Morning Bright, Always
Wind whistling, ice tapping at the windows. Sounds glacial, but I can’t see out. The windows are too steamed up.
Hearing the winds shout imprecations, with gloved hand, Julie rounded a circle in the steam to see the winds tossing snow against the houses, and the tree branches, ice-sparkling.
But how can this be? Yesterday, sublime sun and barely a breeze. The kids and I walked for over an hour, and afterwards we built a snowman. Today, I dread putting even one foot outside.
Breathing a sigh of dread from toes to head, a sigh big enough for her to face up to what awaited her. Nonetheless, I gotta go.
With hips and legs pressed against the frozen-shut door, she budged it—to ice crackling and the door groaning—to an opening big enough for her to squeeze out and into the smack-startled cold.
Winds pummeling her from all directions, she wrapped the scarf tighter around her neck, but it sprung to flap free in the wild winds. “Damn!” And she double wrapped it—to another noose around my neck.
Ducking her head against her scarf, she grabbed the porch door that wouldn’t close if it wasn’t slam-banged shut.
Picking her way down the back steps, Julie looked down at patches of shiny-ice glaring up at her. Careful now. Even as, “Whoops,” her feet began losing hold.
A sudden slip. Right foot sliding out from beneath her on a patch of ice. ”Oh no!”
Left foot holding steady. Her heart-throbbing when she grabbed the porch rail. I hang on for dear life!
Clinging to the rail, deep breaths of gratitude expelled in puffs of warmth against the cold. I barely escaped a disaster.
Both feet she steadied under her shivery body, recovering her balance in throat-stopping fright. Had I slipped, I would lay out here in the snow until only-god-knows-when. More than likely, there won’t be school today, and the kids will go back to bed after they see the school closings.
A near-disaster averted to feet firm on the walk. Her gaze shifted to a snow-covered lump in the driveway. There it sits frozen stiff. If I, myself, hadn’t parked it there last night, I wouldn’t even know what it is.
The wind whistled by. Julie blinked at the car wrapped in a cloak of ice and snow. To get to R&R, I have to warm my old car out of its snowsuit. This snowy old heap, it, well, it reminds me of the birthday cake I baked for Tommy‘s fifth birthday.
Immediately, she wished she had directed her mind in another direction. Coming at her to descend, paralyzing thoughts of Tommy’s birthday cake. Sad-dark memories. In such a hurry, I threw the cake together before school conferences. No baking powder. The baked biscuits finished that off. That was on Tuesday. Wednesday, the water heater spit out its last drops of hot water. I called the electrician in a panic then went to the fridge for eggs before I remembered the last two eggs were cracked when Tommy was showing us his ‘disappearing egg trick’. I substituted mayo for the eggs. Twitchy the entire time the cake was baking, afraid to look in the oven window. And opened the door to three fallen, bumpy layers. I buried them in thick frosting to try and hide their misshapen forms. I put them together to a cake looking like, well, like my snow-covered station wagon.
Julie sunk down to deeper down in remembering. Tommy was so disappointed, he didn’t have enough wind in him to blow out his candles, and there were only five.
She stood motionless in the icy-dark and dark-circle memories passing over her. Seeing fallen cake layers, Tommy’s downtrodden face, his eyes filling with tears he tried wiping away, Julie was cemented to the spot where she stood, transfixed, boot-deep, repentant-sad in five inches of snow: unblown birthday candles lighting her way through the darkness.
A series of wind waves rescued her from her birthday-cake sadness; they blew her back into the moment. Time to defrost this snow-covered disaster.
The drivers’ side she tackled first, and began by wrenching at the car handle. But the sounds coming back to me are ominous, like ice shattering.
When nothing budged, she kicked the door. Again, nothing. A bang or two with her fists, and the door creaked to open a crack. Now it’s do-able.
And Tommy’s ebony eyes blazed at her like the candles on his fallen cake.
Gulping away the memory, she wrenched the door to all-the-way-open, and zip-zipped her bottom into the seat behind the steering wheel. With fingers so cold they trembled, Julie twisted the key to the defrosting process. In reply, the motor mumbled back to her aging sounds of its infirm condition—seven years old in April and 200,000 rugged miles later.
Finally, as though it has grabbed a crutch, the motor caught. It chattered back and forth before humming into fully awake.
“Gotcha!” she shouted.
Time for me to jump out of the car—more of a dark tomb than transportation.
From window to frosty window, Julie rushed with the scraper. Shivering as she scraped, Julie’s teeth chattered in the rhythm of the scraper up and down the glass, even as the motor stammered along with long pauses in between.
“C’mon, c’mon: you can do it,” she encouraged.
The car muttered back to her in a dispirited way.
“Don’t you be grumbling at me; you’re not the only one out here that’s cold,” she ordered.
At last, sputtering into momentum, the motor steadied then picked up speed. Telling me it’s now or never, time for me to jump in and get going.
Julie patted the car’s hood. Good job, I was afraid you wouldn’t have enough gumption left in your rusty old carcass to get going in a temperature of ten degrees below. But you are a part of me; therefore, you’ll go. And what happens afterwards… well, I guess we’ll find out.
Though it was five a.m., officially morning, Julie felt as though she was inserting herself into the blackest night. Above her, stars dotted remote skies. And the moon’s frosty breath sighed a milky wash over the dark horizon, distant as sunlight.
And because the tires were like cold feet that wanted to remain tucked under their blanket of snow, rebelliously they spit on the driveway when Julie put her foot on the pedal for take-off. And after she angled the car down the driveway, she circled it into the dark-quiet street. Slowly, precariously, listening to the crunchy snow and feeling an ice-shine under the car’s tires, she was onwards.
She drove along slowly, precariously. Both sides of the street nodding with houses yet snoozing. Windows dark with eyelid shades pulled shut. Passing the beer dock dreaming under a roof of icicles, it huddles to keep warm between a car wash on one side and a pizza house on the other.
Directly in front of the pizza house, the stoplight flashed red. Oh-no!
Clamping her teeth together, fingers-crossed, toes-tingling, Julie, zigzagged into a slide that squealed the tires and angled her car sideways.
When the light flashed green, she attempted to straighten the wheels, but the car sat motionless while it stammered a persistent cough.
Hand to head. What the hell is that sound? A new ailment, ominous sounding. Battery or starter? Maybe, probably both.
Feeling as dark as this black night. No use second-guessing. The outcome will present itself soon enough: it always does.
Following false starts at the stoplight, the dented wagon suddenly surged with new momentum; it zipped forward.
Anxious to prove your worth, are you?
Even while coughing bronchially, the wagon dashed along the two miles until Julie steered it up and onto a ramp. After she drove off the ramp, slippery this morning, being too early for the road crew, it was but a hop, skip, and a sharp turn to the right before she drove into the R&R parking lot.
Glancing at the car clock, she noted that she had arrived in plenty of time for her very early shift. In spite of the buried car and the snowy roads, and remembering the things I should have forgotten, I am, as usual, ahead of time. But why? Continual whys. Question marks trail my every move. The first why of the day wondered when I saw the day through the steamed-up window. I wondered why the weather was sublime yesterday and glacial today. Such a major change so quickly. Life, life, what are you?
Whys and wonders are the biggest part of me, matched by nothing else in my makeup.
And then a piercing arrow shot straight inside Julie to settle deep, a new way of seeing, of estimating life and the earth around her. I am, we are, but offshoots of the earth—her many weathers, her many moods.
Waiting tables was an in-between place for Julie, a pause that came before her children awakened for school but after her husband came home from nightshift work. He staggered up to the bed and fell in; the alarm rang; she stumbled out.
There were dreads that slunk inside the house when Julie was between shifts, one as mother and wife, the other as waitress. The most brutally honest and persistent voice told Julie she was not effective at either of her jobs.
And what is most humiliating to me is the realization that neither mother nor waitress requires much beyond the most menial skills.
Julie had other dreads too, but for these she had no names. Vague forms they are, but dark and portentous. They slither up from the dank, shadowy cellar but slink back down before I can get a hold of them.
She was most anxious to escape these dark forms. And escape is what she did during the time that was too late to be called night and too early to term morning, a time when the stars hung suspended in the skies and the sun overslept, four thirty a.m. That was when Julie tiptoed around the house so as not to awaken the children. She left oatmeal with raisins in the slow cooker and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. Clean socks she stacked in a woven wash basket with broken strands that continually snagged the clothes, folded last night when she was watching the news.
Whoever gets up first will rummage through the basket to find the best pairs of socks; those with the tightest elastic around the ankles, no holes in the toes, and no darned heels.
Homework was stacked in piles on the dining room table, and Julie’s lists of reminders, mostly to herself, magnetized to the refrigerator door. Bagged lunches on a shelf above the toaster lined up like brown, paper soldiers waiting to be carried off to school war zones. If there was no school today, they will eat them in front of the TV while watching cartoons.
Julie had come to consider that slap-dash diner, R&R, as being her temporary station in life, a place where she was neither mother nor wife. She was, instead, a frazzled waitress who spilled drinks and forgot parts of orders. Sometimes she was unsure, as to who ordered what. When that catastrophe happened, she slid the contents of her trays onto the table-tops so that her customers picked and chose before they ate.
Easy-going with few bothers and little fuss, R&R was a lackadaisical diner. The R&R didn’t bother to excuse its shortfalls, including leftovers continually warmed over by the cook, Marilyn, cubby-size bathrooms, or the outdated furnace located on the roof that continually broke down.
The R&R building rose and spread without form. Begun as a rectangle five years ago, two years later it stretched out the back for added seating. With massive disregard, R&R’s dowdy form squatted amongst dirty snow banks in the winters and sweltered at the edge of a busy tourist highway in the summers. A diner harboring truckers between routes, it was also the beginning of the day for retirees. They and their car motors grumbled into the parking lot. And when Julie opened up the doors, they stumbled in and shook snow from their boots. She asked them if they wanted to be seated in a booth or at a table, and they mumbled they wanted strawberry jam on their toast, “Don’t ‘cha be bringing me any of that ole rubbery grape jelly.”
Julie was fast and cheerful in spite of misplaced orders going to the wrong tables. Thus, she was appreciated in the job she ran off to when the silence of the house filled her with dark aversions.
Most mornings Julie was itching to scramble out the door to work. I must escape his tedious snoring rattling the bedroom. I fear his snoring will be the rhythm of my days, and, sooner or later, my life?’
When she drove off to the R&R, she was leaving behind mounds of wash in the basement, sticky dishes in the sink. She would attack both and more when the children came home from school and filled the house with their youthful exuberances. It was their high energy that radiated back to Julie, and gave her glimpses of bright tomorrows. When Julie and her children were together, the dishes, dust, and drudgery that stacked high in her days and nights were momentarily bypassed by hopes; timeless, inexplicable, morning-bright, always.
Susandale’s poems and fiction are on WestWard Quarterly, Mad Swirl, Penman Review, The Voices Project, and Jerry Jazz Musician. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan. The Spaces Among Spaces from languageandculture.org has been on the internet. Bending the Spaces of Time from Barometric Pressure is on the internet now.