The Mood

There’s warmth even in win­ter.

Fashion (Canada) - - CONTENTS - By Anne Michaels

Ac­claimed nov­el­ist Anne Michaels brings warm me­mories to the chill of Fe­bru­ary.

The cross­ing was short, but there was time enough to stand on the deck and feel the in­tense cold and the sway of the sea. Slate wa­ter, white wind, the is­land like a bit of solder along the hori­zon.

They were the only trav­ellers. No one came in win­ter; the view be­longed to them. Once a year, ev­ery Fe­bru­ary, they made the cross­ing. It was a long drive to the ferry dock, a small out­post on a route by­passed by the high­way, al­most a se­cret now, and they al­ways reached the ferry at dusk, the last light hov­er­ing like a hawk above the trees.

On deck they watched the colour drift down to the bot­tom of the sky, where it bur­nished, mem­ory mak­ing per­fect what was al­ready per­fect, and she saw in John’s face how the sight of it slaked a long­ing.

Soon they were close enough to see the glow of moon­light be­gin­ning to rise from the snow, sea-blown across the beach to the edge of the for­est, a bright curve of moon on the dark sand.

It was a small is­land, a sin­gle vil­lage cling­ing to the coast, glow­ing in the win­ter dusk with a kind of grandeur. A gen­eral store, a pub with a few rooms up­stairs for pa­trons to sleep off a long night of it or for an over­flow of sum­mer rel­a­tives and, when they came each Fe­bru­ary, a room that was theirs.

She wore her fa­ther’s tweed cap and his sweater, which hung down al­most to her knees. It was 10 years since her fa­ther died, and she loved that sweater and that cap for hav­ing been his. Her scent was now in the wool, too, her faint per­fume at the neck and cuffs.

As long as she did not look in the mir­ror, she felt half her age. There was no change in the way John looked at her ei­ther. It was as it had al­ways been be­tween them.

We be­long to­gether, we are loyal, I throw my lot in with yours. How could they love with such seem­ing sim­plic­ity? No one could be­lieve it; friends thought them hi­lar­i­ous, were con­de­scend­ing be­hind their backs. Salt and pep­per, bread and but­ter. She knew it and didn’t care. Be­cause she knew how dan­ger­ous it was to live this way, to sur­ren­der to the deep, loyal grief of lov­ing some­one more


a feel­ing, some com­bi­na­tion of me­mories, mo­ments and nos­tal­gia. You know it—you feel it—even if you’ve never re­ally thought about it. To help en­cap­su­late the moods of the months, we’re ask­ing nov­el­ists to take on the cal­en­dar and evoke the feel­ings of each sea­son through fic­tion, mem­oir or some mix of the two. Anne Michaels is a poet and nov­el­ist. Her lat­est book of po­etry is All We Saw. than one­self. It meant loss to come as cer­tain and pre­cise as the boil­ing point of an el­e­ment, the melt­ing point of the el­e­ment they were to­gether. For the one left be­hind, all would be trans­formed in an in­stant to worse than how it be­gan— with that mad long­ing so much like grief.

The win­ter days of dark­en­ing and deep­en­ing to­ward the end of the year, the gen­er­ous long even­ings of lamp­light—what her daugh­ters, when they were small, called “lamb light.” Sky pur­ple with dusk and cold. And then the new year, the length­en­ing of light, the thaw, black trees grow­ing wet and less dis­tinct, ev­ery­thing slightly awash. Not to turn from the weather but to turn to­ward it in­stead. There was a trick to win­ter, to weather, and it was love. The walk be­fore din­ner, com­ing back in­side. The ket­tle on. The table set. Flavours slowly prov­ing in the oven. Be­fore din­ner, bare legs and thick socks un­der the blan­kets. Mu­sic heard from a dis­tant room.

The Fe­bru­ary jour­ney to the is­land, the short cross­ing into that win­ter in­ti­macy. The damp win­ter air over the wa­ter, the ut­terly pri­vate realm of win­ter in that sea­side vil­lage. There is a trick to love when you can say “No mat­ter what.” And mean it. Go to­ward it, go deeper to­ward it.

Once, when she was a teenager, at the the­atre with her fa­ther, many years af­ter her mother died, she watched a cou­ple ar­rive and sit in the row ahead; the woman pulled off her sweater, shook out her hair and set­tled in, her arm across her com­pan­ion’s shoul­der. All night the woman’s arm was across his shoul­der. Why did she re­mem­ber this still? And much later, the sight of two men in their sum­mer gar­den, lis­ten­ing to a sym­phony through an open win­dow. The mu­sic and the light from the kitchen poured across the lawn. As if there was noth­ing to it, easy as any­thing, to say “Al­ways.”

The lights were on in the vil­lage. It was very cold, the sea turn­ing to stone in the dark­ness. Soon she would feel him grow heavy be­side her, dis­solv­ing into sleep. The peace of another body known with ab­so­lute trust. Slack with love. Out­side, the creak­ing cold, snow fall­ing un­der the street lights. It is never sim­ple to be so sated.

The cross­ing was short. Time enough to feel this ea­ger­ness.

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