“Everything okay, my love?” he shouted.
Phyllis, who was pointed in the opposite direction, performed some terrifying maneuvers until she faced Harold. She was sweating, it’s true, but the smile on her gorgeous lips was wide and genuine.
“Oh, good morning, sweetheart,” she called back cheerfully, waving at him with one arm while holding onto the tree branch with the other. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did, as a matter of fact. Have you been up long?”
Phyllis glanced at her wristwatch, then grabbed the branch with both hands again. “Twenty minutes.”
“Uh, do you need any help, darling?”
“Oh, gosh, no! I’m fine. This is just a little workout. I’ll be in a jiffy to fix your breakfast, okay?”
“Tut-tut, my love. You forgot. It’s my turn today to prepare breakfast.”
“Oh-my-goodness, yes! I certainly did forget. Today is Wednesday, isn’t it?”
“That it is, my sweet dumpling.”
Phyllis laughed. Harold came up with the cutest pet names!
“Will you give me a five-minute heads up when things are ready?”
“Don’t you want to take a shower before eating?”
Phyllis sniffed the air. “Umm, good idea. I’m sweating like a . . . like a . . . Hmm. Like a woman swinging on a tree limb for the past twenty minutes. Better give me a twenty-minute heads up, then.”
“Twenty it is.”
Harold turned away from the open window and his smile faded. Although he made every effort to remain upbeat over his wife’s latest aberration, he didn’t know for how much longer before he cracked. Since the car accident, she’d assumed several different personas. And now, it appeared Sheena, Queen of the Jungle . . . or some manifestation thereof. The professionals, after a load of tests and interviews, tossed out several theories, none of which offered known cures of any worth. She’d suffered a brain injury, and they opined that it would eventually straighten itself out. But so far it hadn’t. Eventually, Harold stopped taking her to the professionals. He loved his wife, but he didn’t know what to do with her, or even if he should do something with her. He wondered if this was going to be their life together from now on. Not that it wasn’t interesting. It was just that it was also terrifying, and he feared that sooner or later she was going to hurt herself. Earlier he’d tried to discourage her from taking the risks she had been taking, but oddly she seemed perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She had suffered no accidents. None. She seemed almost invincible. He couldn’t tell whether it was the brain injury or perhaps madness as a result of the injury that ironically protected her.
Forty minutes later the two were seated across from one another in their breakfast niche. Phyllis looked refreshed, happy, and adorable. Harold smiled too, but his happy expression was pinched. He served his wife pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, Feta cheese, cantaloup and watermelon slices, a cluster of black grapes, dates, and a mug of black coffee.
“Oh, my, Harold! You’ve really outdone yourself today! This is absolutely wonderful! How will I possibly match you my turn tomorrow?”
“It’s not a contest, sweetie. Whatever you fix is just right . . . always.”
And he meant it. He adored this crazy woman. And he was petrified now that he might lose her.
“How was the tree hugging this morning?” he asked, half jokingly. He wanted to beg her to stop swinging from branch to branch, but he knew by now that that was almost an impossible request. It was almost as though Phyllis had to do what she did. He wanted to get down on his knees then and there and supplicate that she not put herself in danger’s way.
“It was great!” she replied with enthusiasm.
As she ate — and she ate with gusto — she gazed at him then with real sympathy. She was not at all unconscious of his concern. Indeed, she loved him all the more, and she didn’t want to worry him, but this was more than what she could control. She lay down her fork and reached across the table and squeezed her husband’s hands.
“You poor darling sweet man,” she cooed. “I know better than anybody what you must be going through with all this craziness. It really is insanity, isn’t it? I should be locked up. I mean, unless one was an aerialist, why else on earth would they be careening about in trees and high places like an orangutang?”
Harold had to grin. She was funny. He lifted his shoulders and shook his head. They’d had this conversation before. Many times. After her accident he had never become angered with her. He was incapable of ever being angry with this astonishing woman. But he was terrified. He knew now that for him life would not be worth living should anything ever happen to take her away. He wondered if this was just selfishness on his part. Sometimes it haunted him that he could not be more detached. Humans did not last forever, but he wanted Phyllis to last at least as long as he. It was a ridiculous thought, of course, maybe even a sickness of his own — his fatal flaw. Was he too greedy? He tried desperately not to be. He did not wish to be one of those clingy types that drive people crazy and become a burden by tying her down in any way. He hated it himself. He realized such behavior as warped, and so he did not do it, even if something inside him wanted to be with her every second. Wasn’t that a far greater sickness than what she was now doing?
He came to, surprised that his own thoughts and feelings had zoned him out for a moment. She was smiling quizzically at him.
“Oh, sorry,” he murmured. “Got carried away musing.”
She nodded, understanding him. She patted his hands and returned to eating. “I swear, darling, you’ve pretty closely prepared what I call perfection.”
Harold wiggled his head with pleasure at the compliment and dug into his own food. She was right, he thought. It may not be perfection, but he had to admit that this was about the best he’d done so far.
“Harold?” she said, again setting her fork down.
“When we’ve finished breakfast, is it all right . . . can we can talk just a bit before you go to work today?”
He stopped eating. “Certainly. What’s up?”
“Well, something’s been bothering me. And for a while now. I think we may need to discuss my, uh, condition again.”
“Your condition?” Harold suddenly felt cold. He gazed into his wife’s eyes. There was only love looking back.
“Yes. You see, before you woke up this morning . . . well, you might say that some new developments arose that we may need to, well, you know, look into . . . just a tiny bit before you head out to work. Maybe you can think them over today, and we can make some decisions tonight when you come home.”
“New developments? What kind of new developments?”
Phyllis looked up as though searching for the right words. She turned to Harold and smirked elfishly. “Well, for example, this new business of me climbing trees, in part, as well as all the rest. You know all too well, of course, how after ‘The Accident’ I started behaving strangely?”
He grinned back, pouring himself a glass of orange juice. He gave her a nod to offer her one too, but she shook her head. “Why, yes,” he said, “As a matter of fact I do think I vaguely remember something along that order. By the way, did I ever tell you how well you play the piano?”
She nodded. “I do, don’t I? Not bad after never having touched one before in my life . . . except an occasional ‘Chopsticks’ with two fingers on a toy model when I was maybe nine.”
“And don’t forget the Korean zither and fiddle, and that Andean ukelele thing.”
“Gayageum,* haegeum,* and charango,*” she corrected. “I’ve got to say, darling, I don’t sound bad.”
“On the gayageum and charango, I can’t argue with you there. But that haegeum . . . umm, that one’s still to be determined.”
Phyllis laughed. “I play it well, sweetie, but the sound sometimes takes time for westerners to get used to.”
“Surely an acquired taste.”
“Perhaps.” She began to prod at a piece of sausage on her plate with her fork.
“But go on . . . You were saying.”
The sausage went into her mouth. “And after the musical instruments came the painting,” she said after swallowing.
“Umm, yes, I seem to recall that you did pick up some tips from Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and a few others and then threw together an exhibition a couple of months later that put us into a different tax bracket.”
“Sorry about that, sweetheart,” she said with amused chagrin.
“Tut-tut, no need to. The profits exceed the impositions of the IRS.”
“Well, that’s true.”
“And, if I may interject, this was followed by spelunking, mountain climbing, high-wire walking, and now the somewhat more modest swinging from trees. Though I must say that whiffling o’er the tulgey wood seems to require even added dexterity if you are to remain airborne.”
Phyllis lowered her head demurely and offered a token blush. Harold drank the rest of his orange juice while still managing a temperate smile. She seemed to be putting off the topic she wanted to discuss as long as possible, and he wondered if he should just play along until she was ready to talk, or encourage her to spit it out. He was afraid that some new innate talent had now suddenly possessed her, and he only prayed that it would be something that would not put her in harm’s way. Music and painting were one thing, but the later acrobatics had sorely unnerved him.
“All right, then . . . ,” he said.
“Yes, I know. I’m dillydallying. But it’s got to be discussed, so here goes . . . .”
Phyllis took a breath, then proceeded.
“I’ve been thinking about my condition . . . a lot. I mean aside from my . . . shall we call them my new-found talents?”
“Well, they are indeed that,” Harold agreed.
“I believe we can both agree that they must be associated in some way with my accident last year. I mean, it’s no secret that while some are inexplicably creative — the music and the painting — the others almost seem death-defying. I should be scared out of my wits, but I’m not. I-I exult being an equilibrist now, even though the sane part of me tells me that I’m completely wacko, that it’s some kind of psychological Thanatos disorder.”
Harold cocked an eye of incomprehension.
“Death wish,” explained Phyllis, noting his dazed expression.
“Oh. Well, maybe it’s not that at all,” he argued. “If it were a death wish, you probably would have let go at some point. To me, it’s more like stuff we sometimes dream about. You know, flying like birds?”
“Okay. Or bats. Sweetheart, we’ve talked many times about this, and short of locking you up or putting you in a straitjacket, you don’t seem willing to stop.”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“No, locking me up.”
Harold stared at his wife for a long moment. Although Phyllis had never been diagnosed as clinically insane, partly because her disorder had been directly linked to the brain injury she had sustained the previous year and not to any psychological or psychiatric aberrancy, Harold in his own way had reached the conclusion that in fact she had “lost her mind,” although perhaps not in the generally acknowledged definition of the term. From his own view of her present behavior, there seemed no other explanation. Earlier, and on several occasions, he had even considered the option of having her institutionalized.
But curiously, her “madness,” if anything, had in some inexplicable, unscientific, almost magical way improved her disposition enormously, transforming her into a different person than she had been before, and this was what made him hesitate about looking into a dreaded hospital for her. Prior to her accident, she had been a harsh and demanding woman, often petty in her views and behavior. Her ill nature of yore, however, had all but evaporated, now replaced by an endearing sweetness that defied reason. Even before they had married he’d observed a certain intractability in her, but his greater passion for her overrode his misgivings at the time.
Perhaps the “right” thing would have been to send her to a mental institution. Only . . . only for the first time in their marriage had he now found peace and happiness. For the first time could he honestly say that he loved her truly, profoundly, that he delighted in her presence. Moreover, he realized that over the year he too had changed for the better. The hardness in him had faded. The querulousness and the priggishness. He recognized that he’d become more gentle, more understanding, more openhearted, compassionate. It was almost as though her car accident had transformed both into better persons, and he didn’t want it to go away.
Phyllis smiled at Harold with inquisitive eyes. “Why are you staring at me so? Don’t you think that hospitalizing me is a good idea?”
“No!” he cried. “I-I’m afraid they might fix you! I love you the way you are. I love you just the way you are now!”
“Why, Harold!” She seemed surprised by his vehemence, and moved at the same time. “Harold? A-Are you crying?”
Harold wiped his tears dismissively, then nodded. Phyllis stood up, moved to his side of the breakfast table and embraced him.
“Why, you dear, dear man!” she exclaimed.
“Besides,” he said, his voice catching, “tell me just how many husbands can brag that their wives swing in trees like an orangutang?”
The gayageum, or kayagum, is a traditional Korean zither-like string instrument, with 12 strings, though some more recent variants have 21 or other numbers of strings. It is probably the best known traditional Korean musical instrument.
The haegeum is a traditional Korean string instrument, resembling a fiddle. It has a rodlike neck, a hollow wooden soundbox, and two silk strings, and is held vertically on the knee of the performer and played with a bow. It is one of the most widely used instruments in Korean music. Below are two versions of Miryang Arirang, a Korean folk song, often considered as the unofficial national anthem of Korea, where both the gayageum and the haegeum are used.
A “fusion” instrumental version:
A traditional sung version:
The charango is a small Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, originated in Quechua and Aymara populations in post-Columbian times. In the link below, Oscar Miranda, Argentine virtuoso of the charango, plays the instrument at “La Maison de l’Amérique Latine” in Paris:
In the following link, the charango is played with other instruments (quena, zampoña, guitar, and drum), in this Bolivian musical piece, “Flor de un día”: