The Only Rule
By Eyan Absar
Some mornings, Clover wakes to find her poster is no longer held to her wall by four thumbtacks, and a single one is hidden in the blue hairs of her carpet. Fishing for the small, blue pin feels too laborious on this particular day, so Clover begins her day, glancing at her otherwise blank walls, in her quotidian way. After carefully picking out an old dress to wear and tying her hair into two small, accidentally-messy braids, she walks downstairs and into the kitchen. She notices Abe patiently waiting behind the counter. As usual, his hands are as empty as the pockets of the white coat draping his shoulders. Only his torso is visible, but she knows his pants won’t match his shirt, and he’ll be unaffected by any day’s events. In his countenance, he’s calm before any storm only because he refuses to ever acknowledge the catastrophic winds and rain. As always, Abe asks Clover how she’s doing.
“I still tread ever so lightly down the stairs, even though your sweet angels have been gone for some time. I know they’re gone, but the habit has stayed.” She observes, forgetting to answer his question. He listens respectfully.
“Good.” She responds. He’s always content with this reply. “How are you?”
“I’m fine.” He echoes the same plain but genuine words each morning.
A familiar feeling settles in Clover’s headspace. She knows herself well enough to understand that without asking the question she’s had since ignoring all the other thumbtacks in her drawer, her day would not start correctly.
“What do you do to recharge?” She wonders in his direction. He looks up and thinks for a short moment. Her week has only just started; the one before had been a large, nearly endless amount of small but significant conflicts, all crammed into a space that was too small to quite fit all of them. She’d decided her predicament could not carry over into a new week; the issues themselves were mostly sorted out, but her energy was not where it had been. If the last few days were tricky, the next five are going to be exponentially more complicated, especially without rest. Surely, the busiest man, who is intentional about working on weekends and caring for every plant and creature in his path because he sees only their potential for growth, would recharge at some point, she concludes. But how?
“Willow watches the clouds pass overhead and I sit nearby,” he simply replies.
“Do you watch with her?”
“No, I usually finish documenting how I treated people throughout the day,” he states.
“That’s not recharging.” This was not an accusation, but she feels disbelief building up as Abe crosses to the fridge, but when he returns to his original spot behind the counter, her mind is at ease.
“Why not? Is that not the right answer?” He begins eating an orange.
“Well, no, technically there is no right answer, but how are you recharging if you’re still doing work?”
“I like my work.” He turns to leave, but her question hasn’t been answered.
“What if you want to recharge but Willow is busy?”
He faces her again and smiles, “Then I pray.”
Most of their conversations end here because many of Clover’s questions regard lifestyle and personality, and Abe mainly stuck to two pieces of advice: copy Willow and pray—but not in that order. Abe calmly returns to his own routine and Clover, like most days, wonders: “How do you pray?” and “Why do you pray?” Her questions are successfully asked and answered when Abe begins to tell a story. His answers will always be genuine, especially to those inquiries, but unhelpful for her life. Today’s question wasn’t the right kind of question. He finishes his orange; the patient and doctor continue about their days separately.
Upon her return from town, Clover meets Abe again at the entrance of their home. They’re both allowed to repeat one question, so once more he asks how she’s doing, and, after Clover gives her response, he avoids her same question to begin a story. His stories are special because he may draw from any books he’s read, classes he’s taken, or people he’s met throughout his remarkably long life. Slowly, Clover sits to take off her shoes and listen to a tale about the importance of treading lightly, even when there’s no one around to potentially wake up. His simple lesson—to “be considerate”—takes time because Abe elaborates, slowing down the course of his storytelling quite a great deal, but that’s why Clover keeps coming back.