“Do you know Pablo Neruda?”
My friend asks this after dinner on a Thursday evening of no occasion except that she, her husband, J, and I felt a hunger to dine al fresco in the middle of the week before summer withers. We’re old vines, the four of our lives entwined by years of shared joys and sorrows.
Her question surprises me; she’s not a writer, nor a particularly avid poetry reader.
But it’s been the kind of day that has offered odd moments.
The first bit arrives this morning while I walk down a pocked country road, Chester padding quietly by my side. The sound of an engine climbs the hill behind us, initially at a roar, then it slows to almost idling.
I hear the sound veer to the side of the road we’re on which means it’s now facing oncoming traffic, if there were any. The rumble paces us , accelerates, and a white truck appears.
A middle aged man with a white cap pulled low presses a giant brown Milk-Bone dog biscuit into my hand. His truck is that close.
“Rod’s Pool and Spa Service.” I remember this in case I need to give a description.
The man thrusts his cell phone into my face.
“These are my dogs. I used to have big ones, but now I can only take care of the little kind.” A picture of several small brown dogs stares back at me.
“Your dog sure makes me smile. Thanks for that.”
I wonder at this biscuit, clumsily slip it into my pocket. I wonder at myself for running the mental bases:
Don’t talk to strangers
Don’t take things from strangers
Don’t eat things that strangers give you.
The man’s hand waves slowly out the driver’s window as Rod’s Pool and Spa Service wheezes off.
At home, the bone sits on my desk. I can’t decide the bigger crime: throwing away a gift, or potentially poisoning my dog. You see the cliff edges I walk.
That would have been enough for one day. But then it’s three in the afternoon and I’m walking alone with Chester down my own street. No other walkers are about on this bright afternoon.
I hear the sound of a diesel engine straining up the hill behind me. I move out of the way. The driver of a large water delivery truck pulls his vehicle into the wrong lane; he idles next me.
This young man with a deep tan hands me a bottle of water.
“That’s a great dog. I used to raise Labs. I had a red one and a black one and they’re great dogs. He, yeah, that’s a he, yeah, he might get thirsty. Give him this water from me. Hi puppy. You’re a good fella. You made my day!”
The water deliveryman idles and oggles Chester until a white Honda pulls up behind and honks because the road is narrow and the truck straddles both lanes. With a belching boom of a horn and a jaunty wave, the water delivery truck rolls on down the hill.
I set both items on the floor so I can photograph the evidence. Trust comes so hard for me.
I almost wait for a third encounter. This has never ever happened before. I wonder if it’s a creepy kind of day. I’m a writer after all, and I know about things like foreshadowing and the literary Rule of Three that makes stories like “The Three Bears” a model for how to pace your plot or test your characters in a structure readers intuitively expect. Things happen in threes.
But I don’t want to be late for the dinner where I’m now retelling the story I’ve dubbed Strang(er) Thursday.
“Do you know Pablo Neruda?”
My friend asks this when I finish with the water man story and laugh all this off like it’s every day that a cast of weird strangers arrives to set me on guard.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m a huge Neruda fan. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. And then of course The Sea and The Bells and The Book of Questions. Why?”
My friend slides a piece of paper across the table. “I found this in a magazine and it reminded me of you.”
“Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.”
It’s an excerpt from “Your Laughter.” This friend has had a very difficult summer, the kind that is impossible to fix so the only thing to do is eat under the stars sometimes and tell funny stories.
“I love your laugh,” she says.
I look up; think I haven’t heard her correctly. Clanking dishes, mostly spoons clatter against saucers and forks scrape hot fudge off plates at this hour when the candles are almost burned to the end.
“You have a great laugh. It makes me so happy. I treasure you.”
Oh, I think, and I burst out laughing, even though I’m now quite self-conscious about it, but I can’t help it because the Rule of Three is real in the universe, and therefore by extension literature, and this is Three Gift Thursday. Nothing strange about it after all.
We return home and I feed Chester the biscuit. We sleep as if the universe rocks our cradle gently, gently.
With treasures and laughter,