Since I’ve been in California (the first time I’ve been back since March of this year, when I spent a few early-spring days soaking up as much thin warmth as I could before returning to Boston) I’ve adopted a new ritual, one which I seem to have absolutely no control over. It is almost as if some sort of timepiece has crawled its way into my consciousness, embedded in thoughts and dreams—for the instant the digital clock on the oven hits 9 PM, my body drapes itself wearily upon the couch, my eyes hover half-open for a moment before shutting fast, and my breath becomes sleepy.
Last night I caught the household milling around me, wisps of conversation floating into half-attentive ears: “she’s asleep,” “what are we going to do about her?” “do you think she wants a blanket?” No, I thought, I do not want a blanket. If you give me a blanket, I will sleep here all night, and wake up with the buttons of my jeans pressed into my skin and my arm numb from all my weight crushing against it. I think what came out of my mouth, however, and in the form of a feeble mumble, was, “mmmm num num.”
In the morning, we awake drenched in hot sunlight. The two comforters my mother has kindly placed on the guest bed seem excessive and I throw them off dramatically, leaving my skin to soak up bright yellow lines of sunshine. It is rarely any later than 8:30, and we find we cannot find sleep again, so we get up. We have breakfast. We marvel at the morning.
It’s something to do with the light, of course. But also to do with the stillness outside. When nature itself seems to be sleeping, curled in on itself, the hills lying flat, black silhouettes on a navy sky, no artificial light but a small stream from the house spilling onto the silver line of driveway, it takes all my will to convince my body that it, despite all of the world’s cues, should stay bright and awake.
Part of me feels this is the right way to be: attuned to the rhythms of something greater than oneself; lying and rising to moonlight and sunlight. Another part of me craves the proximity of a city. I think of Oxford, where I’ll soon be, and how refreshing it is to be within walking distance of one’s friends, to have the glow of streetlights to guide you home late at night. I find I cannot reconcile these duel desires except to console myself that each belongs to me, in some way (or I belong to each, perhaps more accurately); that each draws me and repels me with equal force, and that no-one except myself would ever demand that I make a permanent choice about lifestyle when I am still so young. And so I free myself.
This afternoon, inspired by bright skies and dramatic clouds, we drove down Santa Rosa road for tea with the Cadwells. Their house from the outside blends into the countryside: a simple, one-story cottage, with a tiled roof and vines climbing up its sides. Inside it looks like something concocted in a Bohemian reverie: dark wood with cracks and character, bright teal walls in the kitchen, peach colored ones in the office, and yellow ones in the lounge, tablecloths with flowers and patterns that only someone high could come up with, but anyone can appreciate. There are papers strewn about and wildly imaginative artwork displayed above a creaky piano that has been out of tune since I first met the Cadwells, about twelve years ago. We sat at the dining table and drank tea from delicate cups with saucers and ate lots of things with sugar (mini macaroons, honey-filled biscuits, English Christmas pudding that Xander carried all the way from Britain), alongside English Stilton cheese with persimmons and walnuts.
Meanwhile, Clara’s baby, nine months old and dressed in a striped jumpsuit, crawled his way around the table and bounced happily from open arms to open arms, deigning to crack a smile only on rare occasions but mostly looking slightly disgusted with the gluttony of the adults. Once he tried to feed Olive a slice of persimmon; she took it willingly in her teeth before he suddenly yanked it back, as if he had decided at the last moment that in fact she would not do, this silly aunt of his: not worthy of persimmon slices, not worthy of his efforts. Olive, collapsed in giggles, ruffled his hair and he snuggled deeper into her lap. Outside, the light was trying to turn to dusk but only half its heart was in it: the brightness lingered, settling over the horizon, shooting down over the fields below.
We decided to make an attempt at wine-tasting further down the road. We arrived just as they were closing up the tasting room at Sanford, but very kindly, we were served anyway, and I learned to properly swish the wine round my glass (something I’d only partially mastered before), and that, according to Xander, you get the strongest taste by making silly sucking noises through your teeth (the air does something to the wine, allegedly). We watched the sun simper down towards the horizon, hesitating, shooting glorious rays our way, coyly hiding behind bare tree branches, teasing, taunting, until a fuzzy grey darkness finally covered us.
On the way back we looked at real estate ads in local papers: this one’s just $24 million, and look! A bargain at $15 million.
Earlier I had been caught up in thoughts of how I wanted a house like the Cadwells’—shabby but warm, with the smell of a wood fire in winter and the french windows opened wide in summer. Now all I thought was: how do people in the modern world afford to make a home of their own? Whilst I ponder that, I shall work out how to cover my $100+ electricity bill—the product of the first month of a Boston winter, and quite a change from my September bill, which was only $12 (I am reminded yet again to be thankful that I no longer live there). The bar graph on the bill looks like an error, but it isn’t—it’s just a map of the jump between seasons.
Now we are home, and it is 7:30, and one suspects that as the clock strikes 9 I will again become hopelessly sleepy.