I did not know I would put my reading glasses on before the sun came up, or that I would take them off, finally, long after I wanted to be asleep. I didn’t know my very eyes would ache from everything they were being reminded of and seeing anew or discovering for the first time. I didn’t know I would read through the end of summer — even through the sun this year went on and on, like a second summer, like a fierce longing to be in the woods and on the water, like a permanent postcard, like a wrapped gift that couldn’t be opened. I didn’t know I would read through family dinners, birthday parties, grandchildren learning to walk, friends visiting, parents sinking slowly into oblivion. I didn’t know the leaves would change colour on the trees and let go into the wind as it passed, jumping exuberantly, reluctantly, fearfully into another life, as if they too are exhausted by words.
Today I stood on the library steps under a cloudless blue sky. I looked down towards the lake, just visible, like a bright beacon of blue, past the brick and concrete buildings and the green dome of St. Georges. It’s the tail end of summer, but all I could see was a swirl of stinging snowflakes, and Frederick, his heart thudding like a missed train. There he stands, his overdue books tumbled on the steps, their covers obscured by snow. There he stands, his left shoulder registering his recent collision with the librarian. Like a memory, I can see it and feel it, and I reach to pull my fictional scarf up around my sun-blessed face.
It is a strange thing to have two lives. In one life I live in a garret, and creep around other people’s routines, wincing when the bedroom door sticks in the heat or I drop the soap in the shower. In one I read by lamplight in an overstuffed chair, and when I look up at the clock I find it is uncommonly late; after I dream there is no one there to tell it to; when I read again in the early morning hours it is almost like I am still dreaming.
In another life I do everything to make this garret possible. In both lives there is always the pull towards the overstuffed chair and the looking around for my love to tell my dreams to. Twin worlds, twin longings.
After only two nights in Limestone City I can see what Frederick Madrigal neglected to tell us. Whole streets, whole blocks, whole neighbourhoods are filled with student housing. He didn’t ever remark on the number of nineteen-year-olds lounging on porch roofs. He overlooked the awe-inspiring debris of trashed furniture on sidewalks and in driveways: broken pressboard shelving, soggy sofas, tilted lamp stands. He did not once count the number of empty pizza boxes overflowing their recycling containers. He steadfastly turned his gaze away from such vast quantities of beer bottles, cans, and kegs—more on view in 24 hours than I have seen, I think, in my entire life.
I sleep in a garret: quintessential student lodging. From my window I can see other students walking by; none of them has very many clothes on despite the coolness of the morning. My partner wisely advises against the umbrella, suggesting gently that it will not make quite the right impression. I dutifully attend the Graduate Resources Fair, sans umbrella (thank goodness), but skip out of Strategies for Success early, just after the moment when the assemblage was being admonished to “have fun” and “make connections.” The best thing I have learned all morning is that the Ban Righ Centre for mature women students serves a free soupy lunch every weekday. The worst thing I have learned is that even graduate students generally look younger than my children.