In the Back of the Closet

All day long, streams have been running down our mountain; the road muddies and ruts, the crack in the cellar drips water, the doves coo. The urgency of thaw. Our world will freeze hard again, assuage, then clench with cold, pulling and loosening its long unhurried way into spring.

Patches of rain-sodden earth emit the hopeful scent of life releasing and breathing again. Surely, we’ll find coltsfoot in March this year.

Inside, boxing up ripped and myriad-stained coats, I find a leather jacket at the closet’s far back, stiff with disuse. No one lives in this house anymore who would fit into this jacket.

My sister and I, as teenagers, had a favorite phrase from TC Boyle’s The End of the World: “hard, soulless, and free.” A mother of a teenager myself now, I see how that line fits an adolescent, an emerging self needing a slick, fashionable shell to shield a tender heart.

All around us is the hardness of winter’s ice, and now simultaneously suffused with the streams running rapidly towards Lake Champlain, to where the rivers run north, to the distant sea.

I can’t help myself. I lift the cuffs of that jacket as though clenching the hands of the person who once wore that jacket, but that’s all; that’s it. I let the sleeves fall, and I step back out of the closet and shut the door. I’ll pass the jacket to someone else. Not today, but possibly tomorrow. If not tomorrow, surely before the thaw has bled itself out.

All night long, I sleep above the dripping in the cellar, from the cracks in the foundation poorly laid.

There are always surprises. Life may be inveterately grim and the surprises disproportionately unpleasant, but it would be hardly worth living if there were no exceptions, no sunny days, no acts of random kindness.

– TC Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain



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