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.
Nothing prepares you for the quantity of love. The words of the poets are only sips at the fountain, forever overflowing. The songs of the minstrels cupfuls you might carry away. And even the tales of happily ever after we tell are merely quenching moments. For love is vast, beyond endless, and no one who slips into its waters can see its depths.
Sylvia Harrow had spent the lazy Wisconsin summer bathing in it like a pampered Eastern princess. Lounging leg long, submerged to her shoulders in warm and wet, her head back in conscious sleep, lost in the languor of what could be their dreams. And she would slide forward, slowly sinking, denying her instincts, letting the water touch her face, hold her hair, cover her mouth until she closed her eyes and willingly, wantonly allowed herself to drown. And lying there full still, soundless, the water told her that she was the Venus he said she was. She was the one fantasy she saw in the want of his eyes. The moment of naked desire that only the two of them would ever know. And he, flawed perfection, was the one enough she had ever wanted, the aching hunger she had glimpsed more than once but had never fully seen. He was the never alone again, the warm regular breathing bed, the first touch and the last kiss goodnight. And then she would raise her head like an emerging goddess and feel the wet run down her face, shake her heavy hair, point her painted toes and, mouth half-closed, gasp a breath as if it was the finish of the world.
Sylvia loved being loved and being overpowered by it, but she knew that, slowly upon slowly, the water would cool, the mirror glass surface murk with age, and the steamy mists fade on the breeze of years. There was no naïve that could convince her otherwise. But she also knew, deep in the forever sound of his idle laugh, the step she knew from far away and the single scent of him on the pillow, that this would be enough. What she felt right now would be enough to fill their life with eternity and the waters that surrounded them would always reflect the stars, splash with the rain, freeze and thaw and sparkle in the brilliant sunrise sunshine.