Nature is the opposite of new stuff. If you’re out in your back yard, you’re not at Walmart. If you’re hiking in the wilderness, you’re not ordering stuff on the Internet. If you’re camping in the reality of the desert, you’re not moving through the artificial world of video games.
Human beings tend to think of themselves as separate from nature. We call what surrounds us “the environment”—making it as something apart from our selves. We even use phrases like “Man against Nature” to emphasize this false dichotomy.
Most of our entertainment—movies, TV shows, sports, even books—takes us out of nature and into other, manmade worlds. The entertainment itself uses new stuff in its production, often featuring people in their various artificial settings made of new stuff. I’ve seen movies that are filmed exclusively indoors—no glimpse of trees or sky. They always put me in a dark mood—unexplainable, until I’ve realized why.
Sometimes these other worlds are exactly what we need to unwind or escape for a while. But the natural world can also be immensely entertaining. How’s that? people might ask. There’s no on/off button out there. No screen to gaze into. No page with words to supply the means for us to visualize, listen to, smell or taste some other time, place, or characters. How do we get into the real world outside?
The short story below shows a primary way to start: close observation.
For me, observation led to involvement, and involvement to intervention—not exactly a recommended way to interact with the natural world, but in this case, harmless, because I (the narrator) had never been successful in changing the balance of life in my backyard pond in favor of tadpoles. For years I didn’t even know why the tadpoles always disappeared without a trace. My intervention in the year of this story was to feed them. It seemed to work! In actuality I was still clueless as to the arrangement Nature had set up.
So this is a true story about something that happened 40 years ago. Thanks for reading!
by Kay Sather
(First published in the Mississippi Review, 2019)
What impressed me at first was that the creature spent ninety-five percent of its life underground, in a dormant state, having only a few weeks each year to jump around in the rain. Another example of Nature’s cruelty. What a sorry existence. And yet, I thought, if those months underground were a painless sleep, and those waking days a time of arousal and sensual heights, maybe the toads hadn’t been dealt such a bad hand. I might even have exchanged my life for theirs. I could have slept through the fights with Paul and the baby’s crying. I would have emerged with the weather changed and nothing but love in the air.
On moving to Tucson, before the baby, we were always out exploring the desert, the mountains, the dry washes, and the human ground scattered with potsherds. We learned to recognize new flora and fauna—cacti, agave, a hundred other types of thorny growth; quail with topknots, roadrunners skewering lizards, noisy wrens in checkered bibs; rattlesnakes, scorpions, centipedes (so large! so orange!), and Gila monsters no scarier than beaded purses. But many months passed and I was six months pregnant, sitting in my expectant rocking chair, when I first met the desert spadefoot toad, on the pages of A Desert Year. The author, Joseph Wood Krutch, kept one as a pet once in some mud at the bottom of a jar. You weren’t likely to see these guys otherwise, he wrote, unless you ventured out on their night, the wettest, most electrically-charged night of the year: their pervigilium veneris. What did that mean? Venerable vigil? The date you contracted VD? With my weighted belly pressing me into the chair, I wasn’t about to go look up the Latin. Nor would I find myself walking around in a thunderstorm anytime soon, I thought.
I was doing a lot of reading, but nowhere did I read this: The baby that makes you a family also stresses the seams of your wedding quilt to the point of unraveling. You have to find the old threads of romance. Go on a road trip, leave the kid with the grandparents, and try to forget about her for a while.
It was mid-July. We set out in the late afternoon under flat-bottomed clouds lit red as the sun sank. Watching the colors change, we missed the turnoff.
“There’s another way to get in,” Paul said. “Start looking for a dirt road on the right.”
Back then my eyes were still good. I found the road. We turned, felt the car vibrate over washboard ridges. In the low-angled light, stones cast infinite shadows, potholes looked bottomless, and human figures—well, here was one, a tall man, standing silhouetted in the road, waving his arms in wide arcs. Next to him in the ditch something metallic glinted, or a mirror flashed.
“Paul! Don’t stop! He could be—”
But this was a woman’s response. Paul was already braking, getting out, bending with the tall man over something dark. I stayed in the car until I saw the dark shape was human, and that they were struggling together to lift it from the ditch.
I got out then and unrolled my sleeping bag on the back seat, so Paul and the tall man could lay the unconscious figure on top of it. Then the tall one got in, lifted the man’s legs and sat down with them across his lap.
“Let’s go,” Paul said to me. “There’s a hospital in Portal.”
He turned the car around and we set off at a speed that meant we sometimes hit the car’s ceiling. The air inside reeked of alcohol and motorcycle grease. But when I reached to open my window I saw it was streaked with rain. Thunder cracked along a curtain of many seconds. Massive drops hammered our windshield, and we sped through the kind of rain that would quickly turn the dirt road into mud.
But here before us, now, was the asphalt road we’d come in on, a lifetime ago. We turned right, picking up where we’d left off, but this time flying off the dirt road toward the mountains. The tall man leaned forward to speak to Paul, and I could see the wound in his temple and dark blood striping his cheek.
He’s cold, man, he said to Paul. His legs are cold. No reason to rush him nowhere.
I felt my gut contract. No one spoke after that until a flash of light, then thunder split the sky.
“But your head’s cut,” Paul said.
“I don’t feel it.”
Speeding, in any case, was soon out of the question. The paved road was a roller coaster and the dips had water in them. The signs we passed were all yellow diamonds with cautionary arrows, curvy or sharp-angled. They scared me but the ones that said Do Not Enter When Flooded were worse. We’d heard the stories of sudden rivers crossing roadways and sweeping cars away, but we had no experience of them, no judgment. We were new to flash floods.
As though I could somehow help from the passenger’s seat, I began to squint at the road as it fell under our headlights, trying to guess the depth of water and strength of its current in the dips. Something looked odd. Surely raindrops hit Arizona puddles the same way they did in the Midwest! But these falling drops seemed almost to hop, repetitively, like flat rocks skipping over the surface of a lake.
“Toads!” I breathed.
These were spadefoots. I was sure of it. And as numerous as the raindrops! This was their night. They jumped like excited children in the artificial glow of our headlights. All bounced with the same abandon: those that would find a mate before sunrise, and those that would die instantly under our tires. I shut my eyes. But I’d already seen enough to believe I could feel them popping.
At the hospital, the tall man with the head wound walked into the ER on his own two feet. I didn’t worry about him after that. Police officers separated Paul and me, and took our stories. We were filling out official reports when the wife arrived. She stood calm and poised, talking to the officers. I knew enough about death to understand her composure as shock. But I wasn’t close enough to be protected by shock myself. A few tears came then, unexpectedly. Were they for her? Or were they what my body needed to release from the feeling of bursting toadskin under our wheels? Looking back, I think the crying was this: I knew we’d stay in a generic hotel room that night and choose, without even conferring, to sleep in separate beds.
That night I’d seen toad gestures, toad movements, toads in a blur through wet glass. I got a sense of the spadefoot phenomenon, albeit from an unfortunate perspective. But I still hadn’t actually seen a toad. For this I had to wait till the following summer. I was living alone by then. Or, I should say, alone with half a daughter—one week with her, the next without. It was my week to have her when the first monsoon hit. I put her to bed that night with the hypnotic pounding of rain on her window. Listening, I heard something else over the percussion: a flock of bleating lambs. None of my neighbors had sheep, of course. This was the middle of town. But a small arroyo cut through the neighborhood not far away, in the direction the noise was coming from. I grabbed an umbrella and flashlight, and went outside.
The wash wasn’t yet running. The chorus rose from the growing puddles. My approach silenced the closest singers, so I stood still for a while, moving only my hand with the flashlight, my eyes following its beam. The ponds, with their rain-textured surfaces, were nearly opaque. But plunk, I saw a pair of pale hind legs disappear into the depths. Then whole toads. They sat like yellow mushrooms here and there in the shallows. They were all fat and, being toads, covered with warts. But I didn’t find them ugly. After all, the plump body and stubby limbs of a human baby are part of its irresistibility—along with its innocent, searching eyes. These toad eyes had the same expression. But they were, at the same time, alien. They bulged like periscopes above a neckless head, useful, no doubt, for monitoring the world of air. The irises reflected the light like wrinkly gold foil, and held vertical pupils, like a cat’s. I supposed they also narrowed to slits in bright sun, but my weak flashlight didn’t affect them.
Some of the toads were clearly coupled. Males (I presumed) rode slightly larger females, or lay squeezing their thighs from behind. Rudely, I squatted to see better, but one of the males jumped off, and the female followed him down. And then a loud crash of thunder, perhaps loud enough to wake Anna in her bed, made me jump. It was time to leave.
Walking home, I felt oddly jubilant. Why? Because I’d been granted a peek at something rare? Though a few loser-toads might come back another night to try again, this was the night, out of 365, that everyone came out to rub skins. And I’d been there. Maybe scarcity and want were required, as contrast, to experience happiness. But the somewhat negative thought had no effect on my mood. Rain-washed oxygen filled my lungs. I’d been no more lightheaded on my own wedding night.
The following year I got a loan and bought Paul’s half of the house from him. This meant I owned the whole lot, now, too. It was urban desert. Native species met English sparrows, Florida citrus, and stray cats, as well as unnatural objects, like Anna’s plastic pool. The year she turned four, she punched a leak in it weeks before the cooling monsoons would cancel her need for it. I decided to build her a permanent pond. My intentions weren’t entirely altruistic, nor were they ecologically reasoned. But drought is terrifying. All desert-dwellers long for some sort of pool in the summer, even if it’s just to look at, for reassurance. My father brought over bags of cement and a trash can for mixing. We piled dirt in a big mound and scooped out the middle, then lined it with the concrete dough. With the backs of shovels we smoothed it, making it the same size as her kiddy pool, but with gradually sloping sides. Anna loved it. And when she outgrew it, it was mine to fill with lily pads and gaze upon.
Not once during the building did I think of the toads. But one night they found it. Their voices, perhaps three or four of them, were close and loud; this time I didn’t have to go far with my flashlight. As I approached them I heard bunk bunk BINK, but one remained at the water’s edge. Both of us frozen, we stared at each other for a long time. Where had he come from? Krutch wrote that the name spadefoot came from the sharp, hardened heels they used to dig themselves into the dirt for their sleep. He doubted the purity of their stupor. His captive toad, while staying buried in the dirt of the jar most of the time, came out now and then to look around. Had this toad been buried in my yard all year?
Other pairs of eyeballs were now breaking the surface of the pond. I realized I was standing in Venus’ way, and went inside.
The next afternoon I went out back to inhale the rain-loosened smell of greasewood, and noticed in the pond a brown cloud like octopus ink. Tadpoles? Already? Yes, and the parents had ditched them, leaving them to me.
I took it as an honor, not an offense. All the same, I was angry, not at the toad mothers, but at Mother Nature. Hundreds of tadpoles, maybe a thousand, swarmed here. This could mean only one thing: most would die. How many could I bring to toadhood?
None, as it turned out. Each day there were fewer. The survivors grew bigger as their siblings disappeared. Probably they were eating each other. Nature wouldn’t care.
I saw no dead bodies. But maybe I wouldn’t have, even if they were there. A tadpole the size of an apple seed, without life or movement, would be nothing more than a fleck of dark jelly. But even cannibalism, if this was their story, did not help the fittest survive. Five days after hatching, their now pea-sized bodies showed no trace of limbs. By the following day the pond was bereft of life.
I’d failed the parents. The babysitter had dropped the baby. Even worse, I did it again the following year. And the next. Every summer, spadefoot couples left eggs in my pond, and every year the tadpoles died without so much as a budding thigh. Every year I had a different theory about it. Was the concrete unnaturally hot? I added blocks of ice to the water daily. Were birds eating them? I stretched netting across the pond to foil them. Did the young need some mud at the bottom to nestle into? I threw in shovelfuls of dirt. One year I put some tadpoles into a large jar and kept them inside at room temperature. I tried changing the water when it got dirty. I tried not changing it.) No matter what I did, they all died.
Then one year, a decade or so after their first appearance, no toads came. I didn’t hear them. Nobody laid eggs in my water. Maybe they’d all died of old age by now. They were without progeny; whom was I expecting to show up?
My pond had been a fatal attraction. A death trap. It would have been easy to cover the pond with canvas during the rainy season, force them to find more promising accommodations. But I hadn’t done that.
I blamed the toads themselves for their demise. Amphibians were too sensitive. Didn’t they often grow two heads at the slightest change of environment? Hadn’t I read that their sex ratios went funny when they settled downstream of a pollution source?
The truth was, I missed them. Anna had left home. And over the years, my theories about love had proved no more useful than my theories about tadpoles. In some ways, I’d been living like my toads—collecting nights of passion, year after year, but nothing more. Nothing lasted. I had nothing to show for my attempts at partnering.
All the more reason I would have loved to see a batch of little tadpoles grow into successful, well-adjusted toads. But the silence held. Inexplicably, even the arroyo was quiet. On one of its banks, where it bordered the track field, the university had put in brighter lights, more bleachers, and a bigger concession stand. Across the street, new houses had replaced the tract of sprawling greasewood. If the spadefoots had cleared out, who could blame them?
The pond passed four lifeless summers. Then, at the beginning of the fifth monsoon, I heard a single, powerful baaaah in the back yard. Baah! Baah! It was a lone bachelor. For by this time I knew it was the males who called out for females. He wouldn’t stop. I didn’t disturb him. I fell asleep that night to his lovesick cries, but the next morning, found no eggs in the pond. The poor lonely bachelor nearly went hoarse that summer, singing his tiny heart out through every rainy night without, if the water bore accurate witness, finding a female. I considered bringing him one from another neighborhood. But for what? For his own toadish pleasure at the expense of future generations. I didn’t want to go down that dead end again.
The year’s last thunderhead dissolved, leaving a barren pond. Presumably the bachelor had dug himself into the ground somewhere nearby. I wondered again about the nature of the spadefoot’s slumber. Maybe it would allow him to recover from his failure. Maybe he’d dream about the next warm, wet storm, and certain erotic possibilities.
I know he didn’t die of loneliness because I heard him again the following summer. This year. I thought my heart might break this time, hearing him making his little-lamb sounds night after night. But this year, without my knowing, a silent female visited. The next afternoon’s evidence was unmistakable. Watching the squirming mess of tadpoles, each with a head and whip-like tail, I had to laugh. Here was a species with fertilized eggs that hatched into sperm.
Some of them would live this year. I’d make sure of it.
Maybe I’d remove them to a deep, cool, natural pond somewhere. But where? And when? They were smaller than map pins. Maybe if I waited they’d be more vigorous, less affected by a move.
But then I had a visit from a friend who removed invasive plants for a living. She, if anyone, would appreciate my good fortune. I led her poolside.
“Great bunch of tadpoles!” she said. “What a perfect place for them to grow up.”
“No,” I said. “They always die on me. Before they even think about growing legs.”
“What do you feed them?”
“Feed them? Don’t they eat pond scum? I’ve never—”
“They love meat, you know. Have you got any chicken? Or tuna?”
I opened a tin of sardines. She pulled out a whole one and placed it in the water, near the edge. After a few seconds, one tiny brown head, with the help of a pumping tail, burrowed into the fish. Then another came, and another. Within minutes, the fish was covered with a layer of tadpoles, all the little bodies oriented to the fish like iron filings to a magnet. A few minutes later, just as slowly at first, the creatures dispersed and swam apart. Nothing was left of the fish.
“Piranhas,” I said.
“Yeah, they eat like crazy. Have to. But these guys are lucky. This puddle won’t disappear into the ground. They’ve got time.”
I smiled. I was going to be a good mother now.
I fed them sardines daily. Soon they were bigger than my tadpoles had ever gotten. Their underbellies had turned a light brown, something I’d never seen before. Their movement was hypnotic; in rapid succession they’d surface and then dive down again, like athletes in a relay race. The regular food seemed to be working. Had starvation really been the cause of my tadpole die-off all along?
Later I would learn about a more likely factor. A biologist friend told me the story of a certain field trip his class had taken to collect pond life in jars.
“We found a good diversity of creatures in the water,” he said. “Mosquito larvae, different water beetles, crane fly grubs, tadpoles, and other stuff. But when we got back to the classroom, our jars contained only one thing: dragonfly nymphs.”
By this time, I could find online videos of these terrifying bug-eyed insects that showed them suddenly springing from the silent mud they hid in to grab tadpoles by the tail and drag them down to consume them. These voracious “baby” dragonflies better explained the disappearance of my tadpoles over the years. Feeding them was probably coincidental to their well-being; it was more likely a failure of dragonflies to find the pond that summer. But I didn’t know this then. I congratulated myself on having at last discovered what the tadpoles needed to thrive, and faithfully gave them sardine meat every day.
I began looking for leg buds. On my knees, with a magnifying glass, I could see their bodies clearly: they’d started hanging out in the shallows where I fed them, as though expecting their meal. They kept flashing their undersides at me. And why not? Their bulging abdomens were spectacular. The skin was transparent, showing just underneath it an intricate spiral of coiled intestine, wound around a tiny black hole in the exact center of the belly.
One day I was gone until dusk. When I went to feed them they were not to be seen. Immediately I feared the worst. But a spoonful of fish soon brought them out from the low center of the pond to its edge.
With regard to development timelines, my readings on Scaphiopus couchii varied wildly. Some said that warmer water cut transformation times, at expense to their optimum health.
I checked the tadpoles for leg bumps at every feeding because I didn’t want to miss anything. I did anyway. The first signs of legs were filaments, not bumps. And then it seemed suddenly everyone had them: a dragging thread on either side of a beating tail. The next day, the threads had bent in the middle: knees. Soon the legs filled out, and tried little kicks. Kicking, the tadpoles looked like toads. But they still preferred their tail-whipping locomotion. When the arms came, they had the best of both worlds. These began as filaments, too, but filled out faster. Soon I could make out tiny fingers, splayed out evenly from the wrist like a child’s drawing of the sun, like Anna’s little hand in a favorite photo taken minutes after she was born.
I saw that my pond was a womb with clear fluids, a window, letting me watch…no, not a miracle. Precisely not. Transformations are natural, not supernatural. Growth, change, exchange—these are more real than matter, the stuff of existence itself.
On the eighth morning I saw, immediately, a squiggling clump of gelatinous energy at the edge of the pond, on my side, the air-breathing side: dry ground. Not yet! I shouted. It’s suicide! For the sky was cloudless, and the sun’s heat had already penetrated the pond’s concrete lip. The little beings still had tails! And they were no bigger than my pinky fingernail, in body even smaller than before, as they’d used some of their belly-flesh for limbs. Why were they acting like beached whales? Oh, here were some dead ones, completely desiccated and visited by ants. I’d envisioned their emergence as a euphoric discovery of the ability to hop. But maybe they were motivated by miserable conditions in the pond, suffocating algae, stagnation. You couldn’t know if they were smiling or frowning; the line of their mouths ran straight from front to back, making them look determined more than anything else.
I’d thought they would emerge and quickly burrow into cool ground. Instead, they congregated into slimy piles. This made sense. They would stay hydrated until evening, or the next rain.
Then they came out by the hundreds, unstoppable as teenagers. I stopped worrying. The burn casualties were few, and the rest clearly knew what they were doing. By dusk, toadlets filled the yard. I had to step carefully, finding spots of open ground, as though picking my way on rocks across a stream. I invited my friend over to see the babies. She was impressed.
“What you have here, really, is what I’d call an infestation.”
There was no denying it now. I was mothering toads. Why did I take such delight in it? Was it because my own “fertilized egg” had gone off to college? Was it because I, personally, had run out of eggs for procreation? Maybe both were factors. Or maybe it was something less Freudian. Maybe I just had more time for myself these days, permission from myself to indulge in idle fascinations. My life had shifted from the energy demanded by “mating” to solitude—if it’s fair to use that word to describe the state of an individual human in the company of plants, animals, rocks, and weather. I supposed getting a kick out of tadpole-rearing wasn’t too different from the enjoyment Krutch took from feeding his toad bits of hamburger held out at the end of a broomstraw.
It had been years since I first read A Desert Year. I pulled it off the shelf again, blowing the dust off the top before opening it. The chapter called “It Suits Him Fine” was shorter than I remembered. And here was something else I’d forgotten: his claim that spadefoots stay above ground longer than was commonly thought, to fatten themselves up before digging under. He had observed it, as I was now, still finding tiny toads everywhere and having to watch my step.
This time, I looked up Pervigilium veneris and found a Roman poem, the “Night Watch of Venus.”* No wonder the spadefoot’s orgy put Krutch in mind of it. Its theme is her festival, the goddess of love. It describes more kinds of wetness than a toad could imagine: rain, blood, foam, oceans, paint, semen, breath, fountains, dew, tears. And it’s all about mating. Birds couple in the groves. Virgin rosebuds open. Cupid is on the loose. Girls arrive from the mountains and the woods. Venus breathes “a reproductive energy” through earth and sky, and orders the birds to free their songs. The party gets noisy. We hear singing, poetry, choruses, ponds reverberating with the calls of swans, and—I swear—the bleating of sheep.
Happy ending? No. The nightingale sings. She’s a bird with a grim mythology, and the poet suddenly focuses on his own sadness:
When will the spring-tide come for me? …
Alas! The muse, while silent I
Remained, hath gone and pass’d me by,
Nor Phoebus listens to my cry.
Clearly, the poet feels left out. After describing a happy love-fest for nine stanzas, he shifts abruptly into personal despair. He’s so alone, so forgotten, that he quits even trying to connect.
Was all this about not having a lover? It seemed so. The poem, after all, describes amorous love: sex, mating, procreation—what the spadefoots emerge for. So what the poet speaker is feeling must be the lack of such. I wondered if, by indulging in so many images of wet fertility, he was trying to write himself out of his loneliness. It seems to have helped for a while—as art often does—but in the end, he despairs.
I envisioned him as young and made completely of desire, with little thought for other kinds of love. He couldn’t see how the richness of the natural world he described might, in time, fill the hole in his life like a gentle tide finding a low spot on the beach. If his rosebuds were always virgins about to open, how could they offer him any other kind of comfort? Needing only romance, the loss of it would leave him empty. I wanted him to follow the sound of the bleating sheep. He may have found toads instead; they might have surprised him out of his narrow misery.
I once thought romantic love was different from other kinds of love. It’s sweatier, and provides an enjoyable way to burn calories. However, I’ve seen its boundaries blur. When Anna was born, I expected dirty diapers and crying, but no one had warned me I’d be filled with a lover’s glow. I didn’t expect to find myself staring at her face while she slept, tracing with my eyes the line of her fat cheeks and watching her perfect lips move with dreams of milk. How is this different from romance? I never experienced the sexual arousal in nursing that some mothers do, but my desire for the newborn girl was as strong as any I’ve had for anyone.
My affection for the baby toads was of a different sort. Wasn’t it? I drew their fat shapes, too, with my mind’s eye, staring at their tiny limbs. But this was more like admiring the perfect petals of a desert marigold or the empty cicada skin still grasping the stem where the insect, now with wings, emerged. I loved these things, that’s all. Though sometimes I was more conscious of being loved, as by sunlight or rain. Or a human companion who walked with me.
“You can love Nature literally, you know,” a friend once said, trying to comfort me after the loss of some lover whose identity I’ve now happily forgotten. She shared a passage from some new-age feminist who praised the uses of fallen logs, knobby boulders, and other outdoor protuberances. I can’t say I’ve come to appreciate the desert in quite this way; it’s too spiny and venomous. But the idea deserves status as another kind of love. Another kind among many.
If the poet was young, perhaps he had a young person’s distance from death. His parents were alive, his buddies healthy, his body without wrinkle or tremor to make his own mortality real. If he came upon a body while traveling one evening (someone who’d been drinking, probably, thrown from a horse) it was a dramatic, exceptional death—not the kind that made you look closely at all kinds of life, perceiving each as love.
Anna’s back in town, with a grown-up job I hope will keep her here. She doesn’t know that I’ve begun again to stare at her perfect bow-shaped mouth and long eyelashes, now enhanced (as if they needed it) with mascara. But I think she knows I’m newly in love with her again. I say newly because whole years of her life passed when I, like our poet, sought amour above all else. And she was in the way of it. Oh, if I could only erase…but we still have time, and I won’t make that mistake again.
That’s why I say that if the urge to couple, for me, lies buried for now in the mud, so what? And if it never surfaces again, what do I care?
In the Pervigilium, Cupid comes to the party without his bows and arrows. Naked. Without weapons, Venus says to her nymphs, you might think he’s safe. But he isn’t. And why not? Because, she says, he’s beautiful. Perhaps this means, conversely, that no-necked, wart-covered, lipless toads are safe to love.
As I write this, it’s still cold at night; the monsoons are months away. I’m drinking hot tea from the working-man’s thermos I gave my father years ago and have gotten back, now that he’s gone. I don’t want to fast-forward to July’s heat, but I often think about the coming monsoons, and wonder: How many toads will come up? Will they have grown? Will they know how to sing? There ought to be enough of them this year for everyone to have a partner. If they’re hungry I’ll serve them salmon hors d’oeuvres. Of course, they may be busy with other things. In which case I’ll switch from playing the host to playing the sensitive guest, and leave them to their celebration.