january thaw

winter came early and hard that year in Vermont. Tirelessly it had tantrumed, since October's end. So, as the two of them sat that January noon, at opposite corners of the sofa, those few inches between them a masonry, the heated air between them as thick as gelatin, that nigh space separating them as arbitrary, but as undeniable, but as incontrovertible as the border between warring states, they did not at once note the sunlight streaming through the windowpane.

"You're going to have to live with that!" Sarah snapped. "It's all I ever wanted! You're taking it from me! You're taking it from me forever!"

She wiped her eyes.

And then, viciously, "Forever!" she spat at Andrew.

Sarah's anger was an arrow, her aim precise. The words pierced Andrew. But to Andrew the poison was in Sarah's tears, not her venom: It shook him to see her cry. His reply was simple. He knew she would reject it yet again. But he had only one response to this argument.

"You present it as if it's is all my decision, Sarah. In the end it's not my decision. I'm describing how I feel. You can't put that responsibility of your life on me. It's your life."

It was then, at Andrew's repetition of this outworn rebuttal, at Sarah's exasperation at the repeating of this rebuttal, at Andrew's naked vulnerability before his endless fruitless explainings, at their mutual paralysis, that Sarah glanced up to find the warm sunlight falling over the snow and slanting through the windowpane. Unconsciously, Sarah moved her hand from her chin and pressed it against the windowglass. Andrew watched her hand move to the windowglass. Then Andrew saw the sunlight come to Sarah's hand and pinken it. The sun transfused her thin fingers. Andrew's paralysis lifted. He turned to the window himself.

The snow lie in patches: Sogging, wet and crystalline. Rivulets etched runs in intervening muds, furrowing the loosened mulch and decaying leaf-litter beyond porch step. Where roof of porch met roof of house an unbroken pour of snow-melt streamed off in a spring-like pattering. Andrew saw beyond, in the abutting park, a little boy rising on a swing. In two steps he had opened wide the back door to stand astride its sill, breathing deeply the loamy odor of relaxing sod.

Sarah then stood next to him.

Then they were sitting on the back step together.

Andrew grinned and inhaled big-chestedly. Sarah smiled and tugged at a strawy weed. For a timeless spell they sat so--without speech, thoughtless. Then the neighbor's Labrador tromped up, sniffed, edged to Sarah's side and nosed her knee. Willingly Sarah answered, scratching his damp familiar ears. The neighbor himself arrived then, to leash his filthy wagging brute, to chuckle a greeting, to swagger on parkward.

"God, what a day," Andrew exclaimed. He rose then and arched his back. He stretched his arms. Andrew stepped out onto the squelchy soil.

"Reminds me of the Cape, this smell," Sarah said. "Almost. I mean if it had a little sea-like-ness to it. You know? So rich? Fertile?"

Andrew interlocked his fingers behind his neck. He leaned back, tilting his head upward. The sun soaked into the pores of his face. The sun kneaded at his eyelids. The sun rosined his cheeks.

Sarah said, "You wanna go there in May again? To the Cape?"

Andrew just repeated, "God, what a day." And then, lightly, "Sure."

They sat on the porch in the sun for a long time. Late afternoon came and still the day's warmth held. Then dusk fell and it felt like fall. Then, with darkness, it was winter again.

Sarah and Andrew carried their freshly aired lungs back indoors. With sun-kissed humors, they went, with revivified senses. The windows they left open as long as they might. Andrew had opened each so the apartment stood aired now of furnace fumes and the residual odors of their winter confinement. But, at a shiver's quickening, the closing of the windows came all at once, and the broiling of mushrooms to share over a light-hearted salad, and the plopping onto the sofa with a post-prandial coffee. Andrew and Sarah began this coffee sitting next to one another, even touching. Soon though they found again their opposite corners of the sofa.

Andrew lifted his hand and pressed it against the windowglass. The metallic cold of January had returned. The cold hurt his fingers. He pulled them away. Andrew wrapped his hand around the hot ceramic mug.

"It's the responsibility," he rephrased. "You know how I live for freedom. And with that no matter what intellectual games I played with myself I would always feel responsible, until I died even. A true, total freedom would be lost to me, Sarah...Forever. That feeling of responsibility would kill it. I can't take on that burden. There's nothing else I can say. I'm sorry."

Sarah's eyes burned red behind their dampness. Sarah's eyes lie narrow beneath her futile seekings to comprehend. Sarah's eyes rose swollen above her savaged heart. And now, shifting inward, Sarah's eyes alighted refusingly on her final alternative, on the last option she had so vehemently refused to acknowledge as an option, on the possibility of leaving Andrew.

But then, heatedly, as if an unexpected avenue had suddenly opened before her, or as if to test Andrew, or to provoke him, Sarah blurted, her face an unpent flame, "How would you feel if it happened by accident?!"

And Andrew searched himself for only an instant--or did not. For an instant passed and Andrew had the word. It came to him unsolicited. It came to him unmarred by his pursuit. With no filter between this coming of the word and his speaking it, Andrew stated, numbly:


And Andrew looked to Sarah. And Andrew saw something in Sarah give way. Somehow this formulation had penetrated their miscommunication, had let her understand. And Andrew saw Sarah lay her face in her hands. And he saw Sarah began to weep again soundlessly. And Andrew felt so deeply for her. And he did not want to hurt her. But there was nothing he could do to comfort her.

turn page >>>

john dishwasher

january thaw