My first divorce is a hippie divorce. We have few worldly possessions other than our record collection and our philosophy. We remember who bought each of the records, but the philosophy has no origin we can identify. We don’t fight over the wire spool, our major piece of furniture, or our Sears portable stereo. Since we never got around to having children, there is no custody fight, except for the dog, a black and white beagle mix my wife rescued from the pound. When he brings home the blackened carcasses of chickens and other animals, she says they are gifts for me. She claims he loves me best. You take him, she says. No, you take him. We agree on a visitation schedule carefully planned with intervals for cleaning and disinfectants. I consider running away when it is my turn, but he runs away before I can. I know he survives to terrorize another neighborhood and sire a pack of vicious little dogs. One day I expect the pack to come for me.
My first divorce is the beginning of my second divorce, a cycle of nature. We have another dog, a huge black dog with a pack of his own, my second wife and me. Early in our marriage, we buy an old farmhouse with tall windows and no curtains because the sunlight is good for plants. In the winter the wind blows through the loose wallboards and snow collects on the inside corners of the windowsills. Deep in the cellar, an oil furnace with thick octopus arms pushes heat up through the floor vents and out the cracks. The furnace holds up the house and lifts the plants closer to the sun.
My wife raises the plants. We argue about the house as it leans uncertainly on its stone foundation over the dirt basement. We argue about the mud and floods in the basement whenever it rains and we fight about the holes in the roof. You take the house, she says. No, you take it. In the end, the big dog takes the house, his bright yellow eyes requiring me to stay. We trade the expensive stereo for the bank account, the car for the payments. She leaves the plants, as a thief leaves her conscience behind to go on a raid. The scratching behind the walls and window frames starts about the time she leaves.
At night when I try to find the source of the scratching, the plants close around me, their leaves thrashing in the forced air. Bright and green during daylight, the rooms collapse into a primordial forest, forbidding and lethal. Even though I water and feed the plants as loyally as a monk, they follow me like prey. I consider withholding their water and letting them die, but I am certain they read my thoughts.
The dog tracks me around the house when I can’t sleep for the racket, but the plants never threaten him. He is part of the jungle. I take comfort in his presence, in case the pack of demon dogs breaks through the rotten timbers, bent on revenge, or if the plants make a pre-emptive strike. Maybe my ex-wife scratches on the windows and walls, hoping to prove her arguments about my elusive sanity. The big dog would never bark at her. I keep him well fed.
He chooses my third wife, guarding her after a long party to celebrate my second divorce. She never goes home. A new car appears in the driveway, a washer and a dryer, paint on all the walls, a couch and chairs, new terrain for the rodents. We argue about buying clothes and power tools, the endless repairs, abandoning the house and moving west. Late at night, the owls taunt me with questions, but the scratching never stops. My wife claims I am the only one who hears the noise. She sleeps soundly under her new comforter while the sound in the walls rises to a crescendo.
Suddenly the scratching stops. I lie in bed trying to decipher the eerie silence like the moment after an earthquake when the wounded rock abruptly rests, or the moment after sex with a new partner, before the depression of closure and consequence sets in, a moment of exhaustion and dread. I feel down to the ends of my toes and fingers for grasping vines, but I sense nothing. Nor do I hear the growling of demon terriers or the whispered complaints of ex-wives.
Slowly I get up to check the house, tracing careful steps down the stairs and through the hushed forest. The night sky is clear, punctured by stars and still as death. I inhale the cold air. The wind begins slowly at first, refreshing in its briskness, but gradually it rises in strength, an icy breeze. A waft of artic air flings sharp edges of frozen snow from the bare limbs of the maple trees, stinging my skin like needles. I close the door. Deep in the bowels of the cellar, the ancient furnace clicks and lights, beginning another cycle of warmth and chill, the beginning of my third divorce.
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