, on this eve, the last before school begins tomorrow.

I have to wonder though, I cannot not, is it the magic time of day that allows me to see these kaleidoscopic beauties? Or the first few sips of a delicious, perfect, icy martini with ice shards still suspended in the cloudy liquor?

But, wait. I ask myself this scary question. But, is it scary? Is it really? The worst part of being the child of an alcoholic mother and father is that you can never really just enjoy your drink. It’s true. I am forever checking, analyzing, measuring. Making sure I don’t slip past a certain line that I have marked in my head. The greatest thing about my body is that it won’t allow me to be an alcoholic. My body knows what good and healthy feels like. And when things slip over, it rebels — and how. I have always appreciated this. Because of it, I tend to drink far less than many “normies” I know. However, I must confess, I do very much like a well-timed cocktail.

So. The witching hour. This night. This night — a Sunday eve. The Sunday before school begins again. My son is 18. My daughter is 15. Soon, I will leave this beautiful garden of mine, this garden where I spend so many peaceful hours with my papa.

We sat today together with the Sunday New York Times on the little chair that serves as a table between us. I delivered him an icy dry blood orange soda. While I was preparing it, he — to my immense surprise and consternation — got up to find me. When I encountered him stepping over the sill from the garden to the laundry room that bridges the back door to the kitchen, he said, “I thought you forgot me.”

The thing is, I hadn’t forgotten him — of course. But, he had maneuvered himself rather well across the uneven lawn, down two weirdly sloped steps covered with redwood mulch, through a trial of gravel, upon a large stepping stone with a menacing sill (missing the giant BBQ fork lying on the ground), to me.

In other words, he hadn’t fallen. Without his walker, without my hand, without having to hold both my hands which is par for the course with my dad when without his walker, he had made his way almost all the way to my kitchen (where I was preparing his soda) without falling.

I was intensely happy and heartened to see this. I also ran to him and provided the normal support ASAP because while it was amazing, important, and heartening (and even healthy), I also know roughly what the end game will be if another fall occurs and another hip is broken. Let’s just say it will probably be the last opportunity for a broken bone.

The light sinks further. It gleams on the gap between the slats of the fence, the fence my sweet Lebanese neighbor repairs whenever needed without mentioning to me or asking me for dollars to help cover the cost and the labor of these bright new redwood boards that appear with regularity like black piano keys.

The giant Chinese Elm belonging to my neighbor Kiki is shot through now with pellets of gold as the sun picks out individual leaves, caressing them, leaving a coat of gold that scintillates in the soft breeze. The tree — this Chinese Elm that has accompanied us for the nearly twenty years we have lived here — still has all her mature leaves. Right now of course they are deep green. They are dry, strong, capable. They know their job and do it well. They rise shoulder first each morning to the new light ready to reap the benefits for their tender host mother, the tree.

The trunk too I can see now is limned in the same way as the orange tree — a white edge that stands in stark contrast to the dark bark of the tree. A silvery gleam that demands our attention. Look, look at me, it seems to say. Drink in every turn, every flaw, every bump, curve, and dip. Attest to my life, my years, the years I gave you baskets of oranges, so many that more than one year people would come and ask you if they could also partake of my oranges, my bountiful oranges, produced from strong reaching branches that used to cover your bedroom window.

It’s just an ordinary night. An ordinary night on one of the last days of August in 2016. A night of magic, beauty, and poetry. When everything quiets and the trees speak for themselves. When the wind abates and the hum of the far-off subway reminds us of where we live, of our place and time in the world.

The bizarre tree-cutting device my gardener accidentally left here rests contentedly in the crook of my double-trunked olive tree. I hear the basketball hitting the pavement regularly at the park across the way. Voices drift on the air from various households, gentle. Now a cough. The basketball again. A passing car.

Why on earth does it take a martini to slow things down like this? To slow things down in the way a writer needs them to be slowed?

Why oh why is my mind so full that it cannot hear these poems ordinarily?

Again, is it the time of day? Or the martini?

Either way, it’s great. And it’s important. Whether it’s the sun’s dying rays or the effect of the martini, I’ll take it — this mini-vacation that affords me the ability to see and hear the beauty that is momentary — of the moment. My dog’s chin rests on the redwood bark chips. She also understand this time of day requires something subtle, acquiescence to something greater. The gently oscillating Chinese Elm, the elegant old orange tree, are now limned on all of their dark, aching branches, plated brilliantly with summer’s last light.