There’s warmth even in winter.
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
EVERY MONTH HAS A MOOD,
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.