Monday, January 22

The Definition of Puddles (If You Ever Wondered)

Maybe it would become a tradition, and I was there at the beginning, the start of it all: every winter the M—r family going for a three-night break to a cabin in the woods. A pick-me-up after Christmas, something to look forward to in the new year, not three-weeks-old and already tired. I did look forward to it, mostly for the chance to see my mum again, as I was missing our games of scrabble, drinking sessions and her foul mouth.
There was some business to finish off at work, but I closed everything down on the Thursday evening, feeling ready and quite excited. The next morning my wristwatch stopped at nine-o-three. I had not realised it had stopped and missed my train. London shrunk into the distance, disappearing bit by bit into the corner of the window, tall buildings vanishing. Too much of this city is bad for me and my complexion. Some might argue that one cannot have too much of this city, but I would never believe such claptrap. I drank my coffee and stared out of the window. It is a shame, but sitting there I thought about how quickly the weekend would go by and how soon it would be all over and on another train – a train where the city grew from the distance, appearing bit by bit, tall buildings erect – I would become sad. All these moments, these glances at people on the 14:02, should be savoured lest nostalgia have to explain them at a later date.
It was cold. The overladen car pulled up with two smiling faces in the front and one in the back, strapped securely into a baby seat; I squeezed her woolen-tight’d knees and ran my fingers along the dry skin of her hands. My niece nattered in her strange and struggled english. The heat was turned up and terrible pop music was playing. I listened to story after story about my niece and I tried to enjoy them because I thought that I might long for them at some point in the future.
When we arrived it was becoming dark. My brother went to check in, while I rolled a cigarette and took my niece to stretch her legs. ‘Come, let me do your coat up.’ My mother and (other) brother, in another car, waved at me. I could, even through the draughts of tobacco, smell the pines and wet air of puddles and thick mud.
The cabin was warm. We unpacked and the night came down upon us, enveloped the trees, smothered the grass and the animals came to life just a whisker beyond the spilled light of the living room window; you could hear them, unsettling the spirit and then, ah, they’re not bad, even though they’re watching me closely. We drank and then ate a hot dinner.
There was never silence.
The silence of my flat was a million miles away. A little girl, just three years-old, made the most noise. It was noisy with talk and yet the silent environment just past the walls. We went for a walk as snow began to fall. My brother and his family would turn back. ‘Right, let’s put our foot down,’ my mum would say at their departure. We walked and talked kind of breathlessly. The paths were quiet. In the faraway, two stalks, pale and blurred, would swell until one could see them shuffle and trudge; they passed, swallowed by the trees. The smell of pine drifted in perfumed clouds, shifting bellows, a disturbance of needles fluffed up against the white sky. I was wearing wellies. We navigated carelessly. Between all the pines planted so linearly, one could not change path too easily, so we followed the path of those who had come before us—
‘Shall we go left or straight on?’
‘Straight on. Why not? We’ll take the next left.’
We went to the pub and I bought us all a drink. I had wanted to go to the pub for some time for some reason. Lager, prosecco, red wine; the snow fell. We had good conversations and laughed and I enjoyed making them laugh.
In the darkness, sincere and damp, the golden windows of other cabins shone out. There was two-seaters parked out front, smoke collapsing upwards from the chimneys. What was that, a murmur? There were puddles, moonlit holes in the path that guided my way. In those cabins were lovers. The lovers haunted me in much the same way that the animals (just a whisker from the spilled light of the living room window) did. They were in there, recuperating with rhythm & blues while the kettle boiled toward another pot of coffee. They were in love or maybe they were trying to be in love, maybe they were returning to love, or maybe they only had sex or maybe they were not in love at all. Out the corner of my eye, I looked at the quiet car and imagined being in a cabin in the woods with a lover. I nearly stumbled over a hole in the path. The puddle was there; it was only a puddle because of the moon’s reflection, otherwise it was just water. The puddle shimmered. I cursed and smelled the pine, smelled the smoke from the chimney.

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