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It's Nelly's World

It Happened One Night

alec vanderboom

Tuesday belongs to me. It represents what summer does to the eight-year-old: an alluring expanse of time stretching all the way to the vanishing point and beyond, into which every single activity and longed-for pleasure can be packed. It will never end.

On Tuesdays, alone of the week, I do not need to be home at four for the arrival of the bus, nor do I need to think of what to make for dinner that would not shock my circle of organic-eating, protein-aware mothers (tell me, what really is wrong with a meal composed of corn chips, frozen french fries, and ice cream?). It is my day, and dinner will be what I want, when I want. Eight, or nine, it matters not. By Monday afternoon I am full of happy anticipation: I think I will . . . answer all those e-mails, and take my time doing it; I will go to the grocery, a period of time when I can let the brain go into sleep mode, cool off while I throw things into the cart; take Nelly for a long walk and not care--too much--if she goes AWOL in the briers at the cornfields; go home and put on some records extra-loud while preparing dinner, usually a can of vegetarian chili; build a fire; and, finally, have some time to write.

Awful as it is--sometimes twisting the gut, forcing me to get up and wander the house in search of anything that needs doing so as to delay the ugly confrontation with the blank page (sometimes I am sure I hear it go "nyah-nyah!")--I like writing. Only problem is, I can't do it anymore with anyone else in the house. If there is, I find myself steeled for the inevitable moment when at last a pour of words is about to come, thank god, and . . . "Mom? I need ______" [fill in the blank: pencil, toilet paper, a definition, math help--ha!--a book on Indians, a hug]. All of these are given gratefully. Nights alone us two, talking about cartoons or music or (now, sometimes) girls, are so amazing I wish I could share them with everyone. But when I finally grab on to some slippery words that have been eluding me for hours, and then they slide away again (such is the power of the word "mom"), it's best not to even begin.

So I treat myself to the full array of lonesome pleasures on Tuesdays, chief among them the glass of wine, the laptop on the floor in front of the fireplace, and time.

Last year--it seems just a dream, a whole year gone in that place--in my rental house without a fireplace, I made a vow to my child. It went like this. "As god is my witness, we'll never live without a fireplace again!"

So when I went down the spec sheets of houses for sale, first I looked to see if they were Nelly-friendly; next, if I could afford them; and third, if they had a fireplace. My amphibian's blood needs this warmth; a house needs a heart. Plus, where are you going to roast marshmallows when the urge takes you in mid-February?

So Nelly and I walked the cornfields next to the icy river on Tuesday; for a mile there and back, there was no one, only crows, their own cut-paper silhouette against the yellow-blue-brown land and sky, and the sound of Nelly diving into the brush, her tags jingling far away. We got back in the car; no one. We drove to the store for a bottle of pinot grigio, for no one else. At home, no one. Nelly ate, then got up on the couch to see what I would do next, but then she couldn't keep her eyes open after her rich day of careening about at top speed, and now the bony meal calling forth digestive effort from her body. I put a match to the paper, and yellow-orange leaped up so I could watch this small magic, wood consumed and turned into unmatchable warmth. The chili was heating on the stove. The computer screen turned blue, clicked.

I could stay up late, just as in the olden days when there was no seven-thirty alarm to hit me between the ears with its urgent message: Get up, get up, make breakfast, make lunch, make snack, get boy out the door at eight-fifteen so as not to miss the bus. I was free to do whatever the hell I wanted, and that alone made a little nest of satisfaction into which I could psychically curl.

Then the words came. The keys clicked and clacked. Hit save. It does not happen like this every time; it does not happen like this even a quarter of the time. But Tuesday it did. Tuesday, it did.

I threw on two more logs, then lay back on the floor to feel this passing triumph. That is when it came to me. It moved upward along my body, until it stroked my face. Joy. For I wanted nothing in my life to be different, not this night, in which I give myself anything I please, and not the next day, when I would rejoin the community of men, or at least indoor soccer and homework struggles. There would be my son's shy smile when he first comes in the door, looking to see if I am unchanged after a whole day in which we have not seen each other.

On Tuesdays, I can practically shout it to the mountains that rise in their unknowable mystery behind the new house, the one with the fireplace: I love my life, every striated bit of it. Being alone; being unalone. Each in their own proper time.

But let me know if you have something better I could trade you for.