Are they toasting marshmallows around our fire pit? Have they burned through all the wood we hauled and split and stacked so beautifully last year? If they are lounging on the cracked slate patio, reclining in the Adirondack chairs that my parents carted all the way to Minneapolis, are they admiring the monarchs wafting through my prairie garden? Are their children running roughshod through the goldenrod, stampeding through the blazing star, the little bluestem, the black-eyed Susan?
[Renters! I would tell them, if they could hear me shout across six thousand miles. Will you please control your children!]
Have they remembered to turn off the stove? Are they scrubbing our pans with the softest brush? Are they hanging their coats on our hooks, boiling their water in our pots, tossing their salad with our wooden spoons? When they harvest cherry tomatoes from the garden beds I built, will they think about whose hands sowed those seeds into yogurt cups?
Would I have nurtured those seedlings, watered those beds, if I’d know we wouldn’t be the ones to gather the fruit? Would we have emptied our drawers into boxes, would we have nested our books in the attic, would we have swept the garage and printed the lease if we’d known about the sandstorms, the power outages, the stomach bugs, the stubborn flies, the riotous taxi rides, the peril to pedestrians, and all the sticky, humid days when we cannot coax the water from the tap?
[Renters! I would say, if the Wi-Fi in this painted gold apartment were working today. You might as well pick the plums, too!]
When she goes into labor, will she be on our bed? Is the mattress protected? Will her husband dab at her skin with one of our towels? Will he launder it twice? Will those bodily fluids—the blood, the placenta, the breast milk, my God!—leak into our cushions and cascade toward our floors? Will our neighbors hear her cries pinwheeling through the window screens?
And after the baby is swaddled, where will they rest? On our sofa, on our love seat, at our dining table? When friends and family come to admire the new infant, what gifts will they bring? What casseroles will be stored in our freezer and warmed in our oven? What books will they read him, what lullabies will they croon? Will he be happy or fussy or frightened or loud? What will his parents be saying, be thinking, as the shadows stretch across our living room and the light through the window turns rose?
[Renters! I would ask them, if they were not so distant, if they were not so weary. The sun takes off from this balcony and wings westward toward the house that I left across the Atlantic. What is it like for you?]
[Do you ever wonder what I am doing? Do you picture me weaving through the streets in linen pants and sunglasses, pointing to peaches and eggplant in market stalls, slowing before blue and gold mosaics that are older by centuries than the country I come from? Does it feel like a dream to you, too—this mythical city, coarse and musical, thrumming with twenty-million individual hearts? Do you wish for this life? Do I wish for yours?]
Upon our return, will the house smell like them? Will the cushions be shredded, the bookshelves finger-painted? Will I care if our wood has been burned or our mugs have been broken? As I slide our books back onto the shelves, will I yearn for this place—for the sunlight on mangos, for that rickety elevator, for these rippling calls to prayer?
Renters? I will murmur, although by then they will be gone. I will imagine their coffee cooling on someone else’s counter and a baby growing heavier in their arms. I will startle at the groans of once-familiar floorboards as I stumble through our house like the stranger I’ve become. What are you doing right now?