A woman is pregnant. Her husband is sure it's a girl. The baby's name will be Harriet. The
woman's name is Harriet. Their elder child is named Harriet. The man dreams of a day when
everyone will be named Harriet. His girlfriend's name is Harriet. His secret daughter is named
Harriet. His favorite barista's name is Harriet and his bank clerk. He was raised by a Harriet in a
neighborhood of Harriets. If the baby is a boy, Harriet. The neighbor's dog is a Jake, but looks
like a Harriet. It's pleasant, the man thinks, to look people in their faces and know their names.
A crowd of Harriets in the grocery store. A bunch of young Harriets playing ball in a driveway.
The man gets a text message from Harriet. Her water has broken. The doctor is a Harriet and all
the nurses. The clouds in the gray sky sing the name. Harriet's hair smells like eucalyptus.
Harriet's face is inviting and kind the way the winter solstice is inviting and calm. Harriet is in
love with Harriet. Harriet the cartographer, Harriet the stand-up comic, Harriet the pharmacist.
It's about to rain, but it isn't. There is a Harriet coming. There will be more Harriets. Harriets
in every town, every school, every house. Harriets like dreams, like omens, like soft, rose-scented certainty.
Everything means something and I am sick of it. Here is a crow that thinks itself a diplomat.
Here is a bluebird pining for a mate. Here is a state official driving a state van and wearing a
state ID badge on a state lanyard; see her dusty van drift toward the horizon and take flight, her
field notes fluttering out of the van windows like babies from a nest, yellow pages on top of
white pages. Each object signifies. It's maddening. And I am just fool enough to think I matter
in some way— me, a dim tinkling bell in a discordant cacophony. The weather is stern but grows
more resigned. As we should. As we should find a safe tree bough, a small canopy of steadfast
branches. The sky signifying, and the hustle up and down the street signifying, as we signify,
and as every piece of paper signifies, and as categories squabble with subheadings. This and thus
and the significance waxes like a plastic bag caught in wind.
Paul-Victor Winters is a public school teacher, occassional adjunct professor, and writer in Southern New Jersey.