so small and so quiet

All the rain and wind. All the dark hours. All the cold mornings.

After work, I walk down to the new bar that has opened and sit in the corner by the window and wait. I am meeting friends here. There is much to catch up on.

R. is thinking about moving out of state again, and L. is in the process of buying a house with some land. We talk about what it is like, living here for so long. The smallness of it. As if on cue, two women walk in who we all know, and a cheer goes up from the table as we greet them. Embraces all around.

When M. packed up his parents’ house, his father said: “I didn’t expect to live in such a small town for all these years. I never saw myself this way. But that’s how it happened. And here I am.”

He found a photo album tucked away in a closet. It had been his uncle’s, his father’s brother. It traced the years from careless youth to his service in the war. In the last several pages, he stands in ruined landscapes. This is just after the war has ended. Here, standing near the gates of Buchenwald. Here, near the bodies of unburied dead.

Soon after his return, the story goes, he meets a woman, falls in love. She is killed in a car accident that he survives. It seems he never recovers from this loss. He dies young, stricken with cancer at forty-two. In this short life, all he has seen and done. All that he had lost.

At work, my office is cold. I sit rubbing my hands together as I stare at the glowing screen. People are talking in the hallway. The hum of printing machines. My phone rings and I answer it. We talk for a long time about the restoration of an old church. I will send you photographs, she says, of the stained glass windows.

Of the detailed archways, the stonework. Of the murals in the sanctuary.

An old friend comes over to eat with us and after, we sit at the table in the dim light and talk about mid-life; about our children, our anxieties. I find myself telling the same stories repeatedly. They are not really stories, even. My friend who is a painter… The day I drove to the ocean… The things I did after my mother died.

My friend is patient. She has heard these all before. I can see this in her face even as she nods and encourages me to continue. Even as she smiles and laughs in the right places. But these are all the stories I know, I am thinking. There are patterns here, repeating. I am circling something I don’t yet know how to say.

“You seem to need to say things with your body,” I was once told. I had skidded into a tree, running. “Be careful,” I was told. “Your body is your temple for the holy spirit.”

It was a funny thing to hear, being as fearful a child as I was. Being as tentative with my body as I was. This rare moment of carelessness. A scrape on my forehead. My shoulder bruised. A bit of wind knocked out of me. Holy spirit, perhaps, escaping through my open mouth.

After she leaves, the day is quiet. I do laundry, make soup. Roast some parsnips and carrots. I respond to a letter from a friend far away. “I have such a small life,” she writes, “so small and so quiet.”

I wake from strange dreams of water. A pool in which a woman I do not recognize swims laps. I am standing nearby, watching. Then I am filling a hole in the earth with water running from a garden hose. Then I am wading in a cool stream that runs over slick rocks beneath a canopy of trees.

I leave the house in the dark, in the cold. White half moon high in the sky. I am thinking about the woman swimming laps in my dream. Down and back, soundlessly in the long empty pool as if she has only ever done just this.