After the truck pulled away with my youngest, I decided to sit on the front porch and soak up the day’s ending, and so I brought out the wool blanket from the couch and wrapped myself in it, and watched as the sky over Neringa Pond colored pink and purple and red.
After a while, I felt a chill descend, one whose icy fingertips I hadn’t felt since spring, and so I jumped up and ran back inside for the scissors and slipped on my garden clogs and dashed out the back door where the last of the light over the mountain lit up the stone wall, as the moon rose high above it, and I remembered: Full moons bring frosts.
I was in search of that last gladiola, the one that I had noticed earlier in the week when I’d been out soaking in the tub. I had long thought them finished for the season but I noticed then a new promising braid had appeared on the stalk. And wasn’t it now in bloom, and didn’t I find two more, and take all three which I would never think to do back in August or July.
As I turned to walk back down the stone path to the house, I stopped to admire the tall, cheerful faces of the zinnias–rosy and orange and red, and I cut some of those too, and then some quiet periwinkle-colored cornflowers bending shyly in the back (leaving the soft pink ones), and nearby in the shady spot some velvety silver plants, along with some painted daisies from a pot, and something else I don’t know the name of, because it was my oldest son, this past spring, who dug these flower beds when he was home for Mother’s Day, and filled them with manure and seeds and bulbs, returning again on Father’s day and for a week in July, planting more, while I complained about the extra weeding and watering (not to mention the debris) that he left behind in his wake.
“I worry about my gardens when I’m not there,” he told me on the phone from Burlington where he is finishing his degree. “You can’t imagine how that feels.”
“I think I can,” I said without mentioning his months in Central America or Morroco, Bulgaria and Spain.
And maybe he made these gardens off his mother’s office door beside the fox den because he could. Or maybe he made them because she is too practical for flowers. Or maybe he even imagined her pleasure when she’d look up from her writing, or when she’d pass the beds on her way to and from the outdoor shower. And maybe he didn’t know what a comfort these late blooms would be when all her children were gone, or maybe he intuited the exponential ending this summer brings.
Back when he was just a boy standing barefoot beside me in the midwife’s office, I turned to see his face, and I said: “Don’t worry Lloyd, you’ll never have to feel any of this.”
Mary was removing the stitches from the tearing at the baby’s birth that Lloyd, just two weeks shy of his 5th birthday, had attended with his father in the tiny bathroom of the farmhouse that we rented for 7 years when we first moved to Vermont.
His response was touching and rebuking and still unnerves and informs me almost two decades later as he wrapped his little arms around his belly:
“I felt it inside.”
Lloyd was home again a few weeks back for his father’s birthday–the three of their birthdays arrive in a row with barely more than a month between the first and the last, and not much left in me by the time that last one rolls around–on the anniversary of my mother’s passing just after the baby was born and the stitching removed one by one.
In between visits, he calls, especially when my texts and messages and photos and links have stockpiled in his inboxes.
“Were you writing about me?” he asked last week, referring to the piece I’d posted about a break-up.
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “You broke up with me when you were like 12, announcing that you’d never cuddle with me again, but reminding me that I still had your little brother.”
By the time I arrived at the back door and freed a hand to let myself in, I looked down to see my arms filled with flowers, and once inside, I picked up my phone without setting them down, to capture them in their gathered state before arranging them in a vase.
And that’s when I remembered the vegetables, and I ran out the front door to cover them in the dark, harvesting what I could see of the ripe cukes and tomatoes, unable to locate what remained of the basil.
Once back inside, I set to arranging the flowers but instead of tidily dividing them among the rooms of the house to make the most efficient use of joy, I stuffed them all into the largest vase and placed it at the center of our home, on the large round kitchen table, which we never quite filled as a family of four except when we had company, and where my mother’s tarot cards sat waiting, having completed my son’s Autumnal Equinox reading just before he left to go back to school and now awaiting my own.
Just then a familiar sound piqued my attention; a sound I hadn’t heard since summer somewhere in between the boys’ August birthdays—and this is how the first day of autumn ended…
An empty house, a bright bouquet, the call of the fox (which may have just been the sound of the aging dishwasher, completing its cycle.)