Closing the front door behind me, I readjusted my crocheted shawl, and stowed the dog-walking bag. Joanna pricked up her ears, and fixated her marble-like eyes on the darkened sunporch.
Usually, that type of thing wouldn’t bother me. But whether it was the crushing weight of the holidays, the fact that George Michael had just died, or my sister reminding me hours earlier that Seattle was the serial killer capital of the country, I took more notice.
I took a step forward, and a man began speaking in an even-keeled, matter-of-fact way – exactly how I’d imagined my murderer to sound.
…TIME TO DIE?
…YOUR LAST MOMENT?
…COLD IN HERE?
In one-and-a-half seconds of contemplating what he was saying, I realized two things: the sickly jade plant I grabbed was a lousy excuse for a weapon; and two, I was going to die in stained sweat pants and a moth-eaten shawl.
“…seven o’ clock.”
For a moment, I just stood still. Like the stupid friend in every horror movie, Joanna ran determinedly toward the darkened room to investigate the voice. A second later, she skittered back, sat on the rug, and stared up at me – which was when the weight of the potted plant started to register. I lowered it back onto its pedestal, and a bloated leaf broke off and fell to the floor.
Apparently, it was seven o’ clock, and the computer repair technician – in addition to downloading a Dance Dance Revolution anime video onto my desktop – configured my newly rebuilt laptop to recite the time every hour.
As my heart rate reassumed a normal rhythm, and I talked myself out of posting “YOU SHOULD WARN SINGLE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE WOODS THAT THEIR REBUILT COMPUTER MIGHT TALK TO THEM” on Yelp, I pulled the shawl tighter, lit my lavender diffuser, and settled into the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa. This was it: my first Christmas as a divorcee.
The weight of it was unexpectedly heavy.
The day before, I’d been sitting at the Canadian border considering witty replies to the standard question: “What was your business in Canada?”
“Those dildos weren’t exactly going to deliver themselves, am I right?”
“I heard the bacon was great.”
“I was in search of some mounties.”
“Did you not see the outcome of the US election?”
After answering truthfully, however, I realized I should’ve gone with one of my alternatives. The border patrol officer’s face drew back in on itself, adding two additional chins to his third.
“Wait, so you’re telling me you came across this morning, and just went for a walk in the park, and are going back?”
“That’s just not normal.”
Partly stunned, I chuckled.
He screwed up his face even more, and straightened his back.
“Pop the trunk.”
“You’ll have to buy me dinner first.”
I could tell he was eager to file away some story he could use over Christmas dinner to impress his in-laws – regale them with how he’d stopped the largest shipment of cocaine in US history.
Judging by how forcefully he slammed the trunk, my stained reusable grocery bags must’ve been a severe letdown. Without so much as a grunt, he handed back my passport and license, and dismissed me with a wave.
That evening, while eating Trader Joe’s tortellini and reading OverheardLA’s Instagram, I assured JoJo that her breath bordered on a public health hazard. She responded by timing the movements of my lips just enough to lick the roof of my mouth.
Gargling at the kitchen sink, I noticed one of my planters had blown off the back steps. I slipped on my battered Toms and stepped out into the rapidly chilling air, righting the planter and taking a walk around the house.
Remnant raindrops dripped off of my makeshift garden fence, and thrushes crashed around in the shattered Japanese knotweed rotting at the base of the terrace. Biting wind blew through a tree I’d freed from thick, choking ivy – rattling its aged, mossy branches against one another. Around the corner of the house, my rusted glider set caught the breeze and creaked awake. Beyond it, up the hill, a large holly bush’s bright red berries glistened with moisture, and a pair of robins battled over the highly sought after territory, catapulting twigs in all directions.
With my circuit nearly complete, I stopped at a tall foxglove I’d carefully extracted from a precarious niche along a neighbor’s drainage ditch. Its developed roots had cascaded down in a wispy, matted mess, and I’d worked quickly to dig a deep enough hole, and arrange it so that it was braced on two sides from the wind. Fully transplanted, it’d listed to one side, propping itself on a dying heliotrope. I’d repacked the soil around its base, and had broken off sickly, limply-hanging yellowed leaves to rebalance it – and to give the new growth beneath them room to breathe. I ran my hand along the righted, towering stalk as I turned the corner to ascend the porch stairs, and nudged one of its last pale, pink blooms.
Inside, JoJo twirled on the kitchen’s scatter rug and expected a treat for supervising my round-the-house orbit from her various window perches. I put my hands on my hips and demanded to know what should be done. She twirled again, play-growled, and ran out of the room. I kicked off my muck-caked shoes, and slipped on my flannel-patterned house slippers – necessities in the drafty, poorly-heated cottage.
For a moment, I let my eyes dart from newly-painted door frames to found objects, from brightly-colored Fiesta and stripped hardware on the built-ins to patched holes and reglazed window panes. Albeit an ice box, the cottage seemed more alive than ever.
I gave a deep, cleansing sigh – and ran toward the squeaking dog toy, into the heart of our home.