Juliana studied her calendar and discovered an unblemished rectangle. She took this gift to her favorite spot, the oval garden behind Fetzle, where she settled on a marble bench under an arborway of wisteria vines. Before starting in on her morning letters, Juliana leaned her head against the wisteria’s twisted trunks and closed her eyes.
The wisteria was planted by Harlan Fetzle himself (or so the story went). The first warm days of spring brought pearl-drop blossoms on two sides, followed by purple on the remaining two. The months of March and April hummed with the sweet danger of honeybees, every breeze a sugary whisper.
(The atmosphere was markedly different in autumn, when the wisteria cracked its pods and spat out seeds, occasionally striking passersby.)
She was finishing a letter to Stephen Swan’s agent when the garden was overcome by a wash of dull silver – the morning fog completing its climb from the ocean. A sudden breeze blew petals onto Juliana’s page. Sweeping them away, she found Scootie Jones walking toward her, smooth as a ghost, all concentration as he manipulated a scrap of gold foil. Juliana feared he might not notice the Italian fountain looming in his path, but he paused a foot away and slipped around it. By the time he arrived, the foil had achieved its final form: a swan.
“Got one of your invitations in the mail. Quite clever.”
“Thanks,” said Juliana. “It was Lorraine Kim’s idea. We conned her third-graders into into folding them.”
“Child labor – that’s good. They’re actually cranes, you know.”
He handed it to her. She studied the small fold at its neck. Scootie sat down next to her, his eyes on the fountain.
“Little girl named Sadako Sasaki. She was exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima blast, and ten years later developed leukemia. A common thing. There was an old Japanese legend, that if a sick person folded a thousand cranes, the gods would consider making them well again. Sadako only made it to six hundred and forty-four. But her friends finished it for her, and collected money for a statue. She stands in Peace Park, holding a golden crane.”
Scootie put out his palm, Juliana returned the crane. He aimed its face to his, as if they were about to converse.
“So. How many Sadako Sasakis did we save this week?”
“Three,” said Juliana.
Scootie jumped to his feet. “I’d better go. Goodbye, Juliana.”
He crossed the garden and was gone. Juliana sorted her letters into her bag, then found the crane lying beside her on the bench. She carried it up the trail to her house.
Her breathing quickened, bringing back moments of last night, when Scott made up to her – dinner at Spagnola’s followed by hours of lovemaking, an artwork of small touches, quiet as a library, piece by piece. The fluid in her limbs, the lights in her head, the way only Scott could love her, but what was it? Was it control? The absence, the forgetfulness, followed by a dozen black-eyed daisies and a forgiveness that was entirely too predictable. But only when he wanted it, when he was ready.
But that was the man she married, a redwood icon who spent his days calling shots, his skin sparking with decisiveness. Could she really expect him to turn it off once he passed through those Mexican doors?
But then, at the bottom of the hill, there was a man who brought her peace, health and apocalypse in a single paper animal. And now her climbing was done, and now she was home.
Photo by MJV