After the fever, Marla’s bones ached like the marrow was seeping out. She wasn’t a malingerer. She refused medical treatment. Her father encouraged her to carry the pain while it piled up like a bank of snow against her body’s unyielding house. She’d been raised a positive thinker.
Though her steps slowed and she took more frequent rests, Marla, an ecologist, worked outside destroying invasive plants and replacing them with native species. She outpaced her co-workers, cheering them, finally collapsing under a tree.
Diagnosed with Lyme disease, she took a desk job. One of the lucky ones, she got better.
The chair, a lucky garage sale find, tucked itself under the desk after Anne’s husband died. She thought to never change it. Her sister thought otherwise and upholstered it in maroon brocade.
“Much better,” Marla said, deploying a tack to the seat’s bottom.
“Like Burgundy, his favorite wine.”
The new fabric smelled different. She sat in the chair, holding the original brown corduroy. After a year, she gathered her husband’s belongings: the chair, his books, his desk, etcetera and sold them from the driveway. Neighbors shared memories with Anne, bought remembrances. She stowed the proceeds in her brown corduroy purse.
“Snow symbolizes death,” a Kenyan English major told me as we walked across campus to our shift at the greenhouse. Both of us clutching our coats closed against the cold, I suppressed thinking about ashy flecked flakes falling as early as July.
By May, the ground thaws so we can harvest root vegetables for winter stews. The short warm season discourages growing anything but leafy greens outside. Broccoli, artichokes, melons, tomatoes and tree fruits need shelter and warmth. Apples are a tropical fruit now, shipped on boats to reduce carbon footprints.
I join other runners crouching into line. The starting gun sounds. A tennis ball stuck at the bottom of my pocket bumps against my thigh, interfering with the rhythm of running.
Then something amazing happens. A Golden Retriever blocks the inside lane. Several people veer to the right, miraculously avoiding collisions. A few scream, one stops. I whistle.
Clutching the ball, I throw overhand into the grassy oval at the center of the track. Cheers go up as the dog bullets away. He’s caught using a doggie treat and we reassemble. The morning headline reads, “Quick thinking saves the race.”
Women liked Anton as a friend. Some reminded him of his mother. They had the same sense of humor and quick efficiency. But he felt nothing of the easy affection that characterized the relationship his parents had.
He hadn’t paid much attention to dating. Too busy busting for A’s. By college, he’d started to wonder whether he was different from his father, though he’d always thought they were the same.
A night of drinking and philosophical discussion with his college roommate changed everything. In the morning, he felt confused. And inspired. And in love with someone who loved him back.
Ace’s mother cleaned houses. His father held a mortgage on a twenty-acre farm. They wanted more for their son and, like a miracle, he got a full ride at Stanford. Everyone smiled for weeks.
Ace worked hard, the way his parents had. He graduated into a computer job in Silicon Valley. Sending money home every month, he spent his leisure time playing on-line games and running an office pool because it gave him an excuse to calculate odds on sports, world events and romance. But, he never saw love coming, even when Lady Luck said the chances were good.
A story is a cocoon from which to see the world. It might be exciting. It might be pointed. It might give a glimpse into another world or a look at another side of this one. It might use flowing language, plain language, or the kind of terse language that cuts to the quick, leaving the reader wounded by a lightning strike aha. Sometimes the picture says more than the words. Sometimes the words create a picture. There are so many possibilities. Here’s hoping that in 2020 we can find respect for the story no matter who tells it.
Wishing all a happy and productive year in 2020. In case you didn’t see this New York Times Op Ed, I’ll pass it on as a follow up to something I wrote after the fire. Hoping for good news about the cathedral next year.
There Will Be No Christmas at Notre-Dame December 24, 2019 New York Times