Late fall in New England is a time of year when the light comes down in flat beams and filters through the red pines as spark points; glancing off the frost that decorates the grounds of the light-studded medical cities. For a six-sided second I feel like I'm back in the haunted Piedmonts, a decorated major in the Japanese Inner Space Program, renewing my vow to bear down on the truth even if there is none for the hundredth time.
That was when I took notice of this woman around town in a Baltimore haircut and a body that made people behave with the same self-cautiousness they do around beehives. Rumor is the true metro section of small towns. Our mill in those years was mainly run by a man named Harper Sidney. After the accidental murder of his wife with an amateur firework display he had been adjudicated to being shunned. In the loneliness of those days that followed he took to gossip between passing out (his favorite form of travel). He was like a lamb that just tumbled out of a folk song smelling like arson.
Anyway, there were two stories I had heard about this woman who began to wander into more and more of my unoccupied thoughts. One contained the reason she began the year-round wear of an ankle length Donegal Tweed was to conceal a Twigg pistol she enjoyed carrying around town. The same kind of flintlock pistol used to kill so many Redcoats around these hills long ago.
The other concerned a dinner party she had thrown for a small assortment of friends. In this story, upon being seated the invited looked around in silent confusion at a fully set dinner table of uncooked food. Even as the host attempted to set the table on fire they remained concealed in the emotionless poise of a finishing school valedictorian as they exited. It was the kind of wordless single file synchronicity elementary teachers fantasize of when they have that fire drill dream again.
Of course those stories have never been confirmed but the one I am telling you now is real. It was a winter scene set in the candlelight vigil quiet of a small town miles apart from any New England metropolis. Fate or random traffic patterns made it so one Saturday we stood side by side at a crosswalk.
This was the closest I had ever been to her. It would only be seconds before the light would change.
(Quick background note: I wasn’t the kid the others confidently tasked to take the game winning shot and truthfully these past fifteen years I have only grown more comfortable standing on the outskirts of the action and observing from a pressureless perch.)
There I was and sorta wasn’t. I had the presence of a hologram. She had this magical scent that placed my mind in the time of Eisenhower era cocktails. The cross light changed to a color that reminds people of kidney problems. She turned her face westward at a crookedly hung 4pm sun. I looked eastbound. Just past her face hoping a car was tearing towards the intersection at a speed that conveyed the obviousness to all bystanders: it was too late to stop now. Why had I wished for the overtime of another wasted opportunity? I don’t know but suddenly it occurred to me that the horizon is really your eye’s decision.
As we stepped off the curb I turned and said, “this is the time of year when the region is at peace with itself.” She turned her face away until the impulse to laugh subsided. I had been right of course. I already saw it happen in the slide projector's cone of light dust. In innumerable November skies that had hovered over our lives in the dark of the sun’s unemployment. Or days we walk through disoriented from déjà vu as if we stumbled upon the abandoned set of our favorite childhood television show.
She and I walked on talking. All the way out to the clay bank where someone had wired crows into the curtain rod hung sky. We stayed together until night had marred the last pixels of skylight. We stayed at each other’s side like you see people do in portraits. As the years tended to accordion everyone’s lives we managed to find our way back to each other again and again.
Most people recede into compromise from the disappointment of chasing what they once thought they wanted. So many people you meet with the walls behind their eyes like strange mathematical mountains whose base we only sit playing our native keyboards and rinsing our teeth with digital snow. It is enough to make you believe that the inscription above the portal describes this side, not the next.
Few people know that George Washington's favorite song was 'The Darby Ram,' or ever stop to think that before he was welded into a statue of history that he got the hiccups and danced alone in his room. All the human things, you know? He must have been scared too when he fought in the woods. Hiding in the dormant Christmas trees his hand gripping the black walnut musket stock.
In those times as well as these we turn to the specifics of a gamelan orchestra of too many nights looking for transport and release. I remember them too. Vomiting near the hind legs of a car or listening to new cassettes but really just searching for some sign of human residence here beneath the justifiably uncelebrated Massachusetts sky.
That treasured early work brought the sad peace of our houses into adulthood. I hope that if you carried that as well you also got to spend time in the calm forecast of happiness too. There’s always days sadness relentlessly descends like a game of Space Invaders. There will always be days we get overwhelmed by the urge to run off and live with the plants in some antiseptic phylum. If you are lucky there’s also days you realize it was for her sails that you had saved all your breath for.
She was gifted with a beautiful voice. All her life people told her she should work for the phone company. Talent scouts from several competing phone companies came to her high school ‘Career Day’ to recruit. She died suddenly without warning. For a very long time after, I would call our old number just to hear her tell me, “this line has been disconnected.” Just to hear her tell me it is true.