Pray don't talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.
And that makes me quite nervous.
- Oscar Wilde
In the spring you can find our front door with your eyes closed. From the driveway, smell your way to the rose bush. A step or two later, pass between the narcissus blooms under the bird bath and the lavender, which has gone crazy since I planted it beneath the kitchen window box a few years ago. On the right, at the wall of blossoming jade, which started as a tiny clipping from the bush outside my former apartment, lift your foot for one, two, three steps. Here, open your eyes. Though you stand nose to twig at a wintery handmade wreath I found on Etsy a few months ago, there is no fragrance. I should probably find a new one for spring.
You'd better have a key ready, even if you hear voices clearly from within. Even if you knock, the door will not open without your effort. Even if you can report the very movie being watched on the other side. Even if you see through the window beside you the figure of a teenager as she passes from the living room through the dining room to the kitchen for a snack. You could try banging a hefty and frantic boom-boom, as she does every single time she comes home, but it's easier to just use your key. It's not as if you're in a rush: A whiff of orange blossoms floats over the roof from the backyard. Somewhere a finch sings.
Inside, a barrage of new sensory input. The 13-year-old is in her chair three feet from the television, ten from the front door. You say "Hello!" in a cheery voice, imagining that perhaps she hadn't heard your car, your steps, the key. Her response is teenagery-dull. You pause for a moment to assess. The Matrix is on, 1, 2, or 3, you don't know (are there more?), but her head is bent over a sketch book. You attempt another greeting. "Whatcha watching?" as if you couldn't tell. "Whatcha drawing?" because sometimes she'll say. Maybe something radical like "How are you?" in another pleasant tone. The elements of simple communication that work so well with adults fall flat. "It's nice out this evening," you say, kicking off your shoes, knowing full well that she doesn't give a damn about the weather, the news, or connecting.
I used to resent small talk. The low-hanging fruits of weather seemed only to pertain to the mindless, surface chatter of adults. It neither said anything nor did anything, I reasoned, and I suspect our 13-year-old feels the same, annoyed with the unsubstantial filler. There's an arrogance to her dullness. A judgement, I imagine, that raises her above petty niceties. Say something worthwhile or stop wasting my time. Like the writerly advice from Strunk & White: make every word count. Though she's more likely thinking, Just shut the fuck up.
To her, I imagine small talk about the weather seems worth about as much as packing peanuts. Thirty gallons of the Styrofoam kind go for $9.27 at Walmart, so peanuts are basically worthless. Filler to brush away as you root around for the good stuff. Trash them or leave them to dissolve in the sink. They merely take up space and disappear. Like small talk.
And yet, $9.27 is worth something, isn't it? People spend it gladly to cushion the good stuff. Olive oil. Porcelain. A vintage keyboard. Even our thirteen year old wouldn't think of shipping a delicate object unpadded to rattle around in a box, take every hit. I'm trying to think of something that's precious to her, an object to name here, but nothing comes to mind. She draws and writes, but appears to care little about anything else. Or this: she is precious; that gruff affect is her peanuts. The disdainful glances, dour responses. She's a newly-minted teenager, fresh out of childhood, en route to adulthood, jostled around at every bend. Her mood is her $9.27 of bubblewrap. It's the hard shell of chrysalid, because maybe she's gone completely to goo inside and needs a stern exterior to ensure her safety. It's scaffolding, because didn't you see the signs? Construction Zone! No trespassers!
I get it as best as a forty-something-woman/former-girl with faulty memory can get it, but it's been a minute or two since I was thirteen. Thank the stars. Some day, when she's less gooey on the inside, I wonder if she'll see how stark the chasms can be between two individuals. How we've all been thirteen, all've been goo, but no two goos are the same, and how do we start from that? Humans might be a social species, but how on earth do two people who have been spinning in their own separate orbits all day long possibly begin to connect?
Though I used to resent small talk, it's really kind of beautiful, isn't it? Those slender cords of niceties, weather. "Look at that rain": a rope thrown from one to another. It's a hefty job that a beautiful day commands. Wind, clouds, the jasmine in the air: Delicate as they are, their forces are greater than us. I don't know how your day is, nor do you know mine. So let's talk about the weather, enter carefully into each other's orbits, and look up at our shared sky.
You drop your bags, prick your ears for the others. Music from the studio: Darby is working on a tune. A scrape on the stove: the 17-year-old is cooking. Meaty scents. It's hard to tell whose dinner, with vegetarian sausages lately so close to the real thing. You make your rounds greeting them, then duck into the bedroom for a quick costume change. The backdoor is open to the early evening. In an old Dr. Pepper bottle on the dresser, Darby's put a twig of orange blossoms, white blooms, green leaves.