Imagine rain. Water rises. Water falls. Nice arc. A plop, a plot.
But where’s the conflict? Doesn’t there have to be conflict?
Oh, you want to mow the lawn today, but the sky is dark. Ominous. That’s conflict: Man vs. Nature, your tenth-grade English teacher Miss Bowers used to say.
Besides you don’t really want to mow the lawn today. You have other things to do, and it’s spring, but the grass is growing like kudzu, mowing required. That’s internal conflict: Man vs. Himself, Herself. Miss Bowers’s personal favorite—said it was like her pernicious anemia, the body attacking itself, the auto-immune response. Remember her skin, the color of skim milk, the milky kind your husband hates? Skin. Skim. Milk.
Mowing the lawn is your husband’s job, but he’s caddywhompused his back again. You know you shouldn’t feel angry, but you do. Internal conflict #2. What right does he have to mess up his spine when you clean the fingerprints off the light switches? That’s the real conflict, isn’t it? Husband vs. Drudge. Last night he was rising, this morning falling. Pride’s come-after. A drop or two. Just look at him sitting there with his coffee scanning the New York Times on his laptop. Tornadoes leveling little towns a lot like yours. He that has a house to put his head in has a good head-piece. Makes you sick. Does he want more coffee?
A drop or two.
You watch the little dribbles spasm the muddy puddle. And the cereal. Now, he’s reaching for the coffee cup. Goddamn, he’s groaning sheets of fire, bursts of horrid thunder as his Wheat Chex drowns in skim milk, rumble thy bellyful, it’s his lower back this time, sacroiliac, and you want to scream too. You don’t feel like pushing that damn mower around the yard. More conflicts than you want to admit — including the old-fashioned rotary mower powered by your legs, those stout little legs, linebacker legs, your brother-in-law calls them.
He’s just kidding, says your sister Gina, but the joke has gotten old in the twenty years since he was a frat boy. True, your brother-in-law doesn’t say it to you face to face anymore; he takes your husband aside and says it, and you hear it second-hand.
Come to think of it, that’s how you heard it in college too. Your sister Gina telling you what your brother-in-law-to-be was saying about your legs. Sibling rivalry, you suppose. Woman vs. woman. I have better legs than you. It’s true, she did. Does. Got some length from the Goneril side of the family.
But a frat brother you dated once or twice also told you what your brother-in-law-to-be was saying then about you legs. Brother vs. brother. Cain vs. Abel. I got the girl with the better legs. So many versions of Man vs. Man and your brother-in-law is spewing the same insults to your husband. What’s changed?
It must be the French Revolution—liberté, égalité, fraternité but mostly fraternity. What these two men share in common—those muscular Reagan legs on their sister wives, Reagan legs from the mother’s side of the family, think Dick Butkus, think Ray Lewis, yours the shorter, the uglier. Your sister’s less Reagan, more Goneril, longer.
On a scale of one to ten, hers a seven, yours a zero.
Last summer, the rain falling in your brother-in-law’s milky ouzo, making milky aughts. Okay—a flashback: your husband appalled, walking away, but your brother-in-law won’t let it go. He’s yelling from across the swimming pool, sitting there under that orange umbrella, leering from his hovel. Oh, Abe, you got the worse of that pair of mares, says Cain, big fat beer belly bowling over his luminous swimming trunks. Gina’s taller, longer legs, slimmer thighs. Not bad, even now.
But Delia. Poor Delia.
Poor Delia—that’s you. Cordelia.
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.
You know your brother-in-law is sloshed, really sloshed, so you will be the pattern of all patience; you will say nothing. You want your husband to push him in the pool. You want your husband to mow him down. Drown the thick rotundity.
But your husband has crippled up his sacroiliac. Guess he won’t be pushing the brother-in-law in the swimming pool today. He won’t even be pushing a lawn mower into the swimming pool today. Not even that little red hand-reeler.
Don’t tell me you’re still using a hand-reel push lawn mower? Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout/ Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks. No John Deere ride-on? What is wrong with you people? Aren’t you taking this live lightly on the earth too far? What is Delia? Five-foot two? Pushing that mower through the turf.
You think back to Miss Bowers explaining why King Lear has to push a hand reel lawn mower around the castle grounds: here I stand, your slave, a poor, infirm, weak, and despised old woman. That’s what you have learned these twenty years, living light on the land turns the idealist into a serf.
You’re not that old yet. Not yet 43.
But Man vs. Nature, and Nature’s not winning.
And what was the life expectancy of the Cro-magnon, you ask. Singe my white head! Maybe one in a hundred made it to 60. You’ll make it. Your Aunt Lizzie Reagan had legs like a linebacker, and she lived until she was ninety-four. She pushed more than one lawn mower through the fescue after poor Lloyd died of the Spanish flu. I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness, she said, staking up the yellow tomatoes. Her Golden Boys.
Be thankful you have legs. Be thankful they touch the ground. Be thankful that you have your husband, not that ouzo-soaked brother-in-law. Nothing like exercise to extend your life. Get out there. Mow. Do you think Methusaleh had a Lawn Boy?
Oops. Still raining.
Or a drop or two.
Or conflict prolonged.
All these complications.
Damn it, just get out there in the drizzle and start mowing. If everyone pushed a hand reel lawn mower around the castle grounds, it might discourage fracking in the heath. The only thing that survived the mile-wide tornado, reads your husband, was a tea bag and a tear-drop pendant. Maybe Nature’s winning.
He shows you the picture: an old woman holding the remnants of her house in her hand.The rain it raineth every day.