I haven't written fiction in a while. Then, last week, I worked with Simone Gorrindo on this hometown piece for Matador Life. It inspired me to write the following loosely based on life in our new home in Salta.
The first time we saw the house was near the end of a long dry winter. Rain refused to fall for five long months and the entire field of a backyard crackled with longing. So when we first moved in to find ourselves struggling for enough water from the well to bathe – let alone fill the pool -- we never once had an inkling that we might miss the calm dry season when wet season arrived.
Within the month, though, the yellow expanse of lawn turned all green with dew. The grass curled in on itself, tiger lilies of gold and carrot burst from beside the front gate. Weeds galore grew from every flower pot, blossoms upon blossoms. Then the frogs moved into the pool, no longer empty, as they splashed in two days worth of mucky rain. Like New York City car alarms they sounded out in the night with their mating calls.
Mating calls, as so often do, lead to eggs. Eggs lead to tadpoles. Thousands of tiny black sperm swam with purpose through another three days of rain. All around us life flourished, grew and expanded to fill any space not already occupied.
A mama bird, to escape the rain, nested in the heating vent outside the kitchen. We saw her there occasionally. She came to settle her eggs for the season. She was small, reddish, sharp beaked and sweet voiced. Meanwhile in the vast expanse behind the house, teros built their nests, digging into moist ground to protect their eggs.
Thus the scene was set. Thus you learn after a lifetime of city living, the reality of country living, That even if you live civilized in a house of brick and stone, even when protected by a terracotta roof and pale stucco walls, you are not immune.
At first, we loved those teros, bold and noble as they soared through the sky, until you realized they are not there for you. They hate you, come tearing down, beaks first toward your brow. Why? To protect their young. They soon took over the entire yard, leaving us with only the house and a pool of frogs.
Our nights still filled with the scraping whirrs of sapos. Again, the sound of hundreds, no thousands of frogs calling into the night, screaming for a mate. Impossible to believe only four or five small animals made this sound. The rains came. The hail whipped toward the earth, seeping through cracks in our carefully cemented roof and coated the floors. Water threaded through the walls, boiling the wires until our electricity was gone.
Drip. Drip. Drip from the ceiling to floor. All night long, all during the day, from the bathroom and by the door entering the kitchen. Drip drip drip, every day our feet got wet in the simple quest for a sandwich. Enormous moths hatched, flew through the holes in our roof and around the house. “It’s a bird. It’s a bird,” My youngest daughter cried out, but it wasn’t a bird. We got used to them as well. They left us alone; we didn’t bother them and swept them out the door when they landed and died in the corners of empty rooms. One morning, early, I made my coffee and sat by the kitchen. I saw a bird, ignored it as another of our brown spotted moths.
This time, though, it was a bird, the mama bird from the heating vent. She found her way from the other side of the house, through the door and into our kitchen. I’d offer her a coffee and a seat but I know she’d never take it from me.
She flitted back and forth from window to window, desperately needing to escape the house, but the screened windows refused her exit. Back and forth, she got stuck between window and screen and my heart ached for her while she snacked on tiny moths and other flying things trapped there with her.
I couldn’t stand there just watching, so I left and when I returned she was gone. I thought. Except, no, what’s that noise. Cheep-cheeping from the window, she made her way outside? Cheep-cheep again, and scrambling. No, still in the house. I walked toward the window, heard the noise again. Again. Again. That’s when I realized she was caught in the gas box in the kitchen. Easily unscrewed, easy to let her out. I removed the cover and readied a towel to grasp her, cover her with a plan to take her outside to safety.
But it wasn’t her in the gas box. There was another little bird, a baby. A tiny weeping baby with barely a wingspan, not even enough to fly. Then I saw another, not so alive and a third, far back in the corner hiding, not moving, no noise at all.
One died. There was nothing we could do. The next, so frail. Even with all the water in our world, this one had found none. Eyes pasted shut. Mouth and legs unable to move from lack of food and thirst. He didn't resist at all as I moved him into a box with soft white toweling. I fed and watered him, held him in my hand as he struggled to drink. He opened his eyes, waggled his legs in an attempt to stand, but it was too late. I left him to rest in the box, and when I returned his eyes half shut, glazed over glassy and was gone.
The third, alive, still with energy, enough to resist my hand when I tried to move him into a box. Visions filled my head of raising a little bird, nourishing him and teaching him to fly by first gently tossing him into the air above our bed. He’d land in comfort. Then eventually would no longer land but fly. He’d sit on my shoulder. These visions solidified as I dripped water into his mouth from a dropper, and he took sodden bread straight from my hand.
He wanted none of it. His mother returned, picking and punting by the window. We left him outside on a table and his mother flew away but stayed close, returned to him with worms and grubs. She went off, came back. We watched from the shadows, not wanting to interfere or frighten her. We watched. And then we stopped watching for just a little while. And he was gone. We saw the footprints. Our oldest child said she’d seen a cat. The cat came back today, will probably visit again tomorrow nursing visions of another helpless snack.
The rain, it keeps falling. I hear it now flowing from the canaletas onto the ground, pouring on the plants below, too much water and the roses die. The pool, once teeming with tadpoles, now serves only a few frogs that lived through the birds who swoop down to catch them for lunch. The cat it hides, licks its paws in the dry space under our house while outside, more water brings more life and her inevitable partner death.