The small things that I had remembered had been the the small things that I had forgotten. Somewhere in the blandishments of my day to day living, the moanings and the excitements, I must have gone straight into the marketplace to pause. People must have have milling about, looking for something new, something fresh. A baby bear fed the stump end of a broken carrot? A double-terminated crystal, clear and colorless, with one of the tips smacked off? A black typewriter ribbon unspooled to line the inside of a talking doll’s universe? All sorts of events, both minor and major ones, had had some effect on my corn husk broom, the dead cats swept off the dirty midnight streets of Tunis, the speeding trains that slowed up just enough to make perfect time on the dot when arriving in Zurich, like a ballerina en pointe. All that I had overlooked, and all that had overlooked me, it was all mentioned in the waters whose rings had disappeared when the pebble I had tossed again and again sank, where the flashing coy fish swam down away to the murk and corners. Were there to have been a difference in the body politic, the grease anointing a king, or a mottled purple gown for another, surely I had raised my head to watch the geese flying overhead, flying south, or flying north, confused by the weather over which way to travel en masse upon the coming of evening during the approaching winter.
Few things had given me pleasure more pleasurable than to watch all my mercies and all my crimes be in passing or be plowed away. The singularity of my pettiness, the careful slip-off tools of my trade, amused me as much as were I had been both Sultan and Scheherazade. I had been pleased with myself to no end, stashing my gear in a hole so deep and so forlorn I might myself someday be loath to pull it out into our diurnal world ever again. And between the careful stirring of pure black oil sunflower seeds with another mixed sack of wild feed by hand, blending them together in a five gallon bucket for the hungering winter birds, in addition to my woolen apparel befitting the country habits of a simple but comfortable squire, I was as inculpable to all eyes as the blighted Mexican nobleman Archibaldo de la Cruz. Even the thought of sirens at my drive had not increased my resting pulse more than one or at most two beats. No, it had been a great beauty born to watch my footprints become erased by both nature and machine which had otherwise provided the absolute clues to my perfidy, chronic and perennial, those now forever vanished snowy boot marks leading thither and back. The kind hammer’s tapping in of an elderly lady’s postal number having fallen off its little roadside plaque across the way from my home during the past springtime, with a hardware purchase from a package of shining brass escutcheon pins, needing only three, not counting the one I had dropped and lost on the ground, it was the perfect cover, and an exercise in patience, a plotting of neighborly character that had already gone back three years’ time. And galloping lunatic downhill through the white soft woodland powder, I imagined all sorts of terrible things that were to have become my life had the faraway sirens I had overheard in the village’s distance become nearer and nearer. Most anarchists worth their salt are the true aristocrats of the great Earth; I am no exception to this rule. We love to create inexplicable chaos against authorities that would, like a pack of well-trained dogs, hem us in, if caught; and truly love the untouched bounty of the land which nature freely bestows upon us all—all women & men, all lovers & ex-lovers, and all erring children who wander on their own, as is their birthright. At length, my own true protection, my own safeguard against eventual capture, more than my vast caution, had been my steady recollection that beneath my own well-kept fingernails was just ordinary dirt.
Winter is coming, and my tires are very thin. Lincoln’s bushy hairline barely clears the tread when I push a penny in. The cloves I planted on Columbus Day, the scapes they might by springtime’s greening be trimmed back, and grown to bulbs of garlic by July. So much is uncertain, while others are too clear: through ignorance, malice, and folly I lost the woman I love.
Through hours of stacking and tarping down, I ought to have enough wood to last me, to be just warm enough. I know for some there are the famed Snows of Kilimanjaro. But for me, I had just as soon be lost in an Irish public house, drinking and muting myself, guilty as a Christmas ghost. What it were to be a little kinder in my past. We, too, had quarreled though it never made time pass. It only made me brutal, recalcitrant, and increasingly deaf.
It made me care more and more about the fistful of coins I had left in my glove-box, and whichever rows I had of withering corn to get me through it. I became rustic against my own good and yours. O, these things, this blank apostrophe, are far from me now, and just like all the light, carefree change I once had tossed into the great River Danube, today’s lost treasure is become a heavy sunken thing to me.
The golden coy fish I have seen a-swimming in the bluestone opening in the hidden woods, to know their muddy bodies are safe there later on throughout the coldest months ahead is no little human comfort. And if I am graced to make it ‘round the snowy corners for the getting of a loaf of bread and chicken, and you are blessed with enough darkened morning peace without me, may it all to have been plenty.
Even the blackened green leaves were picked. I had left them crumpled on their stalks last week, dismayed. Again, half the basil I had left to wither. That was years since I’d made such a lapse. But many plants in a brighter, sunnier patch were fine and rich and quickly plucked. These leaves filled my large yellow glass bowls, and I tipped them into my kitchen sink. Last evening I had returned since I heard the night would be even colder. A small stack of some wood I had left unchopped for a friend to practice on I’d promised to save it for to split last year still stands a year later. And soon I’ll be splitting another cord myself. In pesto, there really is no great difference between the batches I’ve found in taste, unless the one that’s made from autumn’s leaves is a bit more grassy and slightly bitter. Aside from cobwebs growing on the plants, it really would be rather wasteful not to use them all. And, besides, I am the only one looking on the basil growing now. With olive oil and garlic and sea salt and finely chopped hot cayenne peppers grown from my garden, too, plus pine nuts and a touch of parsley, it’s very, very tasty. And how sweet the smell when all the garden plucking is on my fingertips. Still, when I make it all, I’ll separate the neglected leaves from the fresher ones, and be myself comparing the two, eating from carefully enough labeled containers marked with scribbled-upon masking tape taped to the lids, when I thaw the many portions I will have again from the freezer for meals and company when I have some all winter long until next summer comes.
It had been what was called The Old Woman’s Winter. This had been explained to him as a warm spell during wintertime when widows, mostly, would go to the park and, standing, open their winter coats. They would stand, warming themselves, before the winter sun. Confusion, disorder, and the drift of things over time (and times) makes things unclear. It had seemed certain that this custom took place in Hungary. It had seemed certain that this custom took place in Russia. This is the way the architecture of time itself works. It mixes memory and desire. It mixes the blossom and the bole. It mixes what has risen and what is already fallen. (And moreover, Nature, his mother once told him, does not care an iota for the life of Man.)
But, still! Somewhere long ago, he still recalls quite perfectly: “Lichtlein schwimmen auf dem Strome/Kinder singen auf der Brücke.”* And it becomes as though these things, whatever ‘things’ are, like memories, were in stacks of photographs. And that these stacks of photographs themselves were of different sizes and of different finishes. And could be stacked—sorted—accordingly. According to size and finish. But some of them were so close! So many of the pictures were, in fact, identical in form: in shape, in size, in the color of their surface, and in the sheen of that finish. Stacks of different things, different times, different places became—like memories—stacked in the same stack—where they did not belong! But it was not possible anymore to tell exactly where anything did. So, it became impossible, and next to impossible, to distinguish Vienna from Budapest from Moscow anymore, while these cities were of course forever altogether different.
*[Lanterns swimming on the river/Children singing on the bridge].