Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Hermit of Iapetus, Part X

Past portions can be found here.

I read once that a Dutch sailor, marooned on the island of Saint Helena for some crime, fell into such despair at being left alone that he dug up the body of a fallen comrade and set to sea in the coffin. But being a Dutchman, of course – and a sailor besides – he was used to crowded, close quarters. Being alone takes practice. And discipline. And the inability to see squirrels on the ridge where squirrels ought not to be.

Once, on a restless night, I roamed our house from room to room. The boys were in bed. Their mother was in the laundry room, sewing. I often startled her – on accident because I walk so quietly – when I entered the room and spoke to her, her back to the door. She teased me that night. “Are you feeling needy,” she asked? I laughed as well. “Not really,” I responded. “Just restless.” The restlessness that night led me from the basement upstairs where I cooked a midnight snack, then went to bed after reading a bit.

A month later, I was on Iapetus.

I’m often startled at the speed of my flight. We were happy. We had two beautiful sons, going to school. I had a job I enjoyed. I look back and ask myself, why did I run? We had our differences, same as any married couple. But we didn’t fight. We disagreed over the standard things: money, child-raising, shoes piled by the doorway, socks thrown in a pile under the bed. And cereal. We bought two boxes of cereal while on vacation in France, and I had the temerity to eat an entire box without sharing. That was the worst fight we ever had. Miniscule things, that we look back and laugh at.

Well, mostly laugh at. The cereal thing, I think, still irritates her.

I was restless. Still am. I walk ten, fifteen, twenty miles a day, checking equipment, planting wires for the seismographs – I finally did get that package from the scientist in Pasadena – and not noticing the squirrels. I have nervous legs when I sit for a meal, twitching a leg, a foot. My father had nervous legs. He was a Dutchman, though he never set out to sea in a coffin. He was, briefly, an ordinary soldier in the Dutch army. He told stories of the country boys wrapping the city boys up in a carpet so they could demonstrate how they could lift them trussed, but instead sat on their faces. He also leaped into a river with his gun held high over his head to show the rest in the company how it was done, and had to be dragged from the river by a fisherman before he drowned. He left Holland for America, traveled west. Wanted to be a farmer but instead became a bricklayer who quit for a year once to drive a truck, loads of coal or grain, but then back to the bricklaying but always adding on to the house, turning a chicken coop into a guest house – no bathroom, no electricity, a bed made of plywood and the walls plastered with mortar.

He was restless, too.

And Liam is still coming. Now just seven days away.

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