Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Late Summer


I am at the kitchen sink, scrubbing dishes, staring out the window at the rock doves and the lone chickadee pecking at the bird seed strewn across the gravel drive.  As I stand transfixed, mounds of suds pile high above the scalding water, popping and melting, speared by tendrils of steam.  On the high grassy bank behind our house, the ugly dead stalks of this summer’s lupines slouch like broken spines into the long wavy grass and the spent lilies.  Fallen apples litter the walk up the hill to the yard where the freshly mown lawn conceals vast armies of ticks (I discovered that the hard way when dozens tried to make friends with me).  The old oak stands twisted and sorry, with rusty chains hanging from the remnants of branches, creaking and squeaking whenever the wind blows.  And scattered about round the base are bits and fragments of board, the derelict treehouse, shattered on the earth and shaded by the crackly dry leaves of the massive, rotten limb that fell one windless day. 

Hazy shadows catch the waning sunlight and spin realms of gold to tinge the broken horizon with strange and breath-taking beauty.  What a mastery of colors—the complexion of the sky in late summer.  The warm dishwater on my hands is cozy against the backdrop of chill and impending winter.  Of all seasons, this one is most glorious. 

I turn my head toward the big picture window behind me with its fish-bowl view of the main thoroughfare.  Cars zip past the gas station across from our house, honking their greetings to the world.  As the haunting wail of a siren ricochets through the tight little valley, the river picks up the sad song and carries the melody.  Long after the ambulance is past, the last few notes linger in the air.  Faithful J. cleans up dark, oily stains on the frost-buckled pavement as old fishermen perform their daily ritual, topping off their tanks and buying a paper.  Dogs bark impatiently from driver’s seat windows as owners converse beneath hesitant streetlights.  So much input, so much wonder in this one place.  So many people, so many histories, so many births and deaths and one-true-loves.  This evening has me dreaming in poetry. 

I move back to the sink and my view of the lawn and the treehouse.  The piled dishes wait patiently.  Of course, I could plow through them faster if I wanted to, but each rhythmic scrubbing motion is another chord in the strain of this evening.  Besides, I’m being silly, like I always am when I’m alone in the house.  I have the Civil Wars playing, and I’m singing my heart out, harmonizing with the CD, filling in the gaps between lyrics with my own renditioning.  I may sound terrible—I don’t care.  It’s fun.  After all, you don’t own an album until you make it personal, until you feel each note in your very bones.  So I sing with Joy Williams and John Paul White about wanting to leave, and burning walls, and loving an outlaw.  I sing about faithless Henry and how years burn.  And I cry when I sing Sacred Heart. 

I travel the world in this twilight of solitude.  I daydream; I go starry-eyed.  I see the wooden chairs at the table, and I inwardly roam through great forests of spruce and pine, or vast jungles full of draping vines and lurking monsters.  I think again of Tarzan.  And all the while my mind moves on a thousand other tracks as well.  What would it be like if I were the only person left on earth, if this whole realm was my dominion and mine alone?  Growing up, I loved Z for Zachariah and The Time Machine and the countless stories of smallness and lonesomeness and genius.  Wouldn’t it be great, I think to myself, wouldn’t it be fun if I bought a whole heap of canned foods and hid out in the forest somewhere for a year, subsisting only on my meager stock of provisions?  Talk about a weight loss program.  But just imagine the adventure.  On the other hand, I could simply read about it in a book while I sip my coffee or eat my ice cream or brew my own root beer.  Now there’s a thought. 

I could sail on the high seas and fight pirates, circumnavigating the world accompanied only by an oversized rat and a sickly pelican with a box of crackers to share between us.  Maybe a vacation home in Hawaii would be an excellent spot, preferably overlooking a live volcano.  The prairie calls to me, and the desert.  Wide open skies and dry ground and red rocks, they beckon my soul.  I am entranced.  I could go back to Africa and live there again.  Or I could just write about it, safe in my cozy, little Alpine cottage, all scented with wood fires and the mingled aromas of baking bread and rosemary chicken.  My books would be there too, to line the walls and keep me company when loneliness is dreadful instead of wonderful. 

Or you know what, I’ve always wanted to be a spy.  It’s not too late now to join the CIA, is it?  Really, though, I think I’d much rather sit back and read The Gallagher Girls.  Or maybe I could be an astronaut.  But then there’s always Star Trek. 

I stare out the window, only to see my face reflected back at me.  At some point the light behind me brightened while the world before went dark.  Glaring bulbs obscure the nighttime splendor and the now empty driveway.  A shade would be nice, something to block out the lonely void, but the window over the kitchen is bare.  The house is smaller now, with inkiness cocooning it.  Oh, the unforgiveable speed of time. 

I finish with the dishes, dry my hands, and spread a towel over them to keep the dust at bay.  Shivering, I close the creamy curtain over the picture window and block out the gas station.  On the island sits a bowl of home-harvested tomatoes, and I pick through them, selecting the ripest.  I even grab a green one, because I’ve never tried them green before, and newness is good.  Beside the chimney, the clock ticks mournfully as I fry the tomatoes and fill the air with garlic and thyme and rosemary.  I sprinkle pepper and sneeze just for the fun of it.  I am in love with life. 

Sizzling contentedly, the tomatoes fry down into a goop, and still I sing.  You’d think my voice would be gone by now, but the music carries it past all realms of reason and endurance into forever.  Defying the heat and the oil, the green slices of unripe fruit (or is it a vegetable) refuse to soften, and the sides begin to burn and brown.  At last I turn off the burner and stow the cooking away for later when my family is back and ready to eat.  And I sit down at the kitchen table to write, but as my pen rises poised above the paper, headlights crawl up the steep driveway and the sound of a revving engine fills the tiny room.  They are home.  Time for reality.  I slip away my notebook and store these beautiful moments for later, later when the world is small and lonely and ugly, later when I need to remember how much in love I was today. 

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