© 1998 by Michael Clifford
An entry to a competition in Foreward, a writer’s magazine. Write a story called ‘The Season’ using no more than 1450 words.
Gradually, May rambled into June, and rambling was how Lana and Jerry met.
The late snowfall had melted and the bleating of newly born lambs had faded. Diehard bluebells sapphired the woodlands as buttercups gilded the meadows. In the village gardens, daffodils had given way to pansies, forget me knots, blazing baskets of fuchsia, all parading within the dreamy spray of rosebud scent. Turned-on clocks created an English scenery of light nights and vowed days without end.
Lana, an English art teacher had read ‘A Brief History Of Time’. Jerry, an American physicist, had a daughter who wanted to be a sculptor. So they found – as they made footprints together around the common – they already had something in common.
She liked him. She wrote that evening in her diary: ‘It is a time to reveal and a time to withhold, a time to reach out and a time to hold back’. In the next week, struggling with these paradoxes, she joined him on a canal walk and a museum visit.
Then came blistering July: blue sky, white clouds, blue lake, white swans. Feeding white crumbs to orange beaks, Jerry and Lana told each other of their lives. “All was devoured,” Lana later wrote in her diary. “The ripeness of our own understanding of who we are, now shared.” The March-wind loneliness of each other’s divorce became touchable to the other, as the long shadows of a Constable painting cocooned them in the warm yellow evening of the solstice.
All over the community, as the heat-wave defied local radio statistics, pullovers, cardigans, boots, electric blankets, hot water bottles and heavy clothing were buried out of sight. Winter had been abolished, the word was stuck out of the dictionary. It had never existed.
Balancing on the edge of things, between worlds, Lana sketched by the water side, with ladybirds, midges, thunder-bugs and the lilt of the lapping reservoir for company. It’s rippled surface mirrored the reeds, the grassy banks and the oak trees. “Perhaps a lover is like a mirror,” she mused aloud, “throwing back to me my own reflection.”
Caterpillars had shed their unwanted parts and the mad dance of butterflies exploding from hedgerows had begun. The summer hummed as metallic dragon flies glinted in the sunlight. Lana watched ‘water-boatmen’ insects skate on the surface of the village pond as Jerry reminded her of the miracle of surface tension.
Sunday cricket, village fetes, gymkhanas, agricultural shows, stately homes and garden barbecues. Jerry and Lana became the tourists of their own lives. At other times, they would banter in the garden of the Bull’s Head, a stone’s throw from his rented cottage. Here, much of the entertainment was in the form of observing Ibiza-hopping, chocolate-skinned locals in their white fineries and brand ostentatious sunglasses – always with glass in hand – boasting of something they had acquired, or of somewhere they had been.
Lana and Jerry ventured south to the hot urban capital. She stepped over the cracks of London paving stones, noticing the weeds maturing between. He fed her strawberries and cream at Court number two. At Henley Regatta they couldn’t stop touching each other.
Later, back at home, she read him ‘Wind in the Willows’ and he once again tried to explain the importance of The Big Bang.
“But what came before the Big Bang?” she queried, “The Big Foreplay?”
While the bees buzzed from flower to flower, unwittingly executing nature’s design, two cold showers a day became a necessity for Jerry in the heat.
The interior upholstery burned through his shirt. His sweaty hands slid over the slippery steering wheel, as his four wheel drive cut through the moorland, taking Lana home in the afternoon. The radiator gasped of thirst. Tyres bulged near to bursting with expanding air. The asphyxiating stench of petrol. He stopped and opened the sun roof.
He laid her down in a field of golden corn and kissed her passionately. Soft breezes touched him, rustling wind spoke to him.
Later, with windows open, the smell of neighbours new cut grass, insects adrift, the duvet on the floor, under the whirling fan, their thirst was quenched again. “This summer you will need to keep on top of my garden,” she said.
“You are an English Rose in bloom,” he said to her, in August, in a country lane, placing a wild raspberry in her mouth.
“Whatever you do, don’t quote me a Shakespeare sonnet about being as fair as a summer’s day,” she said, pointing to the bags under her eyes.
“I love you,” he drawled.
“But, as the English roads wind and as the English hills roll, English love rarely runs straight.” she laughed. “One out of three roads end up in court.”
One Sunday, he played her Gerswin and she introduced him to Vaughn Williams. Next day, as a lark ascended in a meadow, she could hear the passionate voices of Summertime moving with the breeze.
Another fine day, he e-mailed her, from the University research lab, in the form of a telegram :I SEND YOU MY LOVE STOP.
She replied by telephone in a metallic computer voice: “But when you send me your love do you send it in particles or in waves?”
Brown slippery skin on white sand. In the dog days of summer, in the noon of the year, in Terracina, he applied Amber Solitaire to her back and poured Italian Secco Bianco Vino down her throat.
‘I’m dancing on sunshine’, she sang. “Thank god for summer holidays from school.”
One evening, in the Bull’s Head garden, his joke about one of the local poseurs made her literally cry with laughter. By the light of the harvest moon, they could both see within each other a core that ached with desire – and they both enjoyed the suspension and anticipation of that desire.
One afternoon, returning home from the library, she found a flock of squawking crows in her front garden. Having fought her way to her front door, her attention became focused on colonies of arts forming around the entrance paving slabs. In the kitchen she noticed an over-ripe banana and a mouldy tomato rotting in the vegetable rack. She felt vexed for the first time in months. It had been a day of irritations, negative appraisals, insect bites and itchy heat bumps; even her period was late.
And leaves gradually begin to discolour.
One weekend, they laughed all the way on a rail ‘Saver Ticket’ to Skegness. Families, beach balls and over large grandmas. A storm battled with the sun, as a torrential downpour welcomed them. Looking at the rainbow after the warm rain Lana remembered a quote, “No one cares what the weather is like if they are happy.”
In these Indian summer days, when they were not at Jerry’s cottage, they spent much time in the garden of the Bull’s Head. Tonight, both had been uncharacteristically quiet.“Building up courage has a restraining effect upon verbosity,” a ‘Wildeism’ she wrote later. She knew she had to tell him, she couldn’t put it off any longer. She flicked away the wasp from a spilt pool of lager and turned to him.
“September has blown in and I’m with child.”
The wasp began on a flight path that would inevitably end up at her face; she knocked it away. Then, watching it fly off to another table, she added calmly, “I’m 36 and I’m having my first baby – yours.”
He was looking down into his whiskey sour. She noticed how sweat had claimed areas of his white cotton shirt, turning their colour to a disgusting shade of peach.
He said, “Well….there’s something I haven’t told you. I’ve been meaning to…. I have to leave Britain soon. I have to return to the States. My company wants me back – and so does my daughter – ”
“ – So your physics is taking you away from my biology,” she interrupted. Her delivery was deadpan, emotionless, calm, reasonable.
“No….I’ve been meaning to ask you to come with me, but I’ve been frightened….
“How can I expect you to give up your roots, and your career – and these English summers? I want you to come with me. You and…. You will? You must.”
And the only summer they spent together in England ended. All others were in Syracuse, New York State USA as a threesome.