Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

I want to tell you all a story. I’m surrounded by Kleenexes, movies, blankets, drinks. There’s a cup of tea and a glass of water. I have a few books scattered around, an orange cat resting on the love sofa across and an old black and white film paused on the tv screen. It’s the perfect night for storytelling.
Tonight I went for my walk tonight as all usual. I stuffed a few Kleenexes down my pants’ pocket and threw on my bright red hoodie. It might be cold, it might not, it didn’t really matter. It is I who has the cold, inside and out.
I pace out the interlocking grids of our Westside neighborhood. If you go down far enough to the south, there’s an old stone mansion of Italian Revival Style. I get there sometimes, mostly not, it’s really only a place I peek at for a special treat. I like to visit it most during Christmas time when they put wreathes in all the windows and I can imagine what it was like then, when women wore long dresses and horses did pull sleigh bells. Sentimental, possibly but then again not. I was born too long after all these things to have any memory of them, my mother and father were grown up in the after World War eras, their own parents around for the tail end of one war and participators of the second.
I came around the corner of the far south, devoid of long skirts and a horse, in my pants stuffed with Kleenex and a red hoodie and I took a long look at the stone Italian house. The cupola on top stood up taller then any of the cupolas in the old farm towns I’m used to. You could set up a studio in there, a cold studio in the winter, a sweltering one in the summer. Could anyone breathe up there? The windows looked sealed tight.
Tight enough to drowned a scream? A boyfriend of a country town told me once, with a serious tone and serious face, that an old house in his neighborhood with a small cupola on top was the cell of an unhappy girl who died up there in her glass prison. Her screams could be heard at night, he told me. He heard them himself.
Of course, later I found out he was a pathological liar or maybe it was just being eighteen that annoyed him and he told stories to make it all better, but anyway, the story perked my interest and I take a look at all glass rooms perched on the top of houses. What could be put up there anyway? Besides dying girls. Plants? A desk and paper? A mattress? A bed? A girl? A boy? It was a girl for him, of course. He went to the Army and after awhile, I never heard from him again. So it was girls for him, that screamed. I didn’t hear any screams and I like lighted Christmas trees in the town house cupolas I saw. There’s one off Batavia Avenue just right up the block from me, to the north this time, and they’ve always done a tree up there and on one of their balconies too.
There are other single rooms too, like the single roomed cupolas, and people live in those. A few weeks ago, Jeff and I, in our search for a little house to rent, visited an address listed as a “house for rent.” It was just the first floor of a 1940’s house with decently sized rooms and a cement screened in porch. The house had a second floor. I tried the handle to the second floor and found it unmovable. “Oh,” the landlord countered, “that’s the second floor. You can’t open that door. The renter’s lived there for five years. He works for Nicor. I’ve never heard a complaint about him making any noise.” We went outside. I looked up at the second floor windows. They were covered and still. There was no car out front to speak of the man upstairs. We looked in the empty basement. Nothing of his there either. We went into the two story garage, its roof raising like a bird’s wing. Nothing marked him there either. The landlord commented that we would share the porch with the upstairs man, though he doubted the upstairs man ever used it, except to get to his stairs.
As we drove away, I took another look at this 1940’s second floor, a sort of sagging cupola with four windows on one side and four windows on the other. The front windows didn’t tell a word. There was a screen thrown out on the roof from one window, that was all. The Nicor man must then, with his balding self, crawl out onto the roof with a cigarette and watch for stars and wait for the sea-girl’s call. He wouldn’t measure time by coffee spoons but by constellations turning and the burning stubs of his cigarette butts. He wouldn’t join us in the cement porch shut up by screens. He would remove his own screen and watch the time, listening for the call, thinking about natural gas and bills and meters.
He grew so lazy, he left the screen out and no one noticed. Except for me, driving away from the falsely advertised house apartment, just another apartment. We wouldn’t be taking it. We couldn’t get a dog there, we would be back in just the same sort of thing, having a neighbor we had to be quiet for, I would tend a garden I would have to leave, decorate a house that we wouldn’t stay in. And in the summer, the woods it was surrounded in would drown out light and I would go mad in the small windowed house with the smeary wallpaper and the creaky floors and the bare new chandelier the landlord proudly showed us, complete with hook to hang it up higher. I would go mad and there are no sea-girl’s call or rooftops for me. Not at all.
Pulling out the advertisements today, there were no houses or even apartments for rent. It must be a slow week then. So slow that I took my walk far enough to get all the way to the old stone, Italian house. The windows are still sealed up there. I passed on and turned, my fist full of Kleenex.

(A few notes. First off, my head is stuffed and I might as well be underwater, sleeping. Take care of my verb tenses, I know not what I do with them. Second off, I beat Jeff because since we heard of the upstairs man behind the locked door, we’ve joked about locked up children and the such and we each thought how we could write about it. I won! Thirdly, not everyone who reads this blog has had the leisure time to get a bachelor of arts in literature. I cast some allusion to a poem by T.S. Eliot called “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". It’s worth reading and so beautifully fits my upstairs man. Anyways. Good night.)

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Winter Aconite & Snowdrop

Spring is whimsical and wary right now, first appearing in a patch of sunlight and then fleeting away in an ice-cold breeze, only to reappear a little later in the liquid song of a redwing blackbird. I wear my winter coat one day, a hoodie the next, and then it’s back to the winter coat the next morning as a heavy frost sparkles on rooftops. Only recently have I given up my thick scarf, though if there’s a wind tomorrow, I may have to pull it out of the closet and wind myself up in it once more.

None but the bravest flowers are blooming, the winter aconite and snowdrop. Winter aconite is a small yellow flower that’s easy to overlook; it remains shut until the sun has deeply soaked its petals, then pops open like a tiny jewelry box to reveal gold petals centered on delicate pistils and stamens. The snowdrops this spring huddle close to the ground, nearly lost in the mud and dead leaves. As of yet, there are no daffodils blooming—their leaves have come up only an inch or so out the brown ground. They are cautious and since it freezes each night, I cannot blame them.

Beyond the flowers there is the ground itself: a muddle of browns, thick with the rotted tree leaves and the dead foliage of last year. There is nothing lovely to see here, only the form of the land itself. It swells and slopes up from the river, lies low along the horizon, and finally drops into a ditch.

On an unexpected day in early March, once the snow disappeared, city workers came to clean up the young trees and invasive species that have been growing avid and unchecked along the creek near my home. It is the first time I can see the contours of the land clearly in all the years I’ve been living here, and I’m struck by the curves and lines that slope down towards the creek, a rollicking bed of dark brown that makes a strong contrast to the bright blue overhead. The undulating land here is small but it’s a dream, a reason, a mysterious being that wraps through the neighborhood’s mind. Soon enough, this dark and curving space will be clad in green, heavily wreathed by plants, bushes and eager saplings. But for now, it is bare and exposed, revealing the dark space between winter and summer. This is where the wind snaps cold like a knife, but the brilliant sunshine keeps calling everyone out despite the drear.

Tips on Surviving the Never-ending Winter

It’s been a long, hard winter. Now that it’s mid-February, the cold days have started stealing into my bones, urging me to stay in bed and sleep until the warm weather comes. As much as I long to take a three month long nap, there’s stuff to be done and living to do.

I’ve gotten more intentional about warding off the winter blues this year and not let myself, mentally or physically, wander off into a nearby snowbank and fall asleep. I’ve been observing and writing down little notes to myself on what lessens the gloom. These notes have become guideposts of sorts, gently illuminating the path through a difficult winter.

  1. The first guidepost may be the most essential: drinking hot beverages continually and consistently helps to ward off the deep cold. I brew a small pot of my favorite breakfast tea blend in the morning, switch to ginger and lemon herbals mid-day, and then return to caffeinated teas like black or green at night. Other people love coffee and others their tisanes. Find one or many and slurp away happily all day. Hot drinks are so deeply comforting when it’s cold and dark.
  2. I’ve learned to take walks even when the weather is crap. Obviously if everything is sheeted in ice, a walk isn’t going to happen but for the those other days, time willing, I make an effort to head outside. There’s the exercise aspect but more than that, it’s important for my spirit and soul. I walk to de-stress, to come in contact with a bigger world than my own, and to climb out of my circular thinking. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that clears junk out of the mind and soul. Our bodies evolved to walk over this earth and so when we participate in it, the old rhythms occur. Walking is a way to feel freedom. And it’s a way to fight too. I feel incredibly alive upon coming inside after walking through high winds and bad weather.
  3. Reading extensively helps to cast off the smothering feel of an endless winter. Last winter I read Alexander Pushkin and discovered the joy of reading Russian literature during the dead of winter. This month, I read City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, one in a pair of sisters that wrote during the mid-1800’s. City Folk and Country Folk is a delightful satire, ridiculing a variety of “city folk” and everyone else besides. Among the cast of characters is the intellectual Ovcharov, a dead ringer for Austen’s Mr. Collins. The book centers on neighbors visiting each other, eating each other’s food, drinking each other’s tea and generally getting on each other’s nerves until they all decide to stop visiting one another. Needless to say, I adored this plot line.
    And after a three month long wait, I received The Library Book by Susan Orlean from the library with two week checkout period to read it. No way was I going to read part way through, return the book, and then have to go back into that long waiting line. I set up a rough estimate of how many pages I needed to read a day to make the two week goal and then started. To my surprise, I enjoyed having a book reading goal and  diving into Orlean’s generous and easy-flowing prose every evening.
    My last read for this month is Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom. February is Black History Month and the perfect time to read his work. I’m only a few chapters in but his thoughtful and beautiful prose has pulled me in hard into the tragedy of his story and it’s hard to stop reading his eloquent prose.
  4. Spring will come. It feels so far away and even the evergreens and pines are looking haggard but it will come. When the sky is a certain shade of blue, I remember that it will. I remind myself of this daily.