Emil arrives in Fay’s life like the tight green tip of a waiting branch: cold and a little hard, but with promise. It is late winter, that intolerable time of year when the ground is so worn and hardened that it seems like nothing will ever grow from it again. Fay is tired of being cold, but there is his number, pressed into her palm with an impossibly warm hand, and a brief glance that burns in Fay while she tries to sleep. Just as she tries not to long for spring, she also tries not to let Emil come too swiftly into her life. She likes him so much that she is already steeling herself against potential loss.
As Earth hurtles through space, the northern hemisphere of Fay tips toward the sun, and thaws. Emil becomes the source of heat that wakes and swells her. She looks in the mirror and sees a goddess.
On the library lawn, Emil and Fay stretch out for hours, reading to each other from cherished volumes. They rediscover the beloved passages that built their inner lives. They find new ones together, and place them on their shelf, front covers alongside back covers, pressed together, spines exposed.
In the night, Emil approaches Fay and breathes into the back of her neck. Sometimes he whispers things, his lips lingering on the F sound in her name. Sometimes he says nothing. He never makes a promise he cannot keep, but he tells her that he loves her and she goes silent with emotion, unable to stand, unable to sit, unable to figure out if he means it or if he just thinks he does.
At the end of September, a slowing of insectile music rousts Fay from the sleepy complacency of love. A sick knot of anxiety rises up in her stomach and takes residence there like a cancer. The earth fills with indistinct changes, and Emil seems different, too. Fay feels his growing distance and searches her mind for the reason as she walks in the newly crisp air. She feels tension gathering with the wind, and stops to look around. The forest is ablaze with red, the sun spins in the sky like a giant pinwheel, and Fay divines her future with Emil in the chaos of windblown leaves:
“I see a house that seems larger than it is. It could be the open windows and the blowing curtains that makes it seem huge, or it could be the loft, converted from a drafty attic into a room for reading and loving. This house, though cramped and worn, is as large as the starry universe. It holds a multitude of lives. It is like a small blue planet hurtling toward summer, filled with the impossible warmth and love of the sun.”
“Now, I see another house. The sky, frosted with stars, makes it seem like a lost toy, nestled in the overgrown weeds. This house gets smaller every year. Soon, it will not be able to hold the lady who lives inside. She is so frail, she will surely be crushed.”
The leaves, whirling around in the wind, sound like applause. The sun no longer spins in the sky and Fay’s momentary gift of prophecy goes. It begins to get dark. A gust scatters the last of the clapping leaves. Fay pulls her jacket tighter against the cold and heads home.
Shawn McClure is a visual artist and writer who lives in central New Jersey with her family. Her writing can be read in Noble/Gas Qtrly, The Airgonaut, and is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review.