The sky was cloudless, the air so clear I thought it would break. Sun poured in. On the other side of the sliding glass doors, the ocean rolled. White caps broke. Foam roiled. On a flat promontory of rock that we, the family, called, Nana’s Rock—because that’s where we gave my mother’s ashes to the sea—cormorants dried their wings.
At the kitchen table, my husband sat watching those long-necked black birds. “You know what else dries their wings?” he said.
He was full of these tidbits, like Harper’s Index, like my middle son, about whom we used to joke, Andy’s Index. Like my husband’s facts, my son’s facts were obscure, but correct. Who knows what we carry in our genes?
I had no idea what other creature dried its wings as the cormorant did.
“Mayflies,” my husband said.
I stood at the kitchen stove, pouring water through freshly ground coffee beans I’d scooped into a paper filter. Where had he learned that?
Turned out he was watching one of his nature programs. He loved animals. This show was about bears, a mother bear teaching her cub to climb trees, then to come down as the cub went up, head first—another interesting fact. Who knew that a bear needed to climb down a tree head first? The mother was also teaching her cub to fish. That’s where the mayflies came in. They emerged by the thousands from streams, ponds and lakes at twilight in early spring. They perched on the surface, drying their wings. Trout fed on the mayflies. Bear fed on the trout.
I sat down at the table. I loved my husband's stories, loved these strange connections, the mayfly with its veined transparent wings, the clumsy black-winged cormorant. I thought we’d talk more about this strange coincidence, but his attention was elsewhere. I followed his gaze to the string of small red peppers I’d threaded, then hung from under a kitchen shelf. “I think they’re called 'ristas,' he said.
I was lost. “What’re called ‘ristas’?”
“Remember when we were in the southwest and they had all those strings of hot peppers?”
Of course I did. It was a wonderful trip, the long drive across the desert, each of us taking turns driving, taking turns reading aloud from Willa Cather’s, Death Comes For The Archbishop, passing through the magnificent landscapes of Cather’s vivid descriptions, her words painting themselves indelibly on our minds.
“'Ristas’, aren’t they?” he said, again.
I had no idea. Then, I wondered. How can this man remember ‘ristas,’ remember that a mayfly dried its wings, yet forget the names of friends to whom I’ve introduced him over and over, forget what he ate for dinner the night before or what he ordered and liked so much the last time we visited a particular restaurant? And how annoyed I became with his forgetting. I glanced at the threaded peppers, and suddenly, my thoughts seemed trivial and mean-spirited. Here was my husband stitching time, telling me stories about mayflies and 'ristas', which I found out were ristras—but he was close—early one morning in late November as we drank our coffee, and after nearly fifty years of marriage, this old love of mine has made my morning new.