“Oh,” I said, swallowing, “my God.”
“Wow,” Wes said. He was standing by the path, his hands in his pockets. “You really screamed.”
“You scared the shit out of me!” I said. “What are you doing out here, lurking around in the dark?”
“I wasn’t lurking,” he said. “I’ve been calling your name for five minutes at least, ever since you walked in here.”
“You have not.”
“I really have been,” he said.
“You have not,” I said. “You snuck up and got your big gotcha and now you’re just so happy.”
“No,” he replied slowly, as if I were a toddler having a totally unjustified tantrum, “I was on my way out and I saw you dropping your purse through the window. I called your name. You didn’t hear me.”
I looked down at the ground, my heart calming now. And then a breeze gusted up over us, the flowers behind Wes leaning one way, then the other. I heard a whirring noise above me and looked up at the sculpture. As the wind blew, the curved flowers in the figure’s hands began spinning, first slowly, then faster, as the garland on her head began to do the same.
Wes and I just stood there, watching it, until the wind died down again. “You really scared me,” I said to Wes, almost embarrassed now.
“I didn’t mean to.”
Everything was settling back to how it had been: my heart, the flowers in the figure’s hand and her garland, even the sparrows, which were now clustered on the rosebushes behind me, waiting to come back home. I started back over to the path, Wes holding aside one trailing branch so I could step through.
“Let me make it up to you,” he said, as he fell in step behind me.
“You don’t have to,” I said.
“I know I don’t have to. I want to. And I know just the way.”
I turned back and looked at him. “Yeah?” I asked.
He nodded. “Come on.”
Apologies come in all shapes and sizes. You can give diamonds, candy, flowers, or just your deepest heartfelt sentiment. Never before, though, had I gotten a pencil that smelled like syrup. But I had to admit, it worked.
“Okay,” I said. “You’re forgiven.”
We were at the World of Waffles, which was located in a small, orange building right off the highway. I’d driven by it a million times, but it had never occurred to me to actually stop there. Maybe it was the rows of eighteen-wheelers that were always parked in the lot, or the old, faded sign with its black letters spelling out Y’ALL COME ON. But now I found myself here, just before eleven on a Saturday night, holding my peace offering, a pencil decorated with waffles, scented with maple, that Wes had purchased for me at the gift shop for $1.79.
The waitress came up as I lifted my menu off the sticky table, pulling a pen out of her apron. “Hey there, sugar,” she said to Wes. She looked to be about my mother’s age, and was wearing thick support hose and nurses’ shoes with squeaky soles. “The usual?”
“Sure,” he said, sliding his menu to the edge of the table. “Thanks.”
“And you?” she asked me.
“A waffle and a side of hash browns,” I told her, and put my menu on top of his. The only people in there other than us were an old man reading a newspaper and drinking endless cups of coffee and a group of drunken college students who kept laughing loudly and playing Tammy Wynette over and over on the jukebox.
I picked up my pencil, sniffing it. “Admit it,” Wes said, “you can’t believe you’ve gotten this far in life without one of those.”
“What I can’t believe,” I said, putting it back down on the table, “is that you’re known at this place. When did you start coming here?”
He sat back in the booth, running his finger along the edge of the napkin under his knife and fork. “After my mom died. I wasn’t sleeping much, and this is open all night. It was better than just driving around. Now I’m sort of used to it. When I need inspiration, I always come here.”
“Inspiration,” I repeated, glancing around.
“Yeah,” Wes said, emphatically, as if it was obvious I wasn’t convinced. “When I’m working on a piece, and I’m kind of stuck, I’ll come here and sit for awhile. Usually by the time I finish my waffle I’ve figured it out. Or at least started to.”
“What about that piece in the garden?” I said. “What did that come from?”
He thought for a second. “That one’s different,” he said. “I mean, I made it specifically for someone.”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “She made the biggest fuss over it. It was to thank her, because she was really good to Bert and me when my mom was sick. Especially Bert. It was the least I could do.”
“It’s really something,” I told him, and he shrugged, that way I already recognized, the way he always did when you tried to compliment him. “All of your pieces have the whirligig thing going on. What’s that about?”
“Look at you, getting all meaning driven on me,” he said. “Next you’ll be telling me that piece is representative of the complex relationship between agriculture and women.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I am not my sister,” I said. “I just wondered, that’s all.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. The first stuff I did at Myers was just basic, you know, static. But then, once I did the heart-in-hand stuff, I got interested in how things moving made a piece look different, and how that changes the subject. How it makes it seem, you know, alive.”
I thought back to how I’d felt as I started into Stella’s garden earlier that night, that tangible, ripe feeling of everything around you somehow breathing as you did. “I can see that,” I said.
“What were you doing out there, anyway?” he asked. Across the restaurant, the jukebox finally fell silent.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Ever since the first day Kristy brought me there, it’s sort of fascinated me.”
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said, sipping his water. The heart in hand on his upper arm slid into view, then disappeared again.
“It is,” I said, running my finger down the edge of the table. “Plus, it’s so different from anything at my house, where everything is just so organized and new. I like the chaos in it.”