Autumn is the time for ghosts as the green summer languishes having fed its youth to the dog days of summer. It is the job of winter, with its frozen winds and grey skies, to sweep away those ghosts and lose them in the blind swirls of chill blizzard and time. With tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow, mercy decrees that only the treacherous heart can find those ghosts in descending frequency under the soft white blanket of memory. Spring is a time of renewal on the plane of the planet and in the cycle of the life. If winter has done its job and buried the ghosts, hope can be sought in the signs of the earth’s perpetual and eternal motion.
This past winter was an impotent soldier, a deserter of the faith, and now it lingers overlong. The first buds of spring, the snowdrops and blue scilla are covered in a late season snow. Within this final weak volley lurks lost moments freed by the faltering ministrations of the milquetoast pretender. Shorn of any power, it could not bury the spirits of last year and they call to the brethren vanished years ago. Melancholy waits for the sun to melt the ice and loose the new life impatiently waiting in the wings. It will come. There is no denying it but first the ghosts will have their way.
A visual image, a trigger, even though we carry a dictionary of cultural symbols, for each person the trigger can be something different. In my mind’s eye I see that particular shade of purple, not the royal blue purple but a crimson tide of bloodied maroon on the dark side of red. At the time I wouldn’t have described it in that way. At ten I didn’t have those words and her raw voice screaming his name as she tore open the white door would have drowned them if I did.
I don’t remember the colour of the door handle. The house I live in now is old and the doors are painted white but they aren’t hollow core like I know that door must have been in that house. The door knobs here are black and old, older than that house even though it was my home decades ago. I think the door knob must have been one of those cheap brass coloured ones. It would have matched the cheap hollow core door. In that moment, before she tore out into the hallway, I must have seen the door knob turn. It had to turn for the door to open but I don’t remember it. I only remember her pullover in blood red maroon velour and her voice, her panic.
I see her white face. The image is frozen in my mind. Dark, above her porcelain features, a black chiffon scarf covered her curlers. They were the old kind with the really sharp bristles inside that make it hard to sleep because they stab into your head. The metal wire wrapped around the outside was to help keep the round shape of the curl but it didn’t stop the bristles from sticking out through the netting that covered it. She’d set her hair in curlers the night before and covered the whole thing with a black chiffon scarf. I didn’t know she’d been to the hospital with it up. I didn’t think about that either or why my grandmother was there to pull her back into the bedroom. But I heard her scream his name and I knew then that something was very wrong.
I never saw her wear that pullover again. Actually I don’t remember her ever wearing it before that morning but I think that might be one of those tricks that the mind plays on us for reason or sanity’s sake. And then things were different for a long time. It was the last time I remember ever having to go to bed at a regular time. The house was filled with people, at first family and then friends and then finally new people that came in late at night and mostly left before we were awake in the morning.
We weren’t allowed to go to the funeral. It probably would have been better. Maybe then we would have known what we were dealing with, this dying, this death. We could have seen it and then we might have understood what was happening and what would happen. Or maybe not, our childhood unknowingly behind us we were still only slightly broken adrift in a new grown up world.
I asked her about him years later. She had created a shrine to him in her heart, in her mind and I wondered about the reality of the man. Was he deserving of her decades of devotion? I can tell you, with no slight certainty, that it is true that the dead can do no more wrong. They are dead after all. I thought that the years had lionized him for her. Lord knows that he was her great love or at least death had made him so. No man could stand against his memory and one by one they fell. The damage caused by his departure would last a number of years and all of us would carry it to some extent for the rest of our lives. She has a lover now who I think might make a go of staying the distance. He has set himself to live in a ménage a mort accepting the minor deity of a perfect memory enshrined in the pantheon of her life.
I have very few memories of the man himself only the chaos that his leave taking set into motion. I knew there was a world that ran beneath the light of our every day but it still lurked in the corners of our youth. That death, his death was the death of our childhood.
Years later I asked her how she knew that she loved him. Her answered surprised me as the memory of their love, bolstered by her grief and annealed by her suffering, was an absolute. She said that she hadn’t known the conviction of her heart until she saw him standing at the end of the church aisle waiting for her. Her, with her checkered past and a soul that felt battered and unworthy. There he was waiting for her and her three children (what kind of man would want a woman with three children she asked herself and answered- a good man). She thought she was marrying for security and then she saw him standing there in his baby blue tuxedo, waiting for her, for their life together and it was then that she knew that she loved him for sure, right then.
I wondered, but I didn’t ask. I wondered, if she’d known then that 6 months later she would wake up in the middle of the night and feel the wet stain beneath her, if she’d known that she would wake up and realize in the slow spreading dampness that he was gone, if she would wish it away, never done? She had told me that was how she knew he was really gone because his body had let go of what it held. I wondered if she regretted anything. I wondered and I wanted to ask her but I didn’t.
How could I when the winter lingers over long and ghosts come to call, walking old halls and opening up doors better left closed? In my mind I see myself in my white flannel night gown, the one with the small peaches printed on the material (I still love flannel, so soft and warm, so comforting), my hair bed head rumpled and my eyes gummy with sleep standing in the upstairs hallway outside my bedroom door right next to her bedroom door. I see myself watching my grandmother drag my mother back into her bedroom. My mother was screaming his name, clawing at the door frame. Where was she trying to go? Was she running away from him or to him? Her eyes were black in her white face, stark above the blood maroon of her velour sweater and crowned with the thorny bristles of her curlers.
This ungraceful thrust of winter rapes the green of spring and brings old ghosts with it. The sharp thorns of the still naked branches are black against the ashen blanket of late, late snow. I can see the new maroon shoots bleeding up through the cold white. I don’t want to dream tonight. I hope that tomorrow the snow and its ghosts are gone.