Sunday, July 31, 2011
You know the moment, the one when something is over, but you won’t accept it. You say it was because the person had one too many bad things happen that day, or the stars were misaligned in the heavens (that darned Mercury has gone retrograde again), that this too shall pass if you just hang in there long enough—but you know, you know it’s really over. You know, when you look back, that was the moment it was over, even though it may have hung on with a death rattle for some period of time.
It was to have been a vacation, a time to relax, re-group, find each other in the solitude of the mountains, sequestered away in a tiny cabin lit by kerosene lantern and heated by a wood-burning stove. Nothing for miles around but the red-tailed hawks and ravens soaring overhead, ancient redwood trees piercing the sky, the breeze sighing through their boughs. Or the onyx sky at night studded with shining chips of light million of miles away.
She’d been bearish from problems at work. I’d been snappish and irritable trying to make our meager incomes stretch to cover our more opulent out-go. She refused to compromise. I stopped talking. We both knew we were being stupid, but mulishly held our ground. This might have been the moment, but it wasn’t.
Having that sixth sense about each other, I looked over my shoulder toward to kitchen doorway, sensing her presence. What I saw was an olive, impaled on a toothpick, being waved slowly back and forth. I giggled. “Are you extending an olive branch?” She nodded sheepishly, walked over, stood behind me, and wrapped her arms about me in her version of an apology. I melted into the familiarness of her. “Me too,” I whispered.
We agreed on a weekend away, to close up the cabin for the on-coming winter. It would be our last trip up for the summer. She had inherited the cabin when her parents died two years prior. It was full of childhood memories that made her eyes moisten with nostalgia. It was full of young adult memories of girlfriends brought there to be wooed, which made her smile rakishly. It was full of memories of three springs ago when she proposed to me in a sleeping bag on the deck under the redwood canopy.
The drive up the twisting mountain road was excruciating. She would tell you it was exhilarating. With the windows open and the radio blaring, she sang along in her off-key sort of way to whatever was “pop” at the time. My stomach lurched with each hairpin curve. I checked in the mirror on the flip side of the visor to see if I looked as green as I felt.
“Could we pull off for a moment? I feel ill,” I said.
“Nowhere to pull off, sweetie. Mountain on my side, steep cliff to the ocean on yours. C’mon, join me on the chorus.” She turned the volume up a notch. This might have been the moment, but it wasn’t.
We arrived at the cabin as the sun set between mountain peaks. It would be light enough for the next half hour to see our way clearly into the cabin, light the lanterns, gather bedding and reassemble it on the deck. A perfect night for sleeping under the stars.
She was quiet, perhaps lost in memories, as we moved about in concert with one another, opening windows, shaking out quilts, flicking at cobwebs with the feather duster. I fed crumpled paper into the belly of the stove and added handfuls of kindling while she brought in an armload of well-seasoned oak for the fire. I made several trips to the car bringing in pre-packed food for our dinner and breakfast. She dragged the old double-sized mattress out onto the deck. We did “domestic” rather well, I thought.
“I’m famished,” I said as she stoked the fire. I poured a Tupperware container of chicken vegetable soup into the big pot on top of the stove, and while it heated, sliced a loaf of French bread. She parceled out two helpings of tossed green salad into bowls, sliced and squeezed a lemon over the greens.
“Anything wrong?” I asked. She still hadn’t spoken.
“Hmm? Oh, no. No, just settling in,” she smiled warmly. “Soup’s on,” she said, ladling the fragrant concoction into pottery bowls liberated from the kitchen cupboard. I opened a bottle of Chardonnay, and poured us each a glass. “Love you,” she said, as we clicked glasses.
We ate in companionable silence while outside the frogs and crickets provided mood music for a dreamless sleep. After dinner, we wash, dried, and replaced the dishes. By the light of two lanterns we each claimed our favorite overstuffed chair and sunk into the reading material we’d brought along—a novel with a truly twisted plot for me, and for her, an instruction pamphlet for assembling the battery-operated tot car she’d purchased for her niece’s birthday the next week.
“Hunh,” I muttered. We often shared comments while reading, turning a singular activity into something resembling parallel play.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I didn’t see that coming,” I said. “This author is a master of plot twist.” I smiled appreciatively and continued reading.
“What the . . .” she sighed with frustration. I glanced over at her, raised my eyebrows in question. “Half of these directions are in Japanese. Why would they think I could read Japanese?” she huffed. “I give up.” She tossed the pamphlet onto the floor. “I’ll get the bedding for the mattress. You ready to turn in?” I nodded, placed a marker in my book, grabbed one of the lanterns, and took it out to the deck.
Elbows on the deck railing, I listened to the step-crunch of a deer making its way down the path toward the creek, and peered out into the darkness. I could see nothing beyond the small circle of light cast by the lantern. The world could have stopped just beyond that perimeter. The thought was both frightening and cozy.
I turned when I heard her step through the door, her arms loaded with blankets and pillows. Her chin held the top pillow in place, a disembodied head. Within the circumference of light, our eyes locked. Time stopped. The distance between us, not more than three yards, became a chasm. We neither smiled, nor frowned at this awareness. This was that moment.
“I’m never coming back here with you, am I?” I asked, although it was a statement. A chill that had nothing to do with the balmy night, passed through me.
“No,” she said, quietly, resignedly. “I’m sorry.”