After the War

Lilith-1919

I took a walk in the country today. It was uneventful. The sun was shining through the window in the morning, so I had such high hopes. Tying up my boots, my energy sagged, but I ignored it. I tried to keep hoping.

The money is running out, the money is running out. I’m in trouble. I must go the city, probably to London. I’m dreading it.

If I walk at night, I walk with ghosts. I think it will take a long time. For the ghosts to go, I mean. I can’t see how anybody will want to go walk at night. I also think, for some reason, that there will be a great deal of new poetry, and a great deal of neglected gardens. I have no idea why. Old, overgrown, ghostly gardens, with all the branches turning grey. Hard, old branches, old people’s fingers.

I never did this sort of thing before, walking, I mean. I saw this little path, the other morning, when I was taking Mrs. H. her clean washing. I have stooped to that, taking in washing, and in a way I am glad Arnold is not here to see it. He would be horrified. I try not to be angry, because don’t the dead see the living, so some people say, so shouldn’t he know how hard times have gotten for me. I went to church five Sundays ago, and I sat in the back, because I felt a little shy. I never really got to know the neighbors, in the two years since I have been living here. I hadn’t planned to stay. I thought the priest might say something about how the dead see the living, because my dearest wish is to see my darling again. However, the priest rambled on, moved cups and dishes back and forth on his little table, and it seemed in his heaven the spirits moved about in a sort of leaden way, like carved wooden effigies in linen drapes, and all the doors back were shut, with rusted locks on them. Arnold is not looking back, is not getting back, even at night, and that just makes me angry at him. I sat in the back, my fingers twitching inside my tan suede gloves..I have so many things to get over.

Anyhow, I must go to London and work, but for now I can stay in this small country town, so I took a walk, having no washing or sewing to occupy myself. It was amazing, I suppose, because the air was just right, the sun was shining, the grass was green, and I even saw a cow. Can you believe it? I stopped and stared. I wondered if my clothes were too heavy for the warm day, so I left my shawl on the fence. It would be terrible to do all the right things, and ruin your day, all the same, because you were irritated because you never dressed for the weather.

As I stopped and stared at the green field and the black-and-white speckled cow, the perfect cow to be standing in that impeccable pasture, I wondered where Arnold and I went wrong. I could have stayed with my parents, after all. I didn’t have to leave. I could go, back, even now, but I suppose mother is angry at me. It seemed to me a good idea to be closer to Arnold, and he had a little money to send me, and we were going to be married. Sometimes, I want so badly to have been married to Arnold, that I even convince myself we were. We took a hurried train trip, after all, and he was with me, I know. We kissed on the train, I slept on his shoulder, and I even thought it might go further than that. Sometimes I convince myself that it did. It would have been so easy for us to be married. We passed through many little towns, and it might have happened at any one of them, any one of these stupid little towns where the women walked in the lanes with bundles tied up on their backs, and sometimes you even saw children with them, the younger women, I mean, and sometimes the women carried babies in their backward-facing bundles. They looked bored and tired. Now I know they were wondering about their men, that they had little candles in their hearts, and their footsteps crunching on the gravel lanes were nothing at all like I thought, nothing like the everyday sounds, like the cow munching grass in the pasture, like the swinging of a gate, but instead the beating of a drum, and so, with the drum and the candle in their heart, they were living something holy, more holy than the little church where the man mumbled and moved the cup and the plate, poured a sip of wine, ate a cracker, but like…like..the moon rising out the ocean, big as the ocean itself, old friends, those two, and the wind on the water, a cutting, northern wind, but something that shocks you, that you realize….

But here I could think no more. The thought dropped, I could not finish it. I felt comfortable in my clothes, staring at the cow, but I wanted to see more perfect things. I walked on.

I saw a man. He was so far off, but I could see that he was working on a tractor, and I supposed it was broken. Still, he seemed to know what he was doing. He was an older man, I saw grey on his head. He did not see me. His clothes were brown. He wore boots, like me. He would soon fix his tractor, and plow his field, and how would he feel? He would feel even. The days would come, like the you lay down cards in a card game. Oh, not like my card games, where I need to win, like this particular card game like I am playing now, but his card games, the ones he plays on Saturday nights, where his wife sits in the front parlor with a neighbor and chats, and nods a great deal, and he sits with some old acquaintance of his, and puts down cards not knowing or caring if he wins or loses, but in his head….glowing fields of wheat, perfect wheat, and he can’t tell anyone, or explain it, but he knows that he is ready to plant again, and he’s thinking of the wheat, touched with the rays of the sun, and it does something to him that he can’t explain to anyone else, and he holds the memory just for times like these, nights like these, when the room is too cold, the chairs are worn and with scratches on the legs, there’s a fly on the wall, the beer is sour. He holds onto it, and he tells himself, I will plant again, tomorrow, before it is hot, I will take up my tools, and go to my tractor, with my wrench and my oiling can.

I left him. I walked on, not caring about the shawl I left behind. Nobody would take it. When I turned and came back, it would be there. When I came back, it would not be night, because I would not walk so far, but far away, far, far off, I would smell the night. The cow would be gone.

I walked on the path. The fence on my left hand twisted at an odd angle, and went up the hill. I wondered a little. I saw no more houses, no more farms. Why did the fence line turn? An old township, I suppose. Here is my land, here is yours. Lines on a map, but this one doesn’t go straight, it’s got to turn and charge up his hill, and that will be difficult for you, farmer, because the horse has to pull the plow if you want to grow something there, and, later, I supposed, you have to harvest there, but it might be a little easier, walking down the hill. You wouldn’t have to harvest walking upwards, would you, farmer, because doesn’t the scythe work just as well, coming down? I can’t say, I never farmed, I went to college, and I have old come through to sell plots of land to men like you, but really I would like to see California. Please make your x on the line.

There was nothing to my left, or right, but grass. I was not tired, not yet, but I wanted it to fill me, but it didn’t. I felt a little foolish. The war was over, after all. That was the big thing, the thing that meant so much to millions of people. Some men were coming home. Women, too, nurses, locking up, putting away their bandage rolls. The rooms would wait, the trampled wooden floors would wait and listen, always seem to be listening. But that was not the big thing to me. Arnold was dead, and the city was waiting. Well, maybe it was always sort of night in the city, with the smoke and everything, the smoke from the factories, the smoke at night, even, I guessed, but the parting in the smoke, the stars, and beer gardens, here and there in the lanes, the lanes were the poor people lived, at the edge of the great city, and laughter, on a fine night, and where the smoke curled and wandered off in the night sky…the stars they left behind them.

I turned. It was all perfect, but the light was a little less, the grass would be less green in five minutes, ten. The grass would not be cheery, but dimmer, more sentimental, and I had plenty of sentiment, with Arnold dead, and I didn’t need it. I could do that just as well at home, and I supposed I had a trunk to pack.

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I like to write.

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Jennifer York

Jennifer York

I like to write.

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