After work, I strode down the hill on the curved path which led from campus to the street that I called home. The trees on either side of the path cast cooling shade. I felt the air — slightly damp, perfect on my skin —
I filled up on the sights and sounds of June in my small town, a place built in a valley and up the hills that surrounded it. I lived at the bottom of a hill in a Victorian one-story cottage, whitewashed, with delicate gingerbread edging the roof. Surrounded by Victorian and Italianate houses, it stood out, not the least because it was surrounded by a riotous cottage garden I carefully tended myself. An idyllic setting in an idyllic town, a Sleepy Hollow in reality.
I reached my house and walked through the driveway to the back door and unlocked the door to be greeted by my long-haired ginger cat, Montrose. He stropped my ankles, then stood on his hind legs and waved his fluffy front paws in the air. I didn’t blame him for wanting to be fed; I myself was hungry as it was 5:30 PM. I opened a can of his favorite cat food, dumping it into the bowl. He pranced around the bowl, then tucked into it while I replaced his water with fresh.
My life followed the patterns of my days and weeks, the cycles of the year. Early mornings with Montrose and breakfast, followed by a day at work at the library as a cataloger, then an evening watching reading while NPR was playing on the stereo, and hearing the students walk down the hill toward the bars and back again when the weekend arrived. Sometimes I could hear them singing Top 40 tunes at the tops of their lungs as they made their way past my house. It didn’t bother me; it was just another sound like the spring frogs and late summer cicadas and the sound of snow plows in the winter.
In the summer, I spent as much of my time out in my yard as I could. I have built myself a refuge in my yard, and maybe that is odd. My yard, an old English garden which I researched before developing it, surrounds me with a riot of flowers. It takes a lot of tending the garden not to have it revert to grass and weeds. It surrounds my house like a gaily colored blanket, and the birds and butterflies visit it in riotous numbers.
It was just the sort of afternoon, I decided, to enjoy my backyard. I had a small brick patio just big enough to hold two chairs and a table that looked like they had come from an ice cream parlor. The garden wrapped in a circle around the back of the patio and to the brush line at the edge of my small yard.
A glass of wine, I thought, would be lovely, and I brought a bottle of Reisling and a glass to the table and sat down. I could hear the ever-present birds and my wind chimes, and a car in the distance meandered down my street in no particular hurry. I sipped the wine alone.
And that was the problem, wasn’t it? I thought. Alone.
I took another sip of wine. I would have to get that vintage again, made by one of my favorite wineries in the Finger Lakes. I wished I had some cheese, maybe a wheel of Brie, and some crackers, because the wine left me a little light-headed. What, I asked myself, was the problem with that? I had nothing to do in the evening.
And then I looked across the yard, to where the back of the border created a wall against the treeline. The birds fell silent, as if they held their breath. The afternoon light shone through the trees and illuminated a patch where hollyhocks stood in red and pink and black, and blue catnip and fuzzy rose campion bloomed in front of them.
I saw a flash of alabaster touched with gold, a glimpse of a bare torso, then a shimmer of air.
Then, as I stared, nothing.