I step out onto the porch and into the morning air that’s already thick and sticky with humidity. The Southern Iowa sun swells and swelters, compelling the cicadas to hum softly, rhythmically. A lazy breeze flutters a few leaves in the trees—not enough to bring relief to the sweat that pricks my lower back and cheeks, but it does carry a distant dog bark just loud enough to agitate the final moments of tranquility, a reminder that duties beckon.
As I stride across the lawn, dew collecting on my too-white shoes, I try— but not too hard— to keep my sour opinions about another pre-semester orientation at bay, when Roger’s voice breaks into my cynical musings, “We can’t get in the garage. We’re locked out.”
My brain registers the panic laced in my husband’s voice, but I can’t seem to react appropriately to it. On some level, I know I am equally concerned, especially since we’re most definitely going to be late to school, and I really do not want to walk in this oppressive heat, but at the moment, I’m strangely devoid of panic. Absent-mindedly, my gaze drifts to the sky, which is expansive, startlingly blue, and adorned with a combination of puffy and wispy clouds, and all I can think is, God seriously has a strange or apt sense of humor!
I lower myself into my favorite chair on the porch, and watch my husband disappear down the street in search of an unknown neighbor that our landlord claimed has a spare garage key. I try to summon the energy to be incensed or engaged like I normally would be by the situation, but I feel like a whole different person this morning— the kind that was given sweet reprieve and refuge from an unwanted task, the kind that basks in a juvenile delight that school, for all intents and purposes, is cancelled. Unsure what to do with my newfound— albeit, temporary, but welcomed— freedom, I sit there and chew on the irony of it all as I try not to sweat and watch the empty street.
A large clap of thunder, followed by a crack of lightening, rattled our bedroom window, and jolted me out of a dead slumber. Confused, I rolled over, seeking the sweet embrace of sleep, when I heard the unmistakable pelting of hail. I didn’t even have to wake-up Roger. He knew.
“I should go put the car in the garage,” he said, matter-of-factly. He was too alert and human-sounding for my liking at this hour.
“Yeah,” I rasped, my voice thick and heavy with residual sleep. “Good idea.”
The sheets made that crinkly sound as he shifted himself to the edge of the bed. As he flung off the covers, a brief puff of cold air slithered over my bare legs and goaded me into a greater state of un-welcomed awake. Driven by responsibility, Roger heaved himself up and trudged out into the dark hallway and into the night. I followed, convinced that standing there in the entryway, waiting for him in my underwear and Mount Rushmore t-shirt, that I was somehow helping. It didn’t occur to me until a few beats had passed that I could actually help by turning on the porch light.
Moments later, he returned, and we went back to bed, but before sleep pulled us under, Roger said, “That sucked, but I’m glad I did that. The car will be fine now.”
A girlish giggle slips through my lips. It was the right thing to do. And yet, I think. I cast my gaze from the empty street back to our lawn. The low-hanging branch on the lone tree in our front yard bounces and sways almost imperceptibly. As the sun climbs higher into the sky, its rays begin to dance and lick across the porch, casting an intense glare on the glass table. I shift slightly to the right to avoid the glare, examining my sole flower pot— which is becoming increasingly haggard, yet still manages to have gorgeous blooms— and then my teaching bag.
And, then, it clobbers me—that intense, precise, almost-tangy urge to write. Unsure of what I’m doing or where I’m going, my culpable fingers dance across the keys, an unnatural clacking, which mixes with the song of the cicadas, and I allow myself to careen.
My fingers finally freeze on the keyboard, as though the soundtrack I’ve been dancing to has stopped, and I look up to find my husband has reappeared. Immediately, I feel like a child who’s been caught out of bed— as he’s been trying to solve our locked-out problem, I’ve sat here like an unhelpful lump on a log. What a great wife you are, I think.
With my computer still open on my lap, I study him at a distance, immediately noticing the obvious— that he’s sweating profusely— but soon focus on the opposite of what I expected as he nears: there’s actually smile on his amiable, bearded face. It’s not that I thought he would be angry I was writing, although I certainly feel guilty about it, but the entire situation— getting locked out, unable to get to school, calling our landlord, seeking the keys, etc. And it’s not a run-of-the-mill smile, but a full-fledged grin that lights up his whole face and begins to crinkle at the corners of his eyes. He even lifts his arm and waves as though he’s returning from a trip without me and is excited to see me, or as though he’s had a glorious walk on the bike trail and can’t wait to tell me.
As he edges closer, he says with a chuckle, “Please, tell me that you’re writing about this!”
And our laughter floods the quiet street. Without even having to say it, I know that we’re both thinking the same thing: we have the worst luck in the most absurd ways!
An hour and a half later, both of us dripping in sweat, we resign to calling our landlord, and admitting defeat. Roger provides the report. “There’s no locksmith in town, so we’ve tried the keys, we tried busting down the door, we tried a wire coat hanger—” his voice trails off, and then, I hear our landlord’s clear instructions: “Well, you’ll have to break the window. Call this guy for an estimate, his n—”
I decide I don’t want to hear anymore. I retreat a few steps, profoundly uncomfortable by the prospect of breaking the garage window, an act done in Hollywood, rather than every day life.Encircled by a series of fantastical, but practical, series of ‘what ifs,’ I escape outside onto the porch—what if a neighbor sees and reports us to the police? What if the cop, who drives around here frequently, sees and assumes something? What if one of us gets hurt while attempting this? What if the glass really shatters and gets into the stuff we’re storing in there?
And, then, I consciously dismiss the swirl and flurry of what ifs to make room for something else. Driven by a searing, but quiet determination, I slip back inside to grab a screwdriver from the toolbox that sits atop the messy kitchen table, and march out to the garage. I’m not a handy person, so I do not expect to succeed. Without reserve or knowhow, but with the right amount of will and finesse, I stab the screwdriver into the side of the door and wiggle it just so until the door simply and without ceremony… opens.
My mouth is agape. It takes a moment to register. And, then, I think, you did it!
“Roger,” I shout, running back across the yard, one hand clutching the screwdriver, one hand clutching the waist of my pants so that they did not fall to my ankles, “Roger!” I burst in the front door.
He’s on the phone. The door violently slams behind me. “I got the door open,” I say, emphatically. “I got it open!” A bead of sweat drips down my neck.
Immediately, he hangs up the phone. For a moment, I wonder if he actually hung-up on the window guy, but I quickly cast off the thought because I did it!
“No way! How’d you do it?”
I hold up the screwdriver. We go to the garage and I explain. We high-five. And, then, we guffaw a little— about the absurdity of our situation, the way I solved it on a Hail Mary whim, but mostly, about the fact that we are almost two hours late to a meeting we never wanted to go to in the first place.
At long last, we gathered our things, and made our way to the car to head to the school. As we drove, I only had one thought, Despite it all, it’s still a rather beautiful morning.