Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sweet Memory


I tried to tell you again last night, Lila. You were sitting in the blue chair by the fireplace. It wasn’t cold, but it was damp, and you insisted on the fire. I am used to it now, your tendency to be cold unless you’re soaked in the garden sun. With your head bent over your book and a loose strand of hair curled against your shoulder, I could see you as you used to be and it made me ache. I said your name, you smiled at me, and I remembered the first time I noticed you. You were across the room and I was riveted, like a scene in some ridiculous movie. You wore a gauzy pink dress and smiled at me with a fresh, dark-eyed loveliness. We didn’t exchange a word, but I dreamed about you every night that week.

I lay in bed awake for a long time this morning. I hardly sleep anymore. But you, you’ve always slept like a rock. I used to wake up hungry in the middle of the night when you first started staying with me. We sometimes forgot to eat dinner. When I returned to bed you were always awake, murmuring questions in your soft, quiet way. Today I slipped out of bed, trying hard not to wake you. Just as I stood, the sun peeked through the curtains. You opened your eyes and looked at me, your face still and calm. I thought I should tell you then, but instead I kissed you and went out to the kitchen to make you some tea.

We’re having a beautiful spring. Your daffodils bloom in our front yard, filling the slope with riotous color. The woodpeckers and cardinals flock to the feeder you hung in the blackjack oak and the little juncos gather on the ground below. Every year, I watch you delight in nature’s rebirth as a child does. I think I’d miss it all if not for you. I hope the hummingbirds return soon. I want you to tell me how the female builds her nest, no bigger than the bowl of a spoon, with moss and lichen and bits of spider web.

The spring always reminds me of that first year we spent together in this old house. It was high summer when we moved and it took us some time to get settled. The people who lived here before ripped out all the bushes and flowerbeds and never got around to replacing them. It was a hot summer, too hot to work in the yard, I said. You told me that was nonsense and proceeded to dig a curvy trench along the front of the house. You told me I didn’t need to help. I never met a more stubborn person in all of my life. The next morning and many mornings after, I followed you outside in the cool of the early dawn. We stripped turf, laid sand, and built a wall of stacked rock inside your curvy trench. It took three car trunks full of bagged dirt to fill up the bed. By the time we finished, the weather turned and we were afraid to plant much. You found mixed bulbs in big brown paper bags on sale at the garden center. Once you lined the bed, you started digging holes out on the slope. I was never so glad to see that first frost before. I love those daffodils.

I lived alone a long time before I met you. Even after your first husband died, you always lived with someone else. Your parents, a roommate, your children, then me. I used to wonder how you did it. After a while, I realized you could be alone in a room full of people. You seem to prefer a kind of companionable solitude. I noticed it today. While we lingered over our breakfast, you gazed out the window. I wondered what you were thinking. Maybe planning a trip or deciding what to plant where the old shed used to stand. It seemed like an offense to intrude on your thoughts.

My daughter visited this afternoon. I watched the two of you prepare dinner while I pretended to read. You talked so much it took twice as long as usual for you to make a salad. She told you about her new job, her old boyfriend, and the bed she bought for her guest room. You left mid-sentence to get her a quilt and some lace-trimmed pillowcases you made. For her, you said, but I know you made them for our bed. When I met your eyes and lifted my eyebrow, you blushed, and I let you get away with it. I wonder how long it will take you to make another set. While we eat dinner, I think about telling both of you but I don’t want to spoil her visit. It was such a good conversation.

After dinner, you pulled up your hair, poured a glass of wine, then went outside to fuss over your roses. I walked into our office to work. I spent most of my time watching you clip and prune the Blue Boy outside the window. Such a funny name for a rose that’s really more lavender colored. I can’t reliably remember my daughter’s birthday, but I always remember the name of that rosebush. It’s your favorite. You moved away from the window to another bush and I couldn’t watch you anymore. I decided to work. The desk we use is really a dining room table, old and large with lots of leaves and a sheet of glass over the top. My chair sits on one side and yours on the other. I think it’s my favorite room in the house. From where I am, I can see your books in the shelves by the window, arranged by author in alphabetical order. Mine are piled in the cabinet behind me in no order whatsoever. We tried to share our bookshelves once. It didn’t last long. After the most ridiculous fight of our lives, you very sensibly moved all my books into cabinets so you could close the doors. I swore I’d buy more bookshelves but I never got around to doing it. Secretly, it makes me smile every time I have to open a door to find one of my books.

I work and so do you but our lives are here in this house. I wander through the rooms and slowly realize you are everywhere. There are traces of me, sure, especially in the den. The movie collection you rarely touch over there by the television, the shelves of old vinyl records beside the stereo. My ratty bachelor sofa hidden under slipcovers you sewed because you couldn’t stand to part with the only good piece of furniture I owned. In the kitchen, there’s the table you painted and your mother’s china cabinet. Our guest room holds your grandfather’s bed covered with a chenille bedspread your mother bought you as a child. In the bedroom we share, the nightstand is the only way I can tell which side of the bed is mine. Your glasses lay neatly on top of the novel you’re reading and my table overflows with books and papers, my wallet and change, and the various items I collect in my pockets. The little living room that looks over the front yard is filled with the things you had when I met you. There’s a chaise longue—the most ridiculous piece of furniture I’ve ever seen—delicate, armless chairs and dark tables with curved feet and pie crust edges all sitting on an oriental rug. It’s a pretty, feminine room and it always smells like you.

You finally came back in. It’s too dark to work outside now and you’re drawing a bath. I heard you pour another glass of wine and turn on some old Fiona Apple. The day’s nearly gone and a new week starts tomorrow. Still, I haven’t found the words to tell you we need to begin to say our goodbyes.

I got lost on my way home from work again last week. I need to remember to use the GPS. One day last month, I drove across town to see my mother. I didn’t remember she had died until I turned off my car. I sat in some stranger’s driveway and cried. I’ve been losing things for months and I forget words, ordinary words like the names of objects, all the time. There’s a fog in my brain some days and other times I’m fine. But I know it’s coming. I knew before the doctor told me. I don’t want to forget, Lila. I’ll keep writing, keep reading, try hard to keep you in my mind a little longer. I know I should tell you. Every once in a while, I catch you looking at me with a strange expression on your face. I wonder if you're worried. You deserve to know. But it makes me so sad, and if I tell you, it will be real. Maybe I’ll find the words tomorrow.


The beautiful art on this post courtesy of Julian Merrow-Smith. See more of his work at Postcard from Provence.

3 comments:

Toni said...

You have a real gift. A plus work. I could see the whole story in color as I read.

Pamela said...

made me sad..... !

John McHale said...

Wow. You painted amazing pictures in my mind.a beautiful love story tied to the inevitable coming of winter.great job. It was really movIng to me.