It is that time of year. It has dawned on me…although this is hardly the right expression. The night has advanced into the afternoon, evening now much like the black construction paper that materialized around grade school Halloweens. It is cold, this is part of what’s happening. There is hardly any cold in the central Californian cold, I concede this. Still, there is enough of it to force one away from the windows. Particularly mine, single-pane glass dating from the 1950s. Still, for sheer atmospherics, there is something to be said for these old pre-energy-consciousness bits of fenestration. They bring a bit of the winter inside, heightening the effect, and one would otherwise forget.
Cozy is the result. Or the possibility. My mother seemed to come to life in the winter months in the desert. She made soup. Do I recall her boiling a beef bone in the pot? Almost. Yes, she must have done this, and cut up vegetables, simmering the whole mixture in a large pot on the stove. It is hard to say if my mother disliked cooking, being so turbulent and emotionally off kilter much of the year. Clearly, she did not dislike it all the time, for these pots of soup sprang to life on their own, her expression of the gray skies hanging over the chaparral. Garlic, I am certain there was a certain amount of garlic, doubtless onion, and certainly diced carrots. The soup was good, and the feeling of hearth most tangible and welcome. On such days, the vapors of our bubbling dinner fogged the windows. We ate at the kitchen table, the north-facing glass obscured with a runny gray much like the rainy windshield of a car. However welcome, this soup dinner table experience feels unfamiliar. Perhaps we did not do this particularly often, sitting down together. My father worked a lot. I do recall TV dinners on trays. The marriage and the cooking and the psychic atmosphere brewing something entirely different from food, and the opposite of nourishing. The details have faded.
Still, there was about the soup something of winter. And the fires. We had a fireplace, and the thing was a matter of fascination for a little boy. Most of the year it was out of action, of course. I remember climbing into it, staring up at the flue and the chimney and marveling at the sooty world above. A black handle hung down from the mechanism. It was out of reach in every sense, function murky, forbidden and adult. The set of fireplace implements were more accessible and fascinated year round. Their black, heavy solidity put them in a special class of object. The tongs in particular. They had the look of something quite nifty, an enjoyable way to squeeze a summer lizard, for example, when’s mother wasn’t looking. In reality, they were impossible, their sheer weight making them best left on their fireside stand. The poker, with its sharp point and hook, looked most intriguing. It had too much heft to provide much fun. The shovel-like scooper, who cared? The broom, forget it.
There was also a metal fireplace screen, the function of which I did understand. One had only to watch the occasional ember land on our gray wool carpet. They had left their mark, these miniscule glowing meteorites. In retrospect, I am not quite sure how embers could have gotten out of hand. But my father’s hand was shaky and feverish in such circumstances. He had a definite thing about fire. As an adult, I joked that he was a pyromaniac. Old family friends found this amusing. With time, the joke seems unclear. He spent long summer hours wandering about our property, tossing lighted matches here and there to create a supposed firebreak. Hours. We followed, one or two or all three of his offspring. Fire fascinated us too.
Who knows where the cardboard came from? Doubtless a carton from some shipment of something. Upon reflection, the whole thing ranges from silly to suicidal, but I recall looking on in fascination. My father had placed the carton, all of it, and our fireplace. My mother seems to have been out. But most likely, only out of the picture. From our remote desert location, there was not much of anywhere to go. Was she in the bedroom? It was nighttime, that much I do recall. Perhaps she had gone to bed very early, was reading, who can say? I was watching my father, of course. It was going to be quite a conflagration, that was clear. Having shoved the cardboard in the fireplace, placed the screen around the opening, my father lit a match. The cardboard first burned, then erupted. My father rushed outside, returned with a garden hose, the anomaly of this object from the grounds being dragged across our carpet was not lost on me. Was the hose running, water streaming across the wool pile? Perhaps. I could see that my father was bewildered, overcome, at the mercy of whatever was happening to him. What was next? My father must have been frightened, then relieved. Did my mother appear at the last moment, and was there a fight? Oddly, I do not remember this. Hardly a detail I would have forgotten, unless at this stage of things I was forgetting much of what I saw or sensed. What happened to the rest of the cardboard…a detail forgotten too.
Oddly, the most grim and tumultuous autumn-into-winter experience, the one that came when I was 12 years old and my family flew off in separate directions across the country in a children-tug-of-war prelude to divorce…well, it doesn’t have the same ominous feel. Perhaps because when everything is going wrong there is nothing to dread. It is the sinister possibilities that arise from this season that easily dominate my consciousness.
For some reason I can recall driving along the 101 motorway, Silicon Valley’s main artery, south toward some meeting in the late 1980s. I was with my business partner, and business was not going well, nor was partnership. We were writers, both of us, and we were staring at the road and the graying November sky, heading south in every sense of the word. Doubtless we were meeting with a client who was not paying us enough, providing enough work, or something. The details have faded, as has the experience, and here I am.
All of which brings me to my foot. The right one, to be exact, where cramps have become a nightly feature. For those of us with a special…to use the politically correct word…neurology, such foot pain takes on odd dimensions. The spinal-cord-injured person, particularly one with an asymmetrical paralysis, can feel nothing on one side and experience heightened sensation on the other. This is radically oversimplifying, but it will do. The point is that, fate being what it is, it is the feeling-too-much-pain foot that is experiencing the cramps. Causing it into both burn and jump, not a restful 4:30 AM experience. This is the neurology bewitching hour, it seems. Yes, I have attempted all the usual remedies. Lots of water. Potassium-rich bananas. All to no avail.
In short, the foot is sliding toward late autumn. Another thing is going wrong, and the possibilities are so many, too many. There is more loss. And what can one do but accept defeat and go down with life’s sinking boat? Which is not so simple, fortunately. For one does not have to go down alone. And it is the anticipation of loss that makes one feel a loser, not the real taking away. I do listen to Jane, that is the point. She has had her own losses, has her own perspective and is here to remind me that there is a difference between giving out and giving up. And, by the way on this
November day, Happy Thanksgiving.