It was a typical day for Michael—to the office by 7:00 a.m., coffee-fueled meetings, lunch with Dave, writing reports, out by six.
Driving home from work in his convertible with the top down, Michael began to sing a wordless tune that filled him with exaltation. He felt as if he was picking up on a faint radio frequency, distant but familiar, almost nostalgic.
He attributed his soaring mood to spring: trees budding and air fragrant with honeysuckle. Gliding along the river road, past green leaves swirling with yellow and violet flowers, it almost felt like flying.
Michael turned onto the street that led to his house, a renovated Colonial. He and his wife Aleta had been decorating it together for five years, but it was just recently, he felt, that they’d finally gotten it right.
As Michael coasted into the drive, he glimpsed, scattered in the front yard, piles of furniture, clothes and shattered electronics.
Adrenaline hummed through his body and he flew from the car, ready to do battle. Then he realized this wasn’t a robbery. Thieves steal, they don’t mutilate expensive goods in broad daylight.
Ruffled, he looked around, feeling as if maybe the world had tilted a fraction while he’d been soaring along, and that small shift had changed everything. But the Harper’s house next door looked the same, with its red front door and pruned roses. On the other side of their house, a stand of wild trees swayed peacefully in the breeze.
As he entered his yard, Michael noted the Stickley loveseats upside down on top of the lilac bushes, a bent Philippe Stark lamp, and the remnants of their hand-woven, Persian rugs. Aleta’s Mercedes was in the driveway, and all the doors and windows of the house had been opened wide.
Aleta was a bank manager, not some flibbertigibbet, so it didn’t occur to Michael to blame her until a shredded bundle that bore a disturbing resemblance to their five-hundred-dollar feather comforter burst out of the bedroom window and plummeted to the ground. Behind it he glimpsed a flash of red hair. Aleta!
Dashing toward the front door, Michael maneuvered around piles of torn books and pillows vomiting stuffing, then sailed over the upturned kitchen table and his grandmother’s shattered bone china set.
He flew up the stairs to their bedroom, ready to battle his wife, to demand that she explain herself, be punished, atone. But what he saw in the bedroom was so far beyond his conception that once again, Michael’s world tilted and his rage evaporated.
The maple bedroom furniture and silk drapes were gone. In the center of the room perched a giant nest constructed of thousands of twigs, shredded fabric, goose down, dryer lint and hair from God-knows-what.
Michael didn’t want to look anymore, but he couldn’t stop. He focused on his wife at the center of the nest, busily weaving.
“Hi, honey!” Aleta sang out, as if her behavior was as banal as baking muffins.
“Aleta!” he called again.
Aleta’s eyes darted nervously, scanning the room until she’d assured herself that they were alone. Then she smiled and motioned him closer.
Michael wanted to argue, to demand an explanation. “Aleta!” he croaked, but that was all he managed before the wordless song he’d been singing on the way home burst again from his mouth.
Nothing made sense, least of all his own behavior, but he couldn’t focus on figuring it out. Aleta, he realized, glowed with the kind of beauty that drives men to build houses and fight battles. She was the reason he couldn’t stop singing!
In recognition of his serenade, Aleta preened a bit then smoothed her red head and launched herself out the window.
It occurred to Michael that he should be worried, but he couldn’t remember why. A sudden fatigue made it hard to think, and he stepped into the nest.
As he landed, his knees gave way and he drifted down. The bed of the nest had been woven with tufts of fur and silk. Michael rubbed his body across it, felt an aching itch between his shoulders, a searing pain, and finally a bursting forth that came as such a relief that he began to weep and call out, “Aleta, Aleta, Aleta, Aleta!”
Exhausted, his eyes drifted shut. When my wife comes back we’ll sort this out, he thought. She’ll finish the nest while I go dig up some dinner. I’ll strut, and she’ll admire me. We’ll groom each other, and sing together for this love, this house, this spring.
Outside, newly sprouted vines grope long fingers around the house; by morning it will be a part of the forest. The neighbors will forget Michael, forget Aleta, forget a house was ever there.
I tell you—this kind of thing happens all the time.