Don’t they, the eponymous anonymous, always say to write what you know? In that case, this might be the truest thing I’ve ever written. It very well might be the best.
It was the mood that changed. Not the light, although the sun was setting, and not the volume, thought the world was subdued as night fell. It was the mood.
She sat silently, hands folded primly on close-pressed knees. Around her the shadows melted together and the mood mellowed, from a frigid stillness to a whimsical melancholy, mellowing into a rich, full-bodied regret. The pale pink room had once suited her, but now she sat it in rarely. Tonight was an exception brought on by the soft red and blue of an international letter. It sat, unopened, to her right, on a table covered in doilies rescued from a cast-off sale after someone’s grandmother had died. The slightly frayed, off-white doilies reminded her of her own grandmother, and all the missed opportunities she embodied. It was fitting that the letter, fraught with its own missed opportunities, sat there. She was in no hurry.
Instead, she took in the room, slowly, as one does when one wants to absorb all of the moment. She noted the orange light of the sun, and how it scattered pretty rays through the dancing dust motes. She knew if she went outside she would see the grander version of this light breaking through the larger dust motes of clouds. “God-light,” she remembered with a cocked head and smile. She raised her hand to swirl it through the motes and light, and watched as the wind currents changed and encouraged the dust to different directions, where it had been and come from and gone again. There was a metaphor lost in those thoughts, and that thought brought another half-smile.
The silver caught in the light. It needed to be polished; it always needed to be polished. The ridges and valley’s in the metal made it difficult to keep clean. The stones still sat in their loose but-not-to setting, catching occasionally in bright light. Still, after all these years, she wore it, because what else was she going to do? Take it off and hide it in the back of a jewelry box, where she would see it every year as she cleaned out all the jewelry never worn? It would break her rule of less, the rule that said if it wasn’t used, worn or looked at it after a year’s time, it went. Sell it? There was no one who’d pay what it was worth, and few who’d understand how she could place so much value in such a cheap piece of metal and stones to begin with. No, wearing it was the only option for someone who refused to let go, give up or give in. At times the wearing caused regrets of its own, but they were fleeting and temporary and ultimately prevented things that would have caused more harm in the end.
“All the musings in the world won’t change the fact that it still needs cleaning,” she thought, considering getting up to clean it. But getting up would be avoiding the issue, and the ring wasn’t going to become any more dirty in the next hour or however long it took her to make her way towards that letter, and cleaning it could make things worse. The last time she cleaned the ring, she ended up in bed for three days, overcome with memory and grief.
Her hands settled back in her lap, folded in that precise manner over her knees. Several teachers, over several years, had tried to break her of that habit, but it was ingrained for reasons she didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t the normal way to fold ones hands, in a typical interlaced pattern, but instead the fingers touched the palm of the opposing hand and then grasped, giving her a very prim resting position.
She was not at rest now.
“Why now?” she wondered, yet still did not move to find out.
By now the God-light had faded, the room falling closer to dusk. The wind was picking up, and pushing the oak leaves back and forth in a gentle pattern outside the window. The moving shadows created animated patterns across the wall. They had often laid together here, piled on the couch in a manner that only comes comfortably to couples well accustomed to one another’s bodies, and daydreamed as the sun set and the leaves blew across the walls and ceilings. They’d listen to the wind, or soft music, and tell each other inspired stories. That leaf, the one over there, all alone and trying to get back home. The family of leaves there with the proud father and harried mother and brood of smaller leaves. The one here, floating gently away from all the rest, spinning out on its own. At fall, with the harvest of nuts and happy squirrels, their stories turned towards ones of the change of seasons. One of them would inevitably bring up the story of the grasshopper and the ant; it varied, depending on the year. Some years, she was the righteous ant, prepared for the upcoming months of cold, and other years, he was the ant so well-prepared and she was the flighty grasshopper.
In the end, she had been the grasshopper, caught unprepared by the cold and storm. And like the last bits of summer, he had blown far, far away, and she was in the dead of winter, wondering.
There is a point that comes in the deepest part of winter, when the days are short and the nights long and cold. The world is wrapped in gray wool, wet and wrung and quiet. People, plants and animals have all hunkered down in their various stages of hibernation; they’re all waiting for the same thing. At this deepest part of winter, the collective world shudders and exhales, and all wonder the same thing: will spring ever arrive?
She was afraid of the letter. She was afraid of its contents, of whether it would signal the end of her so long winter, or if it were an indication of more to come. She wasn’t sure she could bear any more cold; it occurred to her that it might be simpler to simply not ever read it, to keep the potential promise of spring in alive. But that would be avoiding the issue as much as cleaning the ring would be.
Her right hand rest gently on the letter and she imagined his hand there, resting after addressing it. How had he known she’d still be here? Had he checked, or simply guessed? Did he linger over her name, wondering if it was still the same? Did his fingers trace the outline with any sort of longing, or was it addressed in a hurry and dumped in the out-going mail before a mind could change? She traced her fingers as she imagined he might have, through the gentle whorls of the address, and told herself that rushed letters never formed such soft curves.
Slowly, she picked the letter up, still imagining what he might have done. She ran her lips along the sealed edge, wondering if his tongue had traced gently along that glue to moisten it. She tried to catch his scent in the paper, but if it had been there it was gone. Did he hold the letter to the light, like she did, looking through the envelope to catch meaning from the contents without opening it? Did he press it to his face before he mailed it, as she pressed it now, and hoped she knew a part of him was with it then? Did he think anything at all, or was there just another gust of cold waiting for the opening?
Picking up her letter opener, she decided it was time to find out. Slowly she ran the knife along the seam so probably kissed by his lips, until she stopped as she always did, nicking her finger enough to draw pain but not blood. “A bit of pain to prevent unreal moments,” she whispered as she drew the letter from its cage.
She paused another moment for composure, laying the opened envelope to the side. As the final moments of daylight slid from the sky, she opened the folded note and looked for signs of spring.