Monday, December 08, 2008

Winter pieces (III)

As the year waned and the days grew shorter she spent most of her weekend morning hours in bed, asleep if she could stay asleep or just thinking with her eyes closed if she couldn't. She always kept the room a little cold around her; she liked it that way, didn't like having to throw off a layer of the covers that she kept tightly wound around her if she got too hot. In her third floor flat, with the storm windows shut tight against the occasional passing car and the shouts of the downstairs neighbor's children, she would be undisturbed as long as she liked; her friends knew not to call. By mid-morning light would fill the room but she didn't mind; it fell obliquely, filtered by the shades, and by the time she was finally ready to rise it would have taken the edge off the morning chill.

She would cast a glance at the cover of the paper, dropped on her doorstep before dawn, but then set it aside until evening, make herself some oatmeal or a couple of eggs and a cup of tea, and only then would she change out of her nightgown and robe into a pair of jeans, a layer or two of sweatshirts, an old and ample soft gray sweater, and take her winter coat down from the wooden hanger in the little hall closet where it hung alone. She would collect her sketchbook and a few pencils from the easel she kept by her rarely used fireplace, gather her gloves and hat, and go out. It would be too cold along the harbor, this time of year, so she would head inland instead, climbing to the outskirts of town, to the first ploughed-over cornfield, then walk another mile or so along the road until she came to the edge of the woods. There she would sweep the tail of her coat beneath her and sit on a stone wall crusted with patches of lichen, yellow and blue and grey-green, and with her back to the road she would sketch the oak trees, the frayed remains of an orchard that had been abandoned years before, and the crows that gathered to glean the fields.

She couldn't pick the crows out by sight, but she was pretty sure they were the same ones, from week to week; in any case, there always seemed to be the same number, a dozen or so in the acre's ground she had a view of. They must have been accustomed to the sight of her, but if so they acted no differently, never approached or gave a sign of recognition. She imagined they had their own concerns, and she was not part of them, or perhaps they noticed her but were too polite to intrude upon her solitude. But now and then it would seem to her that one, having drawn near, would considerately pose for her for a moment, just long enough for her to deftly trace its form with her pencil. If so, she didn't signal her appreciation but kept it to herself; it was her treaty with them, that she would never cross that line.

She would have only a few hours of daylight. When the outlines of the furthermost trees began to soften and the wind picked up and bit at her cheeks she would close her book and climb down from the wall, ready for a warm meal, the newspaper, and phone calls. At night she would dream of the crows and in her dream she would hear their histories and they would tell her everything that had happened and everything they had seen from the deepest beginning of time.

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