Somewhere in a slate grey morning, fog-deep in the quilts and pillows, they decided to be friends. It was in the middle of her Vonnegut years, (so there was that) but mostly it was a hedge against the growing November darkness. She secretly vowed to learn how to cook (but didn’t mean it) and he considered writing poetry (but didn’t do it.) Mostly, it was buttoned-up coats and kicking leaves, and once, they got lost in their own town when they went walking without watching. Sometimes, they dreamed of dusty old bookshops full of dusty old books with finger-worn pages and faded covers, and they wondered how romantic that would be. But she had a library card, and it was three stops on the bus, so they spent their Saturdays curled in the bedroom, reading books they didn’t have to search for. There was an old-fashioned restaurant, though, with bow-tied waiters and empty tables, that turned the lights on in the late afternoon. It was on the way home, so they would stop there and have hot soup or old world meat pies. Sometimes, they would bring their own candles and would order one dessert with two forks and drank wine — so they could explain things to each other. And that was romantic enough for them. Along the way, he taught her French (because that’s what he did) and she taught him numbers (because that’s what she loved.) After a while, they decided they liked walking in the rain and, forever after, looked forward to cloudy days. Once she went home for her brother’s wedding, and the sun shone large and cold every day, and he missed her and slept on her side of the bed. She brought him back a piece of the cake with a squashed red rose on it. She said she was sorry for squashing the rose, so he ate it to be polite. One Sunday, they decided to go to church (just in case) and one night, for no reason they could remember, they ended up listening to French jazz in a damp basement club. Occasionally, they would have other adventures as well, but they both knew they mostly preferred buttoned-up coats and walking in the rain – so that’s what they mostly did. Even after she got over Kurt Vonnegut and got a job teaching mathematics; even after they moved to a bigger apartment; even after they were married and had children and bought a car and had to cut the grass and had regular vacations; even after the years scattered behind them like autumn leaves in the November breeze. Even after all that, the thing they loved the most was buttoned-up coats and walking in the rain — because one slate grey morning, fog-deep in the quilts and pillows, they decided to be friends.
Yesterday, I felt the smell of autumn in the air — like an unexpected someone from the past with time on her hands and memories to tell. Because we remember autumn, she and I — fresh days and school books and sacred secrets so tender you could cut them with a glance. Long afternoons dark with broken hearts and lingering poetry no one will ever read. And she and autumn spoke as though the years were stored in cardboard boxes, dusty, glue-dried and sagging. Then, at the end, she said she’d missed me and kissed me on the cheek in the glove-cold street of the autumn afternoon, because …
Autumn is the long notes of the last jazz piano when the café is closed and only the serious remain, sitting like abandoned angels unable to fly. And there, somewhere in the final tales of lingering whiskey, they wonder if second-hand love could possibly redeem them.
Autumn is a park bench moist with morning, waiting like a reluctant traveller who’s been left behind. And there’s a puddle, quiet with reflection and a footprint and floating leaves leftover from the wind. And the worn letter plaque tells no one but the sky that Arthur Wilson liked to walk his dog.
Autumn is stone empty streets slanted with light from the windows of strangers. But you keep walking because you don’t know if they’re warm with conversations, or silent with despair.
Autumn is a movie, old and familiar, when the outside night is bony and brittle and full of the dark. So you pour the wine in the kitchen and break the chocolate onto a plate. And you cozy into your one-light twilight and wait for the melancholy.
And autumn is a black-and-white San Fran foggy night, heavy with crime. He’s turned his collar high so only his eyes can see her, standing in the silhouette shadows, sinister with deceit. And he knows (because he always knows) that she will walk away, and the sound of her footsteps will be his only souvenir.
The “Life is a journey” cliché has been done to death — but it’s there and I’m lazy, so what the hell! People say life is a journey, and it is — but it’s not a straight-and-narrow, or a super highway or even a twisty backroad to heaven. It’s a wilderness, and we poor mortals are forced to navigate it the best way we know how. That’s why our more than benevolent society gives us signposts. These are big, simple, well-lit markers that we can clearly see as we’re speeding along at 200 KPH, going – uh – wherever it is we’re all going.
When we’re babies, the first signpost we get is “NO!” This keeps us away from dangerous stuff, disgusting stuff and stuff we really shouldn’t put in our mouth. Easy! But it doesn’t take us long to discover that some “no’s” are more important than others. For example, when we ignore, “No, don’t pull kitty’s tail!” we end up with lacerations. However, “No, don’t throw your food on the floor.” Is nothing serious. (After all, cleanup is not our problem.)
From there, the signposts get a little trickier. Sure “Play nice!” is relatively easy, but “Share!” comes with a double-edged sword. There isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t run into the “share” conundrum. Meanwhile, this is when we realize that — even though the world is full of signposts — some people don’t feel any obligation to observe them. It’s a hard lesson when we’ve “shared” our cupcake with Sally, but Sally has decided to keep her cookies to herself.
Then the signposts start coming faster, and they’re a lot more complicated. We learn there are certain words that are off limits, even though they’re surprisingly fun to say and actually quite common during times of parental stress. We also learn “Don’t lie!” This is a biggie. However, it comes with a number of caveats that aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye. For example, Uncle Jake’s Special Spaghetti Sauce might honestly taste like dirt, but if you say so there will be consequences. Here’s where we find out that even though the path is always clearly marked, on occasion, life is a lot easier if we simply look the other way.
Teenage years are full of signposts that are basically contradictory. “You’re young: have fun!” is diametrically opposed to “You need to study, or you’ll end up a crack whore like your cousin Jerry.” Plus, we’re starting to get the feeling that some signposts are deliberately misleading. Some, like “Algebra is important!” are there to keep us on the path whether we like it or not, and others, like “YOLO,” are trying to lure you into the weeds. Then there’s the uber dangerous “Ahh, come on! It’ll be fun!” which can go either way. Follow this one too far and you could end up either hosting multi-level marketing seminars in your living room or sittin’ in an alley somewhere, smokin’ crack with your cousin Jerry. It can happen! Luckily, most of us manage to get through the 12-to-20 labyrinth and come out the other side as Adults. And here’s where things settle down a bit.
As adults, we all see life’s signposts, and we all kinda know which direction we’re going. Plus, even though we sometimes don’t admit it, we all know where the edge of the path is. Mainly because, at some point in our lives, we’ve screwed up and found ourselves stumbling around in the weeds. It’s not very pleasant. That’s why, even though “Love thy neighbour” doesn’t apply to Fang, the 24/7 Death Metal music freak down the street, we don’t go down there and beat him over the head with his sub-woofer. That’s off the path, over the hill and down the other side. And we know if we go out there, there’s always a chance we won’t find our way back. So, from time to time, we might covet our neighbour’s wife and her ass, and maybe even her riding lawnmower but we don’t do anything about it. We just glance up at the signpost, look at the snarl of brambles and thorns and weeds beyond it, and roll over and go back to sleep.