I remember the cold night you brought in a pile of logs and a chipmunk jumped off as you lowered your arms. «What do you think you’re doing in here?” you said, as it ran through the living room. It went through the library and stopped at the front door as though it knew the house well. This would be difficult for anyone to believe, except perhaps as the subject of a poem. Our first week in the house was spent scraping, finding some of the house’s secrets, like wallpaper underneath wallpaper. In the kitchen, a pattern of white-gold trellises supported purple grapes as big and round as Ping-Pong balls. When we painted the walls yellow, I thought of the bits of grape that remained underneath and imagined the vine popping through, the way some plants can tenaciously push through anything.
The day of the big snow, when you had to shovel the walk and couldn’t find your cap and asked me how to wind a towel so that it would stay on your head – you, in white towel turban, like a crazy king of snow. People liked the idea of our being together leaving the city for the country. So many people visited, and the fire place made all of them want to tell amazing stories: the child who happened to be standing on the right corner when the door of the ice-cream truck came open and hundreds of Popsicles crashed out; the man standing on the beach, sand sparkling in the sun, one bit glinting more than the rest, stooping to find a diamond ring. Did they talk about amazing things because they thought we’d run into one of them?
Now I think they probably guessed it wouldn’t work it was as hopeless as giving a child a matched cup and saucer. Remember the night, out on the lawn, knee-deep in snow, chins pointed at the sky as the wind whirled down all that whiteness? It seemed that the world had been turned upside down, and we were looking into an enormous field of Queen Anne’s lace. Later, headlights off, our car was the first to ride through the newly fallen snow. The world outside the car looked solarised.
You remember it differently. You remember that the cold settled in stages, that a small curve of light was shaved from the moon night after night, until you were no longer surprised the sky was black, that the chipmunk ran to hide in the dark, not simply to a door that led to its escape. Our visitors told the same stories people always tell. One night, giving me lessons in storytelling, you said, “Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it”
This, then, for drama: I drove back to that house not long ago. It was April, and Allen had died. In spite of all the visitors, Allen, next door, had been the good friend in bad times. I sat with his wife in their living room looking out the grass doors to the backyard, and there was Allen’s pool, still covered with black plastic that had been stretched across it for winter. It had rained, and as the rain fell, the cover collected more and more water until it finally spilled onto the concrete. When I left that day, I drove past what had been our house. Three or four crocuses were blooming in the front – just a few dots of white, no field of snow. I felt embarrassed for them. They couldn’t compete.
This is a story, told the way you say stories should be told: Somebody grew up, fell in love, and spent a winter with her lover in the country. This, of course, is the barest outline, and futile to discuss. It as pointless as throwing birdseed on the ground while snow still falls fast. Who expects small things to survive when even the largest get lost? People forget years and remember moments. Seconds and symbols are left to sum things up: the black shroud over the pool. Love, in its shortest form, becomes a word. What I remember about all that time is one winter.
The snow. Even now, saying “snow”, my lips move so that they kiss the air.
No mention has been made of the snowplow that seemed always to be there, scraping snow off our narrow road – an artery cleared, though neither of us could have said where the heart was.
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