City Mouse Country Mouse


by on August 22, 2014

photo by Lucia Shorr


My son Jack woke me at 3 am whispering to me about his nightmare. “There was an elevator … lots of dead people…”

I walked him back to his room – my childhood room, and crawled into the empty twin bed next to his. I kissed the top of his sandy, sweaty head and eventually dozed off while he fell back to a fitful sleep. He woke again a couple of hours later and plodded down the hall to the bathroom.

Jack often has nightmares before he travels by plane. In a couple of days we’d be heading back to high desert New Mexico after spending most of the summer at my parents’ house on Long Island. I could feel the unsettling shift in our family weather as our subconscious minds begun transitioning between our two wildly different seasonal atmospheres. Just the day before, for the first time all summer, I’d found myself mistaking the faces of random passer-byers for those of Taos acquaintances. As I lay awake in bed, my conscious mind tried to catch up. I made mental lists of tasks to be done and good-byes to be said, and couldn’t fall back to sleep.

I had gone to bed well after midnight, and I got up bleary eyed and mentally frayed in that sleep deprived way that makes even the most manageable tasks (like speaking coherently) seem challenging and that coffee only seems to make edgier. Later, when the boys piled into the back of the car with their tennis rackets for a morning session of camp, I ran back into the house to retrieve a forgotten water bottle. We weren’t even out the driveway before I realized I didn’t have my phone, which I could have sworn I had in my hand when I got in the car the first time.

I dropped the boys off and returned to look for the phone. I asked my husband to call it, assuming I’d left it somewhere in the kitchen when I went to grab the water bottle. He was surprised when a woman who was not me answered. She told him she had found my phone on Route 25-A and would wait for me at the 7-11 across from the train station.

“I told her you’d be there in 10 minutes. Go!” he said.

“What does she look like? What if she can’t wait that long? Is she catching a train? ” I called to him as I ran back to the car, frustrated with my Swiss cheese brain for apparently leaving my i-Phone on top of the car, flustered for causing such inconvenience to a stranger, and certain that my phone would be shattered beyond repair.

As I neared the 7-11, I saw a tan, blonde woman in her early sixties wearing a tank top and shorts, perched on the curb, holding a phone and waiting expectantly. I raced into the parking lot, got out of the car and as I approached her, she smiled as if I were her own daughter. Something about her familiar Long Island appearance combined with the warmth she exuded made something inside me silently crack. I hugged her and thanked her and she hugged me back, clearly relieved and happy. I rambled on about the morning and about how my phone must have flown off the top of my car.

“I’m telling you I saw this thing get run over by two trucks with my very own eyes,” she said, as she presented me with my phone, still safely encased in its pink camo otter box.

I sputtered something about how that was amazing and how I should really write Otter a letter and then I asked her for her address so I could send her something to thank her. She said, “No, no, no, absolutely not,” that she was paying it forward, that her mother had recently passed away and she had been cleaning out her mother’s house and she needed something like this to happen today… and whatever had earlier cracked inside of me erupted. I dropped my chin to my chest and choked up and mumbled, “You are so kind.”

I asked her what her name was and she said,”Susie,” and she asked me for mine and I said, “Jennifer.” And she said, “Jennifer, we were meant to meet today,” and said that I was so sweet and asked if everything was OK and then I felt embarrassed that I was now sniffling in front of her in the 7-11 parking lot when people leave their I-phones on the tops of cars every day and sometimes people pick them up and return them. And here I was getting emotional when she was the one who had just lost her mother and had practically risked her life to get my i-Phone off of 25-A after watching it get run over by two trucks with her very own eyes.

And then I got back in my car, all teary and ashamed and exhausted and touched and grateful, took a deep breath and tried to pull myself together and cried all the way back home.

I went upstairs to pack and before I knew it, the boys were back from their tennis camp and asking me why it looked like I’d been crying, while my mother shouted up the stairs, “Dr, Lindsley’s coming over with a piece of Mars!”

By the time I got down the stairs, an elderly, renowned geophysicist from the university who lives down the street from my parents was standing in the kitchen, smiling gently with a pocket protector and a pen in his plaid cotton shirt and a piece of Mars in his hands. My dad had brought my sons down the block to visit him a couple of days before, at my mother’s urging, with some rocks they had polished and wanted help in identifying. I couldn’t recall ever having met Dr. Lindsley before, although my father reminded me that his daughter babysat me when I was a little girl. We all took turns peering through a magnifying glass at the thin slice of Mars on a glass side above a red and white checked lobster tablecloth on the kitchen table.

“It’s from a meteorite that landed in France,” he explained. “We acquired it from the Vatican’s geological division. My colleague identified it and dated it and determined that it had come from deep inside of Mars. It exploded out of a volcano on Mars, got hit by an asteroid and then orbited our solar system for about a billion years before falling to earth. She proved it all and presented her findings at a NASA conference…”

And while I was still trying to wrap my mind around the vast sequence of events that took place over the span of an unnimaginable amount of time that led to the six of us all hovering together over a tiny piece of Mars in my parents’ kitchen on a that particular mid-summer afternoon, my sister Elena sent a text message to my unbroken i-Phone. It was the first sonogram image of her baby.

And there all of the sudden on the screen was Lila, with all of her fingers and all of her toes, lounging with her hands behind her head and her elbows jutted out to the sides. She looked as if she had enjoyed her parents’ honeymoon in the south of France even more than they had, as if she were teasing us for having been so worried about her well-being throughout Elena’s first trimester, as if she were reminding us she wouldn’t have missed her mother’s hen party or her parents’ wedding for anything. There on my phone was heart pumping, tenacious little Lila reclining in the snug curve of her mother’s uterus.

That night, Jack would have no nightmares. I would lay in bed in my parents’ house listening to the chatter of late July cicadas, as a firefly sporadically lit up the dark of the room. I would fall asleep taking comfort in the knowledge of three people I’d never known before, and in the fact that as Susie emptied her dead mother’s house, Lila Jean stretched and grew in my sister’s womb, and down the street, Dr. Lindsley carried in his shirt pocket a piece of Mars that had exploded from a volcano a billion years before.