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.
Autumn — Part 1
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.
I may have mentioned in these pages that I’m not very fond of summer. As my least favourite season, I’ve even been known to complain about it. Plus, every year around Labour Day, I jump the gun and start singing the praises of autumn. And – well – this year isn’t going to be any different, except … I have a confession to make. The summer of 2020 hasn’t been all that bad. That’s right, the worst summer this planet has seen since Marvin the Mongolian brought his pet rats to Genoa in 1347, was actually not as godawful as originally advertised. Hold it! Before you start gathering the torches and pitchforks, hear me out! Here are a few reasons why, even though the Summer 2020 isn’t anything I ever want to do again, it was certainly better than expected.
1 – People kept their clothes on. Normally, summers are awash with untethered flesh, wiggling and jiggling and … “Oh, God! My Eyes!” I don’t know what happened, but somehow a lot of us started channeling our inner dignity.
2 – We discovered what the word “brave” really means, and it’s got nothing to do with some celebrity playing victim on Twitter for twenty minutes.
3 – And speaking of celebrities, wasn’t it cool when they all shut up and went home?
4 – There were more regular people on the streets — walking, running, riding their bikes — and even though they kept their distance, they were friendly. Neighbours waved to each other, asked how things were going and called each other by their first names. (I didn’t even know the guy down the street had a name.)
5 – There was, on occasion, quiet. The parks and beaches and backyards weren’t constantly haunch to paunch with obnoxious crowds of loudmouths, cremating their meat to the 4,000 decimal beat of a heart/lung machine that somebody once mistakenly called “music.”
6 – It didn’t feel quite so hot without those penis envy motorcycles roaring through the afternoon like recently castrated lions.
7 – Zoom
8 – Professional sports didn’t show up until later, so we didn’t have to endure an endless, meaningless, boring parade of nobody-cares-who-wins baseball games.
9 – We all began finding out how much junk we’ve accumulated over the years, and not just useless household junk — emotional junk, lifestyle junk, ideas junk, even people junk. Last spring our world got ambushed and a bunch of stuff changed, so most of us have spent the summer — consciously or unconsciously — reassessing what’s important in our lives and what’s just junk.
And because of that:
10 – Even though it might not feel good right now, the best thing to happen this summer is a lot of people started thinking about, talking about and trying to do something about things that actually matter.