The olive sky tempered everything she said to me. How did I know? Her eyes—which were greener than the atmosphere, greener than the air in our bellies churning our sicknesses—her eyes told me all I needed to know.
That her childhood had been perfect, the way a small person grew taller and straight in that tallness and nurtured as a young tree's stem heightens, all the while hardening, becoming hardy and bark-edged and burnt by the sun. But with edges frayed, edges hid. That her education was moderate, or moderated, by the priests and the sisters who crumpled to her sweet objections, her misbehavior in the classroom and her penance in the church pews. That her elocution was flawless; she could have been an actress.
My breath healed the split ends of her hair as I sang close to the dimples in her ears. Song of the railroad whistle and the trestle that clanged in my dreams; of houses for sale, or houses repossessed; of men who take to the road or go down shafts to slough-scar the insides of the earth with pick axes, who decimate the mountains, who color the rain.
What else? How about her orange throat? Very near to a ruby-throated hummingbird, she was, but oranger, more orange; peachier, at least. She was fruit. She brought me fruit. Sweet offering, sugar water, candy in a blue jean jacket spangled across the yoke with rivets. Did I mention her beaked kiss? Such was the danger in casting my lot with a bird.
On a jet plane, songs sung by a bearded trio, by a songbird with long blond hair, by folk singers of the older ages, she stood out strong among the others. And me, watching speechless after the bird kissed me, my mouth held so much blood I spit. We tasted off each other's plates and required truth to match hunger. On account of her beak she used a straw. Due to my shattered teeth I used one, too. We shared a soda, heads side by side, malt shop memories.
Out at the corner, one small town became every small town. The floor in the bottom of the telephone booth gave way. Underground again, cave once more, maybe the grave. But at least we lay there side by side, our palms to touching, magnets in our limbs. She clung to me, and I to her. Our breaths in similar cadence, our hearts in measured beats, our futures lock-stepped, our voice one song.
I said, "Climb with me out of the earth, sweet girl. My hand's in yours. Step free."
She raised a skeptic eyebrow.
Grandmothers across the world, they sighed. Advice from all corners: "Avoid greater harm."
We broke no laws. We shed our contempt. She walked with me beyond the flood, out of the ditch, our boot heels worn, our pants legs muddied, stumbling, standing, then running, our thumbs hitched for a ride.
"My wallet's thin," I said, and she said, "Coins take the fountain." She smiled, she kissed me and rubbed my ragged beard. She said, "Why don't we wish?" Her beak pointy, and me snaggle-toothed, we made a pair you didn't mean to mess with. The bus steps took us higher, we rode on the clouds, stones for pillows, a lake for our sleeping. We hung our clothes on the gate to dry. She lulled me in my dreams, she lived there, she thrived. She wore yellow at her neck to draw luck, to her, to me.
"Is that what it's about?" she said. "Chance?" she said. "Chance and happenstance?"
"Darlin'," I said. "My darlin' darlin' dear." I tried to stem what I thought I saw coming.
She'd grown weary of travel, she said. And, "I want my own bed."
We piled our fortunes in wagons west, the fry pan roped to the top. We landed, we crammed it, we panned for gold. I gave her a smooth stone ring and she wore it, she swore it did her in. California was our bed, and with the ocean at our heads we slept. We dreamed. We dreamed a dream of an olive sky, of a world at rest, no more rumble or testing. We touched toes, our roots branched under the sand, we made a home, my guitar for the front door, her voice sweet and clear as running water in the kitchen. Train whistle in the far-off mimed somebody else's roaming. We held our breath until the music of the road rolled on past us, until all we heard was ocean and our ocean brought us to tears because we knew then for sure we were done with the road.
I whispered, "We've come to the very edge, darlin'," but she dreamed beside angels and I couldn't bear—even the daylight sucking up the coastline didn't dare—to wake her.