by Zinta Aistars
My alarm pulses a few minutes after 6 a.m., and 17 minutes after the hour, I unfold myself from the down blankets of the bed. I can afford to move at leisure, even though it is Monday, already Monday. I am not at my house, after all, an hour away from the office. I am house sitting someone else’s house, and I am but minutes from the office.
This gift of time! I luxuriate in it. Padding in woolen socks across the hardwood floor, I head for the kitchen to start the coffee brewing. My tortoiseshell cat Jig follows me, twining around my ankles. I’d never thought she’d feel at ease in a new place so quickly.
I never thought I would.
It is my first morning here, and if the world were perfect, it would be a Sunday morning, but I will take what gifts I can on this early Monday. Everything is still new to me here. Everything an experiment. I fry two eggs in butter—that’s a Sunday thing—just because I can. I read a few pages of a random poetry book from a bookshelf, just because I can. I run my fingers across the keys of the piano in the dining room, waking up the house, because I can. I have time. I have time for yet a second cup of coffee.
Seventeen minutes from the end of the driveway to my office. Seventeen minutes from what seems to be deep in the county to the rising skyline of Grand Rapids. I pull into the parking lot, marveling. Having begun my fourth year of commutes from one city to the next, an hour each way, this is stunning, and wonderful, and like winning a lottery ticket of time.
And when the work day ends, I time it again, and again, 17 minutes, and I am “home.” Where otherwise I might just now be clearing city limits, heading south on the interstate, now I step into a kitchen to feed the cat, purring to see me, and then pull my gloves back on to head out for an evening walk. In daylight! Blue with dusk, and dropping quickly into evening, but I gaze up at the sky as I walk down the country road and marvel. The gift of light.
A sliver of white moon in the darkening sky, and I stop to throw my head back and look at it. We look at each other. Moon and I.
The road is quiet, and snow-covered, and long, and straight, bordered by tall bare trees to either side. I pass farmhouses, windows lighting up with golden light as the evening deepens. I want to see what is on this road that I am temporarily claiming as mine. What kind of people live here? What do these houses say about those who live inside? But I am greeted by animals, not people. A black dog with drooping ears sits softly on his haunches and barks lazily at me as I walk by. He barks in greeting, not in warning. I call out to him, greeting, too.
Two horses graze in the snowy field, and I wonder what they find. One of them is covered by a blanket.
And then, I catch my breath, and stop.
I stand in the snow on the side of the road and stare at them, out in the snowy corn field, delicate shapes in the distance, nibbling at the cold nubs of summer. My breath makes a cloud in the air as I count: 10, 11 ... 15... 17! A herd of deer.
One lifts her head to look back at me across the field, then they all do. All of us, still, gazing. All of us, blessed.
I crunch my boots in the snow because I want to see them move. I want proof that I am not dreaming. They gather together at the edge of the corn field and watch me, waiting to see what I will do next, as I wait to see what they will do next.
I want to laugh. I push my gloved hands back into my pockets and head back home. I will spend 17 full days here before I must leave again. Each day a discovery.
Back, then. To that kitchen, and the tortoiseshell cat so very glad to see me. I stoke the fire in the wood stove until it crackles with cheer, and head back to the kitchen again to prepare dinner: a filet of cod, white as that sliver of moon, and a bowl of asparagus tips. While the fish sputters in butter on the pan, I grind coffee beans for tomorrow morning’s coffee.
These are the chores of the every day. Simple things. Everyday things. The chores in which we take comfort, buoyed by routine, and my routine is already taking shape in this old house on a country road.
Seventeen times, I curl my fingers into the soft of my old cat’s belly. She has turned it up, to that caramel softness, uncurling in comfort on the Persian rug by the wood stove. I sit down beside her, both of us warming to the oncoming night. I share my dinner, holding white flakes of buttery fish out to her to nibble.