The imagination of a seventeen year old girl, the crisp air of autumn and the scent of apples . . . what can they conjure up?
It was the time of the changing of the guard, the season between seasons. The air undulated, warm as gold one moment, crisp as the ripening apples the next. The scent of chlorine perfumed bodies mingled with the odor of turning leaves and soil getting ready to sleep. Shadows ate more and more with increasingly sharper teeth. The pendulum movement of the Earth's breath was as rhythmical as the pumping rise and fall of my bike pedals.
I rode my bike past the bakery where filled sticks and sugar cookies and white paper bags blended, past the flower shop with its arrangements of bouquets and jars of candy, over the railroad tracks, tensing for the bump, down the river path, racing for a moment as the ground sloped down and the brown, shadowed water made cool cries. My hands gripped the handlebars, my arms tightened. I laughed, owning the world at seventeen.
Then, the spokes of the bike whirring like maple seed helicopters, I slowed, stopped. I got off the bike and leaned it against the black wrought iron fence. The gate stood perpetually open, half fallen, rooted into the ground. There was another burial ground in town, but I never went there. It was a cemetery with orderly rows, neatly manicured. This was a graveyard.
The ground yielded to my footfall like comfortable slippers. I walked around, reading names and dates and phrases that taunted Death. Beloved . . . died in childbirth . . . waiting, still waiting . . . sacrificed his life for his country . . . together at the last . . . . A few leaves had already fallen, eager for rest. The ground was crunchy with acorns under the lone oak tree. The maples vied with each other in the glory of their colors. Cider hung on the branches of the apple trees, ready to intoxicate with a breath. The air smelled darker here -- like going into grandmother's cellar.
Then I saw them -- mothers held sleepy infants on flower-skirted laps. Children ran through their laughter like dandelion feathers on the wind. Fathers plucked roosting children from the trees to ride on their shoulders. Grandfathers tossed balls straight to eagerly held bats. Grandmothers passed sugar cookies from endless stores in wicker baskets. Lovers glided, arm in arm, like swans and skaters. Red checkered tablecloths were laid out. Quilts patch worked with the joys of a lifetime were spread upon the ground. Admonishments to "walk around" were given with a smile. Small and not so small hands stole crisp-as-a-fall-day pickles and deviled eggs and olives. A fussing baby was hushed with a lullaby; a scrape kissed and instantly healed.
A child stopped his flight and looked oddly at me, then at his mother. I knew she was his mother by the way her breath and lips curled up softly as she looked at him. She nodded at me, including me in her smile. The boy ran on. I was not important enough to be noticed for more than a moment.
Looking out from the frame of black iron lace I saw a friend walking past across the street. I called to her, called again, but got no answer. Strange that she had not heard me, I thought.
I heard the bow of a violin and turning, saw a young man playing. He smiled at me. I did not know the tune, but I knew it was for dancing and my steps matched the swirls and dips of the music for a few blissful measures. The heightened chill in the air made me look at my watch. It was so much later than I had thought. I had to get home to help with supper. Outside the iron rim of this pico mundo I straddled my bike for a moment and looked back in at the graveyard. There were no mothers holding infants on flower skirted laps. No lovers glided like swans and skaters. No fiddler played.
I rode, down the river path, over the train tracks, past the flower shop and bakery. Late summer gathered in the day, as early autumn spilled out the evening. My legs ached a little as I pushed the pedals harder to climb the slope.
When I am rational and adult I tell myself that imagination peopled my graveyard, that imagination works overtime and writes stories for the eyes. I tell myself that it was an abnormality of seventeen, that I never really saw. . . . There are other times, though, when the guard changes and seasons meet for a firefly brief moment, that I see lovers gliding like swans and skaters and I am a girl dancing to a fiddler's smile.
Emily Hart happily spends very little time being rational and adult and much time blissfully dancing.
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