Lazy November leaves hang around long enough to be painted with the first snow. But soon after comes the ice, entombing each remaining leaf in glass until, at last, they come shattering to the ground. The rhododendron bush has turned a dark military green.
These are the last days of flies.
Their rounded bodies bounce lazily off venetian blinds. I don’t bother, knowing their time is short. That soon enough I’ll find them belly-up on windowsills and countertops. And in the morning, I absently sweep them onto the cold linoleum, then flip the switch and start the coffee brewing. Scrape cream from the top of the jar for the cat.
These winter days I expend energy fooling myself into thinking I’m content. That I enjoy it, the oppressive dark, the bitter cold. The reality, of course, is we’re all just trying to get through it. Looking towards spring with great anticipation. We remember green, although never true green. And also, blue. How on those fine summer days it was so thick it slipped inside us as we stood in ice cream shops and reclined by pools.
But here in the middle of winter, blue seems hardly brighter than gray. A bad impression of something faintly remembered. All of it, instead, replaced by a landscape bled dry. So maybe this is about seasons.
I crave an old wooden cookstove. Something to stoke. Such is winter, I suppose, in which each of us feels we must poke at some kind of fire. Something ancient inside of us, always looking for a match, dry timber. For that cracking, splintering sound. I light fires for no reason.
We Ohioans are always saying how much we like the seasons, how we can see the transition from one to the next. But something about the bleakness makes me feel crazy. As if candles aren’t enough and I might, on a whim, burn down my life instead.
And now we must bring it round to a point. Perhaps this is about silence. Or, related, dormancy.
If I were a bear or a perennial, I’d spend the next few months underground, storing up energy for spring, feeding off the reserves of summer and fall. Those things essential to my survival.
Such as sunlight. I’ll capture it and store it in a wooden chest, pull it out and wear it like a fine garment, the fabric — like lemon chiffon — swishing at my feet. Or, instead, rend from the sun all its fat, and fashion it into a fine buttery cream.
I also need the sea. Will fill old pint jars during summer vacation, ankle deep in the breaking surf, the sea floor disappearing beneath my feet. I’ll line them up along dusty wooden shelves in the basement, sweeping aside the upturned bodies of last year’s flies. In February, stand naked on the concrete floor and unscrew the ring. Pry up the metal cap and allow it to breathe like a fine wine, the cellar thick with the pungent aroma of sea salt and gulls. I’ll bow my head and pour the Atlantic down the nape of my neck until it runs into an icy pool at my feet. Ration the jars so there’s one for each month.
As for how to keep green: I’ll sew a quilt of still fresh rhododendron leaves. Thread a needle across the blunt ends, string them together like a garland. Carefully, tuck the next row under the pointed tips of the first, row after row until I’m entirely concealed. Alone, as I so often desire to be.
But what if this is about marriage? About the seasons a marriage must inevitably go through. Warm days of delight and discovery, of bare feet and laughter when everything is as green as a fine spring day. The fleeting yellow-orange heat of summer, those long days run through with blue.
And to look at it from a larger view, what season lasts twenty years? Two decades of commitment, fidelity. Not spring or summer. Autumn then. A time of change, when a marriage bed expands to welcome children. A time in which we’ll need to draw on the reserves of summer. All those jars of seawater to remind us of when we ourselves were free, unburdened, rolling back and forth with the whims of the moon.
It’s always an option to keep it to ourselves: the sun, the sea, a blanket of rhododendron. We can stare at our freedom lined up in dusty jars on a darkened shelf. A reminder. I was something, once.
I am prone to love that which is green and new. The worship of rebirth that makes me feel I want nothing more than to be young forever, over and over again. Loping out of my parents’ house into the July sun and my first boyfriend’s sports car. Bright yellow shorts and a crop top, feet propped up on a blistering dashboard. A boy’s hand instinctively resting on my thigh.
“I love your skin,” he says, running his palm across the still flat plane of my stomach. In a hot car on a side road. It was one kind of being alive. There are others, more resilient. More true.
“I love our kids, our family,” a man says, grabbing my hand. “They make me so happy, we make me so happy.”
And in the cool of the night, when he runs his hand over me, it is instead the softened edges of middle age he finds, the rounded borders of twenty years. His fingers trace the lines splayed across my hips, pathways carved by children who moved through me like glaciers.
And so, another choice. To grab a lover’s hand and descend into the cellar together. Maybe, in an act of gratuitous waste, we’ll open every jar and bathe one another with the Atlantic. And perhaps, if we stand there long enough—all that seawater dripping from our softened edges—we’ll remember what it felt like to be young and naked in the sea together. If we’re lucky, autumn and winter will slip away, and a season will be stolen. A fire stoked, by such care, such delicious waste.
Kelly Fig Smith is an award-winning essayist and a Pushcart nominee. She received an MFA in nonfiction from Lesley University. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Creative Nonfiction Magazine, The Rumpus, Under the Gum Tree and The Washington Post, among others. She is working on her first book, Whale Lines: A Memoir in Essays. Connect with Kelly on Twitter @WhaleLetters and at her website.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Stanley Zimny