The same magpie has visited me for three days now. It is the prettiest thing in this whole valley. Prettier than the waterfalls on one can ever find. Prettier than the willows out in the middle of dead crops; homes barricaded with sharp garbage.
This is the valley she grew up in. She spends all day looking at the mint with a magnifying glass, looking for mites. The mint oil stains her fingers. In a painting she is ivory, violet and verdant. When she pulls her eyes from the leaves she sees cloud upon cloud like they just can’t wait. Somewhere there are different colors. Real colors. Deep purples and blood-reds. When she kills the mites, they make no mark at all.
I don’t think we’ve been to this cemetery. It was a different one, but still with a view of the mountain. I know how to identify one kind of bird, and it’s a magpie. The names of the dead come at us rubbed out, mostly, and with adjacent twin plots of young grass. German settlers and old Swiss from Michigan, Mormons, and Catholics and new believers of some new God. These have self-watering baskets of large-blossomed flowers, and it’s almost like they’ve figured something out. The Protestants have mounted a giant jug to the surrounding chain-link fence marked “WATER,” and this is transported cup by cup to the correct graves.
The magpie. I have to tell her the name of the bird, because if I don’t, she’ll feel like she’s losing something again. She always thinks it was all hers to begin with, and that a steady deficit is working against her. There were no golden plates. There were only girls who walked in circles. There was only the club with a stereo for a DJ. And always, always the winter. When the horses climbed on roofs, we would pray. There was a legitimate sense of death. There was the scent of snow. She wished to get stuck.
We go to an NA meeting. Can’t we all just descend into the meat of loneliness together?
The woman at the front desk of the Antiques store is talking about tomatoes. Antiques make me queasy, like a carsickness. It feels like old people are around the corner, waiting to jump out. It’s maybe a trick, all the soft fabrics of their odd-shaped hats, the heavy coats and gaudy gold-plated jewels. These are just things, the dead whisper.
But I’m from here, I want to tell her. I grew up among these things. I have bound my arms with bangles and squeezed my earlobes into clip-ons. I’ve wanted. Her butterfly hands touch me but she’s talking to the tourist,”My tomatoes..”
Photos in a plastic bag. The street humming in shades of gray. She points. A magpie. The mint small as something new, horses strangely muscled. Ropes and ropes of electric fences and no one around to feel it.