I have always preferred autumn. There is nothing to lose in autumn.
In spring and in summer there’s a sense of impending loss that simmers beneath the surface. It lingers in the first buds of blossom, in the third warm dry day in a row. Because soon the blooms will die, the sky will cloud over, and before long you will surrender yourself to the cold and the gloom, until eventually it seems as though that was all there ever was.
I feel this way most keenly in May, after the last storm has passed, taking with it the dregs of the wintertime, for I know that everything is fleeting. The longer days will soon be cut short by the solstice. The birdsong will turn into background noise by July. The trees will begin to sag by August. And by September you begin to cling on; to temperatures in the high teens, to the high sunsets and the last of the crickets and the last few spots of green on the leaves.
I have always preferred autumn. There is nothing to lose in autumn.
It’s mid-evening, around eight o’clock. I peer out of the kitchen window over the trees, searching for glimmers of sunlight. Raymund is packing away the lawnmower in the shed, fresh from the final cut of the year. A stray bird tweets – the squeaky bicycle bird, as we call it. I have just switched off the oven, and it’s still giving out intense heat. Beads of sweat gather around my middle, where the strings of my apron are tied around twice; holding me in. He picked the wrong size – but as with all gifts I refuse to change it. It’s important to keep what you are given.
The children have gone to their rooms. I have got out one of the better bottles of white wine, and I stand over it as it chills in a bucket of ice and water in the sink. It’s our little ritual – the last Sunday evening before we all go back to normal. I have peacefully worked away at the shortcrust pastry, torn the chicken to shreds, sliced the mushrooms neatly. But now that awful dread has come over me. The man on the wireless said it was the end of summer, in that tone that makes every news item sound like a national disaster. Somehow, the weather would turn overnight, the glass would fall, and by midweek we must all wear coats.
The end of summer. As I always do, I had fretted about it all season, so that I couldn’t completely enjoy the boys playing in the lido, or the sight of Raymund basking in the sun. Because come September I knew my husband would return to work, my children would return to school, and I would return to my duties, as all women do. In summer, the men demand less of us. They rise later, they have energy to entertain the children, they join us at the supermarket and for a few short weeks they have no idea how difficult it can be for the rest of the year. The carefree women of the summertime return to mothers and wives in the autumn.
We live in a new village. A new town, soon enough. Raymund and I moved here on the promise of open space; on the promise of light, airy houses, but I often find myself feeling more closed in than when I lived in the city. I am further apart from my neighbours, and yet I am bound to know them all.
Mrs Partridge – Hannah – who had Irene rather late, came up with the idea of a fête. It made her feel young again, she said, because it was something she wanted to do, not something she had to. It brought us out of our houses, and it also brought us a little out of ourselves.
Mrs Eaves, who spends most of the year at the mercy of her mean husband and meaner daughters, ran the crafts stall. Though she has hardly any money of her own, she does make a rather delightful sock puppet.
Mrs Davis ran the make-up stall, for she once moonlighted as an Avon lady but wasn’t very good at it as she spent most of the time buying up the stock for herself.
Mrs Tead ran the drinks stall, with her famous non-alcoholic fruit punch which her family, she told us, clamours for on hotter days.
Mrs Marque, or as everybody calls her “Mark with a Q”, and who had been a teacher before giving it all up to manage her own brood of six, ran some sort of word competition, with the rather grand prize of a new Collins dictionary set.
And Mrs Willett, who had no organisational prowess whatsoever on account of raising her four young children alone since her husband’s affair, was general dogsbody, and spent most of the afternoon shepherding people from Mrs Tead’s stall to the loos.
I ran the cake stand, and my Charlatan cake sold out.
I think of the fête now with a feeling that’s somewhere between nostalgia and remorse. A solid moment in time in a season that passes so quickly.
I’m struck by the thought that you only have a limited amount of summers. It’s such an obvious thing to say, but have you ever considered the fact that there is only one summer per year? I have known fourty now. I wonder how many more I have left.
I glance over to the board next to the fridge, where I map out my meals for the week. For the moment it’s blank. The summer doesn’t call for such rigidity. Raymund is here, and he finds it a novelty to watch me cook something unexpected. He and the children help about the house, as suddenly they are no longer too tired, no longer too busy. But tomorrow is the first Monday of September, and then all of the responsibility will be mine.
Lasagne is my constant. I have about twenty solid recipes that I rotate on a regular basis, but to give me some sense of security we always have lasagne on Tuesdays. How dull Tuesdays are. Useless days in between the flurry of Mondays and the relief of Wednesdays. How many more Tuesdays do I have left? How many have I already had? Fourty times fifty-two.
I was never any good at arithmetic.
I peer down at the bucket as Raymund comes in from the garden. He leaves the back door ajar, and the smell of grass creeps into the room. I glance up at him and he waves. I smile effortlessly, and he kicks off his boots and sets about scraping the pastry trimmings off of the chopping board with a knife. I stare at the knife, as he goes back and forth with it. How many more pies will I bake? How many more last summer Sundays? How many last cuts of the year?
For the first time, I see the knife in a new light, and I am deeply shocked by it.
I wonder if he sees me as his capable wife, who is just taking a moment to relax; to lean against the sink while the pie cools. Perhaps I am admiring the sunset. Perhaps I am admiring the good job my good husband has done of the lawn. What he cannot see is the panic within me. The rediscovered consciousness of time.
He comes over to put the things in the sink. I catch his eye in the reflection of the window, and I smile again. He places the board down, I take the knife from him, and I tell him to wait in the dining room. That I’ll bring everything through in a few minutes. That I’m just letting the pie cool a little. He kisses me on the cheek, and he takes the wine through.
The evening has cooled a little, too. The oven is settling down, and a breeze comes in through the back door. But I can still feel the sweat around my middle, where the strings of my apron are holding me in.
Beren Reid | May 2018