Imagine a woman who has come to a cabin two days ago. Not everything is put away yet; there are boxes stacked along one wall, all of them still closed, four or five that have been marked Assorted, the ones that will frustrate her getting settled. There are other boxes she didn’t get to mark. The cabin’s in a little clearing through a tree-break, ruts in the road that worsen in winter, a local farmer paid to mow the field with his tractor, and he does, but it’s hard to know how often. He mowed before she arrived, probably because she called.
The news in the country comes by wind: the world here is the weather. Because the wind goes and comes at the same time, and that’s a kind of time that’s always simultaneous, time becomes the richness of each moment. Then there’s the scent of cedar in the wet morning that arrives so strongly on the wind, the smell seems a burning.
Let’s say she has a sister who lived in the cabin last year, and planted a garden, sweetly muscled among the river rocks she laid by the south side of the house, ferns and pachysandra and a climbing rose that didn’t thrive, and there’s a dormant vegetable patch waiting for chicken wire. We’re saying it’s March—no, it’s April. Yes, April. If she stays long enough, the woman plans to grow vegetables: carrots drilling down in the dark, and squash blossoms bursting like music that stays and then fades, and individual tomatoes sun-blushed and round. She’ll put in the fence to keep out the rabbits, who know where to go, and stake the wire against the groundhog’s tunneling through her hopes. The groundhog who is a nightmare, in the dark. She might even run the fence high, because of the deer.
On the third night a fox could be heard barking. Why?
It’s an area with trout streams, where the fish seem to swim without moving in the riffles and eddies, wanting and having.
On the fourth morning, the wind shifts, the weather coming straight down. In the misty rain at the edge of the difference between woods and road, she sees a form that looks human, but it’s probably a combination of shadow and foliage.
We’re saying her money won’t run out until September at the earliest, now that she’s living rent-free in her family’s cabin built by a great-great uncle—although that’s probably not true, it’s more likely he just bought it, family stories being what they are. She’s not very woodsy, in truth. We’re saying she decided to tell only three people. She’s healthy; that’s important. We don’t have to imagine her being sick.
She’s not much of a reader, mostly biographies, but she did bring a few, and she has her tablet. And there are always puzzles wherever her sister has been.
The woman puts in a call to the satellite company. She isn’t sure when they’ll come; right now her appointment’s three weeks away; everything is on hold, even here. The big living room windows are of course a kind of show, one that’s slower than she’s used to watching, with slight changes each day, and that’s fun in a small way, for now. But she wants more action; maybe the fox will come, or the deer at dusk, or even a bear. Is it bear country? That seems possible, but it wasn’t in the plan for her, or for what we wanted together, when we started all this.
Between us, we’re trying to think about her, to stay focused on her needs: escape, solitude, loneliness, peace, shelter, a physical life, a return to her body and senses, her own judgement, limits, or even a neighbor who needs a pie. We imagine she hasn’t had a vacation for two years at least, it’s been so long; that her roommate has a friend who needed a place to stay, and the woman agreed and gave up her room for the summer, and now the rent on the apartment’s paid, and that even though her freelance work has dried up, she’ll be fine for a few months. It’s all so dangerous at home.
We like drama in other people’s lives. The move to the country should be a move to get away from a crisis, some emotional peril she’s in, to flee a disaster, maybe a lover, and we want her to be choosing the cabin as refuge, a quieted solution. We want her problems to be her own, not ours. We want her morning walks to mean something. But there’s also the possibility that the difference between her city life and her country life will precipitate a dramatic shift, a decision to create more tension, to risk a new life beyond what she knows.
So this is how I see people, and maybe you do too. The person you say Excuse me to at the farmer’s market upstate, when you went for a drive because you had to, yes, you needed to get out (you have your problems, as do I)… she’s the woman we have imagined.
Because she’s real, now.
Because you needed to get to the country, too. Needs are real too.
Because, now, this is her life. We have imagined it together.
Because I was there and I saw you, and when she said That’s okay, as she stumbled so close to you, and then too close to me, we three were together.
Togetherness is also a kind of strangeness.
Did you feel it? Was it okay? I hope so.
Because we shared a look, all this.
Alan Michael Parker is the author or editor of eighteen books, including most recently The Age of Discovery. He holds the Houchens Chair in English at Davidson College in North Carolina, in the U.S. He can be found too easily at www.alanmichaelparker.com.