Violet turns from the fireplace and brings her hands to her face as tears streak her cheeks. I was only gone for a couple minutes. Her mouth falls open and I brace for an ear-piercing wail. Instead, I meet silence. It isn’t the peaceful hush one might expect of a cabin in the woods nestled miles from any neighbor. It’s more like the vacuum of space. Cold. Empty. Lifeless. Her body convulses. I place the armful of wood near the fire and turn back towards her. Her open hand stings my face and I feel something drip from my nose.
“Why did you bring me back here, Lucas?” she says between sobs and face slaps. “Why here? Why now? What on Earth gave you the impression this was a good idea?”
A flurry of loose fists finds my chest and arms as I reach to embrace her. She pulls back and lands a few more blows. Once my arms connect behind her, she relents and buries her face into my chest. After a moment, she relaxes and her tears soak the Christmas-themed, fleece pullover I donned to retrieve wood from the pile on the porch mere moments ago.
“It’s ok,” I say, “It’s ok.” Who are you trying to convince, her or you? I think to myself. I feel the drip building beneath my nose and wipe it away with the back of my hand. A quick peek confirms it’s blood. “It’s ok.” I say again and kiss the top of her head. The floorboards creak as I gently rock her side-to-side. I inhale and her hair’s unmistakable honeysuckle scent floods my memory.
Late Summer, five years earlier we were in this same location. We had just unpacked from the long drive and were famished.
“You know I’m not the outdoorsy type.” she said.
“Thank you for indulging me,” I said, “I appreciate you letting me pick our honeymoon location. Let’s take a short hike and then I’ll make any meal your little heart desires. In the meantime, try one of these.”
She shot me a wary look. I reached into the sack of fruits we had purchased from the little roadside stand on our way up the mountain and handed her a pear. She chomped into it with trepidation and then increasing gusto as a liquid trail dripped down her chin. Her knees buckled.
“It’s so unbelievably juicy!” she said. Her eyes closed in contentment and we headed out into the wilderness.
As we trekked through the forest, I reveled in her fear and reverence for the local fauna. We broke through the timber into a sun-stained meadow filled with wildflowers. A bald eagle shrieked overhead and Violet, startled, echoed back to the majestic bird. Once her heart had returned to its natural home, she noticed a pair of eagle feathers resting on a patch of Mariposa Lilies. Stumbling into the flowers, she grabbed the feathers and tucked one behind each ear. Her smile beamed. I opened my mouth too late to warn her.
“OW!” she said. Several bees took issue with her disturbing their work and let her know in no uncertain terms. She leapt into my arms as I stifled a sympathetic chuckle. She shot me a stern look and slapped at my chest. A more violent chest slap brings me back to the present.
“Stop, Lucas, just stop!” she says as she rips herself from me. She races up the wide, wooden stairs and into the cathedral bedroom. I take a deep, calming breath to prepare for the war of words about to unfold. Orson Welles, I pray, please give me strength I say to myself. Before I can take a step up the stairs I’m smacked with a down pillow and a thin blanket. These comforts ricochet to the center of the staircase. I shake my head and plop down.
Is this really where we are? I think to myself. All those long nights, all those difficult days have led us here? Stolen moments, filling your ears with more than sweet nothings. Proclamations. Persuasions. Promises. What do I have to show for it? I open my palms before me then close them to gather my reward. Air. I gather the pillow and blanket to me and curl up on the stairs. The soft, blinking lights on the Christmas tree lull me to sleep.
Early December, three years earlier we were in this same location. It was unseasonably warm and we had just finished a delicious dinner on the porch in the deepening twilight. As we sat on the porch swing, I feigned an enormous effort to put my arms around you. It’s not my proudest moment.
“You don’t have to be a dick, you know,” Violet said, “These are your children I’m carrying.”
She took my hand and placed it on her belly. Moments later we squealed with surprise as kicks emanated from three different locations. Then Violet gave another squeal. The Geminids were on full display as lights streaked across the sky.
“I know it happens every year, but it’s still impressive,” she said, “How often do people actually take the time to look up and witness this? It’s so beautiful and so humbling. How much time do we waste in our lives waiting for something wonderful to happen? Why don’t we take control and make things happen?”
“What would you do differently?” I said.
“I don’t know. Nothing huge. We worry so much about big things and that’s not how life works. I think I’d take advantage of smaller things like just coming to the cabin more often. I didn’t appreciate nature’s simple splendor until our honeymoon and now I love it.”
I follow her gaze as it drifts across the porch. She grunts and leaves the swing to pick up a pine cone.
“What about this?” she said.
“What about it?” I said.
“When was the last time you picked up a pine cone, or anything for that matter, and just enjoyed its beauty and simplicity?”
“I can’t honestly say.”
She shoots me an irritated look and elbows my ribs. “See? That’s what I mean. Mr. Outdoors, when was the last time you made a pine cone bird feeder?” My blank expression elicits a, “Go get me a knife, some peanut butter, and bird seed.”
While I’m off grabbing all the materials I hear her say, “On second thought, forget all that stuff and grab your car keys. My water just broke.”
I pitch forward and realize where I am – in the present and sore. I need a comfortable chair and some warmth in my bones. After sliding the oversized, wooden rocking chair towards the fireplace, I add a few logs to the fire that’s low, but a deep red. I’m wide awake now and head to the cupboard to grab a cairn glass. The bottle of Old Granddad 114 meets my gaze and I grip it then head back towards the fireplace.
I pour a dram and slug it down as the picture on the mantel pulls my attention. It nearly took more attempts than our patience could withstand to capture our family’s first Christmas photo with the triplets. I fill the glass halfway.
“Here’s to you, Gracie. Here’s to you, Virginia. Here’s to you, Jackson.” I say as I offer whiskey to the flames and punctuate each name.
Inspired by Matt Pond PA’s Dirty Looks from Winter Lives.