At the Colonial Farm Park, we walk back into 1771. It is all bonnets and woolen trousers. The family living there hangs tobacco in the barn to dry. The cast-iron belly of a pot hangs low over a fire that heats a potage of turnips, onions, and potatoes to boiling. The children are at work pulling “mile o’minute” from the fence with large wooden rakes. The skinny black cat is stuck in the tree, but one of the women uses a thick branch to help him down. As soon as he is back on the ground, he races off to terrorize the chickens.
Bug and his friend scoot around the corner to get in on the action when the clutch of young people returns from rounding up a loose piglet. A boy tosses darts made of corn cobs through a hoop. The girls spread their skirts and rest in the shade before supper. They show the two children from the future their dolls made of twisted corn husks wrapped in scraps of hand-dyed wool.
The place is inches away from one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the country. Or rather, what will become such a place in another 250 years. My friend’s little boy points out a cumulus cloud. A leaf falls into the collar of his shirt and he giggles. I hear the geese jabber at someone passing over the hill.
Time passes. Maybe a long time, maybe not. My friend and I talk, sitting on stumps outside the warming face of the log house where garlic dries in the rafters. Bug and his buddy are somewhere out of sight. A chicken squawks its disapproval at the relentless kitten. Eventually, Bug comes around to see me.
“Mommy, do you know what we are doing?”
“I have no idea.”
“We’re building a dollhouse.”
We rise and shake of the torpor. Indeed, he and my friend’s daughter have collected fallen sticks and sleeves of bark, gathered stones, overturned logs. They continue to balance these mismatched building block across one another, higher and wider. All around them, the skirts spread, the bonnets loll. No one speaks. Somehow, the house is erected.
My friend and I sit some more. Later, we wake, and 20 years has passed. The sun has moved our rough seats into the shade. We shiver a little and pull sweaters back over our sunburned shoulders. When we leave, we find the children have assembled the corn-husk family in its new quarters. The rooster struts past, swishing his black-ringed tail. The kitten watches from a distance. Everyone is ready for winter.
The quince shrub thinks it is spring. Pink blossoms unfurl from its branches, dusting the blacktop with pollen. The birds are similarly confused. One calls from the high, bare limbs, tuh-wee tuh-wee tuh-wee tuh-wee tuh-wee. Across the street, a second returns the song. They toss their ten notes back and forth, bridging the short distance between them. Soon, a third gets in on the action. At odd intervals, a chickadee scratches his beat behind the rhythm.
This warmth has been hanging around for longer than expected. On Sunday, Bug and I went to skip stones on a duck pond near the apartment of the man I have been seeing. He is a Don Juan with thick arms and a love affair with the open road. He knows water, mud, mountains. He made the flat rocks bounce six, seven, eight times, almost to the opposite shore. The ducks kept to the sides. My tosses managed maybe three piddly skips before plopping near the bank. The man laughed, telling me I throw like a girl. I shot back that Venus Williams turned that insult into a compliment ages ago.
Bug stripped off his shoes and socks. In his red plaid flannel and rolled up jeans, he was Huck Finn, tramping through the creek as it carried winter runoff and tiny minnows to the pond. The sun was easy on our skin. My friend settled down on a large stone at the edge of the creek and turned his face to the light. Bug wound around and around him, toes reddening in the chilly trickle, catching his balance against the man’s solid frame.
We collected pieces of mica and sandstone and scratched our names into the walkway above the bank. This man believes in talismans and magic. He drew a narrow, long eye inside the rectangle of brick. This is the first part of a converged symbol he penned on a napkin for me on one of the early dates. I do not see what he sees, but that does not stop him from showing me. In the adjacent brick, I drew a mate. The pair of eyes stared up at us, blank and cutting. I could not resist embellishment. Big eyelashes sullied the sleek edges. The swipe of nose, a swirl of hair, a smirking mouth. Don Juan lay back on the warm walkway. I traced his body in flaking, yellow rock. Bug called, “Mommy, look! A bug!” He had colored in the first of the eyes, turning its lashes into legs. He went to work on the second.
Bug rode the barrel of the man’s shoulders back through the woods. We made our way home, the sun beginning to fade. It grew colder again, but only by a few degrees.
It will not last, this strange reprieve. Already this morning, the clouds have gathered. Rain is beating against the windows. But my arms are looser, and there is a pink burn in my cheeks. It could take a while to fade. By then, who knows? The sun may have come around again. I have no shame. I keep the door cracked and take what I can get.