winter light

I CAME HOME in the early hours through the vacant streets of the town. It was crisp and cold, and it surprised me that the air could be so dense on such a cold night. Usually, the cold has brought clarity to things, made things easier to see and understand, yet somehow all of the houses and streets and automobiles looked to be wrapped up in a weird swirling white mist. I was coming home from a young woman’s house where we were drinking tea, letting honey dissolve into cups from one of those big jars people gift you around the holidays. Big clumps of honey melting away and lots of talking. Then her child woke up and I decided to leave. I didn’t see a soul on my trek home, not even a bum sipping from a flask at the bus stop. When I arrived at the house, I saw most of my neighbors were still up awake, as all the lights were on. They were no doubt snuggled next to their loved ones chatting or watching a film. I went inside, took off my boots, stretched out on the couch, and pulled a blanket on me. It was January and soon it would be February. After February would come March. I hadn’t yet taken the Christmas decorations down. Why should I? It’s so nice to sleep beneath some twinkling Christmas lights. Recently, I visited an older friend, and she remarked to me that it was such a shame that I was still solo after all these years, for she has known me for a long time. “What a tragedy, and such a beautiful boy too.” “Nii ilus poiss.” The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until then, and it seemed a strange and different kind of thought. I thought about her words as I stared at the Christmas lights on the verge of slumber. For most people, partnership is the default, and being alone is just a way station, a stopover, a foggy interlude between relationships. One partnership ends and you look around and another soon after begins. That’s how life is supposed to work. While talking with the young woman over tea, I tried to guess the names of her ex-boyfriends by calling out random Estonian names. There had been a Jürgen, she acknowledged, and, yes, a Tõnu, but no Tiit. Not yet. “It depends on how you define ‘boyfriend,'” she said. My life had once been like that. The women in my life were like monarchs. The way we can talk about the architecture of various periods in British history — Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian — I could talk about years of my life. “Yes, that was during the Francesca period,” or, “Those were the Christiana years.” But what was this current period? The “bachelor sleeping alone on a couch under Christmas decorations period?” The “drinking tea late nights with young women in lonely town” period. Whatever this current period was called, it had lasted some time. At last sleep arrived. I often descend through various states of arousal at night. This is common for men, and it may be the case for women. On this night, I kept thinking of a video a friend had sent me from a swimming pool in a faraway country. There she was, swimming away in a white bathing suit at night, and something about the idea of this stretched bathing suit filled out by a very full Scandinavian feminine figure was suddenly all around me. There was something quaint about these visions. It was as if I was looking at one of those postcards of happy beachgoers from the 1920s. Golden hair, white bathing suit, stretched full. I could hear the water being displaced, I imagined the water was warm, and I began to feel safe and well beneath my blanket. In the morning, winter light came pouring through the windows, and I could see there was fresh snow on the ground. The couple that lives upstairs, whom I call “the Norwegians” because they sometimes live and work in Norway, were warming up their car and preparing their children for a trip. The yard was full of neighbor couples shoveling snow, or linking arms to go for a walk. They have come to seem alien to me, the couples, and I wonder why they even exist. Two people, living together? Forever? What a silly idea. Who would ever want to bother with that? Do they really believe they are soul mates? Will they stay together? I still felt the warm waters from the night before and thought about the Scandinavian swimmer in the stretched bathing suit, but the memory of the dream began to fade with my first sips of coffee. I wondered if I did have a heart somewhere, and if it was still capable of love. Maybe it was hidden away in a sealed-off part of me, like Anne Frank, writing secretly into her diary in the Annex in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Maybe the heart was writing its longings into that diary behind those walls just as she once had. Maybe someday I would be able to read that book.

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