The weather has finally turned warmer for a bit, and Jim and I have been walking in the woods.
Our treks always cast a lens on the way each of us interacts with the world. As we walk, he points out where different properties connect, calls them by name, tells me their history. He uses titles belonging to property owners who died long before he was born. He has an internal sense of direction.
Meanwhile, I stop every few feet to look at an acorn, identify a plant, or ask him about a bit of scat. I am panicky if I am in the woods alone, because I know I am unable to return the way I came. I am so engrossed by the small things that I lose sight of the large.
Outside of the trees, our worries exhibit themselves in similar ways. He is always thinking about the big picture, while I stress when a light bulb goes out. Somehow we manage to balance each other – in this way and many others.
Next week is our ten year anniversary, and I am thankful I have found someone who helps me find equilibrium.
The story below is also about balance. It is not a great story. Some stories work. Some stories don’t. Some stories – after much tinkering and tuning – come to life in a semi-agreeable way – agreeable enough that you send it off somewhere in the hopes it will be published. Others you examine and toy with and find that they are just bad or that they just aren’t enough. They are missing something. They are trying too hard or not hard enough. They are too hokey. The idea is bad. The ending is undeveloped. The whole thing is too soft, too vulgar for the sake of vulgarity, too righteous.
This is one of those stories. It just doesn’t work. It’s too cute. It’s trying too hard. It lacks a solid plot. It tells and does not show. The idea was shaky from the beginning. I thought of it after reading The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake and imagining that title with a literal translation. But there is some sweetness in it, too, that I can’t let go of completely, and it attempts – however poorly – to reveal the need for balance in everything.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
“For everything that lives is holy.” – William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Heaven was a nice boy with a crunchy side part and word-for-word memory of Psalm 23 in four translations. Hell was audacious. Last summer’s mosquito bites were now scabby pocks on her legs, and Teacher’s discipline board displayed green frowny faces next to her name.
Next to Heaven’s name were smiley faces and hearts. If a worksheet did not have lines for writing, he pulled a ruler out from his desk and carefully made his own. He sat starchily with his fingers laced together atop his desk, perpetually awaiting instruction.
Hell had carefully plucked live centipedes from the basement concrete and carried them to school in her art supply box, later setting up the World’s Squirmiest Petting Zoo inside Teacher’s right desk drawer. Hell, in wobbly letters, scribbled her conjunctions twenty times on notebook paper: and, or, butt. After performing spectacular magic tricks for her classmates, she was banished to the nurse’s office for the removal of a teeny paper wad that had “disappeared” up her nasal cavity.
But Heaven was transfixed, clapping even louder than the other students after Hell’s voice rose above and then smothered the multiplication song with a clear and crystalline trilling of “99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of…” When two boys in class waved snotty tissues in front of a girl’s face till she cried, Heaven could only whisper, “Guys, stop it,” before Hell arrived to tidily kick each boy in the groin with a muddy black sneaker.
Then, in the middle of April, when the wild onions were lofty and pungent, two sweaty lines of bodies faced off on the soccer field next to the jungle gym. Red Rover, Red Rover, send Heeeee-eeeell right over. Wrong move. If anyone could break arms, it was Hell – her tar hair flying, power and youth erupting from her throat. She barreled for the weak spot, right toward Heaven, whose knees quivered beneath his khaki pants. Hell dove belly-down, eyes closed, toward the clenched hands, and the line of students tumbled, wispy paper dolls.
When Hell opened her eyes, she saw Heaven beneath her, his crisp hair askew and reddened cheeks framed by the white buds of clover and purple-pink henbit blooms. He looked like a pearl.
“Will you marry me?” he choked. Hell stuffed his mouth with a handful of crabgrass and dirt and then skipped away, singing, “Who will be our preacher?”
They were married beneath the monkey bars where daffodils ripped from the front flower beds hung on bits of yarn. The young preacher, knowing only these words, recited them over and over until the clanging bell sent them back to class: “For God so loved the world. For God so loved the world.”