Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Best-laid plans

"Let's go jog now," Cousin Henry's voice booms through the blackness. "But it is still night," I protest. "I'll bet you haven't opened your eyes yet."

I open them. It is still dark out. The clock gleams green: 5 a.m. Cousin Henry is silhouetted in the doorway in his running clothes.

About these ads

"No civilized person gets up and out at this hour," I yawn.

"Then be civilized and go back to sleep." He turns on the threshold.

"All right, wait one minute and I'll join you." I shove myself out of bed, fumble for clothes, stretch my limbs -- and perhaps my mind weary from yesterday. Today I had planned --

"We must make a schedule." Cousin Henry, puffing through pushups on the living room floor, pants it out for us: "First we jog -- Then swim -- Make cornbread for breakfast -- I'll do dishes while you tend your hens -- And while it's still cool we'll play tennis -- Get through all the papers early -- You must read that article on the Kenyan economy -- and the one on Dickens. I'll practice my violin for two hours. Then we'll write for two or four more -- Not bother with lunch -- Especially with supper at Great Aunt Emma's -- Must get serious work done first -- You must work on your opera -- you must finish -- "

I must ... I must....If only i could figure out the character of my basso profondo. He persists shadowy, shallow. How unfocused the opera's focal point remains.

Wearily, I tie the laces of my tennins shoes, still muddy from yesterday's cultivating of my neglected garden...after we played four sets of broiling tennis. After jogging. After cooking for 20 youngsters and Great Aunt Emma. After cleaning up. After everything -- except working on my libretto. And here Cousin Henry insists on routing me out before dawn --

"My dear child," Great Aunt Emma long ago remarked, "I wonder if you will ever meet anyone to match your energies." She herself never discovered anyone to match hers, and at 90 years, although she moves more slowly, she still out-thinks us all. But back then, when I was 10 and what would now be called "hyper-active," she added, "Perhaps only your big cousin Henry could lead you a merry chase through the world, if he is still as lively as he was when a little boy."

About these ads

Now, when my energies ought to be simmering down, I have indeed met my match. Like Great Aunt Emma in earlier days, Cousin Henry can work all day, play his violin all evening, dance all night, climb Everests before breakfast, set off across county or country on the moment's spur, or swim through October's chilling waves from Dubrovnik to Lorcum Island dodging the freighters. And I splash along in his wake....

Now here we are by starlight pounding up a dirt road, sprinting over the dark ruts and bumps and I don't like running uphill -- no sensible horse would run uphill -- I would walk up it -- but Cousin Henry slows his pace to mine so I don't lag behnd as I would like. It is his purpose always to prove that I can push myself beyond my own limits, and no civilized person would get up at this hour to run uphil anyway --

Suddenly, the moon!

This morning moon is a skinny slice-of-a-dime affair. Yet it is enough to set off the birds long before sunrise. And look -- the last bats swoop down, cashing in on the early insects. The fragrance of cattle and sheep waft from the fields and honeysuckle from the fences, and the sky is lightening.

Cousin Henry launches into a defense of presidential appointments and, still jogging along, we get into politics. He is a liberal conservative, I am a conservative liberal, but he can argue faster and more authoritatively than I, especially when I am as winded as I am now.

Though the sky is lightening, the moon is holding its own. The bats fly into the cedars, red-winged blackbirds fly from the cattails, as we head back toward the cove. Now the road goes downhill, and we feel as if we are flying.

The eastern clouds are pink as we run toward the dock -- then stop.

Silhouetted atop a piling is one great grey heron. Atop each of the fish stakes: one gull. A strange furry shape is silhouetted on the lower dock -- not one of the cats, not out there. He turns a sharp snout to look un over there. He turns a sharp snout to look un over -- the otter!

We freeze and watch them, they watch us, then gradually we tiptoe out on the splintery planks, closer and closer....

Finally the otter, with a loud sigh, dives into the pinkening water. The gulls wheel up; the heron flaps off low above the water, as if studying his own reflection. The sun rises suddenly. The moon pales.

"Think what you'd have missed by sleeping late," Cousin Henry says, a little self-righteously, I think. After all, he slept till noon yesterday. As did the whole household, including Great Aunt Emma who had played her harpsicord till midnight.

We dive into the rosy water, clothes and all. "Washing out laundry in situ,m " Cousin Henry says, believing in charging through such banal tasks as efficiently as possible.

A large turtle paddles past, also saving time by batthing, swimming, laundering itself, and getting somewhere all at once. Perhaps I shall ride him out to sea --

"I'll go start the cornbread while you finish your swim," Cousin Henry calls out as he hauls his dolphin form from the water. His silver hair is dripping like the otter. "While the cornbread is baking, I'll practice my violin, and then think about running my new chapters through the typewriter once more."

I swim along at the pace of the turtle. He doesn't seem to mind my company. The white-headed eagle drifts overhead, eyeing us with interest.Lovely to swim now....I'll make up for it by scrubbing the breadpan later. Then I will try to maintain all the schedules....

Soon I feel guilty about not helping with breakfast and, famished with the thought of it, I veer away from the turtle and return to the dock, hurry back to the house. The nose of my mind already smells the fragrance of bread baking; the ears of my mind already hear chaconnes.

But the only fragrance is that of roses and honeysuckle framing the porch, the only sounds those of cicadas and cardinals and the grandfather's clock striking 6 a.m.

There on the sofa, wrapped in an enormous towel, wet clothes sogging into puddles on the floor, is Cousin Henry, sound asleep.

I tiptoe to my room, slip back into bed, find my pencil and the opera folder, and start sketching out my basso profondo.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.