The snow, which has held us captive for over a month now, is slowly beginning to loosen its grip at last, revealing random patches of bare ground where the grass appears so yellowed and flattened in submission that one wonders that it will ever come back to life.
“Weather’s turning,” M observed as we pulled into the driveway. “We’d best get some of that trimmed back now before Spring hits in and it all goes crazy again.” This garden had taken us by surprise last year: the shrubs grew alarmingly fast, the ornamental trees at the back had seemed to double in size in one summer, and the grape vine had threatened to push its way right through one window. This year, we had decided, we’d be on top of it.
Almost immediately we got in the house, the girls wanted to go out again. They also know the snow is disappearing and are desperate to spend every day it’s still here enjoying it. But getting them out there is a chaotic process that I don’t enjoy: changing into jeans, jumpers, coats, scarves, finding hats and wayward gloves, digging out socks, fighting reluctant boots… There is tripping, falling, stuck zippers, shoes on wrong feet… I slunk down to the family room and left M with the madness, with the good excuse that my ankle was hurting — which it was — but also with the enormous relief that I did not have to be on duty today. The noise and chaos was just more than my head could bear today.
Eventually the din died down , and then I heard the door shut and the house fell quiet. I sat for a moment and soaked it in. Quiet. Nothing. Silence. Even better than the silence of a nap, because that might be rudely broken at any moment. This was the sure silence of emptiness, something I hardly know any more, and I was going to enjoy it.
Tea first. A silent house called for a cup of tea. And then, perhaps I would write an email to an old friend. I smiled to myself — this was going to be really nice.
I had been sitting at the computer for only a few minutes — my thoughts only just beginning to gather — when the house rumbled for a moment. Startled and not quite knowing what to think, I just stopped still, fingers suspended over the keyboard. It came again, the whole right side of the house rumbling and shaking and sounding like it was about to come down. I grabbed my coat and hobbled out the back door.
The girls stood with the neighbour-kids in a semi-circle around M, who was crouched by the side wall at the base of the grape arbour and cutting through the main vine with the electric reciprocating saw from his truck. The arbour was shaking violently, the vine was resisting as much as it could. I cleared my throat.
M looked up and grinned, proud of himself. “I’m nearly done!” he announced, and pointed to the vine on the other side of the arbour. “I’ve got through that one already, and I’ve done all the smaller ones on this side. Just this last one to go.” And then he spotted the shock on my face, and his grin slid away.
“Ohhhh…” he began, and the shape of the word lingered on his lips for a moment. “Oh, I thought we’d agreed on this. We… we had discussed this, hadn’t we?” He pressed his finger to the trigger of the saw, and it whirled a little, hesitantly.
We had, but my recollection was that we’d settled on perhaps digging up the vines and moving the arbour, and then we’d left the matter unsettled… His recollection, my recollection… Husband-wife miscommunications are the stuff that marriage is made of.
“I’ll… um… I’ll leave this for now, shall I?” he said, a bit sheepishly. And then pointed to the sagging limbs on the snow-battered lilac tree. “Should I… well, how about those? Should they come down?” I nodded, and he turned away from the vine — a stay of execution at the last moment — and headed for the lilac.
The children had wandered back to the snow, all but the neighbour boy who, at the age of nine, had spotted the undercurrents in our conversation and was now watching me intently to see where this would go. I looked at him and smiled. “Jay, when you get older and get married… and you think you know what your wife wants you to do… just be sure to go back and double-check with her, ok? And then… double-check again.” I winked at him, and he laughed.
And I turned and went back into the house, where everything would be quiet.