Christian and Ingaborg: A Lyric
You know how a familiar chair sings the same song each time you ease into it? Well, Ingaborg's chair had its song, and her settling in dance lasted for hours.
The chair was green, a deep forest green, the type of bent metal rocker that is usually found, freshly painted and upright, next to its partner, on the cleanly trimmed lawn of a back road farmhouse. At some obscure time in the ancient past of her life, Ingaborg had dragged it up the front steps, invested it with a nubby pillow, and positioned it, never to be removed. Its runners crossed the lines in the plank porch that ran from the right-hand corner of the shade - where Christian sat so serenely - to her side. The lines ran under her snug, faintly moving feet.
Ingaborg was large and full, as banked with heat as a long summer day. Her dress made soft cottony sounds; her old shoes, as sturdy as her wide-boned face, snugged up around her thick ankles and creaked. A universe of familiar objects settled around her as she rocked through the long afternoon.
"What do you have today?" she would ask the iceman.
"Ice," he would say and that was perfect.
She would place her plump hand on the cool block. She lifted it easily into the tin ice chest. Over the years, her children found the safe spot beneath the high-legged ice chest and freezing tin buckled up noisily when they pressed rippling vertebrae against it. They curled up tightly and watched the kitchen go about its business.
Ingaborg made many dinners. Her children, like cubs, tailless cats, pawed at her flat feet as she moved past the icebox, from cutting board to sink.
Christian depended on clothes. They were the reason he had taken so many jobs in his life: ditch maker, water witcher, farmer, mechanic, fruit picker, clerk, gardener, fruit seller, ticket taker, husband. "What am I today?" he would think, and move in a dream towards the bureau and the closet, full of heavily pressed, soft colored shirts, the shoes stretched over the shoe trees. Bone brushes and the burnished cuff links waited on a tray. He had the steady look of one who knows his life like an aproned woman knows her dust-free parlor or a child knows the firm smell of the family sofa.
"A farmer," Christian thought, snapping his suspenders, pocketing a knife and some tools, "and a gentleman." He brushed his frail hair and positioned his hat, moving serenely toward the front porch.
The seasons short or long. The trucks. The harvester rattling past on the road in front. Waving, "Hello Willis, Hello Lief" and returning up the white plank steps.
Food in sacks. Change in pockets. Clothes on the hanger. Covers on the furniture. Wash on the line. Food on the clean, starched table cloth.
Ingaborg would lean from the railing of the shady porch, throwing her majestic head into the sun to check the time.
Shopkeepers could feel her presence from the moment she stepped on the board walks, just before the large, sweet shape shadowed the frosted glass.
"Good-day," she would say in the mercantile section, "and how is Jonathan?"
Then the pure cotton bolts rolled out under her hands as if realizing she would buy many acres at once and one yard would never be severed from another.
She would move outdoors, like a great candy-fed child. The town shimmered before her eyes and she searched the low, dark porches of the near houses, unusually empty at noon, for signs of life.
"What do you all see?" she wanted to ask.
"What do you all see?"
"You want to buy shoes?" Christian said to Ingaborg.
He was wearing gray flannel trousers, a peppermint striped shirt with a tiny, buttoned down collar, and a straw skimmer. He looked at his polished shoes. He looked at them in both stores, as both clerks ran - far too quickly for a hot summer day - back and forth, clogged with boxes and dripping laces. Ingaborg sat on a bench and leather creaked stupidly. She looked down at her feet. They were causing such a riot.
Christian and Ingaborg went home. The shopping was done for a long time. The porch was calling out with loneliness. Ingaborg, happy and tired as she began to ascend the steps, asked no questions on her side of the boards. Tipping off the lid from the shoe box, she leaned down to put on the stiff shoes, missing the feeble attentiveness of the young clerks. Her large feet poured proudly into the new black forms. She lifted one and the shiny sole glinted in the sun's setting light. With beautiful weariness, she set both new feet firmly upon the porch, pushed off ever so gently, and let the slow green rocking talk to her. It was very pleasant. She was satisfied with the day. And when the night came along, she leaned her head back. "What do you have for me?" she asked the elderly stars.
- Wendy Bishop