The other day I came across a journal that I had kept of my life in the American Southwest. I had forgotten about the pages pulled from a notebook when packing to return to live in Ireland. On these tattered pieces of paper the loping handwriting portrays someone who seems like a stranger to me now. They paint a colourless picture of a suburban housewife living in a quasi-university town. A woman who misses her homeland and yearns for something more but is not quite sure what that something is.
It is as if nothing much happens in this woman's life. On those tattered pages there are words about the Dog Days of Summer. The hiss of the sprinkler system at dawn and again in the relative cool of the night. She wrote of her Baptist neighbours and the family of Quail that danced along the garden wall each morning. She wrote of the constant drone of cars and semis on the Interstate Highway that runs North to Albuquerque.
Mr. Weinstein's name is mentioned often. He was the neighbour whom she befriended on her early morning walks before the sun got too hot to venture outdoors. Invariably she would find him bent over his cactus bed, weeding or sweeping out his concrete yard. He always wore a large straw hat to shade his pale, papery skin from the sun. When he saw the Irish girl he would stop what he was doing and walk over to her in an animated fashion. He always admired the baby.
In the evenings when the husband came home from his faculty job and the day was discussed, the woman told the husband about Mr. Weinstein. How he had to care for his bedridden wife. How both his children died from Tay-sachs disease. How kind he was to stop what he was doing and chat. How interesting he was about gardens and the night sky and the sentimental way he talked of New Jersey, his home place.
One day the suburban housewife spontaneously bought flowers at the local store. Colourful flowers that would never grow in the dry desert soil no matter how much you tended to them. She drove to Mr. Weinstein's house. His car was in the driveway. She rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. She left the flowers on the doorstep and that night told her husband what had happened. He dismissed it. He had papers to correct. The suburban housewife felt silly.
Some days later Mr Weinstein appeared at her door, with a potted plant, an orchid. She invited him in. In the living room, where the hum of the air conditioner seemed redundant in its effort to cool the stifling heat, they stood drinking iced tea. Their talk was weighty with effort. It was awkward to be in her living room and not outside on his driveway.
Mr. Weinstein quickly downed the golden coloured liquid and said that he should go. But then, quite suddenly, he turned and embraced the suburban housewife. There in the suburban air conditioned living room he held her in his bony arms. Two days later Mr. Weinstein called to her house again and stood at the unanswered doorbell for several minutes. The suburban housewife watched him from the safety of the Venetian blind until he turned and walked away. She was never to see Mr. Weinstein again.
The last entry in the suburban housewife's journal was that she was leaving the desert and going back to live in Ireland. The faculty husband reluctantly agreed.